Archive for Comics

The Cost of Being Iron Man

Posted in Skeptical Samurai's Guide to Comic Books, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2012 by theskepticalsamurai

Greetings loyal readers of the Skeptical Samurai Blog!

Oh how I have missed you!

It has been a busy couple of weeks on the Skeptical Samurai front!  Just in the process of wrapping up some of the finishing touches on our new home so that we can actually begin the process of physically moving into our new accommodations.  Exciting!

Also of note, I officially started medical school this week.  Technically, I started last week, but it was all orientation so no actual lectures/classes.  This week marked the official start of classes and diving into the course material.

Suffice to say (as I am sure some of you have noticed) the blog has suffered a bit (in that there have not been as many posts).  Don’t worry; I have not forgotten about you or the blog, it is just that there are only so many hours in a day!

Sadly I have no ground breaking investigations for you this week, but fear not, as I am hard at work on another segment of “The Skeptical Samurai’s guide to Comic Books”.  I will give you a little hint…

Additionally I am also hard at work at converting the blog into a full-fledged podcast!

So free not dear readers…there is still much to be expected from your good friend the Skeptical Samurai

In the mean time I thought that you might find the following link interesting.  I really enjoyed it and I thought that it would make a nice addendum to the “Skeptical Samurai guide to comic books: Iron Man edition” that I did a while back (here is a link to the original blog posts:  This serves as a “real world” cost analysis of what it would actually take to be Iron Man.  Granted this article goes into both Iron Man and Tony Stark (and his life style) but I certainly does a bring an element of realism to the notion of what it would cost to become an Iron Man type super-hero.

Enjoy! (click to enlarge)

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…


The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books: Iron Man: Part 3

Posted in Comic Books, science, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to Comic Books with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 9, 2012 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another installment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books!  Featuring: Iron Man (Part 3)

Alright, so we have hashed out the inspiration for this segment of the blog and we have begun the process of determining whether or not Iron Man could potentially exist in the real world.  To catch up on all of the action check out the original blog post here:

And also check out Part #2 here:

But we are far from done dear reader, so buckle up!  It is going to be an exciting ride!

Alright, so we have managed to get power to our Iron Man suit and get it up and running, but how are we going to move the darn thing!?

Even if we use an insanely light metal the Iron Man armor is still going to be VERY heavy.  Consequently, it is not realistic to think that we are simply going to strap it on and wear it like a set of hockey equipment.  This actually raises and interesting point, the Iron Man armor is not simply armor.  Although the name would have you believe it, you cannot simply just expect the user to strap it on and utilize his/her own strength in order to operate it.  Instead, the Iron Man armor will require a complex set of internal components in order for it to enhance the abilities of its user.  With this in mind, the Iron Man armor can more correctly be thought of as an exo-skeleton (but for the sake of this post we will continue to refer to it as armor).

Let us compare the skeletal system of the human body to the Iron Man armor.  Similar to the plates of armor that make of the Iron Man suit, the skeleton is responsible for providing protection and structure.  The skeleton however is not responsible for movement and articulation.  Instead this is the responsibility of muscles, tendons and ligaments.  These are the structures that allow the human body to perform both fine and gross motors skills.  With this in mind, we will require some sort of complex internal mechanisms in order to give our Iron Man armor the ability to move as well as perform both fine and gross motor skills.  Surprisingly, we do not require anything amazingly fancy in order to make this happen.  A complex system of gears and hydraulics would more then fit the bill.

However, when we take in account how complex the operation of such a system would be, that raises the obvious question, how on earth can we expect the user to run all of these systems?  Is the user going to be expected to operate each and every little gear in order to make the armor function?

The answer to that question, dear reader is a resounding, no.

Well then who is going to run all of these complex internal structures!? 

That answer to that question is not “who”…

But instead “what” is going to run all of these complex internal structures.  Fear not dear reader, the answer is coming!

Okay, so keeping the suit upright is not going to be a problem, but how on earth are we going to keep the Iron Man suit stable during flight!?

Alright, let us forget about the Iron Man armor for a moment.  When you think of flying, what comes to mind?  First thing that comes to my mind is a commercial airplane.

Fixed winged aircrafts are naturally stable.  All things being equal, a commercial fixed winged aircraft (read as: a plane) is designed to fly in a reasonably straight path over a given trajectory.

Now I realize that things are actually more complicated then that, but for the sake of argument we are going to assume that a fixed winged aircraft is an inherently straight forward design.  Once we lose the fixed wings, things immediately become more complicated.  So the commercial airplane is not the best comparison for our Iron Man armor.

Thinking of aircraft on a spectrum (the commercial airplane on one end and the Iron Man armor on the other) what would come next?  I would suggest a commercial helicopter.

We have sacrificed the relative stability of the fixed wing for a rotary blade.  While obviously not impossible to fly (I mean if you look outside your window long enough you will eventually see one of these things flying by) the helicopter is inherently more difficult to control (although this is still up for debate amongst the aviation community), but makes up for this increase difficulty with increased maneuverability.  We are getting closer, but we are still a ways off for a comparison for our Iron Man armor.

