Welcome to our Man of Steel Countdown column, a biweekly look at the upcoming Superman movie along with an exploration of the character's past, present and future. In this edition we break down some of the most recent news items.
Over the past year, we’ve documented characters from the universe of Superman, delved out opinion pieces and, of course, covered whatever news and interviews we’ve been able to gleam. That way, there’s something for everyone, from the die-hard fan to those with passing interest. It’s time again to have a little fun.
Superman’s powers have changed over the years. During his first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938, he was invulnerable, super strong, fast and could leap over one-eighth of a mile. Later on, different writers and creators added abilities like flight, X-ray vision, heat vision, telescopic and microscopic vision, infrared vision, super breath, freeze breath and super hearing. These have become the traditional powers of Superman, but many others were attempted, and some even stuck around for a while. Whether director Zack Snyder or screenwriter David Goyer will let this new Superman display all of those powers, create new ones or alter any of them in a significant way is still unknown. And if there are any changes like that, might they become canon for the future of the character in other media?
Just for fun, let’s a look at some of the wackiest and most outlandish abilities that writers have tried to give Superman in the past. There are at least a hundred of these, so here are some of the highlights.
The Christopher Reeve Films
There were several powers added to Superman’s repertoire in the films. For instance in the first one, Superman flew westward around the Earth to reverse its orbit and turn back time, which is strange and goes against the laws of physics, even in a world where a man can fly. Although it has been argued that Superman was simply flying so fast that he was actually traveling through time by approaching the speed of light, this too goes against physics because he would only be able to travel forward at an accelerated rate. Time travel by way of speed was one of Superman’s powers in the comics of that time.
Richard Lester added a number of Kryptonian abilities to Superman II, which were displayed not only by Superman but also the Phantom Zone villains: General Zod, Ursa and Non. First, they could shoot beams of white light out of their fingers that could lift objects or people as if by telekinesis. Toward the end of the film, Superman removed a layer of the “S” symbol from his chest and threw it at Non, causing it to expand and wrap around him before appearing to dissolve. Family Guy made fun of this moment, calling it a “minor inconvenience." Then Superman managed to split himself into several copies, most of which were fake and could be walked through like a ghost. He even claimed that he used to do it for fun as a child.
And no one has forgotten a silly power like the ability to make Lois Lane forget that Clark Kent was really Superman. Lois learned the secret and he gave up all of his abilities in order to be with her. When the world needed Superman again, he was unable to change himself back into a normal human a second time, and it hurt Lois so much to not be able to be with him that he mercifully gave her an “amnesia kiss,” causing her to forget the events of the past several days.
Superman IV: The Quest for Peace had an equally silly new power. During a chase sequence, Nuclear Man exploded a section of the Great Wall of China. Once Superman chased him off, he displayed yet another vision ability by rebuilding the broken section of the wall by simply looking at it.
Many fans still poke fun at the fact that Lois Lane, among others, who interact with both Clark Kent and Superman, never seem to catch on that the only real difference between the two are a simple pair of glasses. Although it works better on the comic book page than it usually does in live action, what could make the people closest to him so dense? Well, that’s super-hypnotism of course. Much like the kiss from Superman II, Clark once had to make Jimmy forget that he had learned about the dual identity. For some reason, Superman and Jimmy kissing wasn’t ideal for a kids’ comic book book in the 1950s.
When Clark Kent fainted at the Daily Planet from exposure to Kryptonite, he convinced his coworkers that he simply had low blood sugar and needed to eat. After pounding down a five-pound steak, he thought to himself that he could eat everything in the restaurant thanks to his super stomach.
Not only could Superman of the 1940s-'60s speak without moving his lips, not only could he throw his voice to make it sound like he was in another room, he could also make his own voice sound like any other person. So if an annoying fan wanted to bug him with questions, he could make it sound like Lois was calling him to dinner and easily excuse himself.
This was a weird ability from a single issue in the 1950s. The cover announced that Superman had a new power, but it wasn’t shooting rainbows out of his fingers. An alien flying saucer stole his normal powers but left him with the ability to shoot a miniature version of himself out of his hands. Superman soon became jealous of his smaller self and plotted to kill him, but then it died saving Metropolis.
But if you’re going to make fun of Rainbow Fingers because you think Batman is cooler, let’s not forget that Batman once wore a rainbow costume in order to draw attention away from the fact that Dick Grayson had broken his arm, and he didn’t want people to put two and two together when they saw Robin’s arm in a sling.
One time, Superman tricked a villain into believing Kryptonite had killed him. He used his super-muscle control to stop his own heart and appear to be dead long enough for the bad guy to turn the other way, allowing Superman to save the day.
There were a number of times when Superman did a normal, mundane task at superspeed and specifically called it Super-whatever-the-task-was. My personal favorite is super-weaving. In the myriad of superpowers and heroes, super-weaving should be at the top. Other mundane abilities that were once super-fied include super-makeup, super-mathematics, super-landscaping, super-friction and more.
In an issue from the 1940s, Superman managed to change his size and shape to look like an alien. He also used super mind control to force that alien to make him turn off a machine.
Electric Blue Superman
For about a year and a half in 1997-'98, Superman’s look and abilities were completely changed to what looked like Electric Blue. Superman’s powers come from Earth’s yellow Sun, but in a huge crossover event from 1996, the Sun darkened and almost went out, leaving Superman without his abilities. It took some time after its regeneration for Superman to regain his strength and powers, but they were wonky. Then he turned into this version.
For starters, the look was completely changed, as the picture illustrates. When he transformed, it was loud and instant, but as Clark Kent, he had no powers whatsoever, which was difficult at work since he wasn’t able to write his articles at super-speed. Most of his usual powers completely disappeared. After this, his blue look was from a containment suit because he had become pure energy.
His new abilities seemed to change or be added to early in that run, but for instance, rather than flying, he would teleport himself. The fact that comics are static images meant that it was difficult for readers to wrap their heads around it. Rather than bullets bouncing off his chest, they would simply pass through him, which provided its own problems when trying to save people. The strangest power was his new ability to create and control electromagnetic fields, which was confusing and became the overly complicated way for Superman to save the day, leaving readers to simply accept that the problem had somehow been solved.
Several months before DC finally restored Superman’s usual costume and powers, he was split into two people, a blue version and a red version, both with Clark Kent as a secret identity and believing they were married to Lois. The blue one was straitlaced and calm while the red one had a temper and an attitude problem.
As awful as these changes were -- and yes, they were awful -- the writing itself in this era was pretty spectacular. The side stories and adventures of the secondary characters were outstanding, making this absolutely essential reading for fans of the Superman comics of the '80s and '90s.
If any of Superman’s powers are changed for the sake of realism in Man of Steel, what would you like them to be?