Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Strong Is Superman?


The Question

Once Siegel and Shuster introduced a character whose most obvious trait was, if not his goodness, his strength, the question has been obvious: How strong is Superman? (Curiously, no one ever asks "How good is Superman?")

The Answer

Disappointingly, the answer will not be easy to summarize with a number. Three key points:

1) The depictions of Superman's strength have varied over the years, from writer to writer, and even in stories by the same writer. Roughly speaking, he started off in 1938 much stronger than any real man, but weaker than he's ever been portrayed since. He was already strong enough to move a planet in 1949. In 1972, a story cut his power in half. In 1986, John Byrne's reboot depowered Superman considerably. Since then, his power levels have more or less crept back up toward his previous highs.

2) Sometimes strength can be measured by a direct statement of a number, but more often, we just see Superman do things, and then we can infer how strong he must be. If he lifts a truck, though, that doesn't tell us that he can ONLY lift a truck -- he might be much stronger than that. You really only find out exactly how strong he is if you see a point where he tries to do something and just barely succeeds or just barely fails.

3) If you don't want to think about this any further, that's fine.  As William Shatner said on Saturday Night Live, "It's just a show!" (Well, just a comic book.) It's not real, and there are no real answers. But "How strong is Superman?" keeps coming up again and again. People want an answer. That's going to require some science, or pseudoscience, so I'll talk about some of the issues first:

Weird Science

In real physics, although not in comic books, these things are true:

1) It's impossible, using hands the size of human hands, to pick up a very, very large object and have it hold together. If you tried to pick up the Great Pyramid by its top stone, you would only lift the top stone off of the pile and carry it away while leaving 99.99% of the pyramid behind. If you tried to grab it by two bottom stones, you'd only end up with those two and perhaps some other slice of blocks that were carefully balanced on top, but you sure wouldn't get the whole pyramid. Large objects lack structural integrity compared to their bulk.

If you'd like a comparison, try to use a toothpick to lift a cake. It's impossible -- the toothpick will slice through the cake, carrying almost no cake with it. That's what would happen if an incredibly strong being tried to lift a huge object.

Therefore, if Superman's really strong, he will be able to lift any object that is capable of being lifted, but larger objects will simply crumble. That certainly includes a planet. If he tried to push a planet, he should just end up drilling a hole through it, and maybe end up holding a piece that's not very big.

John Byrne wrote that Superman's ability to carry things was actually a form of telekinesis, so that he was holding the object together in some way other than with his hands. Not many writers allude to that, and it's more that they ignore the issue than take any particular approach to it.

2) The oft-cited test of "moving a planet" is naive with respect to physics.

First, the ability to push a planet at all involves the flying power, not the use of very strong arms. If a very strong being without flying power (say, Doomsday, or the Hulk) tried to push a planet, nothing would happen. Newton's laws (if we pay any attention to real physics at all) dictate that something has to be pushed against. An airplane pushes against air. A rocket pushes against the exhaust that it expels. Because Superman can fly in space, and change directions, we have to imagine that he has some unreal ability to push and pull against something, through some unspecified force (electromagnetic or gravitational?) and large astronomical bodies seem to be the only candidates.

Second, if any force pushes on an object in space, the object will move. The question is not whether the object will move or not. The question is how much the pusher is able to accelerate the planet.

This is different from the physics of everyday objects because of things like friction. Heavy objects are "stuck" to the Earth's surface, creating a force that resists meager efforts to move them. If you apply 50 lbs of force to move a parked truck (with the brakes locked), you will not move it at all. If you apply 200 lbs of force, you still will not move it at all. (At least, you won't move the wheels. You may rock it slightly, while the wheels remain fixed.)

However, in outer space, if you applied 50 lbs of force to a truck, you would move it, and the longer you kept pushing, the more it would speed up. In fact, if you applied 50 lbs of force to a planet, you would push it, but by some incredibly small amount.

