As a chief architect of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee co-created everyone from the wall-crawling Spider-Man to the rampaging Hulk to the flaming Human Torch — y’know, characters grounded in science — but he admits he finds the powers of one high-flying superhero a little “frustrating”: the Man of Steel.
Explaining his approach to creating the classic Marvel superheroes, Lee told TV Kids, “Basically, if you’ve read my stories you know I’m very scientific minded. For example, I didn’t just have Spider-Man gain a spider power miraculously, I did it as scientifically as possible — he was bitten by a radioactive spider. It could have happened to anybody. When the Hulk became the Hulk, it just didn’t happen casually — there was a gamma-ray bomb that exploded. If you ask me what a gamma ray is, I would have no idea at all, but it sounds very scientific, I think. The Fantastic Four, they gained their powers from cosmic rays, of which I know as little as I do gamma rays, but they sound impressive. At that point I ran out of rays, so when I had to do the X-Men, I took the cowardly way out, I said, well they’re just born that way, that’s all. They’re mutants. That got me off the hook there.”
After referencing Lady Gaga, the legendary writer has a little fun, insisting — with tongue firmly planted in cheek, no doubt — that, unlike so many of his characters, Superman’s flying ability doesn’t make much sense.
“You’ve seen Superman flying on the screen, haven’t you? What is his means of propulsion? What makes him fly?” Lee said. “He doesn’t have a jet engine, there’s nothing pushing him, he just sort of assumes a horizontal position, lies on the air and off he goes. When I wanted a character to fly, such as the Silver Surfer, I gave him a flying surfboard — perfectly scientific, perfectly understandable, and not the least bit as frustrating as wondering how Superman does it. So as you can see, science is really something I’m very much into and every factor of our stories is as scientifically accurate as I can make them.”
Of course, John Byrne solved the flight question in his 1986 reboot, coming up with the quasi-scientific explanation of an invisible telekinetic field that allows Superman to lift himself off the ground. It turns out, though, that Byrne didn’t need to go to such lengths: He could’ve just given the Last Son of Krypton a surfboard.