Powers and abilities of Superman
The powers of DC Comics character Superman have changed since his introduction in the 1930s. The extent of his powers peaked during the 1970s and 1980s to the point where various writers found it difficult to create suitable challenges for the character. As a result his powers were significantly reduced when his story was rebooted by writer John Byrne after the Crisis on Infinite Earths series. After Byrne's departure, Superman's powers were gradually increased again, although he still remains weaker than his pre-Crisis incarnation.
- 1 Complete list
- 2 Golden Age Superman
- 3 Silver/Bronze Age Superman
- 4 Modern Age
- 5 Weaknesses
- 6 Other versions
- 7 Film and television
- 8 Video games
- 9 Novels
- 10 References
- 11 External links
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (November 2009)|
Over the course of the character's existence of 75 years, Superman has—at some point or another—had various combinations of the following powers and abilities. The levels of those individual powers and abilities have also changed in intensity, from "merely" enhanced above that of normal humans to truly god-like. Some added as the character evolved, others toned down and restricted in later eras.
- Living Solar Battery – Superman's powers rely on his cells' ability to absorb and metabolize solar energy from local stars like Earth's sun. His Kryptonian body is a living "solar battery" that absorbs solar energies and converts them for fuel for his powers. His cells also store yellow sun energy so he can use his powers under objects, at night, in dark places, and in space. (Pre-Crisis, yellow stars were said to emit "ultra solar rays" which enabled Kryptonians' superpowers; penetrating the Earth itself, said rays also enabled Kryptonians to stay super-powered at night.) The more yellow sun rays Superman absorbs the stronger he gets; in some instances he has been shown to enter the sun in order to increase his powers to their highest potentials, as seen in 1998's DC One Million storyline. Superman can also absorb solar energies of other class stars such as when he absorbed the solar energies of a blue star that increased his abilities to a higher degree and gave him additional abilities.
- Superhuman Strength – Enhanced strength much greater than that of a human and even most superhumans, making him "more powerful than a locomotive," is one of Superman's signature powers and has often been described as chief among his other abilities. While not infinite, depictions of the upper limit of how much weight he can lift have ranged from being able to do the work of several laborers in half the time, crush diamonds in his grasp, lift objects hundreds of times his own weight including any sized vehicle over his head, bend and/or break steel with his bare hands, lifting mountains, and all the way up to in the Silver Age and Modern Age where he is seen moving entire planets. This makes him arguably the strongest superhero in the DC Universe. After being saturated with yellow solar energy in All-Star Superman, his strength was tested as exceeding the force of 200 quintillion tons (or 2x1020 tons, in scientific notation, i.e., two hundred billion billion tons) he held this much with one hand and he even said he feels like he can pick up more, enough to pull the Earth away from the sun.[volume & issue needed] As of The New 52 reboot, his strength now exceeds 5.972 sextillion metric tons.[volume & issue needed] Explanations include being adapted to the heavier gravity of Krypton, and his muscles using the power of the solar energy which fuels all his abilities. Whilst in direct yellow sunlight, his strength can be augmented to limitless and incalculable levels. He has strength necessary to shatter entire worlds. Superman's stamina has also been shown as limitless (whilst he remains in yellow sunlight).
- Invulnerability – Immunity to almost all forms of harm and ailments, including extreme force and extremely high temperatures. Effectiveness has ranged from his skin being piercable by nothing less than a "bursting shell" to being completely unharmed by a star going supernova. Explanations for this ability have ranged from Kryptonians having a molecular structure with a density superior to that of titanium and emitting an unbreakable aura of solar energy. His invulnerability has enabled him to withstand Darkseid's omega beams, a feat originally thought to be impossible. In the rare instances, however, Superman has required medical attention, this resistance to injuries has complicated necessary procedures such as surgery. For instance, when a criminal shot him with a kryptonite bullet, a surgeon was forced to give Superman a controlled exposure to the mineral in order to temporarily weaken his skin enough to make the incisions necessary to remove internal fragments of the bullet. Superman can also withstand kryptonite in certain circumstances, such as lifting an island made of kryptonite and tossing it into space in Superman Returns. Superman has something that increases his invulnerability called a bio-electric aura which protects him from some attacks and can be extended to protect others like in All Star Superman. In some versions, this power greatly retards his aging and increases as he gets older, sometimes rendering him effectively immortal. The epilogue to the Justice Society of America storyline "Thy Kingdom Come" (a sequel of sorts to the Kingdom Come limited series) showing Superman surviving 1,000 years into the future, albeit as a very elderly, hunched-over man. Another version in DC One Million lives through the 853rd Century, some 83,200 years from now, though he was living inside the sun for thousands of years before coming out, making him godlike in his abilities.
- Healing Factor – Superman is shown to possess remarkable recuperative powers that allow him to quickly heal from wounds and makes him immune to all forms of human or Earthly diseases, illnesses, viruses and toxins. Superman heals faster when he is closer to the sun and he is absorbing more sun rays.
