Poll Position: Unsuperman

One of the more irritating customs of the comics genre is that nothing is permanent. If your favorite character or supporting cast member dies, just wait a few issues and he or she will be back, one way or another. They play the same trick with powers, taking them away and adding them over and over again, so if you follow a character long enough you end up in a constant fugue state of deja-vu, knowing you've seen that story arc before.

That remains true even for the Big Guy himself, Superman, who's been through the death-no powers-new powers-back to the old powers loop plenty of times, particularly in the recent past. But I got to wondering what it would be like in a fantasy fantasy world where Superman permanently had one of his major powers deleted:

{democracy:143}

Thoughts after the jump!

  • Invulnerability: This is the big one, as we've discussed before. Now, Kal-El has lost his invulnerability plenty of times, but it's usually within the context of being under a red sun or somesuch, and he loses it along with all of his other abilities. But what would Superman be like if he was still super strong, still super fast, still super-everything, except he could be hurt like a regular human. Would his experience of pain and knowledge that he could be killed change how he acted, how he thought, how he related to his fellow Earthlings?
  • Flight: They're sort of playing with this in the current Superman arc, where he's walking his way across middle America to reconnect with the heartland. Or whatever. I smell a Nike sponsorship somewhere along the line. Anyway, he hasn't lost the ability to fly, he's just not using it voluntarily for a bit. I've often thought that his ability to be completely above human affairs, literally, has a huge impact on how he views us. Batman has no choice but to take to the streets. Spider-Man can swing through the cityscape but he has to be attached to it regardless. They're a piece of the city they patrol, a part of the lives of its citizens. But Superman sees everything from the vantage point of the gods, looking ever down on us like a child staring at ants. A permanent change in perspective might be interesting, although they'd have to alter his catch phrase. "Look, on the ground! It's a horse! No, it's a DeLorean! No, it's SUPERMAN!" Doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?
  • Super strength: What would it be like to be invulnerable, but the same strength as a regular person? I'd imagine you'd get pinned beneath a lot of rubble. But on the other hand, he'd still have super speed, so in essence he'd be like a Super Flash, without the molecular control.
  • Super speed: I think sometimes super-speed is the most egregious of the major Superman powers. It's the catalyst that makes all his other abilities over the edge from awesome to plain old unfair. Like in the last point, he's basically an invulnerable, super strong, vision-powered Flash. And Flash is already super! Take away the speed and at least you'd have someone who could be hit by the occasional bad guy, you know?
  • Heat vision: Heat vision never made sense to me. All of his other abilities (well, mostly) are super-enhanced versions of things anyone could do. We all have muscles, his are just super. We all can move, he just moves super fast. But how do you get from enhanced regular abilities to the power to shoot lasers from your eyeballs? Yes, yes, he's an alien, whatever -- it's one of those lame Golden Age "kitchen sink" abilities that just don't fit the character concept at all. The fact that we've all gotten so used to it that we barely notice it any more doesn't make it right. On the other hand, this is the most "second tier" of the abilities listed, and would not make much of a dent in the character overall.

For my money, I'd axe the super speed. We already have speedsters, why should Superman be the best or almost the best at that, too? Give the other guys something to brag about! I think it would help him to experience life at a mortal's pace, and would make the challenges he faces more interesting.

What about you, which one would you prefer to see taken away forever?

15 Responses to Poll Position: Unsuperman

  1. I voted on super-speed because I actually like Superman’s Super-Mobile. Those fists were awesome beating the tar outta Amazo.

  2. Ben Trafford

    I agree — the super speed is totally egregious. I mean…why does he -need- to be super fast? There’s no rationale nor necessity for that power.

  3. Invulnerability, hands down. To see him actually have to be cautious, to be in a position that a simple human COULD kill him, would be a nice change of pace.

  4. Super speed got my vote. With all the Flash characters zipping around,I feel it is redundant for Supes to have the same ability.I think it also takes away the unique abilities Flash brings to the JLA(“Don’t worry Flash,I got this.You take monitor duty!”).Gee Supes,let the Flash feel like his powers are needed!

  5. I think you had a good point with the Heat vision, Jeff. It doesn’t make as much sense as the others. It’s the one he needs the least. The thing about Superman is in order for his character and the theme of his life to work, he needs to be super strong, fast, and tough. That’s part of who he is, and what he does is be the guy that can do anything that needs to be done. He does it even when he wants to do something else. THAT is the great thing about Superman, he can and he does.
    Batman works from a need to keep another bad day from happening to another 8 year old boy.

    Spider-man is a hero because the one time he wasn’t, he lost his father figure.

    Wolverine does it…because…I don’t know…he has claws and he popular?

    Anyway, Superman is the quintessential hero. He is the selfless hero that saves the world when he would rather be a simple farmer in Kansas. Some might say then, that he should lose the invulnerability for that same reason, because he needs to be more human. But I say NAY! He needs to be able to save the day without having to worry about a broken leg, etc (that’s Batman’s territory). He doesn’t need the heat vision to do what he does. DC needs a hero to stop Darkseid and the other duper supervillain in the universe.

