Powers and abilities of Superman
The powers of DC Comics character Superman have changed since his introduction in the 1930s. Many other DC Comics characters have Superman's abilities from Kryptonian DNA, such as Zod, Kara Zor-El, and even the hybrid Superboy. The extent of Superman's powers peaked during the 1970s and 1980s to the point where various writers found it difficult to create suitable challenges for the character. Lex Luthor described Superman as a "living god" on Earth. 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, though with significantly less absurdity than his Pre-Crisis incarnation.
His powers include flight, super strength, x-ray vision, invulnerability, speed, heat vision, freezing breath, super flare (a huge blast that obliterates anything within a quarter mile radius), and superhuman senses. The limits of these abilities varied depending on the writer. However as his name suggests, Superman has frequently been depicted achieving feats of immeasurable magnitude.
- 1 The Science and Anatomy of Superman
- 2 List of powers and abilities of Superman
- 2.1 Superhuman Solar Energy
- 2.2 Superhuman Strength and Endurance
- 2.3 Superhuman Speed and Reflexes
- 2.4 Superhuman Intelligence
- 2.5 Superhuman Martial Arts
- 2.6 Superhuman Breath
- 2.7 Superhuman Senses
- 3 Known vulnerabilities, limitations, and weaknesses
- 4 By superhero ages
- 5 In other media
- 5.1 Film and television
- 5.1.1 Fleischer Superman cartoons
- 5.1.2 Superman film serial
- 5.1.3 Adventures of Superman
- 5.1.4 Christopher Reeve films
- 5.1.5 DC Comics' shared universe films
- 5.1.6 Superboy
- 5.1.7 Lois & Clark
- 5.1.8 Smallville
- 5.1.9 DC Animated Universe
- 5.1.10 DC Universe Animated Original Movies
- 5.1.11 Supergirl (2015 series)
- 5.2 Video games
- 5.3 Novels
- 5.1 Film and television
- 6 References
The Science and Anatomy of Superman
Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, sees Superman as a great example of what not to look for in the search for alien life: "The fact that he's very humanoid in his appearance and behavior is of course a conceit that's adopted not only by the comic books, but also by Hollywood. ... If Superman looked like a typewriter, you'd end up having very little sympathy for his inner torment."
Simon Conway Morris asserts that the same basic body plan that has served so well on Earth would probably turn up on other planets where life takes root: "If this sort of cosmic evolutionary convergence is the norm, it may well be that intelligent life elsewhere would look more like the fictional Superman than like Shostak's typewriter." Superman and Kryptonians in general, only share one characteristic with human beings; our external physical, bilaterally symmetrical appearance. Kryptonians sufficiently resemble Humans enough for them to be able to pass as Human but only from a cursory physical (superficial) inspection. Any trained medical personnel should be able to determine a Kryptonian is not Human with only a modest toolkit of scientific equipment.
List of powers and abilities of Superman
Over the course of the character's existence of 75 years, Superman has, at one 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.
Superhuman Solar Energy
Superman gets the majority of his powers from Earth's yellow star, effectively making him a giant solar battery; when he uses Super Flare he expels that stored up energy in the form of a giant blast. 
Solar Energy Absorption and Healing Factor
Superman's powers rely on his cells' ability to absorb and metabolize solar energy from yellow stars like Earth's sun. His Kryptonian body is a living "solar battery" that absorbs solar energies and converts them to fuel for vast superhuman abilities that wouldn't otherwise be afforded under Rao, Krypton's red supergiant. His cells also store yellow sun energy so he can use his powers under objects, at night, in dark places, and in space.
Superman is shown, especially in recent comics, 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 absorbing more solar rays.
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. Post-Crisis, it is the overall high intensity of yellow solar radiation, versus the far weaker red solar radiation of Krypton's sun, that is shown as causing Kryptonians' superpowers. 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 white stars and also when he absorbed the solar energies of a blue star that increased his abilities to a higher degree and gave him additional abilities. The light of dwarf stars, pulsars, and quasars also grants Superman different abilities. However, he cannot gain enhanced abilities from the energy of red stars; various reasons have been given for this. When Superman visited Olympus, where he and Apollo got into a fight, Apollo struck Superman with a sun beam, making Superman stronger and feeling like he "drank a bucket of adrenaline."
