As the first comic book character with powers beyond those of mortal men, Superman got a pass for a while. At his best, the Man of Steel represents and inspires the best in everyone.
He also has basically all of the superpowers and an unimpeachable moral sense. Mostly, this makes the character pretty boring. We aren't saying it's impossible to make interesting Superman stories, but it's a challenge.
The "Big Blue Boy Scout" doesn't just have these obstacles, however. It's easy to accept a character like Batman, whose abilities come from technology and intelligence. Even the Green Lantern's Power Ring follows simple, internal logic. However, one issue with Superman is that so little of what he is and does makes sense.
We don't just mean the parts where he comes from another planet or can fly through space without his blood boiling. We do mean those things, of course but not just those things. The more we think about him, the less sense he makes. We've collected some of the most glaring head-scratchers about the Last Son of Krypton below.
Here are the 15 Things That Make No Sense About Superman.
Obviously, someone as powerful and indestructible as Superman needs a weakness, and radioactive chunks of his home planet are as good as any. However, Kryptonite, like Kal-El’s remarkable resemblance to an Earthman, has gotten sillier over the decades.
If you asked us to explain how Kryptonite “works,” we’d say it’s either because the remnants of Krypton absorbed enough red-sun energy to weaken Superman or that whatever calamity destroyed the planet made them especially radioactive to him. However, neither version really covers the different varieties of the stuff, each with their own distinct effects.
The green version is deadly, red provided a handy metaphor for teen drinking on Smallville, gold removes Superman’s powers, and jewel Kryptonite gave General Zod psychic powers. It's like if uranium-238 killed people, but uranium-235 just made them really good dancers.
14 His time turning
No discussion of Superman’s nonsense moments would be complete without one of the most confounding events of all. Of course, we mean the scene at the end of Superman: The Movie when he flies so quickly around the world that he reverses time.
This lets him be in two places simultaneously and stop missiles traveling in opposite directions. It also prevents Lois from dying in an earthquake so that he could smooch a week’s worth of memories right out of her brain in the next movie.
We’ve thought about the time-reversal scene since we saw it, and we’re no closer to understanding. Did Superman reverse all of time or just Earth’s? It’s the second one, does that mean that Earth is 10 minutes behind the rest of the universe? This movie came out 40 years ago, and it still hurts to think about it.
13 He's an alien who looks exactly like a human
Having alien characters who naturally blend in perfectly with a human population is a time-honored sci-fi trope. It’s so popular that we almost didn’t include it here. However, we did because its become progressively less probable as the DC Universe has expanded.
When Superman was the only game in town, it was definitely weird. However, once the publisher started introducing groups like the Green Lantern Corps, which is made up of myriad different species from all over the universe, the odds behind Clark Kent’s resemblance to people have become astronomical.
The common write-around is that Jor-El chose to send his infant son to Earth specifically because he knew he’d be able to pass as human. However, the fact that this was even an option is still baffling.
12 The magical, disappearing cape
One of Superman’s most enduring and iconic images is pulling his civilian shirt open to reveal his emblem underneath. This simple act represents the hero that resides within all of us… and a logistical nightmare.
If we assume that all Clark Kent has to do to become Superman is shed his work clothes, it implies that the full costume is always on underneath. Since it’s basically skintight underwear, that works fine. However, what about the cape?
Presumably, he’s always wearing that, too. However, where does he keep the approximately 25 square feet of material hanging down his back at all times? We can think of some options, like wrapping it around his midsection or running it down one leg or the other. Those would probably just make weird, noticeable bulges in his clothes, though.
The Flash keeps his costume inside a ring, and we have fewer issues with that.
Originally, Superman couldn’t fly. Thanks to his strength and Earth’s lower gravity, “all” he could do was “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” However, an issue with the early animated shorts changed this — and added new problems.
The artists at Fleischer Studios, who made the cartoons in the ‘40s, had trouble not making the jumping animation look ridiculous. So they asked the comics publisher if they could just make Superman fly, instead.
It was an interesting solution, but the character’s ability to levitate and change direction in midair just has us struggling to figure it out. The best we can do is that it’s some kind of passive telekinesis, which somehow makes even less sense than the original idea of his body never acclimating to the gravity of a planet he’d lived on for 30 years.
10 Super lungs
We’ll accept that Kal-El’s lungs and diaphragm are as strong as the rest of his muscles, so sure, he can blow harder than anyone on Earth. It’s even halfway feasible that he can move air so quickly that he can make it cold enough to freeze the top of a lake like he does while putting out a fire in Superman III.
However, we’re less sold on those times that he displays a lung capacity roughly equivalent to a hot-air ballon. He demonstrates this ability in A Death in the Family, when he inhales an entire room’s worth of Joker gas to save the United Nations.
It’s a cool trick and looks great on the page. However, even if he were able to only breathe in the bad stuff and not the normal air, it still seems like an impossible amount to inhale.
9 The power of Earth's yellow sun
The in-universe explanation for Superman’s powers is that his body processes the light from Earth’s yellow sun differently from how native Kryptonians reacted to that planet’s red star, Rao.
It’s either a red supergiant or a red dwarf, depending on which issue you’re reading. However, the main point is that either Rao suppresses Kryptonians’ natural superpowers, or Earth’s star, Sol, unlocks them.
The second explanation is more common and involves specialized organs in Kryptonians that can store up “yellow-sun energy” and convert them into abilities like flying and laser eyes. Ignoring the immense evolutionary coincidence this represents we just aren’t sure how it works.
Since the only real specified difference between Rao and Sol are the colors of light they put out, it seems like luring Superman into a photographer's darkroom and flipping on the red bulb would cripple him.