- Flight – Because Earth exhibits less gravitational pull than that of Krypton, and also due to Superman's solar-powered body, the Man of Steel can also alter his personal mono-directional gravity field to propel himself through the air at will. Originally, he only had the power to jump great distances, as stated by the 1940s Superman cartoons ("Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound"). Has ranged from simply being able to jump great distances using his vast strength, to beginning in late 1941 being able to accelerate, float in midair, and change direction while traveling. Later he became able to traverse interstellar distances without stopping. Lex Luthor once theorized that Superman had to stem from a gigantic planet with enormous gravity, where his species had developed natural anti-gravity organs to be able to function; on Earth, this would allow him to control his own gravimetric field in order to fly.
- Superhuman Speed – Another one of Superman's signature abilities is his superhuman speed, allowing him to move, react, run, and fly extraordinarily fast. Originally classified as being "faster than a speeding bullet", allowing him to catch bullets in mid air before they hit him, or anyone else. Top speeds have ranged from nearly a hundred miles per hour when he was first created in the 1930s to speeds far greater than the speed of light. His thoughts, perceptions and reflexes are also greatly accelerated to be able to control his actions while moving at high speeds. Superman's running speed has often been shown to be on par with that of The Flash's. In Superman: Red Son he claimed to be able to move faster than ten times the speed of thought.
- X-Ray Vision – The ability to see through solid objects, usually with the exception of lead. Early stories assumed that hiding objects in lead would prevent him from finding them, however, more modern stories have Superman being able to take advantage of lead's opaqueness to do a wide scan of an area with his X-Ray vision in which the lead objects become immediately visible and then narrow his search to those specific locations. Explanations for how this power works vary, but rarely include the emission and perception of actual X-Rays, as such high-energy radiation would actually be dangerous to living things he uses it on. A more common theory involves being able to see and concentrate on the patterns of natural cosmic radiation as it reverberates off objects. X-Ray vision was first used by Superman in Action Comics #11 (April 1939), where it was called "Superman's X-ray eyesight".
- Superhuman Intelligence – Superman possesses intellect that is beyond genius-level. People from Krypton already had genius-level intellect, being a society thousands of years ahead of Earth in technology. In the presence of a yellow sun, Superman's intelligence is further enhanced, giving him super intelligence and allowing his brain to operate faster than a supercomputer. His intelligence has enabled him to create effective strategies and tactics when engaging enemies during situations that his powers alone can't get him out of.
- Eidetic Memory – Superman is shown to have flawless, total recall of everything he has ever seen, read, or heard.
- Multilingualism – Superman is able to learn, speak and understand any language he comes in contact with.
- Heat Vision – Ability to emit solar energy from his eyes. Usually resembles bright red or orange laser-like beams, which may be invisible at low temperatures but extremely bright at high ones. The effective range of his beams are hundreds of feet. It can also reach hundreds of miles wide, instantly disintegrating a person. In addition to varying the beam width, height, and intensity, Superman has demonstrated a high degree of skill and accuracy in manipulating his beam, being able to use this power with surgical precision and at microscopic levels. Superman can lobotomize or excise someone's psionic powers as shown in The Elite when he cut off Manchester Black's powers. Since the power can be used invisibly, Superman often takes advantage of that to perform tasks subtly without needing to get into costume. In some versions, these beams can also be used to produce great concussive force rather than heat. The beams are tremendously powerful, and can be used to rupture steel plates and pulverize rock. Also in some stories, it can be reflected like a true laser, able to use great skill and accuracy in manipulating the blasts off multiple targets in rapid succession, or more commonly to remove his very durable facial hair. Sometimes shown to be one of his more physically draining powers to use, as it uses such concentrated solar energy. In the pre-Crisis stories, Clark wears glasses with lenses made of Kryptonian glass (initially cannibalized from his rocket ship's transparency dome) so he can fire his heat vision through them without damaging them. In the stories from the 1986 relaunch onward, Clark wears glasses with regular lenses, which force Clark to momentarily lift them out of his eyes' firing arc to use his heat vision effectively. In revision in Superman: Secret Origin, Clark wears glasses with Kryptonian glass that are intended to contain unwanted firings. Heat vision was initially introduced as "the heat of his x-ray vision" (a byproduct of his existing x-ray vision powers) in Superman (vol. 1) #59 (July 1949); heat vision as a separate power first appeared in Action Comics #275 (April 1961).
- Superhuman Breath – Ability to inhale and exhale huge volumes of air with great force, capable of extinguishing large fires and moving heavy objects such as cars. Super-breath also allows Superman to hold his breath for extended periods in airless environments. In one 70s-era Superman comic[volume & issue needed], he saved a town from a tornado by inhaling the twister into his lungs. He then flew just above Earth's atmosphere, with his chest looking somewhat distended, and exhaled the tornado into space. In another 70s comic[volume & issue needed], Superman was inflicted with a condition whereby if he stepped in the ground or otherwise came in physical contact with the surface of the Earth, explosive energy orbs would begin to rise from the area immediately near him, endangering anyone nearby. When Superman realized he was causing the orbs to appear, he resolved to always fly until he could find a solution to the problem. However, as Clark Kent, he couldn't be seen flying; instead, Clark walked around constantly expelling a jet of air straight down from his nostrils to keep his body just millimeters from his walking surface. The release (exhalation) of highly compressed air through a valve (such as pursed lips) causes it to drop radically in temperature. This is known as the Joule–Thomson effect, and when Superman does this, it is usually referred to as Freeze Breath, and can cool objects to sub-zero temperatures and freeze air moisture solid.