When Superman has been seen to move a planet, the real assertion is that he moves it a significant amount in a fairly short time. If he were "weak" and he only moved a planet one inch after pushing for a week (which is still way beyond normal human strength), it wouldn't match the feats we've seen him perform in the past.

The ability to move a planet is a pretty good match to the top strength levels in Superman's past. We first see Superman moving a planet in 1949, in Superman #58. The planet has human-like inhabitants, so it's probably roughly the size of Earth. While the post-Byrne Superman admitted outright that he was unable to move a planet, the ability came back later, even if the writer (Joe Kelly) didn't intend it. In JLA vol. 3 #75 (the end of Obsidian Age), Superman, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman move the Earth. Unlike the physics of everyday objects (like you and two of your friends moving a couch), the physics of bodies in space means that the contribution of forces is more or less linearly additive. That is, if 3 equal parties moved the Earth at a certain level of acceleration, then one of them alone could move it at 1/3 that acceleration.

Presumably, Superman is stronger than 1/3 of the total in that group, but that doesn't matter too much. Whether he's only 1/3 of the total (exactly equal to Wonder Woman and Martian Manhunter) or 99% (much stronger than the two of them combined), that nails down his strength level pretty closely.

One might wonder how fast and how hard Superman (and his friends) pushed those planets. In both cases, he needed to push the planets in order to adjust the orbit significantly (in one case, the planet was too far from its star; in the other case, too close). The stories don't provide the boring details of how long he has to push to make the needed change, but you certainly feel like it happens pretty quickly -- minutes or hours, not days or weeks.

Unfortunately, we hit another clash between real physics and the storytelling, because if Superman (or anyone) pushed a planet hard enough to move it significantly in minutes, the acceleration would absolutely devastate the people, trees, buildings, etc., on the planet. Over large portions of the planet, the force would be sideways, which is exactly what causes damage during an earthquake.

1% of the Earth's distance from the Sun is 1.5 million kilometers. To change a planet's temperature noticeably in a short time, it would have to move at least about that far. If Superman pushed at 1/10th of a G force, this would require 48 hours of pushing. That is actually too hard of an acceleration (it would devastate objects on the surface of the planet), too little of a change in the orbit (no one would notice the change in temperature for a long time), and yet too long of a delay (Superman doesn't say, "I'll see you in a couple of days!") to match the details in the stories, and if we loosen any of those assumptions, the other details become even more inconvenient. Let's say, though, that pushing an Earth-sized planet by 1/10th of a G is a good trade-off between the contradictory details. Let's say that Superman pushes the planet for 48 hours, it somehow holds together, and applying 1/10th G, he saves the day. (Given the nature of orbital mechanics, a single push is not the right answer, because making the orbit as close to circular as the Earth's is now would require a much more sustained effort, but we've already fudged on the precise details in imagining that it causes the necessary climate change without wrecking objects on the surface.) Let's say that pushing Earth at 1/10 G is the level of Superman's strength.

The Planet-Moving Answer

If Superman is just capable of pushing the Earth at 1/10th G, then his strength could be expressed in the following terms:

1) How much could he lift if he were lifting a weight against the 1 G gravity we experience on the surface of the Earth? 

Very simple: It must be 1/10th of the mass of the Earth. That is 6 x 1024 kg, or, if you want to see the big number:

6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 metric tons.

2) How much stronger is he than a normal man?

The current world record in weightlifting (of any kind) is the 390 kg back squat by Hossein Rezazadeh. That makes Superman 15 sextillion times stronger than the strongest actual man. Of course, Rezazadeh is much stronger than an ordinary man, maybe ten times stronger.

"Sextillion" is a very rare term, so to rewrite that in more common terms, Superman is 15 billion trillion times stronger than Rezazadeh, and about 150 billion trillion times stronger than an average man.