8 Vulnerability to Doomsday
The being that killed Superman in 1992 came from decades of genetic experimentation on prehistoric Krypton. This suggests a pretty convenient way for him to have taken down the Man of Steel, but don’t get too excited. Doomsday is not Kryptonian; he just grew up there.
So when the killer creature is somehow able to punch Superman hard enough for the bony protrusions in its fists to cut him, not even the hero knows why it’s happening.
The retroactive explanation was that Doomsday’s body immediately adapts to combat whatever he’s facing, but how does that translate to bones hard enough to cut Superman but brittle enough that he can break them?
Obviously the writers were more interested in killing the character off than coming up with a plausible way to do so. But “he's just really pointy” feels pretty cheap.
7 Bio-electric aura (and ability to enlarge it)
If you’ve ever wondered how Superman can withstand nuclear explosions without ending up naked once the fires fade, this is your answer. In some versions, he has a bio-electrical “aura” that extends a few millimeters from his skin. It’s also responsible for his invincibility. All of this makes relative amounts of sense so far.
However, in All-Star Superman, the Man of Steel spontaneously generates the ability to extend this protective field far enough to stop a space ship from falling into the sun and tow it to safety. And that’s really where it loses us.
We’re especially baffled because it looks like Superman is projecting the thing behind him, completely separately from himself. If that’s the case, then what’s protecting him from all that space radiation? The whole point was to show that being that close to the sun boosted his power. However, it’s still nonsense.
6 Eye Powers
Heat vision gets a partial pass here because we can come up with a good-enough explanation for it: Superman is gathering solar energy and then releasing it out of his eyes using his pupils to focus it into tight beams. That’s fine. However, the rest of his magical peeper powers are a bit hard to grasp.
How does x-ray vision work, for example? We assume he’s not literally emitting dangerous x-rays; that would kill everyone. However, if he’s not, why doesn’t it work on lead? Also, how about telescopic and microscopic vision? That’s just kind of not how eyes work, which is why we had to invent telescopes and microscopes in the first place.
However, our favorite ridiculous eye-bility appears in Superman IV, when Nuclear Man smashes up the Great Wall of China, and Superman repairs the damage by staring the bricks back into place.
5 Optionally invisible heat vision
We could only give Superman’s heat vision a partial pass, and here’s why: Sometimes, it’s invisible.
That isn’t usually the case. It’s often red beams shooting from his eyes. Smallville and Superman Returns provide alternate looks for the power, representing it as waves of (still visible) heat. However, every once in a while, Kal-El decides to get sneaky.
He does so when he directs a microscopic beam of heat through Manchester Black’s pupils to cut out the overgrown part of the villain’s brain that gives him his abilities. This is microscopic, though, so we weren’t too mad we couldn’t see it.
In a fight with the Ultramarine Corps, however, he uses it to imperceptibly blow up a tank. However, we see his eyes glowing and a flash where the beam reflects off of a bit of metal, so we have no idea how any of this is happening.
4 Super hearing... in space
Like telescopic vision, we have no idea how Superman can hear things really far away. We’re OK with him being able to perceive sounds of higher or lower frequency than a human’s because dogs can do that, and they’re very real.
However, we also remember that scene in Superman Returns when he’s floating out in space and can hear everything happening on Earth. This is despite the fact that half of that racket (the stuff on the far side of the planet) is pointed away from him and the fact that sound doesn’t travel in a vacuum.
We’ve even read interpretations of this feat that say that Superman can hear noises before they even reach him to vibrate his eardrums, which is no version of hearing that we’ve ever heard of.
3 Flying faster than light
We know that Superman can’t beat The Flash in a straightforward foot race, which means that the Man of Steel runs somewhere under the speed of light. However, things get ludicrous when he flies between planets and stars.
The thing about outer space is that a lot of it exists-- and things are pretty far apart. However, comic book writers have let themselves get crazy with physics to get Superman where he needs to be, and if you do the math, it gets ridiculous.
In one issue, he flies from Pluto to Earth in under a minute, which means he was traveling almost 300 times the speed of light. He also once returned to this planet from the edge of the universe in 60 days, which means he was going about 174 million times faster than light on that trip-- and that's just cheating at physics.
2 Lifting ridiculously large things
Speaking of cheating at physics. Our issue with this isn’t a matter of strength because we’ve learned to accept by now that Superman is as strong as the story requires. Does he need to carry a building or lift a mountain? How about taking a Kryptonite island into space? He can make it happen, and we’re happy to see it. Our issue here is area.
We don’t doubt that Superman can exert enough force to pick up a 747. However, he’s only the shape of a man, albeit a large one. This means that he’s directing hundreds of thousands of pounds of force into just a few square feet of space. His hands would push right into the plane like a pin popping a balloon.
The comics say that his bio-electrical aura keeps this from happening, but we’ve already mentioned how we feel about that.
1 The end of Superman II
Superman II is one of the best cinematic outings for The Man of Tomorrow, but wow-- that ending. After a mostly solid plot that has our hero going up against equally matched rogue Kryptonians, the finale in the Fortress of Solitude introduces a series of extra powers that we hadn’t seen before or since. This is for good reason because most of them are incredibly dumb.
At one point, Superman removes the emblem from his chest and throws it at his enemy. It expands in midair and ensnares the villain like a net... then it disappears. He also teleports around the room a few times, and the weirdness doesn’t stop there.
The final scene introduces the infamous “Amnesia Kiss” that Clark uses to make Lois Lane forget his secret identity. She’s also missing several days of her life, but we assume she got caught up eventually.
Can you think of any other facts about Superman that don't make any sense? Sound off in the comment section!