Superheroes Meet Real-Life Science in DC’s ‘Flash Facts’

Flash Facts is a new collection of short comics about science and technology featuring DC superheroes. Here's an exclusive preview of "Home Sweet Space" with Supergirl, written by Cecil Castellucci.

DC’s newest middle-grade graphic novel, Flash Facts, is the publisher’s first venture into nonfiction in this format, but like many superhero comics, it alludes to an earlier time.

Due out in February 2021, Flash Facts is a collection of short comics about different science and technology topics, each featuring one or more DC superheroes: Batman and Plastic Man use 3D printing to create a heat-proof suit; Swamp Thing and Poison Ivy explain DNA; and The Flash demonstrates how forensic science works—then presents a set of clues and challenges the reader to solve the crime.

Mayim Bialik, who starred in the TV shows Blossom and Big Bang Theory and also holds a PhD in neuroscience, curated the book and wrote a foreword.

The original “Flash Facts” was published in the 1950s and 1960s, says Jim Chadwick, group editor for DC Books for Young Readers. “It was a short insert comic that appeared in The Flash comic books and educated readers on some of the scientific facts that were used in the stories at the time,” he said. “When we were thinking about how we might approach our first STEM graphic novel for middle grade readers, this seemed like a natural link.”

With that in mind, Chadwick sat down with educators Matt and Shari Brady, who are both classroom teachers and the founders of the website TheScienceOf.org, to work out which topics would pair well with lessons in the classroom. “From there, we worked with Mayim and our contributors to determine which topics the team was most excited about,” Chadwick said.

Supergirl and Cecil Castellucci Tackle Space

For writer Cecil Castellucci, there was only one choice: “When DC approached me and said Science Stories, I was like ‘I will write about anything, but my favorite is outer space,’” she said. The daughter of a neurobiologist and a molecular biologist/genetic engineer, Castellucci says she grew up doing science experiments, visiting her parents’ labs, and discussing science at the dinner table. Although she chose to become an artist instead of a scientist, she said, “I came to learn pretty quickly that being a research scientist and being an artist were pretty similar in the way that you have to be very creative in both fields to dream up the questions that you want to ask and make your next experiment.”

In Castellucci’s story, Supergirl takes a student on a guided tour of the universe. “I was so excited about writing a story about our home, our solar system, while being sheltered at home,” she said. As someone who closely follows new developments in astronomy and space travel, she’s also thrilled about the real-life exploration of the solar system. “It’s so exciting to me that we are actually just beginning to get to know our own stellar block!” she said. “I mean, we only just saw Pluto a couple of years ago!”

The Bradys did their best to align the topics with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), they said in an e-mail, as well as looking for subjects that were both timely and interesting. “And of course, being big fans of the DC characters, we thought about what characters would be great ‘spokespersons, for the science topics we wanted to include in the book,” they said. “If you have a chance of having Swamp Thing help explain plant science, you’ve got to make sure he gets in there!”

The book can be read either for fun or as a supplement to science classes, perhaps to introduce a subject or as an extension at the end of the lesson. “Asking students to agree or disagree with the material in the book and then revisiting their answers at the end with evidence to support their thinking is an effective way to increase retention in the classroom,” the Bradys said. “And also, a book like Flash Facts is an easy way to integrate literacy and critical thinking in an easy-to-read format that is engaging for all ages.” In addition, they pointed out, students could use the stories as a guide to create their own science comics.

The stories and the science concepts presented within them were designed to be easy to read and also engaging. For that reason, the characters in each story are either learning the science as part of the story or teaching it to someone else, rather than simply delivering a science lecture. “This really helps students to relate to the topic more deeply—they’re learning it along with the characters in the story,” the Bradys said.

For Castellucci, the writer of Shade the Changing Girl, The Plain Janes, and Girl on Film, as well as a number of novels, writing this comic was not much different from her other work. “In Sci Fi you can kind of hand wave some stuff or springboard from real science to spin it into something fantastical,” she said. “So really, having the thrust of this story be real science information just gives you a parameter to work in. But in my opinion, real science and all the amazing space missions that we’re doing right now is pretty super heroic. So, it’s about the same!”

Here is Chapter Seven of Flash Facts "Home Sweet Space," written by Cecil Castellucci, and illustrated by Gretel Lusky.

 

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