Really Big Numbers

All told, there are more digits than you would expect in the sorts of numbers we're talking about. Let's say that Superman got into a fight with an opponent who was very strong, but not as strong -- someone who could lift a small mountain (1 mile cubed of rock). What would the fight look like between Superman and that enemy? A decent fight? Would the enemy get in some good blows before eventually losing?

Given that premise, Superman would be about 500 billion times stronger than the enemy. To put that in perspective, compare a man and a fruit fly that is 3 mm long and weighs 3 milligrams. Flying, it can just support its own weight, so we'll call that its strength. Hossein Rezzadeh is only 130 million times stronger than the tiny fruit fly. Superman would have a much bigger advantage over the mountain-lifting enemy than Rezazadeh would have over the fruit fly. The edge that Rezazadeh has on a fruit fly, planet-moving Superman would have on an opponent who could lift a mountain range (3000 mountains).

Basically, for an opponent to tangle with Superman, in terms of sheer strength (and not magic or some other angle) the opponent would have to be a planet-mover, too. An opponent with 1/10th of Superman's strength would push a planet as much in 20 days as Superman pushes it in 48 hours. (If the opponent had flying power at all.)

Energy Sources

Superman's strength (and other powers) have been explained in a number of ways over the years.

1) A "physical structure" that is "millions of years advanced" (Action #1). This implies that great strength is a form of perfection that evolution naturally leads to, overlooking the fact that natural selection does not lead to perpetually increasing strength in all species, because sheer strength is not the sole determinant of survival. For example, gorillas do not have an inherent evolutionary advantage over squirrels.

2) That "the smaller size of [Earth], with its slighter [than Krypton's] gravity pull, assists Superman's tremendous muscles in the performance of miraculous feats of strength" (Superman #1). Alas, modern planetary science does not lend support to this idea. Even an extremely large planet would not have gravity so much stronger than Earth's so as to explain Superman's planet-moving strength. While some planets orbiting other stars have been found with masses about 3000 times that of the Earth, those are gas giant planets (like Jupiter) that lack solid surfaces. Even if a planet the size of Jupiter were made of solid iron, its surface gravity would be less than 20 times that of the Earth. Superman's strength is far greater than that, so a better explanation is needed. (Of course, powers like telescopic vision also require a better explanation, no matter what the numbers.)

3) That "ultra solar rays" of the Earth's Sun, a yellow star, have an effect on Kryptonians that empowers them instantly. (Action #262)

4) In John Byrne's Man of Steel #1, Jor-El explains that his son, as a Kryptonian, will "grow ever more powerful" because "Kryptonian cells will become living solar batteries". This implies that the power output of a Kryptonian would be about the same as if human-sized solar panels were used to charge a battery. Solar panels are not very efficient, so we might expect, somehow, for Kryptonians to extract power more efficiently, and from a larger portion of the spectrum. But that is ridiculously less power than Superman is seen to display, and would moreover imply that feats of strength would exhaust the stored energy.

So of the offered explanations, (3) actually works best, mainly by being sufficiently evasive about how it might operate.

Eat, Eat, Eat Your Way to Super Strength

One bedrock truth of physics is that for a force to act upon a body, some source of energy must be expended, and therefore some mass must be expended. When a person walks up a flight of stairs, chemical reactions that power the muscles cause a tiny amount of mass that is bound in molecular bonds to be converted into the energy that powers their climb (this should not be confused with the measurable weight loss that takes place through exercise; even in all of the exercise you perform in your life, less than one gram of mass is actually converted into energy). When dynamite explodes, a larger yield comes from other chemical reactions. When a hydrogen bomb explodes, nuclear binding energy is expended to create the explosion. Each of these events causes some mass to be converted into energy. For example, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima converted about 0.6 grams of matter into energy. When you walk up a flight of stairs, the amount of matter converted into energy is tiny, but not zero.

