Despite his science-fiction ET origin, Superman’s body would make more sense if it were powered by magic.
He just doesn’t make sense at all. No matter how super his lungs are, they don't have the capacity to contain giant clouds of deadly gas. Super-eyes won't help him see something so far away the light can't have reached him. It would make perfect sense if, instead of being powered by solar energy, his body ran on magical, wish-fulfillment logic. If an ordinary person can do X, then obviously Superman can do X squared. Even things like super-kissing.
This approach has given Superman’s body some random properties and abilities over the decades, such as the power to stop his own heart beating. Writers fleshing out the details of his Kryptonian power-set — does Superman sweat? Does he sleep? — have added more oddities. Plus, of course, there are the times a writer made up some weird factoid that served a particular story, then nobody ever used it again.
Even Superman doesn’t know everything his body can do - unless, of course, he’s reading Screen Rant. Because here are we've got some amazing random details about Superman’s body: what it can do, what it can’t do, and the things that happen to it.
Here are 16 Wild Details About Superman's Body.
According to Superman #249 Kryptonians are almost as bad at managing emotion as Vulcans.
In the middle of Superman’s first battle with Terra-Man, his body starts malfunctioning. He's suspended upside down in mid-air. It’s not the villain’s doing, it’s due to Superman’s Kryptonian birthday.
On Krypton, people mark every sixth birthday by a massive, stress-relieving crying jag.
The effect on Superman’s super-body is unfortunately a lot more drastic.
A subsequent backup story explained that Kryptonians were biologically incapable of expressing grief. The repressed emotion manifested as destructive poltergeist phenomena. Finally one leader developed a treatment to relieve the stress with the every-six-years outburst of tears.
Having served its purpose — complicating the Superman/Terra-Man fight — this weird weakness was never mentioned again. That was probably a good call.
Superman’s invulnerability lets him live without food, water, air or even a heartbeat.
This is less remarkable than it sounds. Superman can stop his heart, appearing dead to any medical test, but he has to lie still. It's not like he can fly or punch out bad guys when his heart isn’t beating. After he’s done fooling Luthor (or whoever), though, he can start it back up again.
The evidence indicates he can stop his heart for at least several days.
It’s a magical-logic superpower. Eastern mystics can slow their heartbeat and enter a trance. Therefore logically Superman can do the same thing, only better and for longer. It sort of makes sense considering that Superman, before John Byrne’s mid-1980s reboot, didn’t need to breathe, either. If his cells don’t need oxygen, they can probably do without blood circulating.
Prior to the Byrne reboot, green kryptonite had zero effect on humans or non-super Kryptonians. It wasn’t until Brave and the Bold #175 that we learned why.
Earth’s yellow sun endows Superman with invulnerability by affecting him at the molecular level, making his body dense and impenetrable. The radioactive subatomic particles kryptonite gives off are so small and fast they pass through most living tissue without any effect.
Superman’s body having such a dense molecular structure makes it trap the particles, allowing them to work their lethal effect on him. The plot of the issue concerns Metallo finding a way to slow the particles down to the point where they can destroy humans. Too bad for Metallo that Batman and Lois Lane were around to stop him.
As we all know, along with inflicting unspeakable pain, green kryptonite exposure slowly saps Superman’s strength, flight, speed and so forth. But does it sap his invulnerability? If Superman were lying on the floor, paralyzed from green k, could Luthor or Toyman put a bullet in him?
Superman stories are inconsistent on this. Most of them show that even a Superman on the edge of life is still invulnerable to everything else. A few stories disagree: the first kryptonite story, for instance, has bad guys knocking out the weakened Superman. In World’s Finest #87, Superman swallows kryptonite dust, which cancels out his powers. The bad guy decides to shoot him. Too bad for him Superman’s costume isn’t vulnerable to kryptonite, so the bullet bounces off.
So vulnerable — or not? It's the sort of contradiction you get when a character’s been around for 80 years.
Silver Age comics were all about the covers. Struggling for space at the local drugstore, they had to shriek "Buy Me Now!" to kids browsing the spinner rack. The bizarre changes that red kryptonite and magical curses put Superman through were tailor made for cover images. Plus, of course, they made it easy to come up with stories, month after month: how will Superman fight crime when Mxyzptlk turns him into a magician’s rabbit?
