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Could Sheldon Cooper Be Batman?

on Wed, 02/16/2011 - 00:00

“I couldn’t become Green Lantern unless I was chosen by the Guardians of Oa,” Sheldon Cooper explains on the CBS comedy The Big Bang Theory. “But given enough start-up capital and adequate research facility, I could be Batman.”

Because Sheldon is a theoretical physicist with an IQ in the genius level, the accuracy of the statement is no doubt worth exploring. Through the course of The Big Bang Theory’s numerous seasons, after all, Sheldon has made multiple references to not only Batman but Superman, Green Lantern, Spider-Man and the Flash. If anyone has an understanding of the superhero psyche, it is Sheldon Cooper. He is also socially awkward, which likewise makes him an ideal candidate for the secret life of a lone crime-fighter. On the other hand, Sheldon is tall with a lanky frame that poses little physical threat and more than likely has a better chance of being bitten by a radioactive spider than following in the footsteps of Bruce Wayne.

Still, Batman is one of the few superheroes who does not possess super strength or super abilities and thus serves as the poster child for the superhero wannabes of mere mortals. For this reason, author Scott Beatty wrote The Batman Handbook (Quirk Books, 2005) to assist anyone’s potential transformation into the Dark Knight. Since Batman’s abilities are actually grounded in reality, Beatty consulted with former FBI agents, forensic experts, gymnasts and martial artists in order to offer a realistic, if not improbable, approach to being a superhero crime-fighter.

“Crime fighting isn’t a career one chooses lightly,” Beatty writes. “In a different world, Bruce Wayne might have become a doctor and philanthropist like his father, Dr. Thomas Wayne. But while walking home from the movies with his parents one night down Gotham City’s ‘Crime Alley,’ eight-year-old Bruce watched in horror as a mugger shot dead Thomas and his loving wife, Martha, for little more than a wallet and a string of pearls. As the gunman fled into the night, Bruce knelt beside the bodies of his mother and father and vowed to avenge their deaths.”

Although Sheldon Cooper never experienced such tragedy during his childhood in East Texas, the geek prodigy did suffer through early years of being raised by a Bible-thumping mother and alcoholic father, as well as two siblings who continuously tormented him. “I grew up with an older brother and a very contentious twin sister and I believe I could easily best you in any physical confrontation, be it noogies, swirlies or the classic ‘why are you hitting yourself?’” Sheldon explains of the physical combat skills he acquired in his youth.

Sheldon Cooper may not have been born in a “crucible of tragedy” that spawns most superheroes but he did follow the same intellectual path as the young Bruce Wayne. “Learn everything you can in every discipline, no matter how obscure,” Scott Beatty offers as advice in The Batman Handbook. “Bruce spent more than a decade wandering the world, studying at nearly every major institution across the globe and gleaming the knowledge he needed to solve any crime.”

Sheldon’s high IQ allowed him to graduate from college at the age of fourteen and receive his first Ph.D. a mere two years later. He also briefly studied at the Heidelberg Institute in Germany. While his chosen profession may be theoretical physics, Sheldon is very much the master of “obscure” knowledge as well. “You don’t need chopsticks, this is Thai food,” he clarifies during the first season of The Big Bang Theory. “Thailand has had the fork since the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. Interestingly, they don’t actually put the fork in their mouth, they use it to put the food on a spoon which then goes into their mouth.”

“It’s called trilli universal,” Sheldon later explains of another age-old custom. “A bed, even a temporary bed, is always oriented with the headboard away from the door. It serves the ancient imperative of protecting oneself against marauders.”

Having the necessary knowledge and skills to fight crime, however, is obviously not enough. The first time Bruce Wayne ventured into the dark streets of Gotham City, it nearly got him killed. It was only later that he realized the need for an identity that would invoke fear into the criminal element and thus chose a “bat” as his emblem. The Batman Handbook encourages any potential superheroes to likewise find their own personal “totem,” and The Big Bang Theory episode “The Bat Jar Conjecture” offers a potential source for Sheldon Cooper when he decides upon a pseudonym for his Physics Bowl squad. “Teams are traditionally named after fierce creatures, thus intimidating one’s opponent,” he reasons. “Gram for gram, no animal exceeds the relative fighting strength of the army ant.”

