Monday, 26 March 2012

How did Superman's powers ever evolve?

The explanation for Superman’s powers are one of the more simple ones in comics. He’s an alien from the planet Krypton and that’s why he is super strong, can fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes. Fair enough. You can’t really argue these facts as we don’t know anything about the alien physiology. Where things start to fall apart though is the suggestion that Kryptonians are solar powered – specifically under a yellow sun. The problem with this is that the planet Krypton has a red sun. My question is “how on earth Krypton did Kryptonians evolve to have super powers under a yellow sun?”. 

It doesn’t really make any sense how Kryptonians accidentally acquired all these amazing abilities with no selection pressure whatsoever. There's no advantage to be had from being able to fly in a different star system. I think what’s more likely to have happened is one of the following; 

A) Kryptonians used to have a yellow sun (and it’s turned red over millions of years) 

B) Kryptonians actually came from another planet with a yellow sun before moving to Krypton.

In both of these scenarios it’s possible to envisage how Kryptonians could have evolved to have all these amazing powers as there’s clearly a strong selective advantage to being super strong, flying etc. I’m guessing Kryptonians have some super efficient form of photosynthesis which uses yellow light to power all their amazing abilities. 

The only remaining question is how long have Kryptonians existed without a yellow sun? If it was millions of years it could well mean that mutations could have occurred causing the loss of powers as there’d be no reason to select against it. Much like our appendix would there be any reason to keep the power of flight, and laser eyes if they no longer work. Unless of course the biological pathways required for superpowers are intrinsically linked with basic Kryptonian biology eg whatever gives them laser eyes is also required for sight - meaning there is a selective pressure to keep it. Maybe Superman is just a really lucky Kryptonian who never lost any of his latent powers? what if Superman has lost some of his powers and other Kryptonians may have even more powers? That sounds like an idea for a new villain for him.


  1. Well. Actually a kryptonian ability to gain powers just by being exposed to light with a different/higher spectrum, is in normal biological terms near impossible to exist.
    It would require three things.
    1) Sometime in Krypton's past there was some kind of genetic evolutionary leap, made possible by genetic engineering. Which would made some sense hadn't most kryptonians forgotten about it, and the fact that all kryptonian lifeforms gain powers under the light of an above M class star. It simply makes no sense for a species to do a global genetic engineering upgrade.
    2) Someone or something engineered the entire planet to produce lifeforms that have unnatural biological capabilities.
    3) Something happened during Krypton's formation or in its past. Something that added exotic matter to the planet geology. Like for example being hit straight on by the energy beam of a hypernova. Given the intensity of energy contained in just one of the two beams of energy that are produced during the hypernova event, it logical to assume that if it hit Krypton, and also taking into account the distance between Krypton and said event. Exotic matter could be introduced where normally there would be none.
    All species are molded in one way or another by their environment. So the atoms on all lifeforms of Krypton would most likely have elements that we have no knowledge from. Or even more simple, the atoms in their bodies are mostly made of isotopes of matter that we already know. In each case there's really no telling, what the introduction of said exotic matter would have on Krypton lifeforms.
    Although throughout the comics either by chance or simply trying to hint on something. It has been shown that although Krypton is a planet with a higher gravity than Earth. In the Golden Age it was said that Krypton was a solid planet with roughly the size of Jupiter (which would give it roughly a gravity 200X times that of Earth), then they upgraded it to simply 33X the gravity of Earth, to more recently only 5X the gravity of Earth.
    In each case gravity alone doesn't explain the existence of those powers, but both on the 33X and 5X version of Krypton, it has been shown that many of Krypton's wildlife reached huge sizes. Animals that would make even the biggest whale on Earth look tiny in comparison.
    Now being you having a PhD on biology, you know how seemingly impossible that sounds. Unless of course there's already something happening biologically that's already super.
    Hypernovas are amongst the most energetic events in the cosmos. It stands to reason that said exotic elements function better in highly energetic environment. Which on Krypton it would be very difficult given the high gravity and more weak sun. An M class star only emits about 1/100 of our sun energy. But still on Krypton, seemingly, life thrives much more than on Earth. Or at least in a way that it shouldn't under normal circumstances.
    And in my opinion, that's what gives a kryptonian its powers. The unique exotic atoms in his or her body, respond to the higher spectrum of light from a more powerful class of star, and uses it has a catalyst, so initiate some sort of biological process that allows kryptonian physiology to harness energy from the entire EM spectrum.
    Enhancing both physical and mental basic abilities, to super-human levels. Giving them those awesome powers.
    The change could possibly operate even in a subatomic way, for all we know.

    These are of course my own opinions and theories. There's no actual way of proving or disprove any of it.
    But at least it's way better, and doesn't fall on this that have already been proven to not be real. Like the gravity factor and difference in the energy frequency in the different classes of stars.

  2. wow - that's one of the most interesting takes on Superman's powers I've ever encountered. Excellent stuff and I love how you've incorporated exotic matter which also allows for all the super weird stuff. You should chat with Warren Ellis or Jonathan Hickan over a drink - they'd love you!