WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Superman #41
Superman is strong, but DC just revealed that the power of prayer is his secret weakness. The twist comes in a story exceptionally charged with religious ideas and hard questions posed to both the Man of Steel and the reader. When Superman gets the chance to save a planet from Krypton's fate, he's faced with an unthinkable obstacle: the alien inhabitants don't want to be saved.
The premise of Superman #40 is enough to change the game for Kal-El on its own: what does Superman do when innocents don't wan't to be saved? But as his own beliefs and values start to creep in, the faith and religion of the planet's population begins to fight back. And when a planet is united in prayer against Superman... his powers fail like never before.
The story cooked up by writer James Robinson and artist Ed Benes may seem controversial without knowing the full context. After all, this isn't a monotheistic, Judeo-Christian, or an other Earthly 'god' being prayed to. It is the seemingly dominant deity of the planet Galymayne, known as 'Dhermet.' A god who is worshiped devoutly by, apparently, every being on the planet.
And whose will, their religious leaders claim, is for the planet to be obliterated along with everything and everyone on it.
The parallels to Krypton's own end are too numerous to count, as is clearly the point of Robinson's parable. In fact, this adventure even takes place on the anniversary of Krypton's destruction. That's why Superman had his son Jonathan with him when his alarm for any Krypton-esque planetary threats was tripped. And that's why he lets Jonathan tag along with him to Galymayne, assuming it will be one chance to prevent the annihilation of another cosmic civilization.
Once touching down on the aquatic world populated by an alien mixture of humanoid dolphins, the truth is hard for Superman to fathom. He's a good man, Supes... but the idea of the planetary leaders simply letting their race be wiped out is outside his understanding. And in a rare occurrence, the Man of Steel's own belief beings to creep towards ignorance.
When he refuses to take the religious leader's word as final, insisting he must not speak for everyone... the chief zealot has no choice. They will remove his powers so that he will perish along with them... by the will of Dhermet.
It's long been accepted DC canon that Superman has a vulnerability to magic. As most comic fans know, Superman's weakness to magic has been a common plot beat - and what has made him susceptible to magically-powered villains from Black Adam to Mr. Mxyzptlk (and why a rumored Superman cameo in Shazam could be unforgettable). The citizens of the planet Galymayne don't have magic, or kryptonite, for that matter. But they have their faith.
And believe it or not, that faith is enough to weaken Superman's powers. The momentary update to Superman mythology is sure to stun some fans, since the comic gives no sign of any inherent mysticism, latent supernatural forces, or any other explanation. As the beings of Galymayne speak the name of their god, their collective faith has the same effect on Superman as magical interference.
In the end of this "Suicide Planet" story told in Superman #41, the confusion surrounding the planet's impending destruction seems to dull the effect. But no sooner than Superman's powers return to full blast, the leader of the zealots explains he has been swayed by Superman's honor. His planet, and his people will not be saved... but Superman's attempt to save them is, in some way, further evidence of Dhermet's will.
We won't spoil the outcomes of the issue, but Superman fans take note: DC has added the power of faith and collective prayer to Superman's list of known weaknesses.
Nobody tell Lex.
Superman #41 is available in local comic book shops and online services now.
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