Mad scientist or genius inventor, Nikola Tesla has more recently become something of a pop culture sensation. Tesla was a brilliant scientist with an active, agile mind that produced hundreds of patented ideas in his lifetime. Tesla is most well-known for his work with energy and the “War of Currents” against Thomas Edison, but he also made crucial discoveries in radio transmissions and numerous other scientific disciplines. He even conceived of a device that has become colloquially known as a “death ray,” which he hoped would end all war and allow humanity to focus on more productive endeavors. Tesla possessed the eccentricity that often accompanies brilliance, and was prone to strange obsessions and phobias throughout his life.
Tesla’s Comic Takeover
Though Tesla was largely ignored by popular media in his later years, today’s comic artists have reignited an interest in his diverse theories and inventions. The fascination with Tesla’s work among comic artists is undeniably related to how strongly many of his projects resemble the fantastical inventions found within the beloved science fiction genre. Matthew Inman, a webcomic artist otherwise known as “The Oatmeal”, created a scathing historical overview of how Thomas Edison stole the concept for many of his own inventions from Tesla and other inventors of the era. The Marvel Universe went even more in-depth with its acknowledgment of Tesla, giving the inventor 14 canon appearances in various popular titles, including S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fantastic Four.
Tesla was featured in his own comic alongside the legendary horror and science fiction author, HP Lovecraft in the Herald collection. In this action comic, Tesla reluctantly teams up with Lovecraft to take down an army of Cthulhu cultists who threaten to bring the Old Ones back to see to the end of the world. Other notable comic book adaptations include the Inventor series and The Five Fists of Science.
An Enigmatic Character
Historical accounts of Tesla paint a nuanced picture of his character as a man both brilliant and eccentric. Remembering him as a “wizard” of electricity and science has helped cement his image in our collective cultural consciousness, and his more abnormal attributes have come to define what it means to be a truly “mad” scientist. While the real Tesla was a more retiring soul than his comic renderings would have the public believe – living his last years in isolation, and never marrying – the comics succeed in capturing what is likely the reason people resonate with his character in the first place. Tesla had an unstoppable drive to make the world a better place on his own terms.
Tesla’s Energy Today
The most fascinating thing about Tesla’s work is that, if widely implemented, it would be even more revolutionary today than it would have been in his time. Few historical inventions can boast that kind of modern relevance. Tesla dreamed of using the alternating current to provide free and clean energy, demonstrating foresight into the modern limitations that the use of fossil fuels have imposed on society. He was, in his own way, a proponent of the idea that coal and oil were not sustainable sources of fuel.
While the world runs on the electric current, it would be a very different place if Tesla’s alternating current had become the basis for the modern energy model. Electric currents run only in one direction, but the alternating current supply system uses a current flow that periodically changes direction. Alternating current systems are far more efficient than unidirectional electrical systems because they allow energy to be distributed in two directions. This system minimizes power loss over large distances, making any device that utilizes it more efficient.
The modern Tesla Energy company is carrying on Tesla’s legacy in its endeavors to revolutionize the way people buy, pay for and store electrical power. In the current grid system, traditional energy providers are fully responsible for pricing and providing electricity. However, Tesla’s new home battery helps individuals and families defect from the fossil fuel-supplied grid and harness green energy supplied from the sun.
Tesla was a man ahead of his time who has experienced an unlikely surge in popularity in recent years. That surge is largely due to a small but devoted following of artists and inventors, both in the industrial and artistic spheres. Tesla may not have been properly recognized in his time, but the application of his genius has captured the modern imagination in a way that even he could not have possibly foreseen.