Superman Powers and Abilities

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The powers of DC Comics fictional character Superman have changed a great deal since his introduction in the 1930s. As the character developed, his abilities were enhanced in order to maintain the interest of his audience. The extent of his powers peaked during the 1970s and 1980s to the point where it became difficult to create suitable challenges for the character. As a result his powers were significantly reduced when his story was rebooted by writer John Byrne after the Crisis on Infinite Earths series. After Byrne's departure, Superman's powers were gradually increased again, although he still remains weaker than his Pre-Crisis incarnation.


Golden Age Superman

Superman's original powers (Action Comics #1, pg. 1).
Superman's original powers (Action Comics #1, pg. 1).

As presented in the original 1930's comic strip, Superman's powers were indigenous to those of all Kryptonians because of their advanced evolution. In the origin stories of the comic books and comic strip, Kryptonians were shown using the same powers that Superman would have on Earth. Later, Krypton's larger size and gravity was given as an explanation for the character's powers.

When introduced in the late 1930s, Superman had the following powers and limitations:

  • Super Strength: The character was depicted as having the ability to lift heavy objects like steel support beams.
  • Leaping Ability: As originally conceived, Superman could leap an of a mile or hurdle a 20 story building.
  • Super Speed: Superman could run faster than an express train.
  • Durability: Superman's skin could not be pierced by anything short of a large artillery shell.

Silver/Bronze Age (Pre-Crisis) Superman

Superman's powers were enhanced from the 1940s until the mid-1980's. His powers were explained as a result the weaker gravity of Earth and the intensity of Earth's yellow sun. Superman's powers were negated if he entered an environment similar to that of Krypton, such as the bottle city of Kandor, or if he was exposed to the solar energy of a red sun. In Silver Age stories, the powers and limitations of Superman were instantly possessed by any Kryptonians exposed to Earth or Earth-like conditions. Individuals from the planet Daxam, such as Mon-El, possessed identical powers, but were invulnerable to Kryptonite and susceptible to lead poisoning.

  • Super Strength: Over time, Superman's strength was increased to the point where he could move entire planets.
  • Flight: The character gained the power of true flight.
  • Super Speed: Superman's speed increased to the point where he could travel faster than light. He could use this power to travel through time as well as fly to other worlds,solar systems and galaxies and even to other universes with relative ease, as shown in his visits to the 30th century as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
  • Invulnerability: By the 1970's, Superman has a bio-electric aura that shields him from physical injury, he was able to withstand the explosion of nuclear weapons and fly unharmed through the core of a star. He was immune to basically everything except for Kryptonite radiation and magic.
  • Vision: Superman possessed x-ray vision, allowing him to see through solid objects, as well as telescopic vision (seeing great, even interstellar distances) and microscopic vision (seeing small things, even subatomic particles). These powers could be used individually or in conjunction with one another. His eyes could also perceive the full electromagnetic spectrum including infrared and ultraviolet frequencies of radiation.
  • Heat Vision: Originally depicted as a by-product of his x-ray vision, Superman's heat vision allowed him to generate energy beams which could be used to melt or vaporize almost any substance.
  • Hearing: Superman could hear sound at almost any wavelength and at vast distances.
  • Super Breath: Superman's breath was capable of freezing objects (because his lungs were able to put air under tremendous pressure, thus super-cooling it) and generating hurricane-force winds. He could also survive without oxygen, allowing him to travel underwater or in space without breathing apparatus.
  • Mental Powers: Superman possessed genius-level intelligence and an eidetic memory. These enhanced mental capabilities were a direct result of his exposure to a yellow sun,. Superman also possessed 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.
  • Super Ventriloquism: Superman could throw his voice across great distances. This power was used to confuse enemies or protect his secret identity by tricking others into believing that he (or Clark Kent) was in a different location.
  • Stamina: Superman could survive indefinitely without food, water, or rest.
  • Healing factor: Superman could regenerate physical damage to his body at an accelerated rate.
  • Other Powers: 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. In addition to his other super senses, Superman was occasionally shown as having highly-enhanced senses of touch and smell.


John Byrne' revision of the Superman character in 1986 reduced the character's 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. Template:Fact 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.

