As fans know, in Spider-Man #121, the Green Goblin pushed Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy off of a bridge, and Spider-Man tries to save her. He reaches out with his spider-webbing, catches her…
…and still, she dies. Although no one has ever accused Peter of killing his girlfriend—that blame is well and squarely placed on Green Goblin—Gwen was killed as the result of whiplash. In the act of trying to save her, Peter accidentally broke her neck.
There’s a real-world reason for this, as Professor James Kakalios explains in his 2006 book The Physics of Superheroes. It seems that Gwen was an object in motion until the external force of Peter’s web stopped her all too suddenly.
But there’s more to Kakalios’ book than Spider-Man (and impulse and momentum). There’s Magneto, Superman, and the Flash, who he uses to explain magnetism and repulsion, force and gravity, and the many worlds interpretation of physics, respectively. By using comic books, Kakalios illustrates high-level concepts in a way that’s engaging and fun for students and those of us who want to brush up on our physics.
As a young reader, comic books taught me words that I never knew, including words in German and Russian (Thanks, Uncanny X-Men), but then again, I'm linguistically minded. I never read comics with an eye toward the science--after all, Superman's "the power of the yellow sun" seemed like so much handwaving--until Kakalios came along.
And really, what better way to learn a science lesson than by visualizing it in spandex and a cape?
You can find The Physics of Superheroes here.