E201: Lobotomy or Death! (Tales to Astonish #67) -- May 1965
In this episode:
Mike and Ed discuss the shocking loss of scientific skill among the country’s top scientists. It clearly seems purposeful, but what is the purpose? Aliens trying to keep humanity from developing new technologies? A domestic test to take away targeted abilities from exceptional people? Will they be able to take away superpowers next? And if so, is it ethical? If we can’t keep someone in prison, is the choice really between lobotomizing their abilities or capital punishment? What is the ethical choice? Ed and Mike disagree!
Behind the issue:
The after-effects of this issue result in Giant-Man unable to shrink smaller than a normal human for the remainder of his time in this title (which is ending soon and will be replaced with Namor. More on that when it happens!). Otherwise, nothing special here.
In this issue:
A guy is driving around town while being directed by a man in a hidden laboratory in a funny costume named the Supreme One. When the driver sees Giant-Man, he decides to zap him in a green ray, which causes Giant-Man to grow weak. This is because the ray is designed to steal power. The Supreme One becomes obsessed with stealing Giant-Man’s power, as he was unable to do that the first time he had someone try. To that end, he has his minion drive around town bathing scientific geniuses in the green ray, stealing their next-level scientific abilities, i.e. a top physicists forgets everything he knows about physics, etc. Giant-Man and the Wasp investigate, eventually tracking down the Supreme One, who escapes in a spaceship (turns out he is an alien).
In the second story in this issue, the Hulk fights the army in a foreign nation, and when he turns to Bruce Banner, he is captured by some locals. Major Talbot is sent in to rescue Bruce Banner, and the episode ends on a cliffhanger - will Talbot and Banner fall to their deaths as they escape? Tune in next week!
Assumed before the next episode:
People are wondering what is happening to all the smart people. They are getting … less smart? How does that make any sense?
This episode takes place:
After people learn of the de-smartening that is happening.
Edward: All right, Mike, we're gonna change it up this week. We're gonna change it up a little bit because I have a story I think we should be talking about that's not, well, maybe it is superhuman. The scientists around the world are losing their scientific abilities
Edward: So these are top physicists who are losing the ability to do physics or top geneticists who can't do genetics anymore. Top chemists who can't do chemistry anymore. And their brains can still do everything else. They can still have conversations, they can still love their families, but they're losing their scientific abilities. And so I think this is a super thing. We don't know who's doing it or why, but it sounds superhuman.
Michael: Okay, before we get to this superhuman, if they're superhuman. Not saying that what you're saying is that
Edward: No, I'm not saying human. It's a superhuman, some sort of superhuman thing. I don't think we know any scientific way to remove parts of knowledge from someone's brain like that feels like a superhuman thing.
Michael: Right. So you're saying that there must be a purpose to it. This phenomena that's only targeting extremely intelligent and highly accomplished and specialized people like physicists. They're being targeted and their abilities are removed, which. Yeah, it doesn't sound normal.
Edward: Um, well, it's never happened before, so therefore it is by definition, abnormal. Although it's abnormal, it's happening more and more now. So is it becoming normal? It's becoming normal. It was not normal, but now it is.
Michael: It's normalized almost, and so normalized.
So I guess the first question is, what's the purpose of it? So your first thing is that you're thinking that there's a super villain possibly, or an alien or something that is doing this for a reason. Right. In that it's making humanity weaker. It's making our ability to defend ourselves worse. Worse. Is that where you're kind of going on it,
Edward: it sounds that way. Like, oh, you're right. Maybe it's a villain who's doing blackmail, but it seems purposeful. If it was a virus, That was just spreading around, right? And causing brain damage to people. First of all, that'd be terrifying, but secondly, it feels like that viruses don't work that way. The viruses wouldn't go and attack just the most intelligent top scientists in the world and just attack their scientific knowledge and leave everything else untouched. So you're right, it seems purposeful.
Michael: And that's alarming because we know that in the last few years, in addition to what appears to be naturally occurring superhuman abilities and extraterrestrial or, paranormal, superhuman abilities, we have seen that there's been greater advances in technology, in science that have allowed humanity to reach new levels. So Iron, Man and other, you know, giant. Giant man have been able To create things that are just impossible they're fantastical. It's basically modern magic, the science that they've been able to wield so is this a preemptive attack, a taking away the ability of other people to create such modern miracles?