  • Power Reduction: 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 come close to 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 also required an oxygen mask for prolonged travel in space or underwater. His mental abilities were also curtailed to the point where intelligent humans, like geniuses Lex Luthor or Batman, could outsmart him. 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.
  • Tactile Telekinesis: Superman's ability to fly under his own power was explained with the introduction of tactile telekinesis, an invisible telekinetic field that allows him to lift himself off the ground. Any objects that Superman touches are also enveloped by the field and allow him to move them with the force of his will. 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, eventually develops the same set of powers as the original.

Modern Era

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 his Pre-Crisis levels.

The comparative weakness of the Superman character to his Pre-Crisis incarnation was definitively shown during Infinite Crisis. The Superboy-Prime character, endowed with nearly the same power levels as the Silver Age Superman, was capable of defeating large numbers of heroes, including the Teen Titans and several members of the Green Lantern Corps. The Modern Era Superman and his Earth-2 counterpart were only able to defeat Superboy-Prime after plunging him through Krypton's red sun, thereby reducing his powers.

In Action Comics #857 (Part three of the "Escape From Bizarro World" storyline), it is revealed that the light of a blue sun can give Superman the power of "Superman Vision", which can imbue any person it hits with Kryptonian-like abilities for a short time.

Comparative strength

Following the Byrne reboot, Supermans strength tends to fluctuate depending on the amount of solar energy his cells have absorbed and the writer of the particular story. He has received a temporary boost in power after surviving a plunge into Earth's yellow sun, and has had his powers depleted when deprived of such energy. Although the limits of how much energy Superman can absorb, and by extension the maximum limits of his power has never been stated, he has moved mountains, and on one occasion flew into the sun and was able to move the planetoid Pluto when it became War World.<ref>Action Comics #782</ref> Additionally, because of the solar energy that empowers him, he has occasionally been depicted as being potentially immortal, or as having a different aging process, most notably in the DC One Million mini-series.<ref>DC One Million #1-4</ref>

Characters such as Captain Marvel, Martian Manhunter, and Wonder Woman have been described variously over time as near-equals, equals, or, in the first two cases, even slightly more than a match for the Man of Steel.<ref>Captain Marvel: JLA #28; Superman/Batman #4. Martian Manhunter: JLA #84-89</ref> When the Modern Era Supergirl was introduced, it was suspected that she was stronger than her cousin, but this was due to the fact that Superman had learned to restrain his strength through years of living with weaker individuals, an ability that Kara Zor-El had not yet learned.

It is important to note that while Superman is among the strongest DC heroes, there are certain characters who match his strength, most notably Darkseid, Bizarro, Lobo, the Cyborg Superman, Eradicator, the original Mongul, General Zod, Shaggy Man/Wade Eiling, and Black Adam, while Doomsday and Despero have occasionally been shown as stronger, the former being able to effortlessly stand his ground against the entire Justice League,<ref>Superman/Doomsday: Hunter Prey; Superman: The Doomsday Wars</ref> and the latter defeating Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, and Power Girl at the same time.<ref>JLA/JSA: Virtue and Vice</ref> Certain heroes and villains with magical capabilities, like the Spectre, Zatanna, and Doctor Fate, have displayed cosmic level power vastly beyond Superman's capabilities. The Flash possesses the ability to travel at the speed of light, shunting his momentum towards infinity, and enabling him to perform such feats as defeating a White Martian with one punch,<ref>JLA #1–4</ref> or almost overcoming the Anti-Monitor single-handedly.<ref>The Flash (vol. 2), #150</ref> Hal Jordan, with the will-fueled power of the Green Lantern ring, has also been cited as being a match for Superman, being able to lay him down with one punch while possessed by the evil symbiote Parallax.<ref>Zero Hour</ref> The Guardians of the Universe allegedly possess abilities dwarfing those of regular Green Lantern Corps members. Kyle Rayner, inhabited by the benevolent symbiote "Ion", was recently touted as the most powerful of Earth's superheroes, as was its later Daxamite host Sodam Yat.

Alternate versions and timelines

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.

The Dark Knight continuity

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, possibly implying that he has not yet developed the power of flight. As the series has progressed, Batman has stated that Superman can fly, although Superman himself does not know this yet. (How Batman knows this is not revealed.) The artist of All-Star Batman, Jim Lee, has said he is based on the Golden Age Superman, which is why he is shown running on water instead of flying, hinting that he is only able to leap great distances by that time. However, they make no mention of this in the actual comic. Conversely, Frank Miller's Superman is seen flying in his other comics about Batman, most likely because by the time the characters are around 55 years of age his power levels have increased. The Dark Knight Returns depicts him as having the usual super speed, heat vision, flight, and strength, but it also depicts him as being vulnerable to several things. Kryptonite still harms him, and he is nearly killed at one point by a massive nuclear detonation. Whether this was the result of the blast itself, radiation, or the bomb blocking out the sun, or a combination of those factors, is not made clear. He is also shown to be susceptible to a sound wave device, which causes him temporary pain. In some lines, Batman hints that these weaknesses may be related to him being older, although this is never substantiated. In the Dark Knight Strikes Again Superman confirmed that Heat Vision is the hardest ability to master for he destroyed his father's barn with the ability.

