You think you know the Man of Steel, but how well do you know this alien who has been living among us for 80 years? With hundreds of writers and artists taking a stab at the character who helped popularize the term superhero, his powers and abilities have changed significantly. In order to explain who Superman is and where he gets his powers, many creators have delved into the character’s physiology. It’s important to understand how he can fly and why he is invulnerable for fans to appreciate who he is. To that end, the various aspects of his physiology have been written about over the years.
We aren’t talking about anything creepy or weird here, but how well do you know Superman’s digestive system? Why does Kryptonite cause him pain and just how well does this guy see? These are the questions that keep us up at night here at CBR, so we decided to delve into some of his powers and abilities as related to the Man of Steel’s body itself. We were able to answer some of these questions, but hope to hear from you in the comments on anything we missed in these 15 Weird Facts About Superman’s Body.
15. KRYPTONITE HARMS HIM THANKS TO A VACATION
When Superman was first introduced, there was no such thing as Kryptonite and the Man of Steel had little to no weaknesses. As the ideal version of a superhero, he simply didn’t need anything to hold him back and the people accepted that. As the years progressed and the character was adapted to other forms of media like radio, things changed and Superman was suddenly capable of being taken out by a little green rock.
The reason Kryptonite was introduced is fairly simple: Clayton “Bud” Collyer, the man who provided the voice for Clark Kent and Superman for the radio show, wanted to take a week off. Supes was put into a Kryptonite trap and a stand-in supplied his painful groans until Collyer returned. Since then, different colors and effects have been created for a wide variety of reasons, but it is primarily a plot device.
14. HE COULDN’T ALWAYS FLY
Initially, Superman couldn’t fly. Most fans know this, so it isn’t much of a surprise, but the reason he could leap tall buildings in a single bound is interesting and related to classic literature. Similarly to John Carter’s strength and ability to leap high on the planet Mars, Superman’s physiology developed on Krypton, which had much higher gravity than that of Earth. While this doesn’t really account for his super-strength, it does explain his ability to jump so high.
This very feat has been demonstrated by the Apollo astronauts who landed on the Moon. They could jump around six feet (~2 meters) off the surface, which is much higher than the average human’s jump-height. Superman’s ability to fly was changed later on due to animation issues, but the explanation for his jumping skills was actually ahead of its time.
13. HE HAS A SUPER SENSE OF SMELL
It doesn’t come up as much as some of his other abilities, but Superman’s schnoz is just as super as his other senses. In many ways, his sense of smell is comparable to that of Wolverine’s, though it is significantly much more powerful than the Marvel mutant’s. Like his other senses, he does need to focus on it in order to use it to its full potential or he would be constantly overwhelmed.
Superman has used his sense of smell to track enemies from thousands of miles away.
He has also been able to sense invisible enemies who couldn’t mask their scent. Few writers are going to spend more than a few panels on his super smell with so many other facets of his physiology to delve into when mining for superpowers, which explains why we don’t hear about it more often, but it certainly is super.
12. HE CAN SHAPESHIFT
We all know that Superman’s muscles are able to lift just about anything across Pre-Crisis, as well as Post. Superman is one strong superhero few could ever match. His muscles have other abilities most wouldn’t even imagine. Granted, this particular ability has only been seen in one story, but Superman has so much control over his own muscles, he can reshape his body and shapeshift into whomever he desires.
Back in Superman #45, written by Bill Finger and penciled by Ira Yarbrough, Superman had to pass as an inter-dimensional warrior, so he tapped into his muscle control ability and transformed his entire body into the guy. They never explained how he was able to change his color to white or his clothing, other than in a passing comment, but this was Pre-Crisis Superman so he could do just about anything.
11. HE’S A SOLAR BATTERY
The differences between human and Kryptonian physiology are what allow him to do the amazing things he can do here, but he does need fuel. Over the years he has lived on Earth, Superman has absorbed quite a lot of solar energy, which is retained in his cells. This is where the Man of Steel’s strength truly lies — in each cell of his body.
DC expanded on this with the introduction of a new power in Superman #38, written by Geoff Johns and penciled by John Romita Jr.. The new ability, Super-flare, allowed for Superman to use his heat vision to full power; something he had never done before. When it reached its max limit, a gigantic flare was emitted, which knocked him out. He had completely depleted his retained solar energy, which rendered him essentially human with no powers for 24 hours, requiring him to recharge (A.K.A., get some sun).
10. IT CAN WITHSTAND THE HEART OF THE SUN
Superman gets his powers thanks to the way his body processes solar energy. This has been established for decades, but the guy never flew too close to the star for a variety of reasons. In All-Star Superman, written by Grant Morrison and penciled by Frank Quitely, Superman finds himself in the star’s corona. This results in his powers shooting beyond previously-established limits, but also causes his cells to overcharge such that he begins to experience cell death. Too much of a good thing we guess…
It is later revealed that his body is transforming into one of solar radio-consciousness. As the sun begins to fail, he flies into it and repairs it (represented in the image above). As a being of solar energy, Superman maintains the sun for thousands of years before one day emerging as a completely evolved being in the form of a golden god.
9. HIS BLOOD MAKES VAMPIRES EXPLODE
Superman is susceptible to a few forms of attack. We all know about Kryptonite, but he can fall victim to various attacks from the supernatural realm as well. That’s how someone like Dracula could whip out his fangs and pierce the flesh of the otherwise invulnerable Man of Steel. Superman ended up finding out exactly what would happen if Dracula bit him in Superman #180 in 2002.
Turns out it’s not good for a vampire to suck the blood out of a man whose body is a solar battery.