Edward: Oh, you're right. Yeah, it could be stopping the creation of new superheroes. We know, if you look at the superheroes that are out there, a handful of them, like the X-Men seem to be that this people who are born with this weird gene that's being activated by something.
But for most superheroes out there, or, super villain for that matter. It seems to be either, Some sort of science that science is doing it. That's right. Captain America is experimented on and turned into Captain America, like the Reed. Richards took fantastic four up into space and space stuff turned them into the Fantastic four. Sandman was like atomic research, whatever turned him into Sandman. So it feels, or to your point, Iron, Man and Giant Man was actually, or the porcupine, they're actually building technological wonders. And so if our top minds, the people who can like do the engineering, the people who can understand the atomic science are losing their ability to do that.
Hey, maybe it is aliens. Maybe aliens are trying to put humans in their place and say, Hey, stay on the planet Earth. Stop leaving and stop developing powers.
Michael: It's wild. It sounds paranoid, but at the same time it's starting to make a lot of sense. This will fundamentally weaken humanity. By taking our top scientists off the board. That's right. Quite frightening. That's right. But then the other part of it is leaving side the motivation which is alarming and I'm hopeful that say the Avengers or the various federal agencies are on top of this, you gotta wonder how they're doing it. Like how is it that they're doing almost micro lobotomies. Is it a technological basis for it or is it magical? How exactly are they doing it at all.
Edward: You're right. Clearly, it's not something that anyone has done before, but someone has found a way to go and do, lobotomy is a good word. It's a very, it's like a targeted lobotomy. Because what's fascinating about this is it's not like these scientists are coming in with other brain damage. They're able to continue on their lives. Normally. They are still able to, whole jobs. Not even like they can't do normal stuff. They can do all the normal things. They just, it's like this piece of knowledge. They're cutting edge brain power and I don't even know if their intelligence was affected so much as their knowledge was affected. So if you're a scientist who's like really brilliant and spend 40 years of your life diving deep into physics, you're not gonna be able to spend another 40 years we just don't live long enough.
Michael: It's quite a violation of their autonomy too. I don't want to discount that, but, however they're doing it, it's wild. And you gotta wonder if it's not some extraterrestrial kind of thing or some kind of super thing. What if it's actually a, just, it's something more domestic? We talked before about, What do you do with these super villains that you capture and have these amazing abilities? Like say, let's say Sue Storm turned into be a bad person and she has force fields and can turn Invisible. Like how do you deal with that and make, and IM prisoner if she was a villain, is this. Some technology that somehow got into the world where they've been experimenting on how to turn off abilities and it's got into the wrong hands and they're using it to turn off the abilities, for lack of a better term, of regular humans.
Edward: If you're right, maybe it is just an experiment then, and they're testing to see if they can turn it on and off before they say, Hey, let's turn off the superpowers of. Sue Storm or Reed richards. Let's turn off the brain power of some physicists and you're right, if it doesn't work and they can't turn it back on again, that would be really bad. But not as bad as if we like turn off the superpowers of the Avengers because hey, that's irreplaceable.
Michael: It does lead into to a consideration of like, how if this is like a deliberate thing that might be done by people on our side, say a government kind of project that got the wrong hands, that tells us I guess I've ever thought about the idea that turning off, say, superpowers is akin to a pure violation of a person's autonomy, right? It's more relatable in a way to basically make a very intelligent person, less intelligent in a particular area that is actually, it's so remarkably unethical, cuz it is effectively targeted Phlebotomy.
Edward: Clearly whether it's just happening to Random intelligent people, it's unethical. But if we did this to get against the guy who was building the porcupine suit or the wizard who is like notoriously committing crimes and breaking outta prison and committing the frightful fore attacking the Fantastic four, if we just reduced his intelligence and stopped his ability to go and create these fantastic suits, I dunno, is that still unethical?
Michael: I think so. Yeah. Yeah. It, definitely is it is a version of lobotomizing those intelligent people. We don't do that right now. There have been super intelligent people in history and if the choice is to build a better prison or to lobotomize somebody, you would choose you should choose to build a better prison.
