Time for another installment of…
The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books! Featuring: Iron Man: Part 4, The Epic Conclusion!
Thanks for tuning in dear reader! Thus far we have established the inspiration for this segment of the blog and we have investigated various aspects of the Iron Man armor to determine if any of it is based in reality and if such a suit would even be possible in the “real world”. To catch up on all of the action check out the original blog post here:
Check out Part #2 here:
And Check out Part #3 here:
So what is left for us to talk about? Well, weapons and offensive capabilities of course! I have left the proverbial best for last! I mean what fun is the Iron Man armor if we cannot blow stuff up (NOTE: the Skeptical Samurai does not condone and/or support the random blowing up of stuff). Anyone even remotely familiar with the Iron Man armor is well aware of its many tactical capabilities. So where do we even start!? Good question, might I suggest that we begin with the relatively straightforward and then move toward the more fantastic.
For the purpose of this blog we are going to focus on the following components of the Iron Man arsenal: guns, missiles and the almighty repulsors. I realize that the Iron Man armor has many more items in its arsenal, but for the sake of simplicity (and the fact that these weapon systems are the ones that most people will be familiar with) we are going focus on these weapon systems.
And with that, now onto the epic conclusion to The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man Edition!
Before we get into the offensive capabilities of the Iron Man armor, we must first discuss Iron Man’s defensive capabilities.
Defensive Capabilities!? But you promised us the good stuff! And what on earth does Iron Man need defensive capabilities for!? I mean, he is Iron Man!
Someone much greater then me once said, the best defense is a good offense. Well that statement most definitely has merit, our Iron Man armor can have all of the offensive capabilities in the world, but if it susceptible to even the most basic of attacks, then it is not going to matter what the suit is capable of.
Alright…so defensive capabilities are important. Which of the Iron Man defenses are based in reality and which are based in fiction?
The majority of Iron Man’s defensive capabilities are actually grounded in reality. As we have already established in previous blog posts, the Iron Man armor will be constructed out of a variety of insanely strong materials. Consequently, physical damage to the suit will be at a minimum. However, if and when the suit is exposed to some sort of direct impact we need to be concerned about possible injury to our user. Allow me to explain.
Think of a high-speed car accident (I know not the most pleasant thing in the world, but stick with me). Often times it is not the trauma of the actual car accident that kills the driver. Instead it is the acceleration/deceleration forces experienced by the driver that result in death. A subtle difference, but a difference none the less. Think of all of the force generated by a car accident. All of that force has to go somewhere. Modern vehicles have been designed to channel that force away from the driver (with technology such as airbags and the manner in which the front of a car crumples). However, often times (especially at excessively high speeds or in older vehicles) it is simply not possible to channel this force in a safe direction.
Acceleration/deceleration forces can easily damage the soft tissues that make up blood vessels walls. Specifically, these types of forces can easily damage blood vessels such as the aorta (which is arguably the most important artery in the body as it pumps fleshly oxygenated blood out of the heart to the rest of the body).
Damage to the aorta will result in blood spilling out into the extra vascular space (instead of being pumped into the intravascular space where it is supposed to be) and can very quickly result in death (in talking within a matter of minutes).
Relating this to our Iron Man armor, an impact with enough force may not cause damage to the external panels of the armor, but it could potentially kill our user, which is simply not acceptable. So with the above information in mind, we are going to need to develop some sort of additional protection in order to ensure the safety of our user.
Unfortunately, it is not going to be as straightforward as simply lining our armor with a bunch of extra foam padding. Why you ask? Well, materials such as foam are compressible and while they may be capable of deflecting the force of a relatively minor impact, any type of force over a certain threshold will simply “pass through” the foam (or any type of compressible substance) and harm (or even kill) our user. What we require is some sort of non-Newtonian fluid. That is, we need a fluid that is capable of changing its “behavior” depending on the type/amount of force that acts on it
I know what you are thinking…
“Non-Newtonian fluid!? I thought that we where going to stay about from fictitious explanations in our pursuit to build real life Iron Man armor!” Fear not dear reader, as promised we are going to keep the explanations grounded in reality. Check out this video clip (fast forward to 02:05 if you do not want to watch the whole video)
It turns out all that needs to be done is to mix water and corn starch and we have ourselves a non-Newtonian fluid! As demonstrated in the above video, a mixture of water and cornstarch creates a non-Newtonian fluid that changes its proverbial behavior when a force is acted upon it. This substance will remain a liquid at rest and will become a solid (for lack of a better description) when a force is acted upon it. It is this property that will ensure that when our Iron Man armor is exposed to a significant force (say like a blast from a tank), that our user will not be fatally injured.
