1490: Atoms

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When I was little I had trouble telling my dad apart from the dog. I always recognized my mom because she had a bunch of extra plutoniums in her middle. I never did ask her why...
Title text: When I was little I had trouble telling my dad apart from the dog. I always recognized my mom because she had a bunch of extra plutoniums in her middle. I never did ask her why...


This comic shows another quirky and fantastical ability of Beret Guy.

In this comic, Megan is preparing a sample of what appears to be some mineral for elemental analysis. It seems to be some kind of silicate containing a small amount of iron (a common example of this would be red sandstone), and she is running a test to see if it contains beryllium (a rarer element whose best-known natural form is as a component of emerald). Such analyses typically involve many instruments and steps to prepare the sample. However, Beret Guy seems to be able to identify all the elements the substance is composed of just by eyeballing it, making him perhaps the perfect elemental analysis instrument.

To confirm this, Megan asks Beret Guy what he sees when he looks at her face, expecting that a normal person would describe the arrangement of colors and features that they see. Since Beret Guy sees the atoms Megan is composed of (mostly oxygen, carbon and hydrogen) he only notices the unusual atoms. In this case he sees the metal atoms her dental fillings are composed of. This shows his "atomic vision" extends beyond the surface of the substances. Megan finds this bizarre and asks Beret Guy what is wrong with him. He states that he has always suspected he contains too much zinc, which he believes makes people think he is weird, thus missing Megan's point: what is weird is not Beret Guy's elemental content, but his ability to apparently see everything as atoms sorted by element.

High zinc intake (zinc toxicity) can cause nausea, vomiting, pain, cramps and diarrhea. It also reduces copper absorption, which affects the immune system. However, it does not grant superhuman sensory abilities.[citation needed] That is solely a function of tin.

The comic continues the theme of Beret Guy's naive misunderstandings of scientific terminology turning to be literally true. In a previous comic his misinterpretation of the notion of energy in the vacuum resulted in him gaining significant superpowers.

In the title text, the concept is taken even further: Beret Guy found his dad indistinguishable from a dog. This is likely because all mammals are essentially made of the same basic elements. Absent a distinguishing element from either his dad or the dog, they would appear to be the same. He could, however, apparently distinguish his mother because she contained plutonium. This is a very unusual occurrence that cannot possibly occur naturally in humans.[citation needed] Some possible explanations are:

  1. She had an RTG-powered pacemaker (a few hundred were made in the 1970s).
  2. She lived near Los Alamos during the second world war and was a member of the UPPU club (translated as “You pee Pu!”). Alternatively, she could have been exposed to another source such as radioactive contamination from the Rocky Flats Plant.
  3. She was one of The Stepford Wives robots.
  4. She was the victim of some unidentified, unethical medical experimentation. Such as Albert Stevens

It is also possible that Beret Guy's mother containing plutonium is probably intended as a whimsical explanation of his powers. The presence of plutonium in his mother may be the source of his own differences: radioactive exposure (in this case, potentially in utero) is a common source of superpowers in comic books and other fiction (though unfortunately, this does not work in real life[citation needed]). It's possible the plutonium is even in her womb, therefore basically guarenteeing his exposure to it.

It's not clear whether his mother's plutonium is related to his "too many zincs". One explanation for Beret Guy having too much zinc could be that his mother's plutonium changed into zinc through the process of radioactive decay.

It is worth noting that the verbs "recognized" and "had" in the title text are written in past tense. This presents the possibility that Beret Guy's mother passed away due to radiation sickness from exposure to the radiation originating from the plutonium in her middle. This possibility is further evidenced when Beret Guy adds "I never did ask her why...", indicating that he may no longer have the opportunity to do so. This is further corroborated by 502: Dark Flow, where Beret Guy also appears to miss his mother.