Edward: That's fair. And I guess I feel like we haven't really. On that route, far enough. We still are building these terrible prisons and allowing these criminals to escape again and again. But I guess let's go further. Remember there was the vanish. Do you remember the vanish, right?
Yes, I did. So that's, yeah, so the vanger had the ability to teleport and, I'm not sure how he was dealt with, I assume, like we assumed at the time maybe that they just killed him. There was just a extra, judicial murder to take this guy out because otherwise what do you do?
You can't put in prison someone who can teleport outta prison. He was teleport into the Oval Office. He was threatening the president. You, can't stop someone like that. And so if we had, if for the vanish or. Let's say what they had this ability to turn off his power. Or, and along the way it also turned off his ability to do complicated differential equations. It feels like that's a better alternative than allowing him to go free or a better alternative than murdering him.
Michael: Yeah. But it's the same, you know, The Thing with ethics is that they're not relative. This goes to, the question I suppose, is the ability to have like a superhuman power, and you, if you remove that, is that the same as effectively doing a version of a targeted lobotomy? And I think the answer is yes. I mean, I think that the Vanger, even by basis of just looking at his name, He identifies, that's a core part of who he is.
Edward: He enjoys vanishes, and if he stops vanishing, then who is he anymore?
Michael: Well, exactly. And so to remove that from him,
Edward: it's, I'm the talker. If you take away my, if you make me mute, who am I?
I can't, I can't, I can't do The Thing that I do.
Michael: But it, but it's the same thing, like, so it is the same thing removing an ability for somebody to solve differential equations as a top physicist is the same as taking away a person's ability to, in this case, do a unique thing, which is the ability to,
Edward: so I'll grant you that, but the difference is, is that the guy doing the differential equations isn't trying to murder the president. It feels like that. Like that's the difference. You're right. I don't think we should go and find everybody who can teleport and then go and take away their abilities. That seems like a draconian a totalitarian government that would do something like that. But if there's somebody teleporting around murdering people, I think by all means we should stop that person. And if that means taking away their ability to teleport, I think so. Be it.
Michael: I guess the question is, what is a worse and more abominable crime towards an individual or harm that you could cause them? Is it one to give them effectively a brain injury so that they are not the same person as they were before, because that's what you're doing if you turn up abilities. I think it's similar to making somebody less, less intelligent to like solve differential equations either argues the same as turning off their ability to do what they're born to do, which is teleport. So it's a better term
Edward: to murder. I was born to murder precedents.
Michael: Wait, so you either give them effectively a brain injury, so you actually violate what they are as a human at who they're as a person. Their core being or you killed them, is what you're saying. Or you build a better prison. Yeah. Yeah. And you're saying you handled a better prison. It's only two choices.
Edward: That's right. That's right. So I think we are all agreed that if you can build a better prison, you build a better prison that feels like the right thing to do, I think. Mm-hmm. When you can't build a better prison, when you have someone like the vanish or the absorbing man who can, if you put him in a prison, whatever you. Put him in, he can absorb the strength of that thing and bust his way out. And so what do we do? The absorbing man, they set him into space to drift aimlessly for eternity. Like that seems worse. It feels like if you had a choice between, that's the worst one. Drifting through space for all eternity, or losing the ability to absorb the strength of materials around you. I think most of us would give up the ability to absorb, even if our name was the absorbing man. It feels like you can get a new name.
Michael: Hey. They sit him down and say, listen, here are the two alternatives. We've been up all night thinking about the options here, and one is that we turn you into a race that'll float through the empty space forever, or we give you, effectively we change your brain chemistry. And I think that, historically, it's a pretty slippery slope when you start messing around with people's brains and changing who they are. I don't know what the right answer is, ed, but I have to say you
Edward: really don't know the right answer. You really think that maybe the right answers to have 'em drift through space for all eternity.
Michael: I don't know. You're forcing me to say that. I think it'd be better. I think it would probably be better to actually like, uh, And I'm against a death penalty. But that seems to be preferable to actually really lobotomize against
Edward: sin. Bomb the ball. No, no, no, no, no, no. Listen, imagine. So let's put you in that, those shoes. Okay? Now, Mike, you now have the ability to fly. You are flying, man, and you could fly around and so on. But you know what? You used that, you used that flying power for evil, and you started killing presidents. And so now they're like, Mikey, you need to go to jail. Unfortunately. This metaphor is falling apart because we could put a flying guy in jail. You,
Michael: you put a, the ceiling solved the problem, ed.