This extra layer of protection could be added in contained bladders located between the armor panels and our users skin (no actual bladders pictured here, just a reference for where the bladders would be placed on the user in relation to the armor)
Additionally, the non-Newtonian fluid could simply be pored into the suit. The fluid would not be as contained as the above example with the bladders so this option would be a bit messier but would provide the best protection to the user as there would be gaps that could potentially lead to injury. The following picture gives you a bit of an idea of what this might look like (notice that Tony Stark, pictured here in the “Ultimate Universe”, appears to be covered in a fluid of sorts)
However, I think that it is safe to assume that we are not just going to allow our Iron Man armor to just eat impact after impact from missile and other types of projectiles. We are going to want to avoid impact/damage from aggressor’s weapons when possible…
So how are we going to do that?
Again, the answer is actually pretty straightforward. As previously discussed the Iron Man armor will be capable of moving at incredible speeds. Additionally, it will also be extremely agile and capable of maneuvers simple beyond the capabilities of most (if not all) aircraft and weapons systems. Consequently, it will be relatively easy for our Iron Man armor to out maneuver the vast majority of the obstacles that it might encounter.
But what about those situations where our Iron Man armor is engaging multiple projectiles from hostile targets? Or what about weapons systems that utilize heat seeking/infrared technology. These types of projectiles (as well as the possibility of multiple projectiles) are notoriously difficult to deal with and can be extremely difficult to loss once they have locked onto a target. So, how do we expect our Iron Man armor to deal with this threat?
With flares (of course!)
Now I am not talking about road flares (although in all honesty, standard issue road flares would most likely do the trick), but instead weapons great flares (as pictured here being deployed by a military plane)
Or as deployed by Iron Man in the following clip
These types of flares typically contain/burn a substance such as magnesium. This allows them to ignite and burn hot/bright enough that they are able to “trick” most target and chase types of weapons systems. A relatively simple solution to our problem, but a solution nonetheless!
Alright, Alright! We need defenses, I get it, and on that point I must concede, but can we PLEASE PLEASE talk about Iron Man’s weapons systems and offensive capabilities!?
Well I guess that I have made you wait long enough, so ask and you shall receive!
Let us start with the small (and more plausible) and work our way up from there. Let us start with small arms/guns.
Check this image out (I know, I know, its War Machine, but you get the idea)
Looks pretty badass right!? This type of tech would actually not be all that difficult to design and produce. Essentially what we have is a cartridge (a bullet loaded into a casing containing a propellant which is ignited by a primer), which is loaded into a short barrel. Pretty simple right!? All we need in order to make this system function is a means of launching the projectile forward. This could be easily achieved by utilizing a contained/concealed striker fire system, which is the same firing system as seen on any standard issue Glock pistol
I know what your thinking, how are we going to activate and aim this striker fire system? Well with Jarvis (our on board computer system) of course! Given the complexity of our on board computer system (as discussed in previous blog posts) aiming and activating the striker fire system will be a relatively straightforward task.
In addition to the more traditional striker fired/cartridge system, the Iron Man armor also utilizes missile technology.
Again, pretty badass right!? It is quite a sight to watch Iron Man deploy these relatively tiny missiles and then have them fix in on their targets and cause chaos and destruction. The astute amongst you will pick up on something of an anomaly in the last sentence, specifically, the use of the term “tiny missiles”. Allow me to explain, a missile is essentially a rocket with some sort of warhead (or payload) attached to it. The rocket is what propels the missile in a specified direction and the warhead is what does the damage. The extent of the damage is determined by the size of the warhead. Ergo, the bigger the warhead attached to the missile, the more damage that can be done to an intended target. Let us take a look at the relatively common Sidewinder missile
This particular missile has the capability to take out aircraft size targets. Compare this missile to those ones in the above pictures that deploy from Iron Man’s wrist gauntlets. Notice anything? Iron Man’s missiles are relatively TINY in comparison! Yet somehow Iron Man still manages to take out aircraft and tank sized targets! How on earth can this be!? Again, excellent question!
For obvious reasons missiles the size of the sidewinder are simply not going to fit on (or within) the Iron Man armor. Now for small targets (say the size of a medium to large size box) the missiles deployed by Iron Man (in the above pictures) would be sufficient. However, we can assume that our Iron Man armor is going to have to engage hostile targets much larger then a small to medium sized box. So we are going to have to find a means of making the most of the weapons that we have. Now we could go with the old argument that Tony Stark has simply equipped the missiles with some sort of super secret destructo technology that only he has access to, but (again) what fun would that be!?
So instead of taking the easy way out, let us take a look at plausible options that explain how such a small missile can be effective against such a large target. A little bit of research quickly uncovers the answer to our query, “Smart” technology. Now when I say “smart” I am not talking about a missile that is capable of doing your grade school multiplication tables, instead I am talking about a weapon system capable of targeting the weak point of a given target thus inflicting the most amount of damage with the smallest payload.
