But which Nikola Tesla is the real one? Is it the mad genius?
Or is it history's greatest chump?
Nobody ever portrays both of them together as a man in total; he always serves as a better symbol as one or the other. He's the modern avatar of the Roman God Janus, the patron of doorways and new beginnings who symbolized the transition from past to future.
Tesla's Alternating Current was better, but everyone preferred Edison's Direct Current. It presaged a famous confrontation between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, decades later.
Steve Jobs: We're better than you are! We have better stuff.
Bill Gates: You don't get it, Steve. That doesn't matter!
-The Pirates of Silicon Valley
Tesla getting ripped off, the mad scientist getting ripped off, is the basis for every supervillain origin. He also built a death ray, his "teleforce weapon." Except when he called it a "Peace Ray."
He also studied radiation, laying the groundwork for the study of cosmic rays.
Tesla's story is the quintessential American one, right down to its fractured identity. Even his supervillain persona speaks to modern America's desire to mystify the creative impulse. But what mad scientist with the potential for supervillainy would be complete without a universally beloved hero, with a recognizable costume, assumed name, and arsenal of quips?
Nobody is as beloved as Mark Twain, nee Samuel Clemens, whose very name is a unit of measure. People love putting Mr. Twain up against the modern day or the future. He's always meeting time travelers, and especially robots - who else has been on the Enterprise and met the Transformers? (*That'd be ubiquitous superhero pop star Wolverine! --Point Missin' Pete)
Mark Twain's folksy wisdom, wry wit, and subversive attitude has made him one of America's true MAIN DUDES OF HISTORY. Aside from his obligatory book bannings, it's hard to find anyone who'd argue against his assured place in the pantheon. He's become a symbol for everything that we wish America was.
When really, we all know deep down that America is more like Tesla: occasionally brilliant, sometimes misunderstood, but a little bumbling and very likely dangerous, with two sides at war within itself and very possibly just a passing fad.