Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a Plane! No, it’s … it’s … well … what is it, exactly? The idea of a Superman, from DC Comics, has been one that has fascinated the minds and hearts of adults and children since 1938. Having undergone many revisions and spin-offs from the main character, multiple movies, and even death and resurrection, Superman has endured through the ages as one might expect from the Son of Krypton. And, while a lot of energy has been expended trying to explain Superman’s powers based on the conversion of radioactivity to physical energy, the world of physics and Krypton have less in common than that of Superman and the Green Lantern. Amongst all the explanations for Superman’s powers, one explanation, above all, could provide a much more realistic understanding of the hero’s powers.
The story begins a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away …. (no … stop with the Star Wars music … wrong movie!!) – A young infant by the name of Kal-El (the family crest of which, is remarkably similar to the letter “S” on Superman’s chest), is transported to Earth by his parents in order to save him from the destruction of their home world. Mom and dad, of course, knew that they were sending their son to a world in which he would be as a god in comparative power, strength, and knowledge to the people of Earth. Why? According to the Superman legend, the Man of Steel can absorb the light energy from every colored star (except for a Red star), and convert the electromagnetic / radioactive energy into fuel for his body.
The stored energy in Superman’s cells give him a variety of powers and abilities. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of physics to support Superman’s actual powers. For example, Superman’s “heat vision” is an expulsion of condensed, radioactivity, from his eyes. Unless he was born with a layer of transparent, heat expelling cells, in front of his eyes, this is not so plausible as the eyes absorb light, but do not expel it. Technically, if Superman’s cells were able to expel concentrated/stored energy, then he should be able to do so from anywhere on his body. It is also not an option to argue that the beams come from his eyes because the outer lenses of his eyes would not allow him to focus the light into a concentrated blast. Much like Scott Summers (aka Cyclops) from the X-Men (Marvel Comics), any light expelling from the eyes would shoot out in all directions given the shape and form of the eyes.
Furthermore, the intake and expulsion of heat would damage Superman’s flesh (if it were biological in nature). Even if one argued that Superman’s natural healing abilities or other power countered the heat, only a few, known substances can withstand those levels of heat … and it’s not biological in nature.
The next fallacy is Superman’s ability to fly. If the premise were that Superman could simply leap tall buildings in a single bound, then his powers would be plausible as the stored energy in his body would give his muscles an exponentially larger power source from which to draw than any human. But, staying airborne is not an act of physical strength, unless Superman possessed the same physical attributes of … say … a humming bird (or a helicopter – and please don’t think that he micro-flutters his feet like a faerie … because … that’s stupid). Now, if Superman is able to generate his own electromagnetic field and then manipulate said field to give him lift (Dragonball Z reference), then perhaps his flying makes a lot more sense (as was later added to the Superman storyline to help explain his abilities). However, we’re left with the same problem as before. In order to manipulate his electromagnetic field, he would either have to have some special, physical anatomy that differed significantly from human anatomy giving him that skill (as was later added to the Superman storyline via his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor), or he would have to be able to alter his metabolism and blood flow for some purpose such as shifting iron in his blood toward his feet.
However, even with the above-referenced limitations and a slew of others not listed here, there is a much more plausible consideration for the alien from Krypton’s powers. It’s time to think of Superman outside of the vain, human-precept of superiority and accept the truth: Superman is an alien. Not all life in the universe has to be the same … ie “biological” (after all, look at “the Thing”).
Superman’s physical anatomy is more mineral than the human, carbon-based life. In fact, there are more references in the DC Universe and Superman’s story line to support this dramatic difference than any other explanation.
First of all, even though human’s are a carbon based life form, our cells are not arranged in a static, crystalline structure. While there is a crystalline structure to some of our cells (as we are carbon based life forms), that pattern is flexible, dynamic, and not necessarily present throughout. Thus, we can absorb energy from the sun, but it has to undergo power conversion at a very superficial level and does not truly ‘store’ as usable energy. Contrary to this, Superman’s cells act more like a mineral-crystal insomuch as they focus the energy through the dermal layers to an internal layer where the energy is actually stored (presumably the muscle tissue?). The level of absorption is so great, that only the hardest of crystals on the Earth could withstand such constant absorption. Even then, Earth’s crystals would begin to break down with that much concentrated energy being focused through them.
