Believe it or not, Marvel once had Asbestos characters in their comic lineup: Asbestos Lady and Asbestos Man. But these characters were not there to save the day; they were there to destroy it.
Asbestos Lady and Asbestos Man were villains, and were the nemesis of the Human Torch. Because asbestos is flame retardant, it was a hero:villain match made to marvel at… pun absolutely intended.
Comics are traditionally written in tone with what’s currently relevant in society, coupled with a deeper, underlying statement they intend to communicate.
When the Asbestos Lady and Asbestos Man were created in the 40’s and 60’s respectively, the dangers of asbestos were already known and well documented, however, it was still a very popular material and used widely, commercially and domestically, until it was completely banned, in the UK in 1999.
Every superhero needs a super-villain to shape him/her into the amazing characters they become. Spiderman needed Green Goblin to turn a simple photojournalist into our friendly neighbourhood hero who saved the day, just as Batman needed the Joker to transform a billionaire playboy into a billionaire superhero. These super-villains are as resilient and relentless as their respective superheroes. Asbestos as a material possesses these resilient and relentless qualities, so pair that with the public opinion of asbestos and you’ve got yourself a comic super-villain.
The Human Torch, Johnny Storm, is one of the Fantastic Four. He and his three friends were exposed to powerful cosmic rays on a secret space flight and crash-landed back to Earth. Crawling from the crash, he discovered that he got increasingly hot, burst into flames and survived due to the radiation exposure. Later, he realised he could control this, and along with his friends, they decided to use their new powers for exploration, adventures and ultimately saving the world. Through this, he would develop many enemies, including Asbestos Lady and Asbestos Man.
In 1947, Marvel threw out an obscure villain in the Captain America comic: Asbestos Lady. Victoria Murdock, the sister of racketeer “Killer” Murdock and a scientist who explored the criminal uses of asbestos, created her super-villain alter ego: Asbestos Lady. She and her team pulled off a string of bank robberies by creating explosions and fires that only they could walk through unhurt, as they all wore suits lined with asbestos, a common use of asbestos in firefighting suits. This allowed them to rob banks and escape with little hindrance. After many fights with the Human Torch, the android superhero of the 40’s, she was eventually defeated, put in jail for her crimes, and later succumbed to Mesothelioma, contracted due to her prolonged exposure to asbestos.
Marvel made an asbestos comeback in August 1963, in the #111 issue of Strange Tales. Dr. Orson Karloff, an analytical chemist, invents a chemical capable of melting metal which he believes will allow him to rob bank vaults. He almost gets caught, so he adopts the super-villain name Asbestos Man and retreats to an abandoned castle to hone his skills. He later challenges the Human Torch to a showdown and wins, as he created an armour of “super-asbestos”, a cocktail of chrysotile (asbestos), iron and calcium. Upon hearing the news, the “King of the Underworld”, Ralph Baker, ropes Asbestos Man into carrying out a bank heist. The Human Torch returns, and during the heist, absorbs all the oxygen, forcing Asbestos Man to surrender and he’s taken to prison. It is later revealed that Asbestos Man developed cancer from his exposure to “super-asbestos” and ironically lived on an oxygen tank, until his death.
In both comic storylines, the super-villains were defeated not just by the Human Torch, but ultimately by asbestos related cancers, caused by their exposure to asbestos. This underlines the dangers of asbestos exposure, whether it’s short or long term, a little or a lot. Asbestos is always dangerous, no matter how many positive qualities it may have, like being fire retardant, heat resistant, and strong.
If you believe you may have asbestos on your commercial or private property, you have a legal responsibility to manage it. ESSS, a UKAS and ISO accredited asbestos consultancy, is equipped to determine the extent of your asbestos and develop a plan for the management and/or removal. Contact us today at 01268 755 464 or by visiting http://www.esss.co.uk/.