This truth of physics was introduced into the Flash series starring Wally West in the late Eighties. Bursts of super speed left the Flash hungry, needing to eat vast quantities to replenish what he had burned. Energy does have to come from somewhere and for people, food is the explanation. For feats like Superman's, solar batteries are not going to cut it.

But the amount of fuel required depends on how good you are at extracting energy from it. Chemical energy tends to be vastly weaker than nuclear energy, by a factor of up to 100 million. People (and dynamite) use chemical energy. Nuclear weapons and stars use nuclear energy. But it is possible in principle to use all of the energy in an energy source. An explosion like 1945's atomic bombs would result if 0.6 grams of matter were completely annihilated. (0.3 grams of antimatter, in the Earth's atmosphere, would accomplish that task by annihiliating an equal mass of matter.)

The greatest imaginable source of power for Superman would be if his cells could completely convert some fuel into energy, as efficient as a matter/antimatter explosion, and considerably more efficient than the fusion of hydrogen that powers the stars. This is where explanation (3) comes closest to succeeding, because it does not stipulate that the Sun's rays directly power Superman, but that they enable him to begin to display super powers. We can imagine a super metabolism that is normally turned off, but that is turned on a like a switch by the presence of yellow starlight. Then his super metabolism could tap into some unspecified manner of turning fuel into pure energy -- there could be no more potent way of powering a superman.

Truly Impossible

So when Superman performs a super feat, he, like us, must burn up some mass, and because he uses much more energy than a normal person, he must lose mass at a much greater rate. For Superman to exert a force that pushed the Earth at 0.1 Gs, he would have to convert a certain amount of mass into energy every second, given by Einstein's famous equation E = mc2. The bad news is, for Superman to push a planet with the force described above, he would have to burn up 2 quintillion tons of matter each second. That would require that he weigh an enormous amount before undertaking the task. If he were that heavy, he would crash through the floors of buildings and into the center of the Earth whenever he slept.

Realistic Impossible

If you take the energy-mass equation seriously and work backwards, you have to conclude that planet-pushing is not a feat for human-sized beings even if you hope for a perfectly-functioning super metabolism.

So, if we imagine that Superman burns up several grams of matter in this perfectly efficient way, we find that he produces energy on the scale of hydrogen bombs (which do not adjust the planet significantly in its orbit). This leads us to a more modest and in fact Byrne-like calculation of Superman's strength. Imagine that a ship were sinking and Superman flew into Metropolis Harbor to lift it and carry it to safety. Upon landing, we should hope that he did not burn so much matter as to look emaciated to Lois Lane. Let's say that Superman weighs 100 kg (220 pounds... very close to what he says in Superman The Movie) and that lifting the ship for 100 seconds leads him to lose only 1 kg (2 lbs, not quite noticeable). With those assumptions, how much could he lift?

Burning 10 grams a second, Superman could lift 20 billion tons. That's a tiny little fraction of the mass of a planet, but it's not too shabby. In fact, it's a lot stronger than the Byrne Superman. Instead of being 15 billion trillion times stronger than Hossein Rezazadeh, he would "only" be 45 billion times stronger. "Realistic" Superman would be weaker than a fruit fly compared to planet-moving Superman. In fact, he would be precisely mountain-moving Superman, capable of lifting about one cubic mile of rock. (That's the size of a mountain in the Appalachians, not in the Himalayas.) Ships would be no problem. He could still "move" planets, but not so much that you'd notice, unless he pushed for years.

Does It Matter?

Does it matter how strong Superman is? To most people, of course not, and that even includes a lot of the writers who have handled him over the years. Superman is science fiction, not a physics textbook. But the attempt to include a "real science" explanation for his power goes all the way back to the first page of Action #1. This is an attempt to talk about his feats in terms of real science. If you got this far and aren't interested in the topic... sorry.

24 comments:

  1. Though I enjoy the science behind it...I agree with your last paragraph...

    Still...writers have, as you mentioned, tried to explain Superman's powers more scientifically. I like the Byrne explanation of the field that protects his suit from harm and keeps the large objects Supes moves intact.