What about a fighter jet!?  Say something like the F22 Raptor.

Insanely fast and capable of feats simply beyond that of a regular commercial airliner or helicopter.  The F22 Raptor has capabilities similar to those that will be required of our Iron Man armor (granted in somewhat of a bigger package).  This particular fighter jet is meant to push the limits of what an aircraft is capable of.  AH HA!  I think we have a winner!  Alright so why have I taken the time to make this comparison…keep reading and find out!

Upon closer examination of the F22 Raptor one thing immediately becomes clear.  The operator is not “in charge” of each and every aspect of the aircraft.  Now please do not misunderstand me, it as not as if the plane has become self-aware (cool example: Skynet in the Terminator franchise, bad example: the plane in the movie Stealth).  Instead the operator is in charge of things on a macroscopic level, speed, direction, etc.  The plane (or more specifically the on board computer systems) is responsible for the figurative (and sometimes literal) microscopic processes that make these things happen.   The aircraft is simply far too complex and the only way to make it function is with the assistance of on board computers.  We can assume that the Iron Man armor is going to be several orders of magnitude more complex then the F22 Raptor so we will have no choice but to utilize an on board computer system in order to optimize the armor, otherwise we are just going to have a really expensive paper weight on our hands!

So how exactly are computers going to help operate the Iron Man armor?  I mean, do we really need them?

The short answer to that question is, yes, we do need them.

The long answer to that question is…yes we really do need them!  Remember we are not talking about the original Iron Man armor that Tony Stark used to escape from his terrorist captors.  If we were trying to build that particular version of the armor we could potentially get away without an on board computer system.  Instead, we are trying to build the much more advanced Mach V through VII version.  If we want to build that, we NEED an on board computer system!

In the comics Iron Man has an insanely complex on board computer/tech system.  This on board system is what allows the Tony Stark to mobilize in the Iron Man armor as well as fly through the sky.  In the movies this on board computer system is referred to as Jarvis (to the comic book nerds amongst us, this is a tip of the hat to Tony Stark’s fictitious human butler named Jarvis who serves as Tony’s confident and partner in crime).  Jarvis is an on board/interaction computer system that is responsible for making all of the needed second to second calculations and corrections required to keep the Iron Man armor upright and mobile as well as enable it to sore through the sky.

Remember all of those internal gear pictures above.  Jarvis is going to be responsible for making all of those gears function.  What about all of those panels/flaps seen articulating over the surface of the Iron Man armor?

Similar to the fighter jet, adjustments and movements of these panels are what are going to make the Iron Man armor capable of performing fantastic feats.  In addition to these panels the Iron Man armor is also equipped with repulsors (located in the palms of the armor).

Well also capable of acting as an offensive weapon (more on that later) these repulsors can also be used as another means of controlling and stabilizing the Iron Man armor, specifically while in flight.

Now if we did not require our Iron Man armor to move smoothly or perform amazingly aerial maneuvers we could more likely leave the control of the panels and the internal gears, panels/flaps and repulsors with the operator.  However, seeing as we are going to require A LOT more out of the Iron Man armor, it is simply unrealistic to expect our operator to make all of the needed calculations and associated adjustments.  But fear not dear reader!  The dream of a real life suit of Iron Man armor is not dead yet!  Given the capabilities of modern computers (and their continued advancement) it is completely realistic to expect that a compact system could be designed and inserted into the Iron Man armor to assist the operator with operating it.  With the help of Jarvis we will be able to operate the armor and not only keep it upright, but have it perform feats previously not thought possible!

Well that is it for Part 3!

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to this epic Iron Man saga!

This has been the Skeptical Samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…






The Skeptical Samurai’s Guid to Comic Books: Iron Man (Part 2)

Posted in Comic Books, Critical Thinking, Skeptical Samurai's Guide to Comic Books, skepticism with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2012 by theskepticalsamurai

Time for another instalment of…

The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books!

Featuring: Iron Man (Part 2)

Alright, so in the last instalment we looked at the inspiration behind the creation of “The Skeptical Samurai’s Guide to Comic Books” and we began to exam the character Iron Man.  Specifically, we looked at the origin of Tony Stark/Iron Man and began to discuss the design elements of the Iron Man armour.  Specifically, we looked if it would actually be possible to make a real life Iron Man suit using modern technology.

Check out the original blog post here:

I apologize about the tardiness of this blog post, but this is a rather information intensive topic and it has required A LOT more research that is usually required.  I think (and hope) that you will find that the wait has been well worth it…so buckle up!  It is going to be an exciting ride!

How would one power an Iron Man suit?

We have come to what is the biggest obstacle in attempting to create a real life Iron Man suit.  Powering the darn thing!