- Superhuman Hearing – Can hear far more sounds with far more detail and at far greater distances than normally humanly possible, including sounds on frequencies undetectable by humans such as dog whistles. Superman is able to mentally screen out most of these sounds to be able to function normally, even in a noisy environment, and can focus in on specific things, like a person's voice or heartbeat, even if they are in another part of the city. He can even hear sounds on other planets, which makes it likely that his hearing is fundamentally different than that of a human, as sound cannot travel through the vacuum of space. Like humans and most animals, he is skilled at automatically noticing his own name out of the jumble of several overheard conversations, making him adept at quickly responding to calls of distress all over the city.
- Superhuman Vision – His senses grant him the ability to see farther and with greater accuracy and detail than humanly possible. Sometimes includes the ability to see EM frequencies invisible to humans, such as radio transmissions, infrared light, the bioelectric aura which surrounds all living things, even in pitch-black darkness. Offshoots of this power include Telescopic Vision, which allows him to "zoom in" on far away objects, sometimes hundreds of miles away, and Microscopic Vision, which allows him to zoom in on objects that would normally be too small to see, like those on a cellular or molecular level.
- Superhuman Olfaction – A heightened and highly accurate sense of smell comparable to some animals such as dogs. Can be used to detect things like the chemicals in a bomb hidden somewhere in a crowded room.
- Master Combatant – While most authors prefer to portray him as having mediocre combat prowess in favor of showing the magnitude of his powers in battle, there have been some exceptions. Many stories depict Superman as a very capable fighter with or without his abilities, as he has been trained by both Wildcat in boxing and Mongul in the fighting arts. He has fought and learned from Wonder Woman and has also learned more advanced martial arts techniques from Batman. To a lesser degree, Superman is also adept at armed combat, as he is shown to be decent with a sword and hammer. He has also learned two different types of Kryptonian fighting styles, Torquasm-Rao and Torquasm-Vo to enhance his body and mind.
Golden Age Superman
As presented in Action Comics #1 and the 1939 Superman newspaper comic strip, Superman's powers are inherent in all indigenous Kryptonians because of their advanced evolution. Thus, all Kryptonians (General Zod, Faora, etc.) were shown using the same powers that Superman would have on Earth.
Starting in the mid-1940s, however, the notion of Krypton having a heavier gravitational pull than Earth's is first introduced, with Superboy's debut. After this, most stories in the late 1940s and 1950s would indicate that Superman (and other Kryptonians) would only gain superpowers when free of Krypton's heavy gravity (and in some stories, also its "unique atmosphere"), or when not under Krypton-like environmental conditions.
Superman's original powers mainly consisted of superstrength, superspeed, supersenses, and invulnerability. As described in Action Comics #1 (June 1938): "When maturity was reached, he discovered he could easily: Leap 1/8th of a mile [200 meters]; hurdle a twenty-story building...raise tremendous weights...run faster than an express train... and that nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin!".
Within the years afterwards, many of Superman's other superpowers were also introduced, including his visual powers (such as x-ray vision) and super-hearing. (Siegel and Shuster, in their initial development of the character, did equip Superman with telescopic vision and super hearing, at least in their earliest draft weeklies.).
Writers of Superman experimented with new powers for the character. The abilities that proved popular became part of his regular repertoire, while others were discarded after a single use. One power introduced during this time was soon discarded, an ability for Superman to reshape his face muscles to change his appearance. Another power that appeared at least once was an ability to perform telepathic mind control, as seen in Superman (volume 1) #45 (March-April 1947). 
Superman's power levels also grew throughout the 1940s; by 1947, he is able to use his super-speed to break the time barrier for the first time. By Superman (volume 1) #38 (January–February 1946), he is able to withstand the blast of an atomic bomb; Superman (volume 1) #43 (November–December 1946) shows Superman able to withstand the heat of the Earth's core.
- Super strength
- Super speed
- Super senses (including telescopic vision, x-ray vision, super-hearing, microscopic vision)
- Flight (initially super-leaping)
- Superhuman control of face muscles
Silver/Bronze Age Superman
Superman's powers were subject to expansion and revision during the 1940s and 1950s. Shortly after Supergirl's introduction, the origin of Kryptonians' super-powers was revised. With Action Comics #262 (March 1960) (and expanded upon in Superman (volume 1) #146 in July 1961, Superboy (volume 1) #113 in June 1964, and in subsequent comics), it is explained that Superman's powers are derived primarily from the "ultra solar rays" of a yellow sun (like Earth's) that penetrate Earth day and night. Under a red sun (like Krypton's, or the artificial red sun in the bottle city of Kandor), Kryptonians lack superpowers, regardless of the difference in gravity. The powers and limitations of Superman are instantly possessed by all Kryptonians (including animals, such as Krypto) exposed to a yellow sun.
