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Superman's powers explained
September 30, 2009 6:43 AM   Subscribe

It is our opinion that all of Superman's recognized powers can be unified if his power is the ability to manipulate, from atomic to kilometer length scales, the inertia of his own and any matter with which he is in contact. The Grand Unifying Theory of Superman's powers. ('pdf) (via)
posted by slimepuppy (62 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
What, even x-Ray vision? This I must read!
posted by Artw at 6:44 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


What, even X-ray... damn you, Artw!
posted by Kattullus at 6:48 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah, Kattulius. That's Artw's super-power, right there.
posted by rokusan at 6:49 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


One problem in this paper (and I am confident MetaFilter will find many) is that there's no accounting for the discrete nature of Supes' extent powers. He has heat vision and cold breath... but no (for example) heat breath or chill-o-vision. Nor can he freeze or heat things by touching them.

So if his power(s) are all the same meta-power, why the odd and specific limitations?
posted by rokusan at 6:49 AM on September 30, 2009


The theory doesn't explain his Superdickery.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:54 AM on September 30, 2009 [12 favorites]


So if his power(s) are all the same meta-power, why the odd and specific limitations?
posted by rokusan at 9:49 AM on September 30


In the same way that many athletes can throw better with one hand or another, Superman has simply developed his talent in certain ways. Once you start using your eyes to generate heat, it's easier to continue using them to do that rather than train another part of you body to do it was well.

The real question is, if the posited inertial theory is true, why is superman muscular? I stands to reason that if all he is doing is altering the inertia of the objects he is touching, his own muscles would never develop. Therefore, I demand an explanation of why Superman is not a flabby mess that is scientific and does not rely on or implicate vanity. Also, the explanation should be peer reviewed.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:55 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


he seems to be able to breath ok in space
posted by edgeways at 6:57 AM on September 30, 2009


The ability to manipulate "inertia" implies the ability to (un)bend space-time. This would explain how he can turn back time in the first movie, although not why he had to fly around the Earth to do so.
posted by DU at 6:57 AM on September 30, 2009


Even speaking German?!?
posted by Naberius at 6:58 AM on September 30, 2009


No, no, no. The core of Superman's abilities (and weaknesses) is that they are convenient for the writers.
posted by adipocere at 7:01 AM on September 30, 2009 [9 favorites]


Okay, no, that turning back time bullcrap in that stupid movie is not real. That doesn't count. That's the movie Superman, not the real Superman, duh.
posted by rokusan at 7:02 AM on September 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


What, even his super-logo power and his repair-the-Great-Wall-Of-China-vision?
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:02 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I buy the "heat vision is hot gas" theory - it works fine in space.
posted by Artw at 7:02 AM on September 30, 2009


"We could, for instance, determine whether superman could accelerate if he were
surrounded by a nearly perfect vacuum."

Yeah... Superman can fly around in space, decelerate and accelerate at will. But this is a pretty entertaining article. I especially enjoyed the illustrations.
posted by Kattullus at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2009


I'm not sure I buy the "heat vision is hot gas" theory . . .

Perhaps it's more accurately called a miasma of incandescent plasma?
posted by The Bellman at 7:07 AM on September 30, 2009 [7 favorites]


Once you start using your eyes to generate heat, it's easier to continue using them to do that rather than train another part of you body to do it was well.

"Pull my finger, Lois. Go ahead. Pull my finger."
posted by octobersurprise at 7:16 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


And all this time I thought he had superpowers because he was fictional.
posted by bondcliff at 7:19 AM on September 30, 2009


What about super ventriloquism? Or super hypnosis?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:29 AM on September 30, 2009


I came here to post this. My super power is always being a day late and a dollar short.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:39 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Old theory is old
posted by Greg Nog at 7:40 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


What about Kryptonite?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:45 AM on September 30, 2009


I think the figures make this .pdf.
posted by ServSci at 7:47 AM on September 30, 2009


Naberius: "Even speaking German?!?"

Speaking German is a superpower now?

...and we still lost WWII. (ba-dum tish)

alternatively:

...yeah, maybe to an American! (ba-dum tish)

Alles nur SpaƟ!
posted by PontifexPrimus at 8:05 AM on September 30, 2009 [3 favorites]


I heart this
posted by device55 at 8:22 AM on September 30, 2009


Naberius: Even speaking German?!?

Is that, like, a really oblique Nietzsche joke?
posted by shakespeherian at 8:23 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Speaking German is a superpower now?

Yeah, but as a superpower Speaking German ranks just below Awesome BMX Skills.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:29 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


"He's faster than a speeding bullet. He's more powerful than a locomotive. He's able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Why can't he get a girl?"
Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex
posted by ColdChef at 8:32 AM on September 30, 2009


On the plausibility of Superman's x-ray vision.
Requirements that a vision system must meet to make Superman 's x-ray vision possible are stated, and two solutions are proposed. In one, emitted x-rays carry the information to Superman 's eyes; in the other, emitted rays make objects transparent to a second type of ray. Further subjects lending themselves to this type of research are superhearing , the biomechanics of leaping tall buildings, or being faster than a bullet.
posted by milkrate at 8:33 AM on September 30, 2009


And all this time I thought he had superpowers because he was fictional.

