A Fact-Check for the Four-Color World

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Guest Post: Nature vs. Nurture, Part 2

And now the conclusion of yesterday's comments on comic book chromosomes by ChaosBurnFlame. Once again, the following post contains considerable spoilers for the JLU season finale:


In ‘Epilogue’ it was revealed that Terry McGinnis, the Batman of the animated DC universe’s future, is the genetic son of Bruce Wayne. His entire birth was manufactured by Amanda Waller in hopes of creating a new Batman. The story defies most conventions about heredity and dominant genetic traits that ARE known by genetic science, and not only that, but it violates the validity of Terry McGinnis’s right to BE Batman.

In the story, Waller spins the yarn of her plan, using Bruce Wayne’s DNA and injecting a genetic retrovirus into Terry’s father to change the reproductive DNA in Terry’s father to that of Bruce Wayne’s, meaning that essentially it would be the same as if Bruce Wayne himself impregnated Terry’s mother. As the story continues, Waller says that it takes ‘more than genetics’ to make Batman, it also took tragedy.

Waller arranged the Phantasm to kill both of Terry’s parents in front of him to set off Terry’s ‘genetic need’ to become Batman. And this is where the whole thing falls apart, both in the story, and in all conventional means of storytelling.

The implications in the statements of Waller are that she planned this sordid plan for over a decade. That for ten years she was thinking “Gee, this is a great plan” And then, a mere five seconds before the final step in the plan was to be put in motion, the Phantasm gets cold feet and the plan’s abandoned, without a second thought.

Genetically speaking, however, the entire plan is flawed. If one wants to create a child that would have nearly all the genetic traits one would consider necessary for Batman, they shouldn’t use Batman’s DNA. They should use the DNA from Batman’s father.

Historically speaking, Eugenics has had a short time of actual practice for ‘breeding out’ undesirable elements in humans in the early 20th century. Of course, these practices didn’t even last a single generation, thus any relevant data is near impossible to gather. Eugenic studies on humans unethical and immoral, thus if one wants to gather any sort of logical data concerning how to duplicate desirable traits, one would look into the breeding of animals, such as horses.

One of the first steps in breeding horses is called ‘Isolation’. This means lowering the chance of getting any undesirable traits by limiting the selection pool. This typically means using for males the father to breed in desirable traits.

The reason for this is because in Bruce Wayne’s DNA, there are the recessive traits of both Thomas and Martha Wayne as well as the dominant. Using Bruce’s DNA as the father DNA creates a crapshoot to where the recessive traits between Thomas Wayne, Martha Wayne, and Terry’s Mother will quite frankly create a lot of dominant traits that most likely wouldn’t even be considered viable for the project. The law of statistics state that the chances of recreating the dominant traits that Waller stated were so desirable in what made Batman Batman would be cut to a sixteenth.

However, if one used Thomas Wayne’s DNA as the father DNA, then the chances are down to an eighth. Still not odds one should take to Vegas, but far better than a sixteenth.

Now for the ‘nurture’ flaw in Waller’s plan. Waller planned the murder of Terry’s parents when he was only 8 years of age. The odds of merely having Bruce Wayne as a genetic father and replicating Bruce’s young tragedy would instill the same dedication and drive Bruce Wayne had is, statistically, improbable.

Odds you shouldn’t take to Vegas even. In fact, one would have better odds in creating a Batman by going to 20 orphans whose parents were killed and training them. Statistically, it would be still highly improbable, but in this case at least, nurture would be the stronger influence instead of the Waller plan of waiting for divine coincidence.

The final problem in how genetics are handled in these two characters is this: It invalidates these characters’ places in their respective families. For Kon-El, he knew he wasn’t a clone of Superman, yet he worked hard to be good enough to have the name. He went through heartbreak, lost his first love Tana Moon, fought an evil clone of himself called Match, fought an alternate reality version of himself called Black Zero. And it was through all this that Superman said “Ok, you’re good enough”, invited him into the Fortress, gave him a kryptonian name, and made Superboy feel worthy of being a ‘cousin’ to Superman. He EARNED it.

The same goes to Terry. Throughout ‘Batman Beyond’, Terry constantly strived to be good enough to be Batman in this new time. Some of the old Batman’s methods worked; sometimes it took Terry’s personal touch. But the message was that Terry earned the right to wear the costume on his own merits. He EARNED it.

To suddenly make these two characters to be the genetic son of their predecessors takes away from this struggle to be good enough. It cheapens the struggle, it says that the only way to gain the legacy is through blood, not tears. And that is the problem with how genetics are handled in comics.