When Superman met Einstein: A history of Albert Einstein’s comic book appearances
The beloved father of relativity has appeared alongside Superman, Captain America and quite a few other heroes over the years.
He may be best known for laying down the theories of the Fourth Dimension, but Albert Einstein has also traveled through several dimensions – in comic books, at least. Yes, the beloved “father of relativity” has made quite a few appearances in comic books over the years, sometimes in surprising ways.
Einstein’s comic book cameos not only play off his historical status, but also his iconic appearance. “Einstein's face is the most recognizable face worldwide,” says Hanoch Gutfreund, the director of the Albert Einstein archives at Hebrew University in Israel, a school which the physicist helped establish.
Below, we round up some of our favorite Einstein comic book cameos!
Superman & Batman (DC Comics)
One of Einstein’s first comic-book appearances occurred in the pages of Superman number 55, published in November 1948. He didn’t really take on a cartoony element at this point, though. The issue just contained a two-page text biography of the physicist called “The Boy Who Wasn’t Too Bright,” a reference to Einstein’s quiet demeanor as a child, which led many to believe that he wasn’t actually very smart.
Superman and Einstein didn’t appear in a comic book again until 1978, when DC Comics published an oversized “treasury edition” comic book called Superman vs. Wonder Woman. Set in 1942, this story starts with Wonder Woman rescuing Einstein from people intent on stealing files from the Manhattan Project. Wonder Woman learns the secrets of the Project, and, horrified at their potential, ends up stealing the files herself. That leads to a misunderstanding between heroes, as was common back in the day. Superman and Wonder Woman fight for a few pages, then settle their differences and save the day. Superman and Einstein never meet, alas.
That was eventually fixed when Einstein took on a more central role (including an appearance on the cover) in the pages of DC Comics Presents number 69, published in May 1984. This Superman-starring series paired the Kryptonian hero with a different DC Comics character or team in each issue, in this case the team of flying aces known as the Blackhawks. In this issue, Superman (who by this time was said to have arrived on Earth early in the 1960s) travels back in time to help the Blackhawks save Einstein from kidnappers. (Obviously, the good guys win.)
Two years later, Einstein – or at least his legend – takes a central role in Superman issue 416, entitled “The Einstein Connection!” In this strange, logic-twisting story, Superman gets a message from his future self, asking him to let villainous Lex Luthor break out of jail for a day. The occasion? Luthor wants to celebrate Einstein’s March 14 birthday by reenacting key events in his scientific hero’s life. In the process, Luthor himself becomes a temporary hero by saving a drowning boy. (Of course, Luthor stays evil in the end.) Although Superman and Einstein take a few moments to visit the Albert Einstein Memorial in Washington, D.C., Einstein himself only appears in a flashback – which is probably a good thing since the story itself is hardly a work of genius.
That same year, Einstein and Batman appeared together in the pages of DC Challenge number 6. DC Challenge was an, um, interesting experiment. Each issue of this 12-part series had a completely different team of writers and artists, who would end their 22 pages in a massive cliffhanger that the next team would need to resolve. In this story – co-starring such DC stalwarts as Captain Marvel and Rip Hunter, Time Master – Einstein pops up as a godlike outer-dimensional being that helps set straight the madness from the previous five creative teams. (Yeah, it’s pretty crazy.)
Captain America & Marvel Comics
Einstein had brief roles in a few Marvel Comics over the years, most notably Captain America issue 269, published in 1982. In this issue, guest stars Team America (a luckily forgotten group of motorcycle-riding heroes) travel to a village whose residents appear to be some of history’s biggest thinkers, including Einstein, Confucius, Mark Twain and Friedrich Nietzsche. Turns out they’re all robots built by a villain known as the Mad Thinker, who’s about to kidnap a whole bunch of still-living Nobel laureates so he has someone smart to talk to. The story ends with Einstein-robot’s face lying broken on the ground as Captain America drives away.
Of course, you can’t keep a good robot down. Einstein and the rest of the Mad Thinker’s robots turned up again in 2006 in a two-part storyline in Marvel’s New Warriors. We guess they had a good maintenance program while their boss was in jail.
Beyond the big two
Einstein has made quite a few other comic book appearances over the years, often in books from smaller publishers. He graces the cover of the great non-fiction graphic novel "Two-Fisted Science" and plays a key role in the dimension-hopping science-adventure series "RASL," written and drawn by Jeff Smith, best known for the epic fantasy "Bone." He also turns up several times in Michael Kupperman’s great humor series, "Tales Designed to Thrizzle."
Perhaps our favorite, though, was a comic called E-Man, first published by a little-remembered outfit called Charlton Comics. Writer Nicola Cuti drew his inspiration from Albert Einstein to create a character made out of energy – he’s all that’s left of an exploding star that gained sentience – who could transform himself into any shape. E-Man floated around the cosmos for centuries before arriving on Earth, and the first human he meets here is a young woman who has an Albert Einstein poster on her wall. He takes that poster to heart and creates a costume (designed by artist Joe Staton) with the famous E=MC2 formula emblazoned across his chest, just the way Batman has a bat logo front and center in his own costume.
E-Man never reached the fame and popularity of Batman or Superman, but like Einstein’s E=MC2 formula he never goes away. The title has been resurrected by at least four different publishers over the years and had cameo roles in at least a half-dozen other titles. In the ultimate twist, a few issues of E-Man were even narrated by the ghost of Albert Einstein, all of which proves that a good icon can be created but never destroyed.
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Related Topics: Albert Einstein