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  2. I didn't know Byrne mentioned telekinesis. I remember reading a magazine article in the 70s which stated the same, but went into a discussion of all of his powers being telekinesis based (for example Superman original could jump far, how does that translate to flying and changing directions). The article theorized it was all telekinesis (including kryptonite which affected his mind because of bad memories).

    The articles also theorized Superman hid his telekinesis thinking it would scare humans as opposed to just appearing strong and with other physical powers.

    Overall I agree with your last paragraph, though I wish they would cut his strength down some. After all, if you can move worlds, you should be able to stop almost every villain he faces with one punch.

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  3. JMD, I did like the "field" -- I think I may recall Byrne saying that he thought the ripped cape added something. There is also an issue as to whether or not objects from Krypton should be "super". Would an ice cube from Krypton resist melting on a hot summer day on Earth? That seems hard to explain -- water is water. And if not, why wouldn't Superman's suit burn up when it's hot?

    Steve, the issue of relative strength is important. I didn't mind a bit that Byrne powered him down, but I minded a lot that he seemed to lose his "rank" relative to other DC characters. If having Superman be too powerful ruins the story, then it seems like having some other character be that powerful would ruin it too.

    I think that good Superman stories can be told with him at any power level, although I can't see how it would matter if he could juggle 19 galaxies or only 3.

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  4. I definitely agree with the "rank" issue. Power down everyone (except humans) is what I'd like (Wonder Woman was too powerful as well). I also agree, a good story can be written no matter the power of the hero. I just wonder, can a lot of good stories be written or do they start becoming repetitive because there's only so much you can do with that much power.

    In my mind, to write good stories when you have that much power, you have to remove the power from the equation. Which is why I think Smallville does so well. Clark's use of power is very limited as a percentage of show run time.

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  5. That is a really good analysis. A lot of work done!!! I am a superman fan. Although I hate to see his powers limited but they need to be limited. However, I would prefer to leave his strengths undisclosed. More importantly, his strength should be second to none. As long as any other hero e.g. Wonder Woman or Martian Manhunter's strengths are way below Supes, thats fine with me.

    Superman should always remain for what his name stands for even though as a fictional character.

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  6. Good write! Just a few faults. First, energy (such as light) is massless. Superman stores energy to do his feats, not mass. That is to say, Superman doesn't convert mass in himself to energy but he stores the energy from an outside source.

    Second, John Byrne and other writers have already confirmed that Superman's power is mostly psionic. This was the explanation given when fans question them (the writers) of why can Superman perform feats that should take more solar energy than that he was able to absorb in his lifetime.

    Those writers alluded to the possibility that his power is actually coming from another another source (like an unknown dimension). The amount of solar energy he absorbs is exponential proportional to how much energy he can draw from the mysterious source. The more the solar energy the more open the doorway to his true power source.

    Lastly, two greater feats than the planet pushing one is:

    1. Superman turns the gears of Mageddon, whose size dwarfs the entire Earth moon system. So Superman's strength on a decent day is at least in the multi-plantery range.

    2. Superman overpowering thousands of galaxies of power when pushing against Warworld and its thrusters after sundipping for a few moments.

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  7. Your first point is not correct, Leon. Energy always has mass, and E=mc^2 tells you exactly how much. No exceptions. Most of the time, the mass of the convertible energy is tiny compared to the mass around it. But for Superman-style feats, it would be far more mass than a human body. And you can't store it without storing that mass. Light does have mass, even though the rest mass of an electron is zero. (Of course, light is never at rest.)

    It's because convertible energy (eg, what you'd get by burning some gasoline) is tiny compared to the mass around it that people have erroneous intuitions about the principles.

    Another take on it:

    http://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=14671

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  8. I like to imagine Superman's power and strength being the equivalent to the Sun. So if you were to get into a fist-fight with Superman it would be like getting into a fist-fight with the Sun.