Without getting to much into the weeds on the story, it climaxes with Dracula noshing on Superman’s jugular for only a brief moment. Dracula immediately pulls away with a powerful light shooting from his mouth. Dracula screams in agony as his body explodes. “Dracula took a big bite out of the sun and it wasn’t pretty.”
8. NO PART OF HIM EVER DETERIORATES
Superman’s invulnerability i derived from his cells’ ability to absorb solar radiation, so it’s down to that very level that his power resides. As you probably already know, we shed an average of 0.024-0.072 ounces of skin and a number of hairs from our body each day. Once off our bodies, most of that detritus turns into dust and we generally just forget about it. For Superman, things would have to be a little different.
Depending on who is writing him, Superman has a force field that extends to his costume, hair and nails. This might keep those cells from dying/falling off, but that doesn’t explain his hair showing its powers in Superman IV. If his cells maintain their power, they should never deteriorate on their own, which means that there are a good 100+ lbs. of Superman skin lying about the DC Universe.
7. HE CAN BE BRAINWASHED
Superman has a lot of strengths and only a few weaknesses. We already know that Kryptonite can cause him a few problems and he is also susceptible to magic. Another area he can be negatively influenced is his mind, which can be attacked by various means. He can, and has, been brainwashed and when it happened, it was a little on the creepy side. The most notable instance occurred when Superman made an adult film with someone else’s wife.
Superman and Barda get psychically corrupted by Sleez, an exile from Apokolips. Sleez has no problem corrupting Barda, whom he gets to do a rather salacious dance, but when he gets the Man of Steel in for his adult film cameo, he is able to resist just enough to not go through with it. That’s all thanks to his strong morals given to him by the good ol’ Kent family.
6. HIS VISION IS RIDICULOUSLY OP
For this entry, we aren’t talking about Superman’s ability to channel the sun through his heat vision, but rather the man’s vision itself. You know those glasses he wears in his Clark Kent disguise are just for show, right? Hipster jokes aside, Superman’s ability to see is ridiculously overpowered. He has been shown to be able to see individual atoms if he focuses down on them enough or to see what’s happening on a planet or two away. He can actually see people going about their lives in other solar systems.
It doesn’t just stop with telescopic or microscopic vision either, he can also see in any wavelength of light. Humans can barely see any light at all. Of the entire light spectrum, we only see tiny fraction of what we call “visible light.” For Superman, he can see everything from FM radio waves to ultraviolet, X-Rays and even Gamma-rays.
5. THE BODY ELECTRIC
Superman has been around since 1938 and since that time, his body has undergone quite a lot of changes. Some of these made a lot of sense while others left people scratching their heads. For an entire year of publication, Superman’s body turned into electricity and he sported a spiffy blue and white suit. This new ability grew over time but began with mild electric shocks before evolving into the ability to interface with computers and electronics. Eventually, he went the full body electric and his physiology changed completely.
With his body changing into one that was electricity-based, all of his powers changed as well. He was no longer invulnerable, but was instead intangible. He gained the super ability to use a computer, which apparently wasn’t his primary means of tapping into technology. The guy did write for a newspaper on a typewriter for much longer than it made technological sense, after all.
4. HIS HANDS ONCE FIRED TINY VERSIONS OF HIMSELF
Superman’s powers and abilities are derived from his physiology, but sometimes, that physiology can change. All the way back in Superman #125, Superman comes into contact with a miniature alien rocket, but the rocket explodes before he can do much with it. Almost immediately, he finds that he no longer has his superpowers! Well, he does have one power left and it’s a weird one. He can shoot off a miniature version of himself from his hands.
Superman learns to use his mini-me to take care of the things he was previously able to, but gets jealous. He starts to think his little self is vying to take over his position, but it ends up sacrificing itself to save him. Eventually, his powers return and his new ability is lost forever, but the story did go a long way in showing how malleable Superman’s powers and physiology actually are.
3. HIS EYES HAVE TELEKINETIC ABILITIES
We all know that Superman’s special vision powers allow for a variety of offensive and defensive capabilities. He can use heat vision for a variety of purposes and he can see through pretty much anything other than lead. Another power that most people tend to forget about is that his eyes have another use: telekinesis. The most egregious use of this power was shown in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, but it had been seen previously.
In Superman II, Zod and his henchmen confront a police officer who pulls a rifle on them. They first heat it up so the deputy has to let go of it, but then levitate it from him shortly after. In Superman IV, Superman uses this power to rebuild the Great Wall of China after his solar doppelganger destroys a large section of it.
2. A STRAND OF HIS HAIR CAN HOLD UP A HALF TON
Unfortunately, we must again examine the atrocity that is known as Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Hardly anyone enjoys this film, but it does cover an interesting aspect of Superman’s body and it’s to do entirely with a single strand of his hair. In order to clone the Man of Steel thanks to the collective nuclear weapons of Earth and a collision with the sun, Lex Luthor required some of Superman’s DNA.
A short trip down to the museum with the most ’80’s-looking version of John Cryer, Lex could find reveals a single strand of hair. Superman kindly donated the strand of hair to the museum, which set up a display showing a single and questionably long hair from the Man of Steel could hold up a giant weight weighing in at an impressive 1,0000 lbs.
1. HE DOESN’T NEED TO EAT
Contrary to the picture we have chosen for this entry, Superman doesn’t really need to eat. He has mentioned on occasion that he enjoys the practice and does so for social reasons, but thanks to the good ol’ yellow star at the center of our solar system, he doesn’t derive energy from food like the rest of us… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In addition to not eating, he doesn’t require water either. In some versions of the character, he also doesn’t need to breathe. Everything about him is sustained thanks to the sun. If you peel back a layer or two, it also seems logical that he doesn’t defecate or even pass gas, which makes him about the best party guest you could ever hope to entertain.
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