Superman’s had the head of a lion and the head of an ant. His body has transformed into a monstrous Kryptonian drang. He’s become super-fat. He's grown an eye in the back of his head. Red kryptonite has turned him into a giant and shrunk him to bullet-size.
It could be worse. Red kryponite once turned Krypto into a female dog… who had puppies.
Hot on the heels of the 1990s’ “Death of Superman” arc came the “Reign of the Superman,” where four apparent Superman appeared to claim his mantle. One of them, a reckless and cocky Superboy, discovered he was apparently Superman’s clone, the creation of Project Cadmus.
Nope. Even in death, Superman’s invulnerable cells made it nearly impossible to extract his DNA. After the one clone Cadmus did make rebelled and left, the director decided it was simpler to clone himself. Cadmus then gen-engineered the clone to look like Superman, and to fake his powers. Telekinesis let Superboy fly, lift things, and bounce bullets off a forcefield.
DC writer Geoff Johns eventually retconned this out in favor of making Superboy a mix of Superman and Luthor DNA, angsting over whether he’d join Lex on the dark side. The original “Krypton Kid” was a lot more fun.
It’s true nobody has ever received an organ donation from Superman. However if a genius like Luthor says Supes’ organs are proof against rejection, we're not going to argue.
In World’s Finest #189, Superman apparently passes away. Luthor transplants his organs into four top crime bosses, giving them superpowers (e.g., super-vision from eye transplants) with zero risk of tissue rejection. The organs, however, are fake. Why yes, this is one of those absurdly elaborate super-ruses Superman liked to pull. It did smoke the mob bosses out of hiding, but given one of them dies when the fake lungs collapse, it was a really bad ruse.
Superman’s also a universal blood donor, no matter what the recipient’s blood type. As his blood can also give the recipient temporary superpowers, the Man of Steel doesn’t donate without a good reason.
With 80 years of multiple monthly stories, writers have had the time to divulge and toss off lots of tiny details about what Superman’s body can do. For example, Superman doesn’t sweat, as his invulnerable bod doesn’t suffer from overheating. He doesn't tan, as ultraviolet solar rays have zero effect on his skin. Superman’s ambidextrous, able not only to write with both hands but write two different documents simultaneously. Credit for that one goes to his super-coordination.
One of the odder special talents, tossed off in Action #317, is that because Superman’s invulnerable, he doesn’t blush. How does that make sense? Then again if he can stop his heart, he can probably control the rush of blood that causes blushing, so it’s not totally outrageous.
Superman’s super-senses are a perfect example of his powers being more magic than science. Even super-senses need a physical trigger to react to. Sound, for instance, travels at a fixed speed through air so there’s no scientific way Superman can immediately hear something a thousand miles away. By magical logic, it makes perfect sense that his super senses would be as far beyond ordinary humans as his strength and speed are.
In Superboy #167, Superbaby is causing trouble halfway around the world. To lure him home, Martha whips up some pancakes, knowing as soon as baby Clark smells them he’ll rush back for breakfast. The molecules carrying the smell of the pancakes couldn’t possibly reach Clark that fast, but the trick worked.
Some fans have suggested we should treat his sensory powers as a psi-ability. But the comics canon is that they stem from his body.
Possibly not even Superman knows as much about his body as the Superman Revenge Squad. A cadre of aliens with scores to settle, they’ve researched Superman in depth. They can even predict the unpredictably random effects of red kryptonite. The Squad's research has shown that while Superman's body can go without sleep, he still needs to dream - not as much as Earthlings, but lack of REM sleep will eventually impair his judgment.
In Superman #365, the Revengers put their knowledge to work.
After five days of sleepless heroism, Superman's judgment is flawed.
The Squad has zapped Supergirl to duplicate a state of extreme sleep deprivation. Kara goes completely bananas and tries to destroy Superman. As Supergirl says in the story, when you have the powers Kryptonians do, even a slight error in judgment can be lethal.
The yellow light of Earth’s sun gives Superman superpowers. The antagonistic rays of a red sun take them away. Over the years, various stories have tackled the question of what other suns do to Superman’s body.