The English physicist Henry Moseley discovered the law relating the atomic number of elements with their characteristic x-rays when bombarded by free electrons, providing physical evidence for the periodic table, the Bohr Model of the atom and the concept of atomic number. In doing so he developed a method of identifying elements in a substance by bombarding them in a vacuum with electrons and using x-ray diffraction methods to measure the resulting X-rays. A famous French chemist brought him a complicated mixture of Rare Earth elements, many of which had only recently been discovered, to test his method. Within a short time, Mosley amazed the chemist by identifying all the elements by number using his method and referring to his chart to name them. This comic may therefore be subtly alluding to this method by suggesting that Beret Guy's eyes can fire electrons at anything he looks at and "read" the resulting X-ray radiation, giving him the ability to identify the composite elements in a similar manner.


[Megan stands at a table and is preparing a sample for some kind of analysis in a device, when Beret Guy walks in.]
Beret Guy: What're you doing?
Megan: Testing a sample for beryllium.
Beret Guy: That? Yeah, there's a bunch of berylliums.
Megan: How do you know?
[Megan turns to Beret Guy who takes the sample and looks at it.]
Beret Guy: Look at it! See? Tons of oxygens and silicons, a few irons but definitely some berylliums too! Can't you see them?
[They continue to talk.]
Megan: No, I can’t see a list of the atoms in a thing by looking.
Beret Guy: How do you tell what things are?
[Zoom in on Megan.]
Megan: This is ridiculous. Look at me. What do you see?
Beret Guy (off-panel): You have tons of metal in your face. Lots of fillings, I guess?
[Megan stares at Beret Guy who takes a looks at his own arm.]
Megan: What's wrong with you?
Beret Guy: Too many zincs? I’ve always worried I had too much zinc and everyone thought I was weird.


  • In the original version of the comic there was a typo in the title text, form instead of from:
    • I had trouble telling my dad apart form the dog.

Could possibly explain 452: Mission if he believes all carbon based objects to be scones.

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"My dad FORM the dog"? Typo in the actual comic or just the wiki? 05:47, 23 February 2015 (UTC)Anonymous

The actual comment, the wiki just grabs what the website has listed.-- 05:56, 23 February 2015 (UTC)
Generally in cases like this, it's customary to add [sic] to indicate any typoes [sic] or grammarization [sic] mistakes in the original techs. [sic]. KieferSkunk (talk) 19:55, 23 February 2015 (UTC) [sic]

plutonium = radiation exposure, or pacemaker?

Radiation exposure wouldn't give you plutonium, maybe the byproducts of its fission. I'm thinking that, whatever it is, it mutated Beret Guy in the womb, hence why he has this strange superpower.--Druid816 (talk) 06:52, 23 February 2015 (UTC)
Referencing Pink Floyd's 1970 album 'Atom Heart Mother' I think.-- 07:25, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

this guy sees by which elements are contained, not by which visible light? -- 06:14, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Are the elements actually representing their atomic symbols? Be, O, S, Z? Not sure what the metal-in-the-face comment is about.

-- 07:47, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

A deliberate BeOS reference? 14:12, 23 February 2015 (UTC)
Metal in the face might be a comment on braces, and how uncomfortable people are about having noticable ones. -- 08:37, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Are there braces that aren't very noticeable? I can see adults being a little uncomfortable, but they're ocmmon enough on kids that kids aren't going to be uncomfortable with them. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
(Dental) fillings are explicitly mentioned as a possible source of metal. -- 09:26, 23 February 2015 (UTC)
Makeup and powers may contain a variety of metals and rare earths Spongebog (talk) 18:16, 24 February 2015 (UTC)

Perhaps the plutonium is coming from his mother smoking? 08:51, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Possibly a reference to Silkwood? DaveHowe (talk) 20:36, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

I like the Karen Silkwood explanation i.e. she worked at an enrichment plant. The other read I had was that of The Stepford Wives -- I.e. she is a plutonium powered robot. Spongebog (talk) 18:27, 24 February 2015 (UTC)
Yes, I thought of Karen Silkwood too. It could also explain Beret Guy's supernatural powers. 12:08, 27 March 2015 (UTC)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unethical_human_experimentation_in_the_United_States#Plutonium_experiments Andries (talk) 09:02, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

