The X-ray was discovered a little over a century ago. Getting an X-ray is something we take as commonplace at the dentist’s office or at a medical lab, but it was the quite amazing, and accidental, discovery. And it has helped produce some pretty nifty art effects such as The X-Ray Vision of Nick Veasey, from which this image was taken.
But that’s not what I really want to talk about.
I’m more interested in the notion of “X-ray vision”. As the Wikipedia entry explains, it’s a bit of a misnomer: “Although called X-ray vision, this power has little to do with the actual effect of X-rays. Instead, it is usually presented as the ability to selectively see through certain objects as though they are invisible, translucent or not present, in order to see objects or surfaces beyond or deep to the affected object or material.” This is NOT the way actual X-rays work: “The visions seen [in X-ray vision] are generally in full color and three-dimensional. How such an effect might be created via x-rays is unexplained (the x-rays from the viewer’s eyes would need to bounce back to his eyes the same way as normal light reflects off objects and into the viewer’s eyes: x-rays simply pass through an object and continue on their way.”
The fascination with X-ray vision, in “science fiction stories or superhero comics” has imbedded itself in the minds of the public so thoroughly that a Google search will glean thousands of examples. Mark Evanier points to x-ray glasses and other mail-order mysteries from the stuff you order from comic book ads and the like, which is lots of fun. But it’s not just a ruse from the olden days. On YouTube, you will find Tiny Filter Gives Cellphone Cameras X-Ray Vision. Well, no. There is another technology at work whereby one can see Kim Kardashian’s underwear, but X-ray vision it is not. Ditto this Little Dot cover.
Of course, the best known character with X-ray vision is the Man of Steel, as noted in comic book, TV show and on film. “Superman can see through walls to see the bad guys beyond, or see through Lois Lane’s dress to determine the colour of her underwear (in Superman: The Movie, Warner Brothers, 1978).” Superman’s cousin, Supergirl is similarly blessed, or cursed, with this ability, evidently.
I suppose I too have fantasized about having that power and ability far beyond that of mortal man. But I would only use the power for good, not anything inappropriate. Or so I tell myself.
What superhero power would YOU want to have?