Warning: SPOILERS for Superman #2
The latest issue of Superman reveals the one reason why The Man of Steel never turns off his super-hearing to shut out the world around him. The fact that Superman is physically capable of shutting off his ability to hear things at a great distance is surprising enough... but that revelation is nothing compared to the reason why he chooses never to do it.
While Superman has some amazing powers, the power of super-hearing is not one that most people usually fantasize about having. Despite this, it is one of the most versatile abilities that Superman possesses and is possibly the one he uses the most often on a daily basis. It is the power of super-hearing that most frequently informs Clark Kent of dangers that require his attention as Superman. Beyond allowing him to hear things at a great distance and detect the quickened heartbeat of someone attempting to lie to him, Superman is also capable of hearing ultrasonic frequencies and radio waves when he focuses his attention on a specific frequency.
Superman #2 sees Superman recalling a conversation with Green Arrow, as he sees the entire Earth being mysteriously drawn through a giant portal into The Phantom Zone. Oliver Queen asked Clark Kent privately how he could possibly stand having the power to hear everything on Earth. To The Emerald Archer's mind, nothing could be worse than hearing every call for help, and every scream of terror and knowing, even with all the power that he possessed, that he couldn't save everyone.
This leads to the revelation that Superman can turn off his super-hearing and tune out things he does not want to hear... but he chooses not to. The reason for this is far from selfless, as one might think. Everyone already knows that people around the world are suffering, Clark Kent points out, and that there is nothing that they can do to save everyone. His being able to hear every crying child and dying breath does nothing to change that reality.
So why does Superman subject himself to the sounds of all the pain in the world? Because he also hears all the world's joy. Every tearful reunion as loved ones are reunited. Every cheering crowd when the home team wins. Every cry of relief when a child is pulled from harm's way. He gets to hear all that and share in people's happiness, and more, how often someone else answers the cries for help before he has to intervene.
Even as he is subjected to the worst the world has to offer, Superman also gets to experience humanity at its best. That is why he considers his super-hearing to be a blessing, not only for how it allows him to help others but also for how it reminds him what he is fighting for. It is a noble lesson to be certain and the real reason why Clark Kent is Superman, with or without any powers.
Superman #2 is now available from DC Comics.