    Of course, how he is able to control that power in his daily life, walking around with out utterly destroying everything he touches, is another matter.

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  9. light is massless. when matter converts into energy by speeding it up to the speed of light squared it loses its mass. Since light is never at rest it has no resting mass and remains at zero. Massless. So your saying superman "metabolizes" sunlight and does some kind of reverse nuclear fusion process to power himself. Why couldn't he just store the light and let it remain as light in his body in some fictitious comic book manner. that way his mass wont increase. If he can push a freakin planet, or blow out a star, why not. He can do whatever the writer wants him to do, creative licensing.

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  10. Seems like he could create nuclear explosions just by punching things. So when he's really laying into Doomsday, or Darksied, why isn't he compressing atoms in the dirt when punching them into the ground? How about other stars? No awesome powers from any other than the yellow dwarf 93,000,000 miles away? Why does the red giant make him simply human like? Shouldn't it have the opposite effect? Supes falling apart at the seams, wrinkles, arthritis, diseases, ect.

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  11. jlrom80, just to correct what you're cited me on, I did not mean to propose that Superman uses sunlight as the fuel itself. In fact, the total amount of sunlight that would ever shine on a man-sized object is far, far too small to allow his everyday feats. I was proposing that the matter that is otherwise in his body (e.g., food and drink) would be metabolized in some fantastic manner.

    Your proposal seems to add two unnecessary made-up laws of physics to get to the same point. You'd say that the energy is stored as some sort of stationary light (so you're making up one more rule of physics) and that it would be massless (making up another rule). Obviously, rules of physics have to be made up (or simply ignored) to allow for Superman... I don't see the point in stipulating four or five made-up laws of physics when three might do the trick.

    On an esthetic level, I'd say, sure, allow all the creative licensing that's necessary or that drives the story, but don't make it more complicated than it needs to be.

    In fact, the Byrne explanation of his powers implies pretty much what you propose, but it sweeps the energy-mass problem under the carpet. Esthetically, I think that, also, is preferable to acknowledging the problem AND making up one more law of physics to fix it.

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  12. jlrom, punches in a furious super-fight should produce a tremendous amount of heat and shock waves because the kinetic energy has to go somewhere. However, there probably wouldn't be any nuclear reactions -- very few kinds of nuclei are amenable to fusion, and moreover, the amount of energy that could be gained by fusing, say, silicon nuclei, is pretty meager.

    As for why star color ever had anything to do with anything... that was obviously an ad hoc explanation as to why Kryptonians have power on Earth but didn't on Krypton. Any physics trying to explain that has to be entirely made-up. (As mentioned above, the notion that Krypton had stronger gravity doesn't explain the huge difference in Superman's power vs human -- maybe it would seem plausible if Krypton had been not a planet but a neutron star.)

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  14. Hi Rikdad,

    Your analysis on this is similar but not identical to my own.

    Gravitational influences have several aspects. First, being somehow able to utilize 100% of caloric intake efficiently can imply Krypton's gravity was around 35x Earth's. Some books suggest the Action Comics #1 limits reflect their base grav-strength (Ref: Superman: Last Son of Earth, Superman: Birthright). Assuming that 35x base plus Kryptonians reaching peak for human capabilities brings us to around the AC #1 levels. Many origin stories express they also developed some kind of anti-gravity capability to further help with resisting that tremendous gravity, esp. with low food resources at first. Said anti-grav would normally be cancelled one-for-one on Krypton but would liberate them to nearly any strength level once free of Krypton as gravity is more a bending of space.