Next, many of Superman’s abilities, such as the ability to fly, require a focus of electromagnetic energy. This is a task that is not so easily performed by biological components. The human electromagnetic field is generated based on a combination of factors including, but not limited to: the electric signals zipping around through the nervous system, and the metabolism and iron being transported around the body. Thus, exertion of energy in one particular region could be a potential cause of increased electromagnetic energy … albeit incrementally small (even with the greatest level of exertion, human’s are more readily affected by tiny magnets than able to resist such forces). In order for Superman to strengthen his energy in his legs in such a way to manipulate his own, electromagnetic fields to push up against his own, lower torso, the amount of energy required would be staggering.
Even if Superman were to have the ability to release greater levels of electromagnetic energy in his lower torso, 1) the release of energy would make him a danger to human beings, 2) it would rapidly deplete his own reserves, and 3) it would still require a lot of physical exertion and specialized muscles to manipulate that energy. Could superman simply be defying gravity? No. I will discuss in another article several of the reasons why, suffice it to say, that he would still have to manipulate electromagnetic fields in order to control his direction (thus, the stand-alone argument of being able to control his own gravity is the only argument for his flying in space).
What would work for flying? Crystalline structures, especially living ones, with a closer relationship to rocks and minerals than biological material, receiving signals from the brain (electric signals in the form of large bursts of energy), and utilizing that energy to increase its radioactive field, thus creating an e-m field around Superman that could potentially defy gravity. The actual ‘radioactive’ elements in that field could be filtered by a carbon-based, mineral crystal, thus making Superman a non-radioactive hazard to humans.
The next consideration is the amount of heat involved with the absorption and expulsion of electromagnetic energy. Superman absorbs light/radioactive energy. He can convert that energy into focused light beams (like lasers). In order to overcome the convex shape of the eyes, if Superman were made of crystal, the beams generated would pass through, staying focused, and not be dispersed. It would take a mineral such as a crystal to withstand such heat over and over again, further reinforcing this idea.
Superman can withstand tremendous impacts (such as bullets and missiles). If Superman were a crystalline entity, he would either break when struck, or resist it entirely. Crystals, diamonds, and the like, are tough. Consider Superman’s suit (which, if it were anything else other than a crystal or similar mineral, would block/impede his ability to absorb radioactivity). If Superman is from a world of Crystals (in which all interpretations of Krypton support this), than it would be reasonable to believe that his suit is of crystal origin as well. Anything that hits him is immediately absorbed and the vibration spread throughout his body and outward, withstanding any and all impacts.
Additionally, Crystals act very similar to semi-conductors in the fact that their molecules are very static and have very little give, making them excellent conductors. Super conductors can withstand outrageous levels of force due to the fact the energy is trapped and has nowhere to go. In the case of Superman, a living, crystal, entity, could combine living energy with crystalline cells to create a form of superconductor, thus making him physically impervious. And, the blue colors in his suit would act as filters for the incoming light radiation, potentially increasing their intensity to levels similar to that of Blue Giant stars. In fact, it may very well be that his powers only partially manifested at an early age because the blue filtration of his suit provides for so much more energy than just his crystal body alone. If this is the case, we can also view the red as a filtration against red light, strategically spread around his body, blocking red light, further strengthening Superman.
Superman does not breath or eat (as per the time spent flying through space … albeit there could be some form of eating needed in small amounts). Only biological organisms need to breath. Superman’s family crest (the “S”), is surrounded by a diamond-shaped frame. The ship superman came to Earth in resembled a Geode. And, the fortress of solitude – all crystals!
So, yes, the Man of Steel is a misnomer. Superman should have been known as, the Man of Crystal. Although, one must admit, the Man of Steel sounds much cooler! Who knows, maybe he can be recruited as one of the Crystal Gems!!
The DC Universe has utilized the power of “color” and the various, electromagnetic wavelengths particular to those colors as a source of power in the Universe. Species such as human beings have had to rely on specially designed, crystal rings or infinity crystals to capture that e-m energy and re-utilize it to save the world. And, given that Superman becomes weakened at the appearance of green Kryptonite and its radioactive interference with his own ability to absorb solar energy, it’s clear that the Son of Krypton, on Earth, is truly, the Man of Crystal.
Although … if Green Kryptonite interferes with Superman’s light absorption, then the Green Lantern should be really annoying!