Solar Flare and Heat Vision
Ability to emit solar energy from his eyes. This 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 rapidly expand air or other matter to produce great concussive force. 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 mundanely 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 salvaged 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). In Superman #38, part of The New 52, it is revealed that Superman's heat vision is a precursor to a power called "super flare". This power utilizes all the solar energy stored within Superman's cells, allowing him to resort to an all-out attack. However, Superman cannot use it more than occasionally, as it drains him of all the solar energy he has stored up until he can recharge his cells with solar energy which takes him about 24 hours. During this time frame, he is essentially human in his abilities.
Superman is known to have an extremely slow aging process. Staying inside a star for 1000 or more years will possibly stop or halt this aging process, as seen in the DC One Million storyline.
Immunity to almost all forms of harm and ailments, including extreme force and extremely high temperatures. Effectiveness has ranged from nothing less than a "bursting shell" being able to pierce his skin (in the beginning of the mythos) to being completely unharmed by a star going supernova to the collapse of universes. Explanations for this ability have ranged from Kryptonians having a molecular structure with a density superior to that of titanium and having strong bonds within the cells of his body that cannot be pulled apart. His invulnerability has enabled him to withstand Darkseid's omega beams, a feat originally thought to be impossible. In the rare instances, however, that 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, thereby temporarily weakening 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's invulnerability is further increased by his 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.
Because Earth exhibits less gravitational pull than that of Krypton, and also due to his 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 slogan "Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound." This was also shown in the movie Man of Steel. His power of flight 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 have originated from a gigantic planet with such enormous gravity (capable of literally crushing a normal Earthman to death in seconds) that his species had developed natural anti-gravity organs just to be able to function under normal conditions; on Earth, this would allow him to control his own gravimetric field in order to fly, due to the lesser gravity of the planet as well as his solar-powered body.
Enhanced strength far above 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. 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 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 one of the strongest beings 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 Earth away from the sun. As of The New 52 reboot, his strength now exceeds 5.972 sextillion metric tons. 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. While in direct yellow sunlight, his strength can be augmented to incalculable and limitless levels. He has strength necessary to shatter entire worlds. Superman's stamina has also been shown as limitless while he remains in yellow sunlight. DC Comics is not known to have coined a similar reference to Marvel Comics's reference, “Class 100 strength,” to Marvel characters whose super-humanoid strength levels are so high that they can lift (press) 100 tons or more for extended periods. It is possible that Superman can have no finite element inside for his powers for as long as there are stars or star like objects.
Another one of Superman's signature abilities is his superhuman speed, allowing him to move, react, run and fly faster than the human eye can perceive. It was originally—and famously—classified as being "faster than a speeding bullet," allowing him to catch bullets in mid-air before they hit him, or anyone else. His top speeds have ranged from nearly a hundred miles per hour when he was first created in the 1930s to speeds surpassing the speed of light. His thoughts, perceptions and reflexes are also accelerated to be able to control his actions while moving at high speeds and being able to perceive the world in slow-motion. Superman's running speed has often been shown to be on par with that of The Flash's. (DC Comics even published a "limited collector's edition" titled Superman Vs. The Flash in the 1970s, whose content it promoted as "The Greatest Race Of All Time!" The two actual stories told within it reprinted a Superman story titled "Superman's Race With The Flash"[volume & issue needed] and a story about The Flash titled "The Race To The End Of The Universe"[volume & issue needed] that also involved the entire Justice League of America. Both races ended in dead heats.) Wally West said he was initially slower than Superman until overcoming his anxiety over succeeding Barry Allen and fully mastering the speed force. He describes Superman as running over two thousand miles per second. In Superman: Red Son he claimed to be able to move faster than ten times the speed of thought.