I read it as both his mother and him beeing a robot or cyborg, which she never told him. 09:30, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Yes, I rather thought it might be a Terminator 2 reference (based on the scene in which the T-1000 replaces John Connor's mother.) 14:12, 23 February 2015 (UTC)
The first thing I thought was Terminator, but in looking at their wiki there's no plutonium reference for their fuel cells, as far as I can tell (http://terminator.wikia.com/wiki/Fuel_cell). (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I also assumed it was a reference to some kind of nuclear powered cyborg. Being partially composed of electronic parts could also account for his unusually high levels of Zinc and could explain why he sees people as a list of their constituent particles. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

-- did the radiation give him those superpowers? 11:05, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

He can't distinguish Dad and Dog, so he wasn't a genious back then. So what if the Plutonium wasn't a super complex mysterium, just one of the most important things for an infant, her breasts (in this case maby big ons). 11:44, 23 February 2015 (UTC) Pietro

Seen as purely clumps of chemicals (which it appears that White Hat has been restricted to, at least whilst growing up) mammals (if not animals in general or even wider!) look pretty much the same. A whole lot of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, calcium, phospohorous, some iron, etc, and if WH sees predominately in "amounts of chemicals", it won't just be fine facial features that might get lost in amongst all this irregular information but species as well. The dog could about the same mass as the father and mother (if that was ever a distinguishing factor, rather than just ratios), and it took a while to learn a method other than that of the 'obvious' presence of plutonium in the mother to differentiate his father from all other humans/creatures/hogroasts... (I suspect he's learnt the trick of differentiating individuals, since then, but his abnormal primary sense of 'elements' could very well be the source of some of his other otherworldy 'powers', how he has become rich, why he has somehow found it necessary to contrive a 'soup-dispensing socket', etc. Kind of like a Dr Manhattan like omniscience and unusual understanding of everyday physics. Maybe or maybe not in the various other ways, though.) 10:04, 25 February 2015 (UTC)

I agree with Beret Guy is answering Megan's question about what is wrong with him, not being arrogant. Arrogant would be out of character for Beret Guy, but giving an unusual answer to a rhetorical question would be true to character. mwburden (talk) 12:42, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Perhaps too oddball a theory, but maybe his mom was actually a spacecraft powered by plutonium (e.g. Galileo(spacecraft)), making his father a planet and the dog a moon. 12:43, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Wouldn't the dog need to be a dwarf planet? :) 12:54, 23 February 2015 (UTC)
What would that make him? Mikemk (talk) 21:48, 23 February 2015 (UTC)
Pluto! 13:57, 24 February 2015 (UTC)
...I hate you so much. 14:45, 18 November 2019 (UTC)

When I read the alt text the first time around, I read it as platinum and figured Randall meant an IUD... perhaps that was a typo on his part as well (much like the "form" typo mentioned above)? Can't figured out another reasonable plutonium explanation. --Canned Soul (talk) 14:28, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

If you Google "plutonium in IUDs" you get some interesting results.  Perhaps early copper IUDs contained a small amount of incidental plutonium? 19:26, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

I like the plutonium experiments reverence, but are strongly against the suggestion in the explanation that Pu is not found in nature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plutonium#Occurrence Do NOT diss Oklo! Oklo is badass! Tier666 (talk) 15:23, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Putting in my own two bits, my first thought reading the title text was that she had a pacemaker. The fact that there were plutoniu pacemakers and the fact he mentioned that they were "in her middle" make me think "pacemaker". But I digress. As far as the "too much zinc", ??? 02:20, 24 February 2015 (UTC)