Superman's late Golden Age powers were expanded upon during the late 1950s and 1960s, where they reached their peak. Some stories would show Superman as capable of moving a planet. Said increased power levels were also retroactively assigned to his younger self, Superboy; one story showed the Boy of Steel towing a dozen worlds tied together on a chain.
Stories also show Superman capable of traveling across interstellar space under his own power. In one story (in an attempt to rescue an unconscious Supergirl from being hurled out of the universe at a tremendous speed), Superman traveled faster than he'd ever moved before, managing to break through multiple dimensions and barriers before being stopped by the Spectre, who stated Superman was passing "toward realms no mortal eye may be permitted to behold." Beginning with Superman (volume 1) #199 (August 1967), an occasional series of races between Superman and the Flash also were published, with Superman's super-speed shown to be at or slightly below that of the Flash's.
Superman's vulnerability to kryptonite (introduced in comics in 1949) is also retained, along with greater emphasis on the newer weaknesses of exposure to a red sun and to magic.
Superman also possesses super genius-level intelligence and an eidetic memory. Average people from Krypton already had genius-level intelligence, being a society thousands of years ahead of Earth in technology. They learned calculus as children, and possessed the ability to read by age one. These enhanced mental capabilities are a direct result of his exposure to a yellow sun. Superman also possesses the mental ability to screen out the enormous amount of information received by his enhanced senses and to focus on a single detail such as a particular voice or location. Some seldom used powers, such as super-ventriloquism (the ability of Superman to throw his voice across great distances) or super-hypnosis (an enhanced ability to hypnotize others) also were seen in Silver and Bronze Age stories.
In the early 1970s, Superman's power levels (particularly his strength and invulnerability) are reduced as the result of a storyline involving an accident that renders most of Earth's kryptonite inert, as well as creating a sand creature that drains a portion of Superman's powers.
- Virtually limitless superhuman strength
- Invulnerability (except to kryptonite and magic)
- Extreme longevity (in some stories as long as he is under a yellow sun)
- Enhanced mental processes, including an eidetic memory and genius-level intellect
- Super vision, consisting of:
- X-ray vision
- Heat vision
- Telescopic vision
- Microscopic vision
- Other enhanced physical senses (smell, touch, taste)
- Ability to perceive the entire electromagnetic spectrum and various other forms of energy
- Flight (including across interstellar distances)
- Precise muscle control and vocal control
- Super-breath (including freeze breath)
- Superhuman speed
John Byrne's post-Crisis on Infinite Earths revision of Superman in 1986 reduced the character's abilities and power levels. This was designed to make it easier for writers to come up with suitable challenges for the hero and to eliminate or reduce those powers that were "too sensational or unbelievable for modern audiences". As shown in Byrne's Man of Steel miniseries and subsequent comics, the previous emphasis on yellow sun energy as a source for Superman's powers was retained. However, instead of losing his powers instantly when exposed to red sun radiation (as is the case during the Silver/Bronze Age continuity), his powers instead wane gradually. Additionally, a lack of exposure to a yellow sun will also cause Superman's powers to slowly diminish, as seen in the Final Night storyline. Superman's origin story (as shown in Man of Steel) was altered so that his powers develop gradually over years as his body absorbs yellow sunlight. Conversely, Superman can expose himself to increased solar radiation to temporarily increase his power.
Superman's strength was reduced to the point where he could no longer move giant planets but can still move certain amounts. Superman's other physical powers, including his stamina, as well as his visual powers were also similarly reduced, with Superman needing an oxygen mask for prolonged travel in space or underwater. His mental abilities are also curtailed, with Superman no longer having an eidetic memory. The powers of super-ventriloquism and super-hypnosis are not generally used during this period, although it is never stated whether they have been eliminated or not. However, the powers of virtually all powerful characters in the DCU who were a match for the pre-Crisis Superman have also had their powers reduced in the same proportion, e.g. Captain Marvel.
Superman's ability to fly under his own power is explained with the concept of "self telekinesis", an invisible telekinetic field that allows him to lift himself off the ground. Any objects that Superman touches are also enveloped by the field and this allows him to move them with the force of his will. In addition, the idea of a supercharged bioelectric "aura" which acts as an invisible "force field" around and within his body was introduced by Byrne to provide an explanation for his invulnerability. Superman's skin-tight aura allows his equally tight costume to come through his fights relatively undamaged, although his cape will tear as it is not protected by the aura. (Pre-Crisis, his costume and cape were made of Kryptonian fabric that was invulnerable under a yellow sun.) Superman's invulnerability is still great enough to withstand one 50 megaton nuclear explosion, but he will be knocked out as result.
Unlike previous versions, Superman's hair and beard grow normally, requiring grooming using his heat vision carefully reflected off a piece of the ship that brought him to Earth, burning off unwanted growth.
