Roy Rivenburg, UC Irvine
He doesn’t fight crime, wear tights or hang out in a Batcave, but Kris Kringle has superpowers that rival those of any comic book hero.
So says Michael Dennin, a University of California, Irvine physics & astronomy professor who teaches the science of superheroes. He also co-hosts “Fascinating Fights,” a Web show that handicaps hypothetical battles between pop culture icons, such as Spider-Man vs. Batman and Dumbledore vs. Gandalf.
Based on careful scientific analysis, Dennin believes Santa has an edge over traditional caped crusaders.
“His only weakness is cookies and milk, but it doesn’t debilitate him like kryptonite,” Dennin notes. “It’s merely a distraction.”
Here’s a look at how St. Nick’s powers stack up against those of Superman, the Hulk, and various other Marvel Comics and DC Comics characters.
Speed: Don’t let the bowl-full-of-jelly physique fool you, Dennin says. Santa Claus is faster than both the Flash and Superman, who are prevented from exceeding the speed of light by the laws of physics. Santa defies this limit by warping space and time, which means he can shrink the distance between two points, Dennin says. All of this happens in the upper atmosphere to avoid disruptive side effects on Earth, of course.
In addition, “as you approach the speed of light, time slows down,” Dennin says, which makes it easier for the sleigh driver to deliver his gifts before sunrise.
Shape shifting: Squeezing through chimneys is one thing; breaking and entering homes that don’t have a fireplace is another. Can Santa walk through walls? Not likely, Dennin says. Although it’s theoretically conceivable to pass through solid matter by deconstructing and reconstructing, the process is too time-consuming, he says. Ditto for picking locks. A more plausible scenario is that Santa possesses an Ant-Man-style ability to rapidly alter his size.
Advantage: Jolly St. Nick.
Superhuman strength: Father Christmas might lose an arm wrestling match against the Hulk, but that doesn’t mean he’s weak. For starters, consider the muscle power required to not only carry his massive bag of toys but leap up chimneys while doing so. Like the Hulk, who derives considerable strength from a supersized body, “Santa is a big guy,” Dennin says. “He fits that paradigm.” Fortunately, Kris Kringle isn’t cursed with the slight craziness that afflicts some other mega-strong heroes, he adds, “unless you consider trying to give toys to everyone on the planet crazy.”
Advantage: The Hulk, but that could change. Superman’s Fortress of Solitude is located at the North Pole, so he and Santa are neighbors, and Superman may be helping him buff up.
Fantastic fashion accessories: Batman wears a belt equipped with technological gadgets. Iron Man zooms around in a weaponized suit. Santa’s fanciest accoutrement is a bottomless sack of toys – similar to Mary Poppins’ magic carpetbag or Oscar the Grouch’s trash can – which Dennin refers to as “an interdimensional portal.” To explain how such a container might work, he draws a circle on a piece of paper. “It looks two-dimensional,” Dennin says, “but it may be an opening to a fourth dimension.” If so, the inside of the sack could be bigger than the outside and allow storage of countless toys. “We have no idea what that would mean in physics,” he says, “but it is mathematically imaginable.”
Omniscience: Is Kris Kringle psychic? After all, he “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “knows if you’ve been bad or good.” If clairvoyance is the secret behind this extraordinary knowledge, then Santa’s paranormal abilities are vastly superior to those of Professor X, founder of the X-Men, who needs a special helmet to expand his telepathic range.
However, Dennin theorizes that Santa is more like Big Brother: “I always thought he was spying, not psychic. He could be tapping into satellite and Internet systems to gather data. I think the modern era has only helped Santa’s behavior monitoring program.”
So what did Father Christmas use before the advent of computers and spy cams? The same equipment he has now, Dennin says. If he can warp time, he easily could have traveled to the future and returned to the North Pole with 21st-century surveillance technology.