  6. Invunerability, definitely, just to break his morals. Would the blue boyscout still enact the no-killing rule when his own neck is on the line? Also, a cautious man turns to his wits to solve those kind of problems. He might find himself looking up to the Dark Knight in that area.

  7. @thejay– That’s the same mentality Manchester Black held, the stance of “If we can’t break Superman physically, then let us break him on a moral level.”. Not only him, but many others, including the Joker. Allow me to address your curiosity, thejay: No, even if reduced to a human level, Superman would never compromise the “no-killing” rule to save his or any one else’s life. Let’s not confuse his EXECUTION of the Phantom Zone criminals with a matter of self-preservation, as someone may pipe in and say that Superman has already broken it. One was a calculated choice used as a judgment against the crime of genocide. But under duress, no…Superman would not kill.

  8. @Joshua:
    Depends on how you look at it. In pretty much the last major post-Crisis storyline, “Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”, he did kill. Intentionally. He admitted as much. That’s probably a bit too much spoiler as it is, but if anyone wants the full story and doesn’t already have it, look up that title on Wikipedia.

    Oh, and Jeff? The ‘Heat’ vision got added in later. Originally, the only super-vision he had was X-Ray vision, which somehow both acted as ‘X-Rays’ and melted things.

  9. I chose super speed, because he uses it like an idiot. Seriously, how many threats are there to him, if he actually thinks to use it?

    Bank robbery across town, and Perry won’t wrap up the meeting? Wouldn’t it be nice if he could just duck out, disarm the robbers, lock them in the vault, and be back in his seat between the K and the E in “Kent”?

    Parasite on the loose? He could use x ray vision to search the entire city and lead the normal cops in hazmat suits to him, and never get close enough for the Parasite to drain world threatening powers from him, if only he had super speed.

    Too bad he can’t dismantle Metallo, and sink each part into heat vision dried concrete before the Kryptonite could affect him.

    Even Kryptonite isn’t instantly fatal. His powers would last long enough to, say, toss it into the sun before it could really hurt him. Too bad he isn’t fast enough.

    Oh, well. At least he is fast enough to knock the Cocky out of the Flash every few years. That whole “Fastest Man Alive” thing gets old, you know?

    Really, the character would be a lot more workable without it. Between his super hearing, and his super speed, there is no real reason for any superhero to lose a fight on DC Earth.

  10. The Flash is faster than superman well at least in Smallville. I think the heat vision makes him intresting. I red a comic once where 4 supermen from the future come back to the past to watch supes dad (Johnathon kent?)die and they were better than supes and one had mind powers

  11. @EnderX- First of all, “Whatever Happened To The Man of Steel” should stand as one of the finest Superman stories of the past 70 years, if it doesn’t do so already.

    Secondly, I believe it was the last pre-Crisis Superman story, so to follow that up we have to ask ourselves should it count toward the argument because of the character as a whole or strike it out because it doesn’t mesh with modern continuity?

    Lastly, was “you-know-who” truly killed, or because of his unique nature simply divided between two realities? I know that’s a weak argument because of what Superman was lead to believe it is what WE are lead to believe. So…touche sir.

  12. Invulnerability stands out to me as the ability that most differentiates Superman from normal people. It’s not because it’s so very different from what normal people are capable of the way flight is. It’s that invulnerability can change the attitude someone has towards consequences. I mean, sure, Superman knows actions have consequences. But it’s always consequences for other people. He never really has to face the primal “throw a punch; bust a knuckle” consequences everyone else does. At least, not on a permanent basis (which right there undermines the idea of consequences).

    In addition to bridging that gap between Superman and the rest of the world, I think taking away his invulnerability would present writers with more opportunities for drama. When only a handful of things can hurt him, then every time you want to create drama by putting his well-being at risk you have to pull out one of those things. Eventually it gets stale. The fans say, “Yeah, yeah. Kryptonite. We’ve seen this before.” Take away the invulnerability and you’ve got a lot more options.

  13. I think its interesting that almost each of his powers can be compensated to bring him back to full:
    » Invulnerability: Any number of armors, meshes and alloys could be used here since he wears a full body suit, the only things he would add are gloves and a helmet made of compressed carbon threads. He has the strength to carry any armor no matter how heavy
    » Flight: jet pack, invisible planes, or the fact that he didn’t always fly, just jumped really well
    » Super strength: Any number of power suits could replace his super strength and leave him only setting off the metal detector
    » Super speed: This is the only one I cant see a way past, if there was I think we would see many more speedsters otherwise.
    » Heat vision: laser pistol, mounted on a helmet if he really has poor hand eye coordination.

  14. Super speed, because even on normal occasions, he only has it when the plot requires it. When it’s time to fight a big tough slow guy, Superman is just as slow as anyone else. Furthermore, his speed also never seems to apply to anything except his running. Considering he can fly, there is really no reason for him to have super speed as well, considering how haphazardly it is applied.

  15. I chose super speed, because if you have flight, you don’t need super speed. Besides, super speed is The Flash’s thing.

    Although, taking away his invulnerability sounds intriging too; it would make him seem more real. It would give him a Heroes aspect to him.

    It would give Superboy a more interesting origin story too.