Monday, 11 June 2012

Spotlight on Superman

Previously I weighed up the benefits of living in Metropolis versus living in Gotham, and we discovered that Metropolis is just as dangerous as Gotham without any of the edgy, rock-and-roll fun. Metropolis is pretty boring and one of the best reasons for living there is proximity to Superman. He’ll almost definitely save your arse from the wide variety of disasters, accidents and crimes that occur regularly around the city. He is a living god in humanoid form and he’s also a really nice, down to earth, responsible guy. He’s practically perfect in every way! Well, almost every way.

Not always that bright though...

Read more after the super-click!


We all know he’s from Krypton, sent away from the doomed planet in a space-capsule when he was a baby. We all know that chunks of kryptonite, a mineral compound from his home planet, can render him powerless and weak. So the logic part of your brain has probably realised that on his home planet of Krypton, the people didn’t have superpowers. Before Krypton blew up the residents weren’t super-strong, super-fast or nigh invulnerable and they didn’t have x-ray or laser vision. But I bet after Krypton blew up each of them could briefly fly, eh? Get it? HA!

Anyway, this is where it gets quite silly – the source of Superman’s powers. Most of the time it is an unresolved plot hole but where an attempt is made to explain it, things get even stupider. A quick disclaimer: although I do love them, I am far from a comic book expert. Different writers give different explanations for his powers, all the god damn time, some of which are contradictory.

Superman gets his powers from our yellow sun. Kryptonians evolved on a planet orbiting a low-energy red giant, requiring their cellular structures to absorb solar energy much more efficiently than humans. Their sun’s energy output was much lower compared to ours, so when Kryptonians are exposed to our younger, higher-energy star they get hyper-charged and eventually develop all kinds of insane super-powers. In the case of Kal-El (aka Clark Kent or Superman) it appears to take about thirteen or fourteen years, from infancy to pubescence. But I guess everyone suffers from radiation poisoning differently.

Yes, radiation poisoning.

 Those aren’t muscles, they’re tumours

When humans are over-exposed to radiation we don’t get hyper-charged. We don’t develop unusual and excessive super-powers. We don’t even build up an infinite stock of vitamin D from our own sun. Maybe we should find a sun younger than our own with a higher energy output, but I’m pretty sure what will happen is that we’ll get horribly sick. The symptoms of radiation poisoning in humans are burns, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, immune system deficiencies, dizziness, headaches, fever, seizures, liver and kidney failure and maybe sometimes hair loss, of course.

Lex Luthor

In some versions, Lex Luthor was made hairless by an accident during one of his own, youthful experiments. In other versions it’s the radiation being poured out by baby Kal-El’s space-capsule that makes him bald – there may have been a lot of other symptoms too, but his parents could afford the best possible medical aid for their baby. How many others around Smallville without access to internationally renowned doctors also suffered radiation poisoning? How many other vulnerable humans, including other babies, were beneath the flight-path?

But apparently for Kryptonians the symptoms of radiation poisoning include the ability to shoot lasers out of their eyes, x-ray vision and damn telekinesis. Yep, psychic powers. This is the deal:

Telekinesis is sometimes used to explain how he can fly. This makes more sense than Lex Luthor’s own speculation that Krypton might have higher gravity which would cause Kryptonians to evolve anti-gravity organs. Telekinesis is also sometimes used to explain his invulnerability; since his skin-tight outfit can usually survive whatever he can (including bullets, bombs and fiery atmospheric re-entry) the writers sometimes explain that this is the ‘aura effect’ of the psychokinetic, biomatrix forcefield that protects him at all times. Sometimes they explain that the radiation of the yellow sun causes his skin to be harder than titanium, which is again a very strange reaction to radiation poisoning. Telekinesis is also sometimes used to explain his super-strength, such as when he grips an object by a part that could never support the weight – holding a car by the bumper or a plane by the end of its wing for example.

 This. Just like this

How fair is that?! We get poisoned by too much radiation, but he gets amazing powers?! Some theories floating around suggest that since the Kryptonian technology is so much more advanced than ours, it might have something to do with their ability to recycle radiation usefully. Maybe there were crystalline structures planted in every Kryptonian’s body at birth. Maybe it took a decade or so for the crystals in his brain to work out how to alter Clark’s eyes and fire out the radiation they’d absorbed, or use it to make his brain telekinetic. If Krypton had survived and he’d lived there his whole life then maybe the technological enhancements to his body would have merely kept his immune system strong, eradicated cancerous cells and prevented senile dementia, as may have been their original intention. Indeed, this might help explain how he wiped Lois Lane’s memory that one time, or sent out a telekinetic blast in the shape of his logo (Superman 2 is appalling).

When he’s exposed to a much younger sun than ours, coloured blue rather than yellow, he gets even more powerful. Is it also a prettier sun, Clark? Is the blue sun funnier and sexier, too? Why don’t you just go and live with the younger blue sun permanently, if it’s so great for you? I bet its breasts are still pert, it doesn’t need to get up early because it has work in the morning, it doesn’t have stretch marks from decaying fusion emissions.

We're going to need a HUGE tub of ice cream

At least the chunks of his old home planet can poison him without affecting us humans whatsoever. Because he has a higher susceptibility to radiation, he’s violently allergic to the rocks from his homeworld that were rendered radioactive by the explosion. Green kryptonite will weaken or even kill him, but there are other varieties. Red kryptonite has in the past had a wide variety of random effects, from changing Superman into a dragon or dwarf to giving him telepathy or extra limbs (comic books are silly sometimes). There are also gold, white, black, silver, blue, pink and purple forms of kryptonite, a dozen other forms that aren’t colour-related and a few non-canon versions of fake Kryptonite like brown.

A useful reference guide! At least until the next ret-con

It’s been said (in Kill Bill) that the identity of Clark Kent is a sad comment on Kal-El’s experience of humanity – that the meek, awkward, cowardly persona is how he sees us. But personally I reject that interpretation. For the first years of his life he was the Kent kid, a skinny and bespectacled farm boy. His foster parents raised him to be hard-working and fair, and he loves them deeply. Their values are most visibly manifested when he puts on the Superman outfit (including their weird fetish for highly visible red underwear). Clark Kent is his true self and if anything, Superman is the comment on his experience of humanity. He’s the best of everything good about us - patient, understanding, helpful, self-sacrificing and even polite. If he wanted to he could rule us with an iron fist, being as cruel and decadent as he liked. But he doesn’t do that. He flies to our rescue every single time, even when it’s inconvenient or painful, because he actually kind of likes us.


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