Superman: Red Son

The Elseworlds book Superman: Red Son features a massively powerful Superman, akin to his Silver Age version. Flight, super speed, super intelligence, and massive strength, are all depicted, although other powers associated with the Silver Age, such as time travel, are not depicted, and no real limitations are placed on his powers themselves. He is unable to see through lead in this version, and his powers are affected by red sunlight radiation. He is never stated to be immortal, but it is revealed that he lives for an extremely long period of time. Kryptonite is never mentioned in the story, although Brainiac attacks Superman with unnamed green energy near the end of Red Son Setting.

Kingdom Come

Superman's powers and weaknesses in Kingdom Come are similar to many of his other incarnations. Strength, flight, and heat vision are all depicted. He does not seem to be any more or less intelligent than an average human in this continuity, Template:Fact although the novelization mention him having flawless eidetic memory. His vision is portrayed as being able to easily scan a continent for signs of trouble in a matter of moments, from orbit. During the story, he is caught in a large nuclear blast, and while it does not state that he was unharmed, it does not seem to have affected him at all. He is not exposed to Kryptonite at any point in the story, but Lex Luthor says that it "does not pack the punch it used to", and that Superman is at "the height of his invulnerability" due to his prolonged exposure to sun light. His speed seems about the same as his modern incarnation, as he is shown speeding across the U.S., from Gotham to somewhere in the heartland, but it is depicted as taking him a few moments to arrive there, placing some potential limit on his speed to being no faster than light or as fast as he was in his Silver Age version. It is also worth nothing that Captain Marvel is regarded as equal to Superman, or a potential match for him in battle. Superman is shown as being susceptible to harm via Captain Marvel's magic lightning bolt. Another sequence in the story portrays Superman accidentally cutting his finger on Wonder Woman's sword, to which she responds, "You always were a bit susceptible to magic." In the end it is stated that Superman gains a resistance to Magic as demonstrated by his being unaffected by the last bolts of Captain Marvel's lightning and his ability to rip off Captain Marvel's cape, a magically protected item. This weakness is often noted in various other storylines.

All Star Superman

Grant Morrison's depiction of Superman in the All-Star Superman title portrays his abilities as similar to that of Silver Age Superman, though there are a few additions. He is able to manipulate his own bioelectric aura, and his strength increase is due to his exposure to massive amounts of sunlight.

In this incarnation, Superman is afflicted with a disease-like condition after flying too close to the sun. His cells are saturated with yellow sun radiation, increasing his powers, but it is stated that this will also eventually kill him, as his body cannot handle the sheer amount of power he absorbed. He is also shown as being vulnerable to various forms of Kryptonite, and like other versions, red sunlight/radiation robs him of his powers but he his powers have grown to the point that he is unaffected by green kryptonite.

Film and television

Superman: The Movie

In the first movie Superman's speed was shown as much more powerful that it actually is in comics - he's portrayed as so fast that he can travel back in time, which in comic-books could only be done by The Flash so far.

Adventures of Superman

On the TV series The Adventures of Superman, Superman also demonstrated some one-time-only powers; in the first season episode "Rescue", he develops the ability to split himself into two (slightly weaker) Supermen. 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.


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 super-strength and superhuman speed, and first experiences his invulnerability when Lex Luthor hits him with a Porsche at 60 miles an hour. Clark's invulnerability undergoes a steady progression over the course of the series: his body is bruised (but not pierced) by bullets and does not immediately heal in early episodes, but by the fifth season episode 'Hidden', Clark is capable of falling from the Earth's atmosphere without sustaining any physical damage. 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 an extremely powerful intergalactic foe. Similarly, his speed has also increased as he ages. Early episodes depicted his speed as a fast-moving blur, but latest episodes show him spontaneously appearing at his destination accompanied by a small gust of wind.