After John Byrne
After Byrne's departure from the series, Superman's powers and abilities once again increased. He regained the ability to travel interstellar distances and to hold his breath for the amount of time required to make such journeys, and move dwarf planets such as Pluto. During the "Up, Up and Away!" storyline he regained his eidetic memory. He still retains his weakness to kryptonite, but instead of stripping him of his abilities, it causes extreme nausea, confusion, and pain. He is also still vulnerable to magic and can be harmed by magical creatures, which makes allies like Zatanna, a powerful magician and sorceress, and Captain Marvel, whose similar powers are based on magic and the gods, valuable assets (see Superman/Shazam: First Thunder).
Exposure to the light of a younger blue sun provides Superman with increased physical abilities, and the power of "Superman Vision", which allows him to bestow his abilities on other beings for a limited time.
Though still largely invulnerable, Superman has been shown to be susceptible to damage from other yellow-sun powered Kryptonians such as Power Girl, Supergirl, General Zod, Non, and Ursa (as well as the Daxamite heroes Mon-El and Sodam Yat); and characters with powers comparable to those of Kryptonians—including the heroes Captain Marvel, Icon, Martian Manhunter, Orion, and Ultra Boy; and the villains Atlas, Bizarro, Black Adam, Cyborg Superman, Darkseid, Despero, Doomsday, Lobo, Monarch, Mongul, Ultraman, Validus, and the current version of Brainiac (when connected to his ship). Most notably, he has consistently been portrayed as weaker than Superboy-Prime, a character who possesses powers closer to those of the Silver Age version of Superboy.
- Superhuman Strength
- Superhuman Speed
- Super vision, consisting of:
- X-Ray Vision
- Telescopic/Microscopic Vision
- Heat Vision
- Infrared Vision
- Super Breath (including Freeze Breath)
- Eidetic memory
- Super Olfaction
- Enhanced Lung Capacity
Despite his incredible abilities, Superman's powers come with several weaknesses:
- Kryptonite: Superman's most famous weakness, kryptonite originated as radioactive fragments of the planet Krypton, created by fusion during the explosion that destroyed it. Superman's cells store electromagnetic radiation from the rays of a yellow sun, and converts it into energy, manifesting as his super-powers. When Superman is exposed to the most common variety, green kryptonite (within roughly ten feet or less of any size or amount), its high-band radiation rapidly interferes with this process, causing severe physical pain and the loss of his powers (or at least a portion of them). Long enough exposure to green kryptonite may eventually lead to death. Kryptonite radiation can be blocked by the use of lead.
- Red Sun Radiation: Natural in Krypton's planetary system, red solar radiation replaces the higher-yield yellow solar energy in Superman's cells, robbing him of the fuel for his powers. (Pre-Crisis, red solar radiation was said to lack the superpower-enabling "ultra solar rays" that yellow solar radiation contains.) This process does not have the painful, crippling and fever-like symptoms of Kryptonite, and essentially leaves him with the normal health and abilities of a human in his size and shape, as it did for the entire population of Krypton during its existence. Exposure to yellow solar radiation causes his powers to return. Other than red solar radiation, using up his stored yellow solar energy (without continued exposure to yellow solar radiation) also causes Superman to lose his powers.
- Magic: Within the context of the stories, Superman's powers, as great as they might be, are the result of a natural phenomenon, not supernatural. As a result, his invulnerability offers no protection against magical forces, and he is affected by most forms of sorcery in the same way as any mortal. In several stories, it's shown that magical/mythical creatures, such as demons, vampires, werewolves and many others, are actually capable of hurting him. However, it is shown that no magic can directly destroy him unless it comes from a divine (or semi-divine) force. In addition, some stories show Superman learning about magic from Zatanna, allowing him to counter almost any spell cast on him. Most notably, he once fought the Four Elder Gods (divine beings) and won despite having a magical sword in his chest and a magical arrow in his back.
Over the years, many alternate versions of Superman have appeared, in Elseworlds books or other timelines. Many of these were limited series and one shot stories, so the extent of Superman’s abilities is not always explored in great detail.
Frank Miller's Dark Knight continuity, which includes The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and All-Star Batman and Robin, has depicted Superman's powers in a variety of ways. All-Star Batman and Robin, for instance, depicts a younger Superman traveling from the U.S. to Paris by means of running fast enough to cross the ocean surface. The Dark Knight Returns depicts him as having the usual super speed, heat vision, flight, and strength. It also gave him a new ability: when he was severely weakened after being caught in a nuclear explosion, he was able to restore himself by absorbing the photosynthetic energy available in plant life.
The Grant Morrison penned Elseworlds book All-Star Superman features a massively powerful Superman, akin to his Silver Age version. Superman: Red Son features a Superman somewhat more powerful than his current incarnation, as does the limited series Kingdom Come, due to prolonged exposure to solar radiation (to the degree that he is practically invulnerable to the effects of kryptonite). Other series such as War of the Worlds portray a Superman with the comparatively limited powers of his original Golden Age appearances.
Film and television
Fleischer Superman cartoons
Superman's powers depicted in the classic Fleischer cartoons were very much like they were at the time he first appeared in 1938 – strong enough to lift heavy objects, leap an eighth of a mile, and run faster than an express train – with the addition of two new powers that were introduced around the time the cartoons were made: flight and x-ray vision. X-Ray vision was first used by Superman in Action Comics #11, April 1939, where it was called "Superman's X-ray eyesight." Some of the limitations that were shown in the cartoons were that an increase in the energy of an energy cannon would push Superman back to the ground, ramming into a meteor or comet would knock him out for a bit, and tear gas would do to him what it does to normal humans, but only for a little while.