Superman is often shown to have a flawless, eidetic memory of everything he has ever seen, read, heard, or otherwise experienced. In most portrayals, Superman is capable of multilingualism and is able to learn, speak and understand any language he comes in contact with. Superman possesses intellect that surpasses 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, literally to super-humanoid levels, 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 from which his powers alone cannot save him.
Superhuman Martial Arts
While most authors prefer to portray him as a brawler in combat, relying more on the magnitude of his powers for victory rather than any real martial prowess, there have been some exceptions. Many stories depict Superman as a very capable Master Combatant 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 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. Initially, the New 52 saw Superman's return to being an untrained combatant, with the likes of Captain Comet remarking that the Man of Steel's brawling skills are formidable in spite of this. However, this was soon rectified in the form of his receiving combat training from Wonder Woman.
The 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 1970s-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 1970s 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 always to remain in flight until he could find a solution to the problem. Since, however, as Clark Kent, he could not 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, Freezing Breath, Arctic Breath, or Ice Breath, and can cool almost anything to sub-zero temperatures and freeze air moisture solid, effectively creating ice.
- 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 x-ray opacity 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 on which he uses it. Another 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 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 sometimes be shown to hear sounds on other planets, which makes it likely that his hearing is fundamentally different from 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, and 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. Not all versions of Superman display this power.
- Vocal Abilities — Superman has shown possession of various vocal abilities. Stories have shown him being capable of raising his voice to loudspeaker levels, for purposes such as delivering a message to a large crowd. Early Golden Age stories showed Superman capable of mimicking the voice of others and throw his voice through simple ventriloquism. By the 1950s, the said ability had evolved into a stand-alone power called "super-ventriloquism," the ability of Superman to send his voice across vast distances, but only to a specific person or place. Super-ventriloquism was used in both Silver Age and Bronze Age stories, but it was generally discarded in post-Crisis stories.
Known vulnerabilities, limitations, and weaknesses
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. Kryptonite was created by fusion during the explosion that destroyed the planet. Superman's cells store electromagnetic radiation from the rays of a yellow sun, and convert it into energy, manifesting as his super-powers. When Superman is exposed to the most common variety, green Kryptonite (within roughly ten feet/three meters or less of any size or amount), its high-band radiation rapidly interferes with this cellular process, causing severe physical pain and the loss of his powers (or at least a portion of them). Prolonged exposure to green Kryptonite may eventually lead to his 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. Post-Crisis, red solar radiation is described as being weaker in overall intensity than yellow solar radiation. This process does not have the painful, crippling and fever-like symptoms of Kryptonite, and essentially leaves Superman with the normal health and abilities of a human of his age and fitness level, as it did for the entire population of Krypton during its existence. Exposure to yellow solar radiation causes his powers to return.
- Magic: Superman's powers, as great as they might be, are the result of (fictional) biologically natural phenomena, not a supernatural phenomenon. As a result, he is affected by most forms of sorcery in the same way as any mortal.
- Lead: Although the element lead is the one substance that blocks Kryptonite radiation (one of Superman's intact weaknesses), it is also the one substance through which Superman cannot see with his X-ray vision.
- Solar Energy Exhaustion: If Superman is forced to engage in strenuous physical activity (such as with his battle with Doomsday) for a large amount of time or is forced to perform one very difficult task without continuous solar energy absorption, he will end up expending all of his stored solar energy and will continue to weaken and be rendered vulnerable until he replenishes his solar "fuel."
By superhero ages
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 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 super-strength, super-speed, super-senses, 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.
Superman's vocal abilities were occasionally used in 1940s stories, beginning with Superman (volume 1) #13 (November–December 1941), where he uses simple ventriloquism to distract a pair of criminals holding Lois Lane hostage. The ability to raise his voice to an extremely loud level also was introduced by 1942.
In 1950, Superman meets fellow Kryptonians for the first time, a trio of criminals exiled into space before Krypton exploded. The Kryptonian criminals (named Kizo, U-Ban, and Mala) mention Kryptonians having had x-ray vision, super-strength, and super-speed on Krypton, but not other powers, including flight.