    As for the solar aspect, perhaps that's evidence of an additional advanced race, perhaps the Guardians themselves, genetically tampering with or using guided evolution to achieve latent solar super-powers. It does seem an odd coincidence that Krypton and Daxam happen to have races that are super just about anywhere except on home soil. Daxam esp. seems an odd world that has humanoids extremely vulnerable to lead, yet Daxam itself seems to be artificially devoid of this very common element. And both Kryptonians and Daxamites share an X-ray vision limitation unable to see through lead, but other denser elements like gold or uranium don't give them trouble; other beings with X-ray vision capability (Vartox, Andromedans, Ultra Boy, Martians) don't seem to share this limitation. Maybe this speaks of a deeper connection between these worlds and the hidden beings behind engineering their super-powers.

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  15. Addendum on solar-based super-powers history:
    The solar aspect was introduced after Supergirl arrived from Argo City. In her origin, Argo City luckily survives Krypton's destruction by being blown off largely intact from the planet. But Argo City has the mass and gravity of an asteroid not that super-gravity of the full planet Krypton. If Kryptonian super-powers were due to gravitational differences, why weren't the Argo Citizens automatically super? Or why did Supergirl become super on Earth when she's from a world with asteroid-level gravity? The writers thus devised the solar-aspect out here: Kryptonians need a combination of both lesser gravity and the ultra-solar rays of Earth's sun (which non-yellow suns like Krypton's red one don't emit). IOW, this was all to explain how Kara Zor-El gained powers on Earth when Argo City's gravity was arguably lower than Earth's.

    Later, a Legion of Super-Heroes story showed Superboy super-powered in a blue sun system. Going by the original solar explanation, Kal-El should have no powers under a blue sun. Then-letter-writer-fan, later-DC-writer E. Nelson Bridwell explained this for the then-creators: the heat of the star is the determining factor so blue suns would actually make Superboy more powerful than under a yellow one.

    If it weren't for the introduction of Supergirl and her asteroid-city origin, DC would have been content to stick to the heavy gravity explanation.

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  17. Superman comes from a civilization that was "thousands of years ahead of Earth", as portrayed and remarked by Superman's Mother on Planet Krypton.

    That can be interpreted that Superman's civilization on Planet Krypton is at least 9,000 years ahead of Earth 2012 in technology and understanding - but not more than 10,000 years.

    Even in Superman the Movie, Superman's father actually indicates that they have explored 27 Galaxies in the Universe - and I don't think Earth is a part of Krypton's Galaxy. It's a different Galaxy altogether.
    That means, Superman comes from a civilization that could traverse Galaxies billions of light years apart. Far more advanced than the "Star Wars Universe". Star Wars' Galactic Empire is at least 5,000 years ahead of Earth 2012 - it is very, very advanced; and they have the ability to harness the power of an entire Sun in their space craft; but they cannot get outside of their own Galaxy - which is far, far away...

    Superman should not be equated to some kind of "powerful god-like being", but a result of a civilization that was (it's long destroyed) one of the most advanced in the Universe before they became something else beyond the physical known limits of having actual "biological bodies".

    So what am I getting at? Superman is simply imbued with technology that is so far beyond our understanding that it would be like explaining a Silicon Transistor to Stone Age Man.

    Superman's mind - although not alluded to in any particularly way - is vast; nothing is really seen absolutely about Superman being a "hyper advanced being", but that is exactly what he is. His mind contains knowledge that extends to the limits of the Universe, so in some plausible way Superman can do much more than just do unexplainable things in our own Galaxy. Superman's mind is probably an amalgam of abilities that drive the technology within him - to perform the impossible.

    Thousand of years of Advanced Technology and Advanced Biology is what Superman is.

    If we can understand that 50-100 years from now, much of "Humanity on Earth will have Nano-technology in their bodies; imagine several thousand years from now - there is just nothing you could imagine that could possibly exceed it.

    Nothing is impossible in the Universe. The Universe allows the impossible to take place. We just don't know how to do it yet.