Adventures of Superman
On the TV series The Adventures of Superman, in addition to his conventional powers, Superman also demonstrated some one-time-only powers; in the sixth season's "The Mysterious Cube", Superman learns how to walk through solid matter. The source of Superman's powers was stated to be his dense molecular structure, a trait that was occasionally mentioned in the comics.
The episode "Through the Time Barrier" showed that, unlike the contemporary Silver Age comic book version, Superman was unable to travel through time under his own power.
In Superman and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, Superman's speed was shown as fast enough to reverse the timestream. In Superman II and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he possessed the ability to erase Lois Lane's (Margot Kidder) memory of the knowledge that he is Clark Kent by passionately kissing her. The kiss put her in a trance-like state and when she awoke, she remembered nothing but felt disoriented. Nevertheless, she remained undaunted and was in a sexually invigorated state. Because the three Kryptonian villains of the movie had the ability to shoot beams from their hands, Superman presumably would have the same power. In Superman III, he was able to create a diamond from coal using super strength and raising his heat temperature with a glowing yellow flash from his hand. In Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, he demonstrates the ability to repair damaged structures with a telekinetic beam from his eyes, and to levitate several falling people; he also shows a greater extension of his superhuman strength to draw the moon out of orbit and then return it back to normal. In Superman Returns, Superman is shown to possess enough invulnerability to stare unblinkingly as a gun is fired point blank at his eye and receive no damage at all. Kryptonite does rob him of his strength and makes him vulnerable, but due to flying above the clouds and into the rays of the sun, he gained enough amplified strength to lift Lex Luthor's kryptonite-based sub-continent beyond the Earth's atmosphere and into space, despite the kryptonite shard in his body and the kryptonite pillars coming from the continent, though this severely weakens him and he falls back down to Earth in a coma.
In Man of Steel, Superman's powers are at more a herculean level and he has to put effort into lifting oil rigs, flying and battling other kryptonians, similar to the John Byrne reboot, but are said to also derive from his prolonged exposure and adaptation to certain elements of Earth's atmosphere as well as Earth's Sun. However, unlike Byrne's version, Superman can breathe in space and underwater. As in some comics, he is depicted as being more powerful than Zod and other Kryptonians due to his far-longer exposure to Earth's sun and atmosphere, which gave him an advantage and victory over them despite their superior fighting skills. The only powers not featured in the film are microscopic vision, freeze breath and super-breath.
In the television series Superboy (later re-titled The Adventures of Superboy) young Clark Kent (alias Superboy) is shown to have similar power levels to his film-counterpart (on which the series was inspired, in spite of the inherent continuity problems). However, Superboy never displays any of the 'extra powers' Superman had in the films. Throughout the series, it never seemed evident that Superboy was aware of the yellow sun affecting him. In the season two episode "Lex Luthor...Sentenced to Death", Superboy has been crippled by Luthor (thanks to a powerful weapon) and has to go through an extensive rehabilitation program to regain his powers (no attempt is made at simply exposing Superboy to the sun's rays, however). Notably, Superboy's costume is presumably invulnerable in the series (although its origins are never properly explored). Superboy regularly uses his cape to protect people from gunfire and other peril.
Lois & Clark
In the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Superman's powers are consistent with the comics at the time (the immediate post-Crisis era). Due to the nature of the series (emphasizing the Clark Kent aspect of the character), Superman had the traditional powers associated with the character at the start of the series and the writers would often find ways to nullify those powers rather than adding new ones. Kryptonite and certain "superweapons" also took a more drastic toll on him than in other series, sometimes leaving Clark powerless for several hours after contact (in case of Kryptonite it was true about the first encounter in "The Green, Green Glow of Home," but later he usually retained some of the abilities). He also had a healing factor, shown by a wound from a Kryptonite bullet closing within seconds of its removal in "Madame Ex", and an ability to distinguish patterns, such as reading several different letters just from looking on the wooden table on which they were written. With the introduction of other Kryptonians it was revealed that they could all communicate through telepathy thus Superman would also have access to this power.
In the television series Smallville, most of Clark Kent's powers develop over his teenage years. In the first episode of the series, he is aware of his superhuman strength and speed, and first experiences his invulnerability when Lex Luthor hits him with a Porsche at 60 miles an hour. Clark's body is bruised (but not pierced) by bullets and does not immediately heal in early episodes. Clark's super-strength also increased over the course of the series to the point where in the sixth season episode 'Combat', Clark exhibited the ability to set off powerful shockwaves with his punches in which he successfully dispatched a formidable intergalactic foe. Similarly, his speed has also increased as he ages. Clark has also run from Kansas to Central America and Kansas to the Fortress of Solitude at the Arctic Circle, which are thousands of miles apart, in a matter of seconds. His healing rate is greater than normal; for instance, a head wound gained while his powers had been lost closed immediately upon his powers' return. Kryptonite exposure can inhibit this healing.