Wait a moment…
in order for our missiles to be capable of targeting the weak points of their intended targets, each one is going to require a complex on board computer system, connected to the Iron Man suit, that is capable of complex calculations (far beyond any high school multiplication tables) ensuring that each missile is capable of hitting the weakest point on its intended target. Alright, looks like I am going to have to retract the statement regarding a missile capable of doing math! So the take home message is that by utilizing “smart” technology, we can use the smallest warhead possible, thus making it possible to fit onto/into the Iron Man armor and ensuring that we are able to inflict the maximum amount of damage on even the largest/most well armored target.
Enough with the bullets and missiles, Iron man is know for his repulsors! So, tell me about Repulsors!
Alright! Are you ready for it!
It is time to talk about the almighty Iron Man repulsors!
So let us get to it!
So after combing the Internet and peer reviewed journal after peer-reviewed journal, I have come to the following conclusion regarding the almighty Iron Man repulsors…
Sadly, the most iconic weapon system in Iron Man’s arsenal appears to be nothing more then a complete work of fiction. Based on our current understanding of the natural world, Iron Man’s repulsors are not currently reproducible. That is not to say that someone will not some day develop a functioning repulsor, but for the time being we are going to have to make without!
This has been the Skeptical Samurai….
WAIT! WHAT!? NOT SO FAST! No Repulsors, how can that be!?
I know! I know! I want the repulsors to be real as well! Sadly, given our current understanding of the natural world, repulsors are simply a technology that is not realistically feasible.
But your right, we cannot just leave it at that! Well I guess that we could, but that is not why you come to the Skeptical Samurai blog now is it? You come here for logic, reason and explanations. So with that in mind let us take a look at why implementing repulsor technology into our Iron Man armor is (at this time) simply not possible.
Although at first glance Iron Man’s repulsors appear to be based in reality, a closer examination reveals that there are several factors that make their construction (currently) impossible.
1) There appears to be no moving parts. Although initially this does not seem like a deal breaker, most modern weaponry is based on the principle of some sort of mechanical devise that follows the formula of a charge that ignites a propellant, which then pushes a bullet/payload/warhead toward a target. Although there is certainly technology in development that differ from this formula, it is still in its infancy and no where near developed to a point that it could be realistically deployed in an exoskeleton suit of armor
2) The repulsors seem to require no charging time. Again, most if not all of modern armaments utilize the formula of a mechanical device that hits a charge that ignites a propellant that pushes a bullet/payload/warhead toward a target. Weapons systems that utilize this formula require reloading. Weapons that differ from this formula typically require a significant amount of “charging” time in-between each discharge. Depending on the weapon system that we are talking about this can be minutes to hours. For reason that I do not need to explain when we are in the middle of a firefight with a rogue scientist utilizing our own technology against us we simply do not have the time to wait minutes (to hours) in order for our repulsors to charge!
3) The damage that the repulsor inflict upon their intended target appears to be kinetic in nature. That is, a force is being impacted upon the target (and a massive force at that). Allow me to clarify, there are three types of damage that a warhead can do: kinetic, thermal and chemical. The damage done by the repulsors does not appear to be thermal in nature, so this rules out the possibility that the repulsors are simply some sort of supped up flamethrower. The damage done also does not appear to be chemical in nature, specifically, there is no evidence of a chemical reaction taking place upon the intended target. So that leaves kinetic damage and for there to be kinetic damage there would also have to be some sort of kinetic energy working on object deploying the weapon system (in addition to the kinetic energy being experience by the intended target) and this is just simply not what we see depicted in the comics. In the comic books, Iron Man appears to experience little (or even no) recoil when the repulsors are deployed. This does not leave us with a plausible explanation regarding how the repulsors are causing damage to their intended target.
4) And the last and final issue (and it is a big one), the repulsors can be used without the rest of the suit. This would support the conclusion that the repulsors are being powered by something other then the reactor in Tony’s chest. Given that our explanation for the reactor in Tony’s chest is based yet to be developed technology that does not really leave us with a plausible explanation regarding how the repulsors are being powered.
So given the points presented above, as much as it pains me to say it, the only way in which it will be possible for us to create repulsors for our Iron Man armor is with the use of fictitious/non-existent technology (read as: it is not going to happen).
And with that we have concluded the epic four part series of “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide To Comic Books: Iron Man Edition”.
So what have we learned?
As surprising as it may be, the vast majority of the technology integrated into the comic book version of the Iron Man armor is based in reality. Although certain aspects are completely fictitious (the repulsors) and others are beyond our current capabilities (the power source in Tony’s Chest) much of what we see is actually grounded in reality and completely within the realm of possibility. So for all of you out there who had ever wanted to have/build your own suit of Iron Man armor, keep your chins up as there is still hope for you!
I hope that you have enjoyed reading this saga of blog posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them! Please feel free to drop me a line (check the contact page) and suggest which comic book character you would like me to investigate in the future! And please stay tuned as there are some exciting things in the works! Until next time…
This has been the skeptical samurai
Working to serve…
Through the process of inquiry…