Abilities & Powers
- Superhuman strength
- Superhuman speed
- Superhuman senses (including telescopic vision, x-ray vision, superhuman hearing, microscopic vision)
- Superhuman breath
- Flight (initially enhanced jumping, super-leaping)
- Vocal abilities, including ventriloquism
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.
Like his late Golden Age self, Superman retains the ability to break the time barrier through the use of his super-speed, as shown in various stories, including one of the Superman-Flash races. However, this ability also comes with limitations. Superman is unable to change the past through the use of time travel. Additionally, if Superman or another Kryptonian travels to a point in the past or future during which they're alive, the time-traveller becomes an invisible phantom, undetectable to anyone and unable to interact with their surroundings. Superman's ability to time-travel allowed him to become a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes while he was Superboy.
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, such as the fifth dimensional magical abilities of Mr. Mxyzptlk.
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 occasionally 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.
Powers & Abilities
- Superhuman strength
- Superhuman speed
- Superhuman vision (including X-ray, microscopic, telescopic, and infrared)
- Superhuman hearing
- Heat vision
- Super breath (also freeze breath)
- Vocal abilities, including super-ventriloquism
When the Superman character was revised by John Byrne shortly after Crisis on Infinite Earths, it was decided to place restrictions on his abilities. 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 had become too sensational or unbelievable for modern audiences. Emphasis was placed on yellow sun energy as a source for the character's powers. Superman's origin story was altered so that his powers developed gradually as his body absorbed yellow sunlight, and stories such as the Final Night series depicted the character gradually losing his powers when deprived of the sun's energy. When Superman's reserves of solar energy were depleted, as in Infinite Crisis or the Death of Superman story arcs, he required an extended period of time under a yellow sun, or some type of artificial solar enhancement in order to recharge.
Superman's strength was reduced to the point where he could still move tremendous amounts, but the character no longer had the ability to move planets. His speed was also reduced so that he could not exceed the speed of light. While still capable of surviving a nuclear explosion, such events would severely weaken him. Superman's sight, stamina and breath powers were also similarly reduced, and the character was also shown as requiring an oxygen mask for prolonged travel in space or underwater. His mental abilities were also curtailed to the point where he no longer had an eidetic memory, but he remained intelligent enough to outthink among the most intelligent opponents he has faced. The powers of super-ventriloquism and super-hypnosis were not generally used during this period, although it was never stated whether they had been eliminated or not.
An attempt was made to explain Superman's ability to fly with large objects through the introduction of tactile telekinesis. Objects that Superman touched were enveloped by an invisible telekinetic field that allowed him to move them with the force of his will. The ability also explained Superman's ability to fly. This power was the only ability originally duplicated in the Superboy clone, allowing him to emulate Superman's strength, speed, and flight capabilities, but none of his sensory powers. Over time, Superboy, or Kon-El as he came to be known, would eventually develop the same set of powers as the original.
After John Byrne
After Byrne's departure from the series, Superman's powers and abilities were once again increased over time. He regained the ability to travel interstellar distances and to hold his breath for the amount of time required to make such journeys. His strength, speed, and sensory abilities were again increased, although not to Pre-Crisis levels. He retains his weakness to Kryptonite, but rather than stripping him of his abilities, it causes him extreme pain, nausea, and confusion. He also remains vulnerable to magic and red sun radiation. He also regained his mental powers of eidetic memory and speed-reading.
Powers and abilities
- Solar energy absorption
- Superhuman Strength
- Superhuman speed
- Super-stamina, endurance, durability, agility and reflexes
- Super-breath and Arctic breath
- Solar-Flare (New 52)
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.
In other media
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.
Superman film serial
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 the episode, "The Last Knight," Superman is shown to have the power of voice mimicry.
Christopher Reeve films
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 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 only visibly exhausts him and more physically 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 lifetime of exposure to Earth's yellow sun, which allowed him to absorb and metabolize its radiation in greater amounts and with more efficiency. This gave him an advantage and victory over them despite their superior fighting skills and quickly adapting to their newfound abilities. 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.