In addition to being equipped with a bullet-proof Batsuit and matching cowl to hide his true identity, Batman has numerous other gadgets and devices at his disposal—most notably, the Batmobile. “In his travels, Bruce Wayne learned driving techniques that would enable him one day to pilot the Batmobile as if the vehicle were an extension of his own finely tuned physique,” Scott Beatty explains. “But Bruce didn’t just study under Formula One racecar drivers. Driving fast is just one tactic for making a vehicular assault on crime. Learning to drive defensively and, just as often, offensively required participating in demolition derbies to feel the tactile jolt of cars crunching at full force.”

Although a Batmobile—or even an ArmyAntmobile—is not a necessity for a life of crime fighting, it is an obstacle if Sheldon Cooper ever expects to follow in Bruce Wayne’s footsteps because the theoretical physicist does not drive. On the one hand, he does understand the concept of driving. For instance, when he applied for his learner’s permit, Sheldon told the clerk, “This first question makes no sense. ‘How many car lengths should you leave in front of you when driving?’ There’s no possible way to answer that. A car length is not a standardized unit of measure. Question two: ‘When are roadways most slippery?’ Now there are three answers, none of which are correct. The correct answer is when covered by a film of liquid sufficient to reduce the coefficient static friction between the tire and the road to essentially zero, but not so deep as to introduce a new source of friction.”

When it comes to actual driving, however, Sheldon Cooper is severely lacking the necessary skills. His friends set him up with a computer simulation program to assist with his learning, but this just leads to a number of multi-car collisions. Of course, Sheldon’s negatives in regards to being a cautious driver actually become positives for the superhero variety. “Jumping a broken roadway span or roaring over a chasm isn’t as easy as it might seem,” Beatty explains. “Apprenticing with stunt drivers showed Bruce Wayne just what he would have to do if he ever needed to jump a bridge in his Batmobile.” While using the simulation program, meanwhile, Sheldon found himself on the seventh floor of the Glendale Galleria. “I was on the Pasadena Freeway and missed my exit, flew off the overpass and one thing led to another,” he explains in regards to how he got there.

Every superhero inevitably fights a wide assortment of supervillains during their career, and it is here that Sheldon Cooper appears the most equipped for the life of a crime fighter. “One of the Dark Knight’s deadliest foes is the malevolent Mr. Freeze, whose patented ‘Freeze Gun’ can encase anyone and anything in a tomb of ice,” Scott Beatty writes in The Batman Handbook. “Naturally, knowing how to protect against frostbite or, worse yet, freezing to death, is critical when fending off this frosty foe.”

In the second season finale of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon and a small collection of his fellow scientist colleagues are sent on an exhibition to the North Pole. In order to prepare for the upcoming adventure, Sheldon convinces next-door neighbor Penny to allow them to use the walk-in freezer at the local Cheesecake Factory where she works as a training facility. The experience proves effective as Sheldon and the gang are able to survive three months at the North Pole, making him more than capable of surviving an encounter with Mr. Freeze.

“Nature produces a variety of poisonous substances,” Beatty comments in regards to another supervillain of the Dark Knight. “Batman’s nubile nemesis Poison Ivy takes full advantages of intoxicating floral fragrances by seducing and suffocating anyone who gets in her way.” Sheldon Cooper has repeatedly displayed a form of germphobia in general that likewise makes him adept at fighting an opponent who uses poisons and fragrances as weapons. “If influenza was only contagious after symptoms appear, it would have died out thousands of years ago,” he explains of his cautiousness. “Somewhere between tool-using and cave-painting, homo habilis would have figured out to kill the guy with the runny nose.”

So could Sheldon Cooper become Batman? Using Scott Beatty’s The Batman Handbook as a guide, the results are mixed. While Sheldon obviously has the intellectual ability necessary to be a superhero on the level of Batman, he is severely lacking in regards to the physical demands of the job. Or is he? “Bruce Wayne could easily best the world’s top athletes in most Olympic events,” Beatty writes about the actual Batman. “But Bruce limits his public displays of athleticism.”

In that sense, Sheldon Cooper could already be Batman and his lack of physical prowess is just a ploy to hide the fact from his family and friends. “Make your civilian identity distinct and unique from your super-heroic alter ego,” Scott Beatty suggests. “The bored billionaire image serves the Dark Knight’s purposes perfectly—Bruce is the last person anyone would think was really Batman.”

The same could be said about Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory.

Anthony Letizia (February 16, 2011)

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