Marvel Comics & Asbestos

Nov 7, 2016

In the colorful universe of Marvel Comics, many of its superpowered characters gained their abilities via a science experiment, magic, technology, or other uncanny circumstances. In the late 1940s Marvel (known at the time as Timely Comics) created a character that drew their abilities from a real world material known as asbestos. This character took the form of Asbestos Lady.

Asbestos Lady, also known as Victoria Murdoch, was a bank thief that utilized fire in her crimes so that no one would be able to capture her. To survive the flames she developed a suit formed of woven asbestos with an internal cooling system. In order to get an edge on her primary adversary, Jim Hammond, The Original Human Torch; she kidnapped renowned “Asbestos Scientist”  Fred Raymond to upgrade her arsenal to battle her foe. Her new arsenal included items such as a new suit with better asbestos insulation and asbestos bullets. Ironically enough, Fred Raymond was sick from his experimentations in asbestos research. Eventually, the Asbestos Lady was apprehended and placed in prison.

Two decades later Marvel created another asbestos-laden villain known as the Asbestos Man. Asbestos Man also known as Orson Kasloff was a scientist who believed his works didn’t get the recognition that they deserved. In order to gain the acceptance he desired, Kasloff developed a substance called “Super-Asbestos”. This mixture contained Chrysotile asbestos, iron, and calcium. With this new substance, Kasloff created a suit, shield, and energy net which gave him the ability to be bullet-proof and fire resistant. He subsequently began robbing banks and even at one point challenged the new Human Torch for notoriety. Like Asbestos Lady before him, he was captured and arrested.

During the following decades both characters fell into obscurity until the 21st century, where both characters reappeared separately. Ironically enough, both characters were diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of their exposure to their asbestos-based arsenals. Asbestos Lady & Asbestos Man eventually succumbed to their illnesses.

Both characters were created before the first asbestos ban in the late 1970s and its official designation as a carcinogen. They were conceived in an era when research showed the negative effects of exposure but large asbestos manufacturing companies used their resources to hide these facts from the general public. By creating these characters, Marvel brought awareness to the dangers of asbestos exposure to a larger audience under the veil of comic strips.