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  18. Saying that a person can lift weights closing in on the estimated mass of the whole universe is beyond the pale.
    It's gotten into levels of absurdity that-even after the reset-shouldn't be accepted even in comics-and in comics, we can accept a hell of a lot, guy has a magic ring connected to his imagination, sure, wealthy billionaire becomes serious crime fighter who all criminals are terrified of, again, sure, but come on, if Superman's as powerful as they say, he could do anything, no matter how difficult or mind boggling to regular people. It's reasons like this that I dislike Superman as a Character so much, the history has been built up so much that, now, DC writers have put themselves in a corner.
    If they depower him, people will complain that they don't have the character they want.
    If they keep him as powerful as people want, they quickly either enter levels of absurdity with enemies that should be able to destroy the whole of the world/galaxy/universe or have nothing interesting to write about, as stated above, he is 'way too strong'.

    But saying 'does it matter?'
    Well, when we read fiction of any level, it's to be drawn into it, to let the world drop away for a while. The suspension of disbelief in accepting the strength of Superman is just too much for me.

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    1. I've seen your type of opinion often repeated. I'm almost certain that the ones saying this are completely unaware of the inconsistency.

      It's okay for a magic ring to do anything including moving the universe, or 'Speed-Force' to become a 'do-anything', or Martians to be Superman-plus-do-anything. But try saying the same for Superman and it 'destroys the character'.

      If it's okay for Supermans successors, arguably his grandchildren, then it's also okay for Superman. The question isn't whether he's too powerful, but how well he's written. As Rikdad pointed out in his exhaustive analysis, power-level isn't what made Superman decline. It was DC letting writers steal Superman's thunder by showing him up by other heroes.

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    2. This brings up comparison to the characters in other popular cartoons/comics. The Dragon Ball series works because of the martial arts and training and struggle associated with victory. Yes, you may be capable of destroying a planet, but so are your enemies. The most effective way to take them out is by knowing martial arts and fighting them with skills that you mastered and your own mastery of yourself. Superman rarely trains to become better. We do not get to be with him on his rise to greater heights. We know to expect kryptonite. We know to expect magic. We know to expect a red sun here and there. These weaknesses make his adventures predictable when he is facing a foe that he should easily overcome otherwise, because we know the writers are going to attempt to keep it interesting. If superman could just fly out to Brainiac and punch him in the face, that would be too easy. No character in the D.C. Universe has a weakness as crippling and as easily wielded as kryptonite. That is supposed to be Superman's balance.

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  19. Let's see... My research yields that light itself is actually an extraordinarily efficient (or inefficient, depending on your views of efficiency) state of matter that can neither be created nor destroyed. Everything in this universe we live in including electricity, sound and light, exist and are composed of matter. The counter to this is that there are potentially states of matter more dense than a solid. Why not use this realistic possibility to assume that Superman can take in solar energy to function as the storable, yet quickly exhaustible (as in when he is removed from a yellow sun) catalyst required to energize and power some lower state of matter that is immeasurable by our current technology? Let us call this a genetic trait. Kryptonians were an advanced scientific race. Perhaps they discovered ways to harness different states of matter and apply them to their own genetics in ways that could improve life on Krypton but would have extraordinary effects when applied to a yellow sun's energy. Superman's power is largely psionic. He has a force field that protects his body from all but magical and the most powerful forces. Who is to say that he cannot use this psionic power to draw in more power from the sun? To act as some sort of conductive energy. Perhaps Superman's body has solar fueled, psionic tendrils that act as solar energy sponges and can extend beyond his body? They certainly wouldn't by visible, as they would be composed, in theory, of nothing but his psionic energy which, also in theory, is just focused solar energy.

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  20. Superman is a creation of a child's mind. Though there a things I like about Superman, when I ask questions my belief in what superman does comes to an abrupt halt. Simply said he's too strong, he has to many powers, and why the hell Can't Louis Lane tell that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person. Worst secret identity ever.

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  21. I'd agree with all of this except, in the last paragraph, I'd say Superman is fantasy, not science fiction, depending upon how loosely one defines something as science fiction, of course.

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