Green suns cancel out his powers the same as red suns.
White stars give Superman even more power than a yellow sun.
Even us ordinary Earth humans, if we were in a white dwarf star system, would gain the powers Superman wields on Earth.
Blue stars also supercharge Superman’s body. Under a blue sun, Superman can even transfer some of his added power to other people with “superman vision.”
On a sunless world, the Byrne Superman would have no powers once he exhausted his stored energy. The pre-reboot Superman derived strength and speed from Earth’s lighter gravity, not sunlight, so he could still do a lot of damage.
In the Silver Age it wasn’t just Superman and Supergirl. Everything that survived Krypton’s destruction and didn’t turn to kryptonite became super in Earth’s environment. If it was something like a raygun or a knife that could hurt Kal-El on Krypton, it could hurt Superman here.
This seems to be another example of magical logic, as inanimate objects don’t have living cells to absorb yellow solar energy.
It makes symbolic sense that a Kryptonian sword would be super enough to cut Superman, that was what they went with.
As few such items have shown up post-reboot, it’s unclear whether this weakness still holds. It’s probably better if it doesn’t. After all, this vulnerability would make it possible for someone to knock Superman cold just by clubbing him with a Kryptonian chair.
By human standards, of course, there’s nothing weak about the man whom Action #1 said could leap 1/8 of a mile, outrun an express train and “nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate his skin.”
Compared to the level of power we’re used to in Superman, he’s puny.
In the Silver Age, DC established the Golde Age Superman of Action #1 existed on Earth-Two, a distinct character from the present-day Superman. When we finally met S-Two, he seemed just as powerful as his Earth-One counterpart.
Later writers explained that while Earth-One’s Kal-El had rocketed to Earth as a toddler, Earth-Two’s Kal-L left Krypton as a baby. Kal-L’s powers took longer to develop because his muscles had never pushed against Krypton’s heavy gravity. It took years before L could finally equal El.
Our sun, in Superman comics, is really amazing. Not only does it charge up Superman’s living cells with energy, it energizes the dead cells in his hair and fingernails. They’re as invulnerable and tough as the rest of him, which poses a problem: how does he cut them? The Byrne-reboot Superman did it with heat vision, reflected off a shiny piece of the rocket that brought him to Earth. Before the reboot, it was more complicated.
While you might think Superman’s super body would grow super hair super fast, the opposite was true pre-reboot: his hair and nails don’t grow at all.
Superboy's problem wasn’t getting his hair or nails cut, it was explaining why he never went to Smallville’s barber. The Kents convinced the man Clark was bald from illness, wearing a wig to hide the truth. The barber agreed to keep Clark's secret.
Right from the first, Superman was an alien. His introduction in Action #1 established his Kryptonian body is millions of years more advanced than homo sapiens. That explanation for his powers faded, but the sense he was alien didn’t. His body can’t express sorrow. He has pressure points in weird places. Whatever Kryptonians evolved from, it wasn’t our ancestors.
At the same time, the stories treat Superman as completely an Earthman, just with powers. Take them away — and they’ve been taken away a lot — and he’s as human as Lois or Jimmy. While some stories assert human and Kryptonian DNA are incompatible, there have been more that assume he and Lois could have children.
It doesn’t make much sense to have an alien be biologically human.
But dramatically speaking, it works much better than a more realistic approach would have.
Humans have a rough idea of their bodies’ limitations. Superman isn’t sure of his.
In hindsight, Superman’s strength levels in Action #1 didn't show the limits of his powers, but of his knowledge. He knew "nothing less than a bursting shell" could hurt him, but he hadn't learned even bursting shells weren't a threat. Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel Kryptonite uses the same premise. Superman doesn't truly know the limits of his invulnerability, so he worries every new challenge — lava, liquid nitrogen — could be the one he can't survive. The New Adventures of Superboy showed Clark constantly discovering new limits and secrets, such as what red sun radiation does to him.
Even in the 21st century, Superman’s still learning. In Superman #38 he discovered he can discharge his stored solar energy in one massive flare. It may not be the last new trick the old dog learns.
Any trivia about Superman's body we missed? Let us know in comments.