Not sure if it's an inspiration, but this is an example of people not knowing what common human experiences they are missing (see: http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/03/17/what-universal-human-experiences-are-you-missing-without-realizing-it/). Also, "or she was the victim of unethical medical experimentation. Thus the probable reason for his abnormality." is ridiculous - no amount of medical experimentation will cause this. The probable reason for his abnormality is magic. 15:35, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Agree: I removed "Thus the probable reason for his abnormality." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
That's too bad; I opened that link expecting to see a list... Maybe someone will make a list someday. Maybe someone else will post the link here... GuiRitter (talk) 23:43, 9 December 2015 (UTC)

I believe that the "Too Much Zinc?" - is an answer to what might be wrong with him, not a retort to Megan's tone. In fact, zinc is linked to eyesight, see for instance https://www.nei.nih.gov/news/pressreleases/101201 and other sources, and this "zinc overdose" might be believed by white beret guy to relate to his "super-human" eyesight?

Can this be added to the explanation? Djbrasier (talk) 21:58, 24 February 2015 (UTC)
Edit: the link is an outdated study that warns at the top should not be considered scientifically accurate. Better to leave a link between zinc and eyesight out of the explanation (unless a better source is available). Djbrasier (talk) 15:45, 2 March 2015 (UTC)

The link to the UPPU club (You Pee Pu) appears to be broken. EDIT: fixed now, thanks whoever fixed it. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Did anyone else notice that this is the second comic in a row about elementary particles? I suspect a series coming up. Mikemk (talk) 21:48, 23 February 2015 (UTC)

Guess I was wrong Mikemk (talk) 17:16, 25 February 2015 (UTC)

Pacemakers are usually implanted round the clavicle, so I'm not satisfied with the theory that the plutonium is from a pacemaker. 08:40, 24 February 2015 (UTC)

The "form"/"from" mistake was corrected in the original strip, I applied the changes to the article. -- guest (talk) 17:40, 24 February 2015 (UTC)

Can someone elaborate on this: "The presence of plutonium in his mother may be an explanation or source of his own differences."? How does plutonium in the mother explain him having elemental eyesight (or vacuum energy harnessing or soup-from-an-outlet, etc.) abilities? Djbrasier (talk) 22:01, 24 February 2015 (UTC)

I would say, quite simply, that radiation or radioactive chemistry is typically offered as a means of activating/creating abnormal powers (Hulk, Spiderman, Daredevil, etc, etc) in the appropriate fictional genres. And whilst it might have inexplicably failed to create any obvious illness in either mother or child (as would normally happen outside of comic-book franchises) it could have "activated his X-gene" or whatever was required to produce this particularly strange person. 10:04, 25 February 2015 (UTC)

I read bits of a book my mother has, written by a woman who worked for a few years at a plutonium enrichment plant near Denver. It seems the safety and containment systems were faulty, and she has "smokers patches" in her lungs, caused by minute specks of plutonium she inhaled while there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioactive_contamination_from_the_Rocky_Flats_Plant A little late, I know, but I really figured someone else would mention this before the day was up. 14:32, 25 February 2015 (UTC)

Just found an article on wikipedia(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Plutonium_Files) about pregnant women who were given "radioactive mixtures" for research. Maybe his mother was one of them and he developed this ability because of it? "In Nashville, pregnant women were given radioactive mixtures." (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

>RTG-powered pacemaker (actually a thing)

My only thought is WHO THE FUCK THOUGHT THAT THST WAS A GOOD IDEA I mean I know itnwad before the age of Li-Ion batteries and they had to use something. But when I think RTG, all I can think of is "let's leave these to spacecraft and keep them as far from humans as possible." But no we were sticking them *in* humans. Like what o.o

International Space Station (talk) 13:23, 24 November 2015 (UTC)

Remember, citations are after the punctuation. --Char Latte49 (talk) 17:15, 25 February 2021 (UTC)

Beret guy says "EXTRA plutoniums", is that supposed to mean that everyone has plutonium? 22:00, 22 December 2015 (UTC) Anonymous