Edward: Okay, Mike, you have the ability, we're gonna use this vanish again. You can teleport Mike, you can now teleport everywhere and you're murdering people left, right, and center. Because you know what, maybe the teleporting also meant your brain go, went crazy, and the government comes to you and says, Hey Mike, we have two choices.
We can take away your ability to teleport and you'll go back to being old Mike. Or we can murder you. Are you really, are you like, have you given that choice? Like you think the right choice is to murder you?
Michael: Uh, it's, it's just such a hard It, it is. It's not hard. Murder. Murder is a problem. The slippery slope stuff is terrible.
Eddie, you're actually,
Edward: yeah. But one of them, one of them has a slippery slope. The other one is a giant hole of death.
Michael: You know what I think because,
Edward: you can recover from a slippery slope, you can't recover from a murder.
Michael: Eddie, I'm a lawyer. I'm not a judge. I'm not making that call right now. But you're, but clearly I know where it goes with you. You'd be like, take away my ability. Give lobotomize me so that I don't go out and vanish anymore and I'll live the rest of my life.
Having you having fundamentally changed what, who I am as a person? Yes. Yes. How is that any different than Lobotomizing people that. The state didn't, consider to be, desirable?
Edward: Well, we've already, I think the difference is, is we've agreed that you are only doing this as a last ditch effort. We're not saying, Hey, you're a murderer, a normal murderer who like walks around with knives and guns. We'll just take the knives and guns away from you. Even though you call yourself gunman and you define yourself by using guns, we're gonna take away the guns. And then, and you're like, oh, but I can't be gunman without guns.
Well, too bad you're no longer gunman. You are now just man, and we're gonna put you in a jail. And that jail is not gonna give you access to guns and that's the preferred choice. But if you can't, but if you can't put them in the jail, you need another choice. And the second choice should not be killing them indiscriminately.
Michael: So I guess the problem and hear me out on the slippery slope, but like if the technology is developed and you can use it on these, in these extreme situations, my fear is that you use them. Even if you could rationalize that, you would use them in more mundane situations where all prisoners, all people convicted of violent crimes are now gonna get, effectively get a lobotomy because it's safer.
Because you can't keep them in prison forever. Or if you do, the prisons are unsafe, et cetera. There's gonna be a rationalization for actually using this technology to effectively lobotomize them too. So it won't be limited, I'm afraid to this very unique situation that. The teleporters of the world. I wish we know there's one. And it could extend and it could, it would extend what I consider to be an abomination throughout. Oh, again, you're worried Our society.
Edward: Well, maybe we just put in rules in place that the person needs to choose to have this. We just get to a certain point where it's like, Hey, you can choose to be lobotomized or murdered, and if you prefer murder, we can do that for you.
The state's really good at murdering people.
Michael: I think it's what, I think one of those, that's what they consider to be actually not a real choice. Ed, I think
Edward: know that's the point is, but like, we're stuck at this point where we have to choose the choice. We don't give them three choices if it's not like we can take away your powers, murder you or put you in a jail that you can escape from in two seconds. Which do you choose now? Well, clearly the guy just escapes from jail and so that's not an acceptable choice for our society. We need to stop the vanger and people like him from murdering people. And so far it seems like what we're doing is we're just murdering. We murdered the vanger and we sent the absorbing man into space. And this molecule, man, we don't know what happened to him. These people who are extremely powerful. They seem to just be disappearing and we're not talking about it. That is the slippery slope. And so this is a way to reduce the murdering this against villains.
Michael: Well, if I had to guess. I suppose the murder's been working out. At least that's what's been happening and I think it's unfortunate. I think it's horrific. And so what I hope will happen is that maybe if the government is secretly funding this research into this technology, maybe they should direct their attention. Towards better prisons that would solve the problem and avoid these thorny issues. That, that you're pushing on me.
Edward: Teleportation proof prisons. That's the next scientific achievement. Read Richards. Go do it.
Michael: Send them to Asgard Ed. We know that they must have their, they're superpowered.
God's like Thor. They must have the technology up there to deal with strange, unique powers. Let's, let's, let's start talking about that.
Edward: Vanisher, get off Earth. Go murder Odin.