Why is powering a suit of armour such a big deal you ask?  Well it is not like you can just strap an engine and gas tank to the back of the thing and fill it up at your local service station!  For a multitude of reasons, when looking for a power source for the Iron Man armour, an internal combustion engine simply will not work.  For starters, in order for the engine to be powerful enough to power the Iron Man armour it would have to be very large.  In fact, you would require an engine so large that it could not be properly (or safely) mounted anywhere on the Iron Man suit that would not somehow become a problem.  Even if you could somehow get past all of this, you would still have to overcome the fact that you cannot invert the engine (making any sort of aerial manoeuvres difficult if not impossible) and the internal combustion engine is an inherently inefficient design (the Iron Man suit would quickly burn through all of the available fuel leaving the suit without a power source).

So typical types of commercially available engines and fuel are out, so what does that leave us with!?  Well, sadly, not a heck of a lot!

But what about that cool “arc reactor” in Stark’s chest in the movies?

Why can’t we just throw one of those in our Iron Man armour?  Actually that is an excellent idea, except for one small little problem….although the technology presented in the Iron Man film(s) is grounded in science, it does not yet exist!  But despite this obstacle, this is still a glimmer of hope as there is actually a device that currently exists that produces energy by utilizing plasma contained within a magnetic field, it is called a Tokamak reactor.  However, current Tokamak reactors are approximately the size of your local electric/hydro/coal/nuclear power station

making it a little difficult to simply insert it in the chest piece of an exo-skeleton suit of armour.

Another issue that arises is that current Tokamak reactors do not have the ability to produce a sustained source of power.  There is nothing inherently implausible about the Tokamak reactor; it is simply of matter of technology not keeping up with conceptual theory.  The hope is that someday the Tokamak reactor (or even a “better” technology) will become a viable power source.  If and when this happens, we have a potential viable power source for our Iron Man armour!

Alright, so we have figured out a way to “power” the suit, but would we still require a fuel source?

This is actually a really important concept, specifically the notion of power versus fuel.  For the sake of this discussion, power can be thought of as energy that is capable of doing work.  Fuel is essentially what creates power.  Fuel under goes a thermo dynamic reaction to create energy which gives power.  Power can be thought of as what is going to be needed to run all of the on board operating/computer systems contained within our Iron Man suit.  However we are also going to need power to operate systems such as the rocket boots.  Let us take a quick look at Iron Man’s boots.

Notice all of the smoke/exhaust that is being emitted from the sole of the boot? That is by-product of all of the fuel required in order to power the rocket boots!  This raises the obvious question, how much fuel would you require to power the Iron Man rocket boots?  Excellent question!  Let’s look at that question a little more closely using the space shuttle as an example.  More specifically, the space shuttle when it is lifting off from mission control here on earth.

Do you see that gigantic orange tank that the shuttle is perched on?  That is a gas tank filled with fuel to power the two rockets that sit on either side of it.  That is right, that entire orange tank is one HUGE gas tank!  Granted the Iron Man armour is not the size and weight of the space shuttle, but this gives us an idea of the amount of fuel we need to power a rocket.

Well, what about a commercial airliner?  I mean, last time I checked I did not see any type of huge fuel cell on one of those times, and I mean, commercial air planes are huge, weight a ton, and fly across the Pacific Ocean…And they do not seem to require a lot of fuel to fly.  Well, look again!  A commercial airliner is basically one big fuel tank with wings!

So, have we actually gotten past the issues of powering the Iron Man suit?  It appears that a scaled down version of the Tokamak reactor would power all of the on board operating systems but as we have established have will require a massive about of fuel in order to power systems such as the rocket boots…

So would the theoretical scaled down version of the Tokamak reactor be a viable option?  Turns out that it will!  As long as we configured the Tokamak reactor in such a manner that it is able to supply power to the entire suit, as opposed to just the operating systems located in close proximity to the chest piece, we should be good to go!

Okay so the Tokamak Reactor is the answer to our power and fuel problem, but it is not going to run itself.  Where are we going to get the plasma in order to run the Tokamak reaction?

We have established that the Tokamak reactor is a viable source of power and fuel, however the reactor is not a perpetual motion machine (as that would violate the laws of physics) so how are we going to run the reactor?  Well we know that the Tokamak reactor runs on plasma, so from that we can deduce that we are going to require a constant (or at least replenishable) source of plasma.  So this raises the obvious question, where are we going to get this plasma from?  Excellent question!  Let us see if we can find ourselves an answer.

The human body has approximately 5 litres of blood circulating through it at any one time (give or take depending on body size, body type, hydration status, etc).  Approximately half of blood volume is plasma, so that gives us approx 2 to 2.5 litres of plasma to work with.  This same plasma that runs through our blood vessels could be used to power our theoretical Tokamak reactor.  As long as the user is keep relatively well hydrated this would be a plausible means in which to power/fuel the Iron Man armour.  So assuming that that the Tokamak reactor can be built and then scaled down to fit in the chest piece of the Iron Man armour, as long as the user has some sort of hydration system available or stops every few hours to rehydrate this is completely feasible!

Alright folks…that is it for now, stay tuned for Part 3!

This has been the skeptical samurai

Working to serve…

Through the process of inquiry…