Let’s get this out of the way up front: I am not a physicist, nor have I made an in-depth study of the subject. I also am no Superman geek who knows the entire canon. What I am is a science fiction writer with a better than fair passing knowledge of the character, and someone who was able to successfully explain Lost to my friends. That, right there, is qualification enough.
I’ve been thinking about Superman’s various powers over the years, and have spent much time arguing with fellow comic book fans over who is the better superhero in the DC universe, The Man of Steel, or Batman. Setting aside Batman’s obvious mental illness, Superman still comes out on top every time. “But Batman has beaten him more than once!” they say, as if that matters.
Riddle me this—Why doesn’t Superman just nuke him from orbit? The reason is obvious—Superman is actively trying not to kill his friend, but Batman has no such compunction. He fights like a lunatic, and the battle is therefore asymmetrical. I laugh at those who say Batman doesn’t kill—take a look at decades of comic history for the real story.
So, the issue of greatest being settled (at least in my mind), we come to the meat of the Batfriends’ major complaint—Superman is a god, and therefore is cheating as a superhero.
But, for the first time, I reveal here that Superman is no god. He doesn’t, in fact, have any powers at all.
For an explanation, we have to travel far back in time.
Krypton, by all accounts, was a planet orbiting a Red Giant. A Red Giant star is very old, at the far end of its lifespan, and by most theories began as a sun much as our own. At the end of its life with the majority of its hydrogen burnt, it feasts on the helium and iron byproducts and swells into a Red Giant, and swallows the inner planets whole as it expands. What’s left are the gas giants that were once orbiting far outside the habitable zone. Much of the gas on these planets would be stripped away by the solar wind as the star expanded, leaving a smaller—though still massive—planet. Krypton is one of these.
A planet such as Krypton might be more than four times Earth’s mass, with a toxic atmosphere and very low surface temperature. And it was here the “Kryptonians”, already a starfaring race, settled a small community to mine the planet for resources. These proto-Kryptonians were much like us (let’s just go with that for now) and could never have withstood the gravity or atmosphere, so they altered themselves with nano-technology to give them the ability to live on the planet without the need for environment suits. The nanites are intelligent enough to give the people whatever abilities are required for each given circumstance, and are powered by the radiation from the Red Giant.
Why nanites and not simply altering DNA? Because the proto-Kryptonians traveled to other planets, and each had their own needs.
At some point in Kryptonian history, they became a separate and distinct colony from their homeworld—far enough removed that they no longer remembered their origins. It was possibly due to an interstellar war, cutting off the distant colony, and leaving them to fend for themselves. This might explain their reluctance to leave a dying planet.
Once Kal-El arrived on Earth, our yellow sun—much richer in the radiation spectrum than Krypton’s sun—supercharged the nanites with the energy they needed to endow Superman with his abilities, and even explains his evolving powers over the years. The machines in his body give him the abilities he needs when he needs them. It clarifies his ability to stop a falling plane instead of just punching through it—the nanites forcefield emitted to protect him envelops whatever he is trying to stop. This even explains the effect kryptonite has on him but not humans. The radiation interferes with the normal functions of the nanites, not his biological systems, and is why he heals so quickly once the kryptonite is removed.
This is why he is the hero he is. He knows the nanites could fail at any given moment—that without their help he could die at any time—yet he charges head-first into every dangerous situation. This guy commits, and he does it on pure faith. The nanites are smart enough to know that, and only facilitate the outward expression of what the man already is—a hero.
Every single so-called plot hole can be wiped away (maybe even Bizzaro) with reliance on the technology we know the Kryptonians possessed.
Deus ex machina, indeed.
Superman may have come from Krypton, but he is not of Krypton.