Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This is possibly the oldest comic in my collection. Avengers #14 from March 1965, written by Stan Lee and Paul Laiken with art by Don Heck and the legendary Jack Kirby. Title "Even an Avenger can die!"
As this story starts the Wasp has been shot in the chest and the Avengers rush her to hospital. Her husband Hank Pym aka Giant-Man (wonder what his power is?) gets rather stroppy and keeps picking up various doctors and insisting that they have to save his wife. He would go on to be much less concerned for her physical well-being in the future but we're years away from that at this point.

Once his fellow Avengers have restrained Hank the doctors explain that the bullet has collapsed the Wasp's lung and unless she gets a specialist treatment the other lung will also be affected and she will be dead within 48 hours. Unfortunately there is only one doctor in the world who can do the necessary surgery and that is the mysterious and, at first, reluctant Dr Svenson.

Then there's a whole thing with Dr Svenson actually being an alien and before you know it the Avengers are in the Arctic cracking through the ice (at this point in time going anywhere near ice must have been the last thing Captain America wanted!) and then there's a big battle with some aliens who turn out to be not so bad after all. The real Dr Svenson is found and operates on the Wasp in time and it all ends happily.

There's an excellent blog called Polite Dissent written by another doctor and comic book fan called Scott. He frequently dissects comic books that feature doctors and nurses and points out the various problems with medicine as portrayed in super-hero books. Well Scott would have a field day with this issue. I'm pretty sure that even in 1965 the treatment for a collapsed lung was much the same as it is now. A chest drain is inserted to allow the air around the lung to drain out and the lung re-inflates itself. Simples! It's even been done on a commercial aircraft using a knitting needle, a urinary catheter and a boy scout.

Scott also has a regular feature about the inappropriate use of an ENT surgeon's head mirror in comics where usually it is just pictorial shorthand to signify that a character is a doctor. Dr Svenson the famous chest surgeon is no exception and when he finally arrives to examine the Wasp he uses both a head mirror and an opthalmoscope. Incidentally when he does so the Wasp who has been in hospital for at least 24 hours at this point is still wearing her super-hero costume. I'm pretty sure that to examine a bullet hole in the chest wall the surgical team would have wanted to remove at least some of her clothing. But comics had to keep a certain level of decorum back in 1965, especially with the comics code authority stamp to maintain.

Lastly, let's consider the idea that there is only one doctor in the whole world who can perform the necessary experimental surgery. This seems a common trope in comic books and bad films. In the real medical world any new treatments are soon shared with the rest of the world by publication in peer reviewed medical journals and it doesn't take long for hot shot surgeons to find out about new procedures and get trained to carry them out themselves. The idea of a solitary doctor experimenting with new techniques without a highly competent team of fellow doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to support them just doesn't happen. However, if you will excuse me I have to get back to my basement laboratory where my latest batch of super-soldier serum may be coming to a boil.

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