Clark developed X-ray vision in the first season episode X-Ray, heat vision in the second season episode Heat and super hearing in the third season episode Whisper (This last apparently developing in response to him being temporarily blinded when his heat vision was reflected back at him after it struck kryptonite). He discovers super breath in the sixth season episode Sneeze while suffering from a cold after he temporarily lost his powers. Clark's breath can create powerful winds, and as of season 9 episode 3 "Rabid" he is also able to cool things with his breath, this is shown when he cools Lois' coffee to distract her and use his super speed.
Flight is developed very gradually over time. The first mention is in the first season episode Metamorphosis, where Clark first "defies gravity"; however, this is not really controlled, as he is merely shown hovering over his bed while sleeping, only to fall and destroy his bed once he wakes up. The first real controlled flight is in the second season episode Vortex, although this is with the help of a tornado. In the third season finale Covenant, his "floating" in the air is assisted by Kara, a deceased human who has been empowered and programmed by Jor-El. In the fourth season episode Crusade, he flies properly, but only in his Kal-El persona which was programmed by Jor-El into being a Kryptonian warrior (Martha Kent's use of Black Kryptonite removed the Kal-El persona). The real world reason for this limitation on this power is due to the "No Tights, No Flights" rule made by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar to avoid the full manifestation of Clark's Superman persona. The present producers have continued this policy. Within the continuity of the show, it is stated that he will not be able to fly because deep down he still thinks of himself as human, until he embraces his Kryptonian destiny and bypasses certain mental blocks.
Clark also exhibits a healing factor seen rarely in the comics. His healing factor seems to be heightened by direct sunlight, as seen in the season 7 Premiere Bizarro when recently sustained cuts close when he is in sunlight. His healing factor seems to be able to heal virtually any wound. In the season 5 episode Void, Clark's death- having been injected with a kryptonite-based drug that allowed the user to apparently experience the afterlife- allowed his healing factor to neutralize the kryptonite in his system and then heal him. His ability to heal comes from his Kryptonian blood platelets. When injected into humans, they can resurrect the dead for a short period of time, healing whatever killed them. This is shown in the Season 3 episode Resurrection, but required regular doses and was only viable if the subject had died of a particular liver-based disease. Thus far, the only wound he was unable to heal from was the Starblade, a mystical weapon. However the Starblade was destroyed, and in the Season 4 episode Sacred Clark is able to heal from the wounds inflicted by Lana's enchanted weapons. In addition to Superman's rare powers he also ages more slowly than human beings.
Added to these, Smallville also features a number of abilities not seen in other incarnations, not all of which find their source in Clark's Kryptonian origin. In the first season episode "Hourglass", he was able to see the same visions seen by a precognitive named Cassandra Carver while she held his hand, who stated that this had never happened with anyone else whose future she had foretold. The third season episode "Hereafter", explores Clark's immortality and his ability to alter the destiny of others when working with a metahuman who had the power to see how others would die; when he shook Clark's hand, he only saw Superman's cape flying through the universe, and Clark's actions resulted in the visions he saw of the deaths of others being changed. Later in Season 3, in the episode "Resurrection", it is said Clark's blood has the power, when treated by an unknown process, to revive the dead. However, it is explained that this can only work on someone who has died of a certain liver disease, due to the blood's healing properties, and the fact that the liver has the most resilient cells in the human body. In addition, his spirit itself is accredited with special healing properties in season four's "Transference", in which he temporarily inhabits the body of Lionel Luthor. Even after the transfer is reversed, Lionel says that he feels different, his liver having been healed of its disease, and his previously amoral behavior changes for an extended period in later episodes. Clark has also been shown to have limited defenses against psionic powers; the first season episode "Stray" had a character unsuccessfully try to read Clark's mind, but some alien telepaths have had more success. On several occasions, Clark has broken the laws of gravity and terminal velocity, usually by jumping after someone who has been thrown from a great height and reaching the ground before them. This could be related to the character's currently untapped but apparently present ability to fly.
As with most versions of Superman, he is vulnerable to Kryptonite in several forms, with green kryptonite weakening him, while the show's version of red kryptonite introduced in the season two episode "Red" causes him to regress morally, resulting in Clark doing and saying things that he would not normally say while under its influence, such as stealing money and seducing women, although he notably never resorted to murder. Blue Kryptonite is introduced in the season seven episode "Blue" and it has the effect of stripping a Kryptonian of his or her powers as long as he remains in contact with it. Gold kryptonite is mentioned but its effects are never seen, although they are generally implied to be the same as previously-shown samples in that contact would deprive Clark of his powers permanently. He is also vulnerable to magic, as first revealed in the fourth season episode "Spell" and later again in the season eight episode "Hex". The sonic cry of Black Canary also causes him intense pain due to the sensitivity of his super-hearing; in the episode "Siren", the sound actually causes Clark's ears to bleed.