Yet another one of his super powers, arguably his best one.
posted by panboi at 8:41 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Therefore, I demand an explanation of why Superman is not a flabby mess that is scientific and does not rely on or implicate vanity.

What about health reasons? Despite his "inertial control," he might still need to get genuine exercise to keep his heart and lungs strong. Vanity itself isn't that bad of a reason, though. It's been proven that people are taken more seriously when they're attractive, as well as if they look the part. In this case, the part is "superhero," so he wears spandex and has big muscles. People would still thank him for his work if his hair was long and mullety (LOL 90s) or if he was a stick-figure or fat guy, but they'd probably laugh behind his back a bit more.
posted by explosion at 8:47 AM on September 30, 2009


I have my own Grand Unifying Theory of Superman's Powers: Superman is a golem animated as the wish fulfillment of the collective subconscious of the denizens of the DC universe. He is Batman's fantasy superhero, Lois Lane's fantasy lover, and Lex Luthor's fantasy of a worthy opponent. His sensitivity to Kryptonite is the result of the subconscious need to maintain some semblance of control, even over a living god of their own design. But his real Kryptonite is superpower atheism. Without the willing suspension of disbelief, he is nothing more than a lump of clay molded from the remnants of an asteroid. Tinkerbell in blue tights. So dream on, Metropolis. Dream on. You are Superman.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 8:51 AM on September 30, 2009 [22 favorites]


Superman isn't always in shape!
posted by bDiddy at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's Raining Florence Henderson - If Astro City didn't have a superman, that would be a hell of a superman for Astro City.
posted by Artw at 9:12 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's Artw's super-power, right there.

Clearly I was bitten by a radioactive first-poster, leaving me with a somewhat dickish superpower.
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


bondcliff: And all this time I thought he had superpowers because he was fictional.

The greatest trick Superman ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
posted by Kattullus at 9:15 AM on September 30, 2009 [8 favorites]


As far as I know, Superman has never altered the inertia of Lois Lane's clothes to make them infinitely heavy and thus tear themselves off her. Obviously this is the first thing any red blooded super hero would do, so I call BS on this explanation of his powers.
posted by digsrus at 9:31 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obviously this is the first thing any red blooded super hero would do

unless he was some kind of boy scout...
posted by ServSci at 9:36 AM on September 30, 2009


Superman has never altered the inertia of Lois Lane's clothes to make them infinitely heavy and thus tear themselves off her

With X-Ray Vision, what would be the point since he can easily see her choice of underwear anyway?
posted by mikelieman at 9:40 AM on September 30, 2009


The greatest trick Superman ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

Yeah, whatever happened to that guy?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:44 AM on September 30, 2009


With X-Ray Vision, what would be the point since he can easily see her choice of underwear anyway?

Because Superman is not some kind of pervert.
posted by digsrus at 10:03 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is an imaginary theory ...aren't they all?
posted by Artw at 10:03 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


The greatest trick Superman ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

Yeah, whatever happened to that guy?


You think you can catch Kal-El? You think a guy like that comes this close to getting caught, and sticks his head out? If he comes up for anything it'll be to get rid of me. After that... my guess is you'll never hear from him again.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:07 AM on September 30, 2009


And like that: dun-da-da-DUUUN! He's gone.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:09 AM on September 30, 2009


ColdChef: "He's faster than a speeding bullet. He's more powerful than a locomotive. He's able to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Why can't he get a girl?"
Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex


Another strong contender theory to explain why Superman can't get laid is the "And like that, poof!" theory.
posted by Kattullus at 10:19 AM on September 30, 2009


As far as I know, Superman has never altered the inertia of Lois Lane's clothes to make them infinitely heavy and thus tear themselves off her.

[Comic Book Guy]
If Superman made Lois Lane's clothes infinitely heavy, they wouldn't just fall off her, you nincompoop! With their infinite density they'd collapse into a singularity, implode into Lois, and the radiation burst from the accretion disk would cause her to completely explode, laying waste to everything in the vicinity except what lies in Superman's mighty shadow.
[/Comic Book Guy]

I didn't mean to call you a nincompoop. It just seemed like something CBG would say.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:22 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Fuck you Artw for beating me to it.

Superman's power is that he is Superman. Like how fire is hot and the sky is blue. Superman is Superman, the pure platonic Super Form. IRFH's theory isn't that far off. The big running motif, that Superman exists because we want Superman to exist, and now that's here and everyone has to deal with the fact that he Does Exist, is always the more interesting part of the Superman stories myself. Alan Moore created Tom Strong, I think in part, cause who doesn't want to play with Superman As Superman, the Big Blue Boy Scout, The Last Child Of Kyrpton, The Man Of Tomorrow, every once in a while?

Has there every been a story where people started to worship Superman as a living God? Cause some flying dude saving people from airplane crashes would inspire at least a few shrines and devotional websites, don't ya think?

