By Caleb Goellner
As demonstrated time and again by the popularity of escapist fiction, the details of everyday life don’t always make for an entertainment thrill ride. That’s where made-up elements, fuels, fabrics – the stuff of stuff, come in. Fake crap is the spice of fiction. Where would Frodo be without his anti-stabbing Mythril? Could the Enterprise seek out strange new worlds without it’s futuristic metals? Sure, there are times that imaginary materials serve only to advance a plot or gloss over boring technical details, but they also foster the creative consciousness of nerds everywhere. Read on to reflect on why faux elements and curious compounds aren’t a storytelling crutch – they’re appreciated jetpacks…to worlds of imagination.
Before Robin Williams and a CGI dance number bastardized the near-magical green goo, Flubber was an amazing chemical compound capable of solving the world’s – and an absentminded Fred MacMurray’s problems with a bounce. The antigravity goo turned talentless slobs into basketball studs, made a car fly and infused a sloppy dancer with all the right moves. It’s never made clear how much energy or pollution went into the production of Flubber (aside from some potentially large doses of radiation), but considering how little was needed to accomplish breathtaking feats, the synthetic compound seems appropriately “green.” Barring biodegradability, Flubber still has the potential to cure a worldwide energy crisis. Not bad for a Maxwell solid.
7) Lightsaber Crystals
Lightsaber technology is wonderfully convoluted. Even without violating various laws of physics, there’s really no good explanation behind how they work on a mechanical level. Sure, there are some fun cross-sections and diagrams detailing how a Jedi’s weapon of choice turns on and off, but they’re not really telling anyone more than a flashlight instruction manual would. The backbone of these wonder devices is a diverse group of crystals (and non crystals), which lend color and other physical characteristics to a lightsaber’s “blade.” Of course, all of the information on these crystals is more or less apocryphal speculation from an expanded universe of novels, comics and fanfic, meaning Star Wars fans are twice as willing to accept it compared to the holiday special, The Clone Wars or an SW musical.
Chemistry nerds like to argue about it, but this near-indestructible, heat-proof and electrically neutral fictional metal is said to be an alloy. Either way it’s used to build mechs piloted by hyper-androgynous teen boys with manly voices. That alone is grounds for some kind of “best of” list. Gundanium also gives lazy otaku a convenient means to explain just why Gundams are called “Gundams,” should any normal person care in a post-Toonami, post-Gundam Wing world.
5) Unstable Molecules
The Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards slapped together more than his share of crazy, quasi-plausible doohickeys under the pen of Stan and Jack, but his greatest contribution to the field of fake materials would have to be costumes made from “unstable molecules.” And honestly, as pseudo-scientific as they are, they’re still the best damn comic book logic to support battles free of nudity. You see, Reed is a visionary, so after he ruined the lives of his closest friends by making them freaks, he made sure to protect their modesty by adorning them in clothes they couldn’t destroy with their new abilities. A flaming naked dude is not the best PR move, after all (or maybe it is). Unstable Molecules may sound like a cop-out, but any clothing that can withstand nova flares, cover the Thing’s craggy posterior or take a break from reflecting light is surely insane and should be revered.
4) Adamantium / Vibranium (tie)
Marvel Comics loves its fake metals. It seems like there’s a special alloy for damn near every occasion. The material of Wolverine’s claws and bone coverings, Adamantium, for example, is immutable and unbreakable whereas Vibranium just kind of does whatever is required of it to serve as a macguffin in a given storyline. Technically Vibranium stores kinetic energy (or creates it, depending on where it’s from or who is writing about it) and becomes harder the more it’s mucked with. Vibranium also absorbs sound or something, which is useful for people who want to eat on fine China without the skin-curling shriek that emits when a fork scrapes along in search of corn. Given the utility of both materials, it’s extremely hard to declare one cooler than the other. Not even Marvel editorial can decide, which is likely the reason Captain America’s shield is said to consist of both.
3) Dark Matter
As the Planetary Express crew’s resident pet/secret universal savior, Nibbler proved that spacecraft-propelling poop is seriously awesome (a liquid version was shown in episode #37 when a sober Bender crashed a dark matter tanker into Pluto and its nature reserve, which is why he’s wringing out that penguin in the above picture. More or less). Sure, Futurama has wiped its dark matter usefulness from continuity in the recent Bender’s Game DVD, but the fuel that weighed one thousand pounds per pound remains a fond memory for fans of the series. What else could both bolster efficient space travel and condemn a planet of horny penguins to death at the hands of sportsmen? Nuthin’, that’s what!
2) Nth Metal
Just as Marvel has Adamantium and Vibranium, DC Comics has it’s own cache of fictional elements and alloys. A lot of people would point out Kryptonite first, but since all of its many colors really only serve to give people cancer or ruin Superman’s day, Hawkman and Hawkgirl’s Nth Metal reigns supreme. Rendered on the planet Thanagar, Nth Metal rivals even the ShamWow in terms of basic usefulness. With flight, energy manipulation, strength and invulnerability among other abilities, Nth metal essentially allows users 80 percent of Superman’s powers with the bonus of resistance to witchcraft and wizardry. Plus it’s shiny, which is very “in” this year…on Thanagar.
Time Travel. Matter transportation. Ice cream. What could possibly link three such awesome items? Only the raddest (and rarest) element on Earth: Bombastium. Purchased at auction by Scrooge McDuck for a sum only his lust for money could muster, this temperature-sensitive element had the alchemical power to convert water into ice cream. The good uncle didn’t know this before he bought it; he probably just wanted to show off and own something seemingly culled from a Shaggy jam. Years later in the DuckTales animated series; Gyro used the same faux element to power a trip to the prehistoric past, where Uncle Scrooge met Bubba the cave duck (of “Bubba Clubba” fame). Perhaps most impressive is Bombastium’s matter-transporting abilities demonstrated in the 1990 DuckTales: The Quest for Gold PC game. But, since nobody played that game, turning water into ice cream pretty much wins the list.