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Superman's Powers - A Short Rundown
Are There Limits on Superman’s Powers?
Although there’s little doubt that the wonder of Superman’s powers will be explored in the upcoming movie Superman: Man of Steel, it is still instructive to go into some detail about the most famous champion of humanity.
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster way back in 1932, the original alien Kal-El of Krypton was quite super-human; but wasn’t nearly the godling he would eventually become.
In the beginning, Clark could “merely” scale tall buildings in a single bound, take explosive shells to his person with no discernible harm, and melt steel with his heat vision. The original Superman was still mightier than most heroes today; later, he would become an absolute Force of Nature.
In fact, when the situation called for it (in the form of extra-galactic forces and monstrous entities), Superman would become a force easily surpassing anything traditional Nature could devise.
As his popularity grew and the logistics of the special effects of the time made constant jumping cumbersome, his powers graduated from metahuman to godhood.
Today, these powers include near-invulnerability to physical harm, strength beyond all limitations, blazing-hot thermonuclear heat vision, breath capable of creating gale-force winds and freezing entire lakes, flight even into interstellar space, super-speed surpassed only by photons (and even beyond, in his most powerful, Silver Age incarnations) and an almost endless stamina that depends on the availability of yellow sunlight.
Is Superman "too" powerful?
What Separates Superman From Other Heroes?
Superman used to stand for truth, justice and the American Way. I'd like to think that's still true, despite the somewhat darker tones to his personality introduced in the recent blockbuster movie, Man of Steel. That's what you get when you get the maker of Batman to try his hand at a Superman, lol!
In truth, I enjoyed the cinematic feel of the movie, and the fact that it was all pretty much an origin story based on Mark Waid's Birthright (a fantastic Superman series of comic books; check it out if you get a chance).
Nonetheless, it felt that there was a lot missing from the general feel-good nature of Superman's personality and appeal.
He killed someone, for God's sake! Not only is Superman too "good" to use his powers to take a life; but, in fact, he's too powerful to have to.
I felt that the producers, writers, etc of Man of Steel missed a wonderful opportunity to explain the difficulty Superman was having with Zod in the movie, as a result of having to simultaneously save so many people. Far too many people died in that movie for my liking - it almost felt like a hollow victory. Earth was saved; but it was a victory that seemed to cost millions of lives.
Another thing that separates Superman from other super-heroes is his sheer power. I mean, Kal has auxiliary powers that put the primary abilities of other super heroes to shame. He's far faster than a pure speedster, he can turn a lake into steam with his eyes, he can create tornadoes and hurricanes by breathing, etc.
When combined with his fundamentally and unshakably good nature, he is closer to a god than any other hero - a good god, that doesn't smite down his enemies - just stops them from hurting innocents.
Maybe, just maybe, Man of Steel had to be the way it was. After all, Kal was a novice a battle. After this experience, maybe he decides to save more lives directly, than catch Lois Lane every time she's falling (snicker).
The Kryptonian had to see all those people die at the hands of an enemy that was only here because he was here. Next time, perhaps, he'll take the fight to the Moon, or at least to North Korea. Ok that's a terrible joke - take the super-battle to an empty cornfield or some unpopulated region. And judging by the speed at which these guys move, it'll need to be the size of Siberia to limit human collateral.
Did you like the Man of Steel movie?
Pick a Power
Which one of Superman's powers would you most like to have?
Beware the Stare...
In another Superman article, it was surmised that if given enough time, Superman could boil away an ocean – all six sextillion tons of the mighty Pacific.
Even he would be tired at the end, but luckily for him, the sun rises the next day to replenish him.
This is an attribute that would come in hand against mighty theoretical foes like the god Thor or the insanely-durable Incredible Hulk.
Hulk can fight essentially forever, whereas Thor is a god and can battle for at least as long as Superman.
The only question is whether Kal would be able to put them down before he tires.Here, we investigate Clark’s strength levels.
For the sake of the very essence of the meaning he holds for those who’ve always been captivated by Superman, he needs to be the strongest superhero around – or at least the most powerful.
In the rare cases where a being exceeds his strength, it is shown that Clark can get angry enough to increase it to meet and surpass the present challenge. Representing the pinnacle of superhuman strength and power, it is often said that Superman is "as strong as he needs to be."
How Strong is Superman?
When writers pen a comic book with as much free reign as they can muster, Superman usually emerges as the planet-mover.
Near the peak of his powers, he would do such things as destroy solar systems and sneeze away red giants!
When his strength became more reasonable, he could move a planet the size of Earth – which is six followed by 24 zeros in kilograms (albeit with the help of a Green Lantern-inspired contraption as a harness). He could also approach a mass the size of a planet at superspeed and destroy it in a maneuver called the "infinite mass punch."
After he experienced one of the necessary “depowering” periods, in which his strength was brought back under some kind of constraints, he was no longer able to do these kinds of things – although he of course remained incredibly strong.
For an interesting analysis of Superman's power limits, check out this YouTube video:
All Star Superman
In the comic book/graphic novel All Star Superman, his physical strength using one hand was measured after he’d just supercharged his solar batteries by flying too close to the sun.
Clark lifted an incredible 200 quintillion tons. If we assume that the average large mountain – in fact, let’s take Mount Everest as our example – weighs ten thousand trillion tons, or one-tenth of a quintillion, then Superman can lift 2,000 Mt. Everests using a single arm.
For a more tractable example, using both hands, Superman could undoubtedly lift a basin containing the Pacific Ocean – without causing undue strain on his alien physique.
This is at the very peak of his revamped powers, after getting close enough to the sun to cause cellular degradation. The fantastic story of All Star Superman by Grant Morrison details what happens when even the Man of Steel overreaches himself..
DC-Marvel Crossover: Superman's Feats of Strength?
Concerning comic book universe crossovers, some have wondered whether Superman can perform feats such as bending the practically unbreakable element Adamantium (which laces Wolverine’s skeleton).
Although it would require a great deal of exertion; it seems clear that Kal-El unleashed can snap any piece of Adamantium in two.
He may even be able to liquefy the extremely durable metal using his heat vision. World War Hulk – the most enraged version of the gamma-ray monster to date – actually broke Wolverine in two during a battle, causing the X-Man to have to climb three miles up a mountain to retrieve his legs and midsection.
If Hulk can do it, then so can Superman. In fact, I dare say Doomsday's hide was more resilient than even Adamantium - and Superman was able to damage it after a day of full-tilt battling.
When Doomsday broke free of the alien-metal shackles that bound him as he kicked the butts of the entire Justice League, I had a very clear thought: "there's no way those shackles are less resilient than Adamantium." Here was an incredibly strong monster - the physically strongest Superman has ever faced that was still humanoid, and it could not completely break free of the bonds initially.
Both Magneto, the government and the Hulk have succeeded in compromising the strength of Adamantium, and i find it very difficult to believe that superman - the incarnation of strength and power, really - could not do the same.
It would be interesting to read what the Death of superman authors would have to say regarding how the strength of the binds compares to Marvel's Adamantium and Vibranium metals.