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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 super-speed around the shockwave and suppressing it.
In the Season 11 Comic story arc "Haunted", Clark gained multilingualism and other abilities, and his powers were considerably increased after defeating Darkseid. Flight is the ability he uses the most after the series finale.
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, such as his strength usually above a herculean-level. Despite his varying degrees of strength throughout the series, as he revealed in the series conclusion "The Destroyer", Superman has constantly gone to great efforts in restraining his true strength in fear of causing too much harm. Once finally going all out, his strength was shown able to completely overwhelm Darkseid despite his greatly increased power from absorbing Brianiac's essence, forcing the alien god to abandoned physical combat and instead battle with energy tactics. In addition superhuman strength, Superman possesses the powers of super 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 or breath. In "Speed Demons", it was shown that Superman's speed is roughly on par with the Flash, with the latter's reflexes being greater, giving him a slight head-start against Superman in their race. The episode "The Late Mr. Kent" reveals that Superman doesn't need to eat, though he does out of habit. In the episode "Knight Time", he is shown to have microscopic vision as well as the ability of voice mimicry (not related to his Kryptonian powers, but a practiced skill) as he successfully mimics Batman and Robin's (Tim Drake) voices while posing as the Dark Knight.
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 equal to 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.
Because of the risk that he might inadvertently kill someone, he is fearful of utilizing the full extent of his strength and powers; he describes it as "living in a world of cardboard". Darkseid, as a formidable and lethal villain (and literal alien god), forces Superman to "cut loose", fighting Darkseid at full strength, without pulling his punches or limiting himself. At full power, even after Darkseid's power greatly increased from merging with the essence of Brainiac, Superman was shown to be either on even terms with Darkseid, or better. At the same time, while Superman is immensely strong both in terms of muscle power and ability to take such high levels of physical punishment, he is not all-powerful, able to be subdued by powerful enough attacks like from Darkseid's prolonged Omega Beam.
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 older Bruce Wayne's late eighties. 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".
DC Universe Animated Original Movies
In All-Star Superman (film), Superman creates a "super serum" granting Lois Lane Superman's superpowers for 24 hours, as her surprise birthday gift. Among the many abilities granted to her by the serum, Lois claimed her enhanced senses allowed her hear the "beautiful symphony of stars" and witness unknown colors beyond the visible spectrum. Lex Luthor steals the serum; he used it to escape execution and attack the Daily Planet. Superman fires a gravity gun at Luthor. Superman tells Luthor he has been on to him ever since Superman Robot #7 first malfunctioned. As his powers fade, Luthor briefly sees the world as Superman sees it and weeps as he gains a measure of understanding of the subatomic and how it interconnects. The gravity weapon has warped space-time causing Luthor's powers to burn out at a faster rate. As his powers drain, Luthor wishes the experience to continue. He believes he can solve the grand unification theory but when he reaches for his next vial of serum, he realizes that Superman has stolen his supply.
Supergirl (2015 series)
While the 2015 Supergirl series mainly focus on the titular character's abilities, Superman is mentioned often, with his abilities being used as a baseline for hers. It is often implied he is considerably more powerful than Supergirl, likely due to age or practice. For example, when Supergirl is hurt by a bomb (powerful, but not nuclear), and falls into the ocean, it is stated that such a fall would have rattled even her cousin. When Supergirl temporarily loses her powers from overcharging her heat vision during a battle with Red Tornado, James Olsen mentions that Superman calls it "Solar Flare" and usually recovers in 48 hours. The Kryptonians are shown to be vulnerable to Kryptonite radiation, with low levels capable of neutralizing their powers without harm. Heat vision is portrayed as bluish white beams, unlike the commonly seen red.
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.
DC Universe games
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and Injustice: Gods Among Us 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.
Superman is able to fly, has his heat vision, freeze breath, invulnerability, x-ray vision and super speed. When he flies the Superman theme plays.
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.
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