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. He discovers super breath in the sixth season episode Sneeze. Clark's breath can create powerful winds, but as of yet, has not shown any freezing abilities. 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. He is shown to be hovering over his bed while sleeping, but falls and destroys 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 dead human who has been empowered and brainwashed by Jor-El. In the fourth season episode Crusade, he flies properly, but only in his Kal-El persona. The limitation on this power is due to the "No Tights, No Flights" rule made by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar to make Smallville more believable. Within the continuity of the show it is explained that he will not be able to fly until he embraces his Kryptonian destiny.

Clark also exhibits a healing factor seen rarely in the comics. Any wound he suffers appears to heal within seconds. If he suffers injuries during a period of power loss, any wounds will heal up as soon as his powers return. This power doesn't appear to have limits; for example, in the sixth season episode "Wither," an alien plant impales him through the chest for an extended period of time, yet upon the plant's removal, he appeared recovered within seconds. The first episode of the seventh season, "Bizarro", reveals that Clark is almost immediately healed of any wounds (as well as super-charged) in the presence of the yellow sun. Clark is also noted to have an exceptional sense of balance for he has never tripped without the use of Kryptonite or some form of mind control (stated in "Jinx"). His immune system also provides a defense against virtually all forms of Earth disease, which is broken very rarely (temporarily by an artificially created and fatal-to-humans virus in "Scare", and once again in "Sneeze", presumably due to Clark's loss of his powers during his time in the Phantom Zone).

In addition 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, but rather some appear particular to Kal-El himself. The third season episode "Hereafter", explores Clark's immortality and his ability to alter the destiny of others. Later in Season 3, in the episode "Resurrection", it is said Clark's blood has the power to revive the dead. In addition, his spirit itself is accredited with special healing properties in season four's "Transference". He even affects the moral inclinations of others for an extended period of time. Clark has also shown to have limited defenses against psionic powers. One episode had a character unsuccessfully try to read Clark's mind. However, Clark's mind also seems to have differing vulnerabilities than a human's, as in the fourth season episode "Blank," another character inadvertently wiped out Clark's entire memory, while he was trying to merely erase the last few moments (and his powers were never seen to have any impact greater than that on humans). This may have been due to the Kryptonite-infusion procedure which gave that character his powers.

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. Superman possesses the powers of flight, superhuman strength, x-ray vision, heat vision, cold breath, super-speed, enhanced hearing, and incredible invulnerability. While Superman is immensely strong both in terms of muscle power and ability to take physical punishment, he is not all-powerful. He can be injured, bleed, and conceivably be killed, and sometimes he has been known to strain and sweat when performing superhuman feats of strength, as demonstrated in "Doomsday Sanction" when he is ambushed by Doomsday while catching his breath after using his own body to drill several holes in the ground to vent the magma from a volcano. In the Superman episode "Little Girl Lost", Superman was able to hurl a huge comet through space to stop it from hitting Earth. Superman killed a whole army of Parademons with a huge blast of his heat vision. Superman also has the ability to precisely control his muscles, which allows him to imitate any human voice.

Superman derives his power from the yellow sun of Earth. Forced under a red sun akin to the red sun of his homeworld, Krypton, or exposed to red sun radiation, Superman rapidly loses his powers, reverting to the stature of a normal human.<ref>S:TAS - The Main Man, Part II; S:TAS - Solar Power; S:TAS - Legacy, Part II

Aside from red sun radiation, Superman's main weakness is Kryptonite, radioactive shards of his former home planet. Exposure to Kryptonite will rob Superman of his power, and with prolonged exposure, will kill him.S:TAS - A Little Piece of Home

Superman's only other known weakness is magic, which can injure him as easily as it can any other being.

However, at one time Superman said that he hasn't shown his full power because "he feels like he lives in a world full of cardboard" and the risk he could kill someone in the Justice League Unlimited finale, "Destroyer". Seeing that Darkseid merged with Brainiac to become a more formidable villain, and Batman's perseverance, Superman decides to "cut loose", fighting Darkseid at full force virtually outclassing the villain in stature. At full force, Superman was shown to be either on even terms with Darkseid or superior.Justice League Unlimited - Destroyer</ref>

Video games

Superman as seen in the game Justic League Heroes had super strength, freezing breath, invulnerabilty, heat vision, and flight.

Superman as seen in the game Superman Returns, based on the film, his powers consist of ice breath, super strength, flight, super speed,heat vision and invulnerability (in the game, health is measured in property damage, not damage to Superman).

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