During the ninth season of the show, Clark learned how to use the arctic version of super-breath. During the tenth and final season, Clark also demonstrated Microvision when he used it to see faded ink from a club stamp, and it is on this very season that he gradually starts to learn his power of flight; he progresses from stopping the Daily Planet globe's fall in the season's premiere- momentarily halting in mid-air when he jumps to catch the globe before returning the globe to its original place-, to psychologically inducing himself to defy gravity for a brief instant in the third episode and hovering (albeit without realizing it) while dancing with Lois Lane in "Homecoming", to actually flying within the boundaries of a cybernetic world in "Collateral". In the second half of the series finale "Finale part 2" in which Clark becomes Superman, he finally reconciles his Kryptonian heritage with his Terran upbringing and sheds the psychological baggage which had prevented him from achieving flight. His physical strength was also greatly increased to the level that he could move the planet Apokolips, Darkseid's homeworld, from the collision course with Earth Darkseid sent it on with his bare hands (Although he may have been aided in this feat by various factors such as Darkseid's recent defeat and the moral upheaval involved as he inspired humanity to hope again, considering that Apokolips was drawn to Earth by Darkseid's corruption of humanity). This version seems to follow at least the post Byrne Modern era Superman, while at least some of his Silver and Bronze Age god like strength is restored. Whether he is more powerful than that to the point of Silver Age levels possibly will never be known since the series has ended and Smallville was about Clark's journey to becoming Superman and not Superman himself. However, in the season 10 episode "Homecoming", Superman was depicted in the year 2017 containing the explosion of a nuclear reactor by flying at superspeed around the shockwave and suppressing it.
DC Animated Universe
In the animated series Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League and its sequel Justice League Unlimited, Superman is depicted with power levels similar to those he possessed immediately following his 1986 reboot in the comics, though the writers had admitted to what extent does vary depending on plot requirements. Superman possesses the powers of superhuman strength and speed, flight, x-ray vision, heat vision, wind and freeze breath, super hearing and sight, and incredible resistance to harm, though he seldom uses his heat vision, freeze breath or hearing. While Superman is immensely strong both in terms of muscle power and ability to take physical punishment, he is not all-powerful.
Superman derives his power from the yellow sun of Earth. Forced under a red sun akin to the red sun of his homeworld, Krypton, or exposed to red sun radiation, Superman rapidly loses his powers, reverting to the stature of a normal human. This version of Superman also needs to breathe, taking a deep breath in "Apokalips Now... Part 2" before plunging into the ocean, and having a special suit for when he needs to operate in outer space. In the episode Knight Time, he is shown to have microscopic vision as well as the ability of voice mimicry as he successfully mimics Batman and Robin's voices while posing as the dark knight.
As such he is fearful of utilizing the full extent of his strength and powers, because of the risk that he might inadvertently kill someone. Darkseid, as a formidable and lethal villain, (a literal alien god) forces Superman to "cut loose", fighting Darkseid at full strength, without pulling his punches or limiting himself. At full power, Superman was shown to be either on even terms with Darkseid, or better.
The episode "The Late Mr. Kent" reveals that Superman doesn't need to eat, though he does out of habit.
In the Batman Beyond episode "The Call" set fifty years in the future of the DCAU, Superman is shown to have aged far slower than the average human. He looks at most in his mid forties, showing only few wrinkles and grey hairs, as opposed to the younger Bruce Wayne's early-to-mid nineties. This prompts Bruce to mention that he "could use some of that Kryptonian DNA." Superman retains all of his previously shown powers at the same level despite his age. He is said to be still active fifteen years later in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Epilogue".
Superman has been portrayed in many video games.
As seen in the game Justice League Heroes, Superman had super strength, freezing breath, invulnerability, heat vision, and flight. Also, in the 7th episode of the game, he (and Wonder Woman) are able to fly in outer space (breathlessly).
In the Superman Returns video game, based on the film, his powers consist of super strength, super speed, invulnerability, flight, x-ray vision (used on large objects that Superman lifts so they won't obstruct the player's vision), super hearing (displayed as danger icons throughout the city), heat vision, super breath, and freeze breath. In the game, health is measured in property damage, not damage to Superman.
In the Nintendo 64 version of Superman, Superman is given the abilities of super strength, invulnerability and flight. The additional powers of heat vision, super breath and super speed could be unlocked for brief periods by collecting power icons. It is also ranked as one of the Worst video games ever created.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe features Superman displaying the powers of super strength, freezing breath, super breath, heat vision, flight, and super speed, though none of these are used to the fullest extent. Superman's invulnerability is not on display, explained as a combination of his weakness to magic and the effects of the "combat rage" reducing his powers.
Superman is not a playable character, and does not appear often in person in DC Universe Online; however, the game's "iconic powers" system allows players to purchase powers of certain iconic heroes or villains, so this version of Superman is assumed to have at least super strength, freeze breath, heat vision, X-ray vision, and likely more. In the game trailer, he is shown to easily take punches from and then overpower Black Adam, before blasting him with heat vision at point-blank range.
In Tom De Haven's book It's Superman!, Superman's powers were depicted as decreased to the levels similar to both 1938 and the Fleischer Superman cartoons, and complete with hard science.
||This section includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (March 2010)|
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