WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Superman: Year One #1 by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr., on sale now.
There have been countless retellings of Superman's origins over the decades. All have been largely consistent with the Man of Steel's established power set: super strength, flight, super vision, etc. However, Frank Miller and John Romita Jr.'s Superman: Year One #1 hints at a new power that might explain a lot about the character in any incarnation.
In the introductory issue, the planet of Krypton blows up, as usual. Baby Kal-El is rocketed to Earth so that he might survive and thrive, as usual. The rocket lands on the Kent farm, where the couple takes the baby into their care, as usual. What happens next, though, is decidedly unusual, and never-before presented. When Jonathan finds Kal standing outside the rocket ship. He then picks up the tyke, prompting the boy to demonstrate a power he's never shown before.
Not mind control in that evil, invasive kind of way. Instead, it's more instinctual, like an inborn survival skill. Jonathan "feels something probe inside his skull... a gentle warmth." From this mental touch, Kal-El determines Jonathan is friendly. "Let him take you to his home," Baby Kal-El thinks to himself. "Let him think this is all his idea."
This is the first indication in Superman's modern history that he not only had the capability to reach into someone's mind, but to influence it. He had demonstrated a similar power back in the '40s, but that was more of a contrived, single-use storytelling convenience than any kind of true addition to his powers. If Superman has had such an ability in mainstream continuity, it certainly isn't one he's employed very often – if ever.
And, it's important to keep in mind that this is baby Kal-El. While Miller's narrative is told from an adult perspective, Kal-El doesn't yet have the capacity to think as an adult. The usage of this power is pure instinct, in reaction to his unfamiliar surroundings. He's not trying to usher in an eventual Brightburn-style takeover; he's simply trying to find the means to survive, if only subliminally.
Kal also reaches out to Martha, but this time, he connects with her in the opposite manner, letting her see into his mind instead. "Those eyes of his," Martha exclaims, "It's like they've seen worlds upon worlds." It's an instant bonding moment for mother and adopted son, and one that ensures Kal-El will be well cared for.
A Power Lost – Like Baby Teeth
These mental powers that Kal-El demonstrates, though, aren't seen again as the story progresses into Clark's adolescent and teen years. Such powers certainly would have come in handy, too, as his friends are relentlessly bullied. Clark has his own methods of confronting them, and they don't involve simply mind-telling them to knock it off.
Young Clark is still coming to terms with his other powers, mainly, resisting the temptation to use them to put others, like the school bullies, in their place, or in the hospital. Has he perhaps had his own great powers/great responsibility revelation somewhere along the line, and come to understand that using such powers is irresponsible? Or is there some other reason for their absence?
Or perhaps, like spots on a fawn or a set of baby teeth, these powers are something that fade away with the onset of maturity. If Baby Kal's usage of these powers was indeed a survival mechanism, then their usefulness would decrease with the development of his other powers, as well as his physical and emotional growth. Once he can fly and throw cars and punch holes through mountains, the need to mind control others is diminished. Instinctual survival skills might give way to deliberate ones, so maybe mind control is something in the Kryptonian DNA that's no longer needed come a certain age, once the other powers flourish.
A Power Dormant – Like Chicken Pox
While the events of Superman: Year One have been established to take place outside of normal continuity, that's not to say that these powers didn't – or don't – exist within it. The notion of a couple instantly adopting a baby they found in a spaceship is one that readers have been conditioned to accept through multiple retellings of Superman's origin. Outside of that context, though, the idea is arguably ludicrous. That Baby Kal-El could subconsciously influence that scenario is one that actually bolsters its credibility. Any normal couple finding a baby would likely simply call law enforcement, but a mental nudge goes a long towards convincing them, and readers, that they should do otherwise.
There's another possibility: These powers don't fade away, but instead adult Superman doesn't realize he still has them. Superman has historically commanded respect from colleagues and common folk alike, and one would like to think that this is due to his altruistic, selfless heroism. But what if he unknowingly is commanding that respect by subconsciously demanding it from the rest of the world? Superman is too great of a hero and has too much character to willingly and deliberately do such a thing. But if he's unaware that he possesses such an ability, then perhaps such control is literally in his DNA, and he simply can't help himself.
Is Mind Control Really a Good Power for an Iconic Hero?
This kind of power – even if administered subconsciously – doesn't exactly enhance the character's legacy. A revelation Superman has been subconsciously tricking the world into respecting him would mean irreparable damage to his character. So it's not likely – or wise – for mind control to remain in Superman's arsenal of powers. But as a device that Kal-El outgrows the same way he outgrew his baby fat? That could very well be the case, in continuity or otherwise.
Superman: Year One #2 hits shelves Aug. 21.