Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Truth About Freeze Powers

In all superhero stories, the power of ice also equates to the power of freezing people. Not killing them, just freezing them – disabling them by turning them into icicles. In the popular film The Incredibles, for example, the character voiced by Samuel L Jackson is capable of freezing a bullet mid-air as well as the policeman behind it:
 

In the X-Men, Bobby Drake (aka Iceman) can do it, since his powers are also ice-based. In various Batman incarnations, Mr Freeze can do it. Superman sometimes does it with his super-breath. The list could go on. But sadly, that frozen policeman from the video is almost definitely dead.

Now that I’ve said it you probably already see the truth of it, but after the click let’s break down just how horrible it is.

Well, you’ve not been cryogenically frozen. That isn’t what happened. I’ve mentioned cryogenics before and why it’s not currently possible: water expands when it freezes. The fluid in your cells will rupture the cell walls. The delicate structures in your brain alone will never survive the crude process. If you’re ‘cryogenically’ frozen to the core by some superhero’s breath? You’re dead. That is, unless you have the kind of life insurance policy that covers your body being preserved eternally in a secure, temperature-controlled vault until they figure out a way to rebuild your ruptured tissues.

We must revive him – his knowledge of 90s sitcom catchphrases is invaluable to our era

So being frozen to the core is bad, right? At least that hasn’t happened. Sadly if you’re still awake then it’s even worse. You are conscious somewhere in your mind but your skin is frozen, or at least encased in ice. Have you ever accidentally stuck your tongue to a freezing piece of metal? Even if you’re sensible and have never done that, have you ever held your hand in a bucket of cold water before? Maybe you were serving cold drinks from a huge ice-water bin; maybe you were doing some stupid dare; maybe you were fishing something out of a cold sink; maybe you fell through a sheet of ice into a lake. You can imagine how nasty it might be. Even if your superhero has been benign and just encased you in ice, there’ll still be some… clinging. You will also be in shock, much like someone falling through an ice sheet into a lake. Your eyeballs may also be frozen to the ice.

Oh yeah, you’ll be suffocating. How long can you hold your breath? Your brain needs oxygen, and for some stupid reason our bodies never retain that much – certainly not enough anyway. Even if you didn’t inhale the freeze-gas, even if it didn’t coat the insides of your lungs in a terrible organ-rupturing perma-frost, you still can’t breathe. One option is for someone else to smash the ice, but you may lose layers of skin, or the aforementioned eyeballs. Then there’s still the issue of ice in your mouth, sinuses, windpipe and lungs. Another option is for Batman (or more likely one of the Gotham Police Department) to defrost you.

How do you think they’ll defrost you? Some kind of fire might work. But what does Batman use?
“Don’t worry, Robin. Microwave radiation is healthy"

In the Joel Schumacher film Batman & Robin, Batman thaws people with mobile heating units and heat rays. You might be infertile and sure there’ll probably be some tumours or cancerous growths, but at least you’ll be alive, right? If you could only close your eyes as they power up the heat-generating radiation machine… but no, your eyelids are frozen…
Unless you’re freed by smashing or defrosting, you have a few minutes before complete brain death. If you survive the police’s bungled attempts to heat you without being blown up like a party balloon, there may still be frostbite to endure.

Frostbite is what happens when living skin freezes. It can happen at any temperature below zero, but who knows exactly how cold the ice-beam will be? It’s cold enough to generate ice instantly, after all. Most frostbite cases aren’t too bad, from ‘frost nip’ to chilblains. Quite often sufferers do not require anything amputated. It just takes time to heal and may leave scars, like any other burn. But in cases of third or fourth degree frostbite? I hope you weren’t attached to your earlobes, toes, fingers, nose, eyelids, nipples or lips… or penis.

Frostbite looks really horrible, so here’s this guy again. Imagine his icy hell

I know kids aren't coming away with the lesson that it's okay to freeze people. But it’s not like setting someone on fire is encouraged in a fun cartoon film for the whole family, so why is freezing someone okay?

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