I think this is handwaved in the DC universe cause everyone since forever has been dealing with Supers, but in the movies he's The Only One. Don't tell me that wouldn't fuck around with a few belief systems.
posted by The Whelk at 10:27 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


The real reason why Superman never slept with Lois Lane, cue suggestive sax.
posted by The Whelk at 10:35 AM on September 30, 2009


JERRY: I think Superman probably has a very good sense of humor.

GEORGE: I never heard him say anything really funny.

JERRY: But it's common sense. He's got super strength, super speed.. I'm sure he's got super humor.

GEORGE: You would think that, but either you're born with a sense of humor, or you're not. It's not going to change even if you go from the red sun of Krypton all the way to the yellow sun of the Earth.

JERRY: Why? Why would that one area of his mind not be affected by the yellow sun of Earth?

GEORGE: I don't know but he ain't funny.
posted by notmydesk at 10:39 AM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Because Superman is not some kind of pervert.

I dunno, he was checking out Cat Grant's ass pretty closely to see if she had the tattoo Lois mentioned back in Action Comics #866...
posted by mikelieman at 10:57 AM on September 30, 2009


Yes, but how many Mxyzptlks can dance on the head of a pin?
posted by RavinDave at 11:01 AM on September 30, 2009


Isn't this kind of like Venture, where essentially it was a small field around the character that the laws of physics were affected?
posted by P.o.B. at 11:42 AM on September 30, 2009


(*One can imagine that the Kent home in Smallville was riddled with holes during Superboy's puberty. And why did Lana Lang never notice that?*)

Lana plays the mouthorgan.

With X-Ray Vision, what would be the point since he can easily see her choice of underwear anyway?

Because Superman is not some kind of pervert.


I refer you to Superman Returns.
posted by biffa at 1:00 PM on September 30, 2009


Superman is not a pervert
posted by Artw at 1:02 PM on September 30, 2009


Heat rays coming out of the eyes are still stupid.
posted by pompomtom at 2:06 PM on September 30, 2009


What exactly is meant by heat in this context? Could it be some other form of excitation which has the affect of producing heat in the object stared at by superman?
posted by biffa at 2:45 PM on September 30, 2009


John Byrne--decades before he became comics' premiere crazy old man--came up with the best theory for Supes' powers: they're all psychic in origin. Super-strength is Superman using tactile telekinesis (later made explicit with the Kon-El Superboy); flight, self-levitation; invulnerability, a telekinetic force field; X-Ray vision, clairvoyance; heat vision, pyrokinesis; super-cold breath, reverse pyrokinesis (that is, slowing molecules down psionically instead of speeding them up). He had limits to how he used his powers (e.g. not being able to levitate matter remotely or see through lead) because he was either unaware of the true nature of his powers or was subconsciously limiting himself because he couldn't deal with unlimited power on the demi-god level.

This theory had its shortcomings (like explaining how Superman's costume was also invulnerable under a yellow sun, even when it wasn't in contact with his body), but Byrne pushed it, first making it the official explanation for the Supermanesque powers displayed by Marvel Comics' Gladiator (a Superman Expy), and then by Superman himself when Byrne was given carte blanche to revamp the character after Crisis on Infinite Earths. (He dealt with the costume problem by having Martha Kent make it out of ordinary Earth cloth; the same thin aura that made Superman invulnerable protected most of his costume, but his cape often became tattered after a battle, one of the signature cliches of Byrne's tenure on the character.) The all-superpowers-are-psionically-based explanation also was used by the Wild Cards book series.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:39 PM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


Superman is not some kind of pervert.

Superman is the ultimate fascist fetish fantasy. (Three times fast.)
posted by rokusan at 5:46 PM on September 30, 2009


From Hallowe'en Jack's expy definition at TVtropes.com...

Marvel Comics'... Bandit, is an expy of Marvel's own Gambit... Bandit was introduced in The New Warriors... which had the character Chord, who has a similar role and persona to Cable... Then there's Wyre, from late Alpha Flight...

Bandit, Gambit. Cable, Chord, Wyre.

Do these writers have no shame?
posted by rokusan at 5:51 PM on September 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


i always thought the best explanation for superman's powers, and why they seemed so random, was that they were not powers per se so much as 'hyper' versions of ordinary abilities.
ordinary man can jump-superman can leap tall buildings. man can run fast-superman can run faster than a speeding bullet. ordinary man is strong- superman is super strong. ordinary man can see-superman can see through walls.
the clue is the name: super-man.

Later on, if the writers got into trouble, they invented new crazy powers for him as necessary. i think that's where you get stuff like heat vision. and traveling through time.
posted by Miles Long at 5:54 PM on September 30, 2009


The cold breath is explained by Charles' Law. Superman's lungs compress the air, and as he exhales it, it expands and cools. Same principle as compressed air cans, which become cold to the touch upon use.
posted by Eideteker at 8:38 PM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why doesn't he use this power to do XYZ?

Don't forget he is a farm boy from Kansas in the 1930s. He could probably do anything he imagined, but his ability to imagine new applications is limited by his education.
posted by betaray at 3:48 AM on October 1, 2009


Ah. I just ran across this elsewhere, & I think it's an awesome example of super-beanplatery.
posted by Pronoiac at 6:22 PM on October 23, 2009


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