From the moment of his 1938 debut in Action Comics #1, Superman's powers were constantly shifting and evolving. In fact, it would be twenty years before his vast array of powers would settle into the standard set we're familiar with today. However, over those intervening years, exotic new powers would suddenly appear and disappear at random. In rare cases (like X-Ray vision) these weird new abilities would stick...but in many more cases, the new powers would appear once or twice and then vanish forever.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be digging up some of these forgotten superpowers and presenting them here, usually (but not always) with accompanying visuals. To kick off the first installment of Superpowers That Time Forgot I've got not one but two obscure superpowers that appeared in Superman #45 (1947). In "The Case of the Living Trophies", Superman was captured by an inter-dimensional alien (whom Superman classified as "the most powerful enemy I've ever tackled") and placed into a collection of living beings. Paralyzed by a numbing gas, Superman launched an escape plan by using...telepathic will control?!!
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With the alien distracted, Superman tipped over and shattered his trophy case. Then, only a few panels later, exhibited yet another shocking new superpower...
Now, Superman had occasionally twisted his facial features into clever disguises before (as early as Superman #26, 1944), but he'd never "morphed" into an entirely different and much larger body type...Plastic Man style!
After turning the tables on his alien captor, Superman freed his fellow captives and returned to Earth...without even a peep of explanation for the bizarre new abilities! As you might have guessed, this was the one and only story featuring Superman's telepathic mind control and shape shifting powers...though, rest assured, there were plenty more Superpowers That Time Forgot. Stay tuned!
The past seven decades have not only seen Superman's powers dramatically increase, but also branch off into some rather startling, bizarre directions. In part one, we witnessed Superman projecting a beam of telepathic will control and, a few panels later, morphing into a completely different body shape! Obviously, those exotic new abilities never stuck...but there are plenty more weird new powers to catalog!
One of the weirdest appeared back in Superman #22 (1943). While in the process of rounding up the criminal gang of "Beetlebrow" Macklin, Superman employed some combination of his superpowers to broadcast his voice into police radios across Metropolis!
Now, long-time Superman fans might view this oddball power as a precursor to the equally silly super-ventriloquism power he used through much of the 50's and 60's. However, unlike that more direct, one-to-one form of long-distance communication, the super radio voice appeared to mass-communicate directly through radio waves. Or, more amazing yet, through a specific police radio frequency!
Some have postulated that all of these voice-projecting abilities could actually be psionic or mental in nature...unknown to even Superman himself. In other words, what Superman believes to be a long distance projection of his physical voice might actually be a mental projection of his thoughts to "listeners" he pictures in his mind...in this case the Metropolis police force.
That's the theory, anyway...one I don't really subscribe to. In fact, the psionic angle becomes kind of a Pandora's Box that leads to more "explanations" for Superman's scientifically impossible feats (such as flying, lifting buildings or ships without destroying them, etc), which tends to leach all of the fun and fancy out of the character.
Which may be the reason these strange "outlier" powers never really took root. While convenient to the plot, powers like super radio voice seemed to cross a subtle line that caused fans and even the creators themselves to think "Oh, come ON!". I mean, "powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men" is one thing...but a super radio voice?
As you've seen in partsone and two, Superman has exhibited some odd new powers over the years. Some came completely out of left field, only to quickly disappear, while others were bizarre new applications of existing powers that confounded and perplexed. A perfect example of the latter category took place in Action Comics #269 (1960) as Superman (for the 5,763rd time) had to prevent Lois Lane from discovering his secret identity. Revealed to be Clark Kent by his reflection in a magical "truth mirror", Superman jumped into damage control mode by inscribing a disclaimer on the back of the ancient mirror with his fingernail.
But why would Lois believe the freshly-carved phrase was written centuries ago?
Answer: Super Antiquing-Breath!
One of the silliest of Superman's standard set of abilities, super-breath was usually employed for great, concussive blasts of air or to flash-freeze objects...but exactly how would a concentrated blast of air chemically age wood to look "centuries old"? Actually, from the picture above, it looks more like he's treating the wood with a super-acidic loogie than a blast of air. Yick!
Needless to say, Super-Antiquing Breath was never used by Superman again...unless you count his brief association with The Pottery Barn.
Telepathic mind control and shape shifting? Check. Police radio broadcasting voice? Check. Super-antiquing breath? Check. What's next? How about the eerie ability of Superman to feign physical death? Beginning as early as 1940, Superman would occasionally stop the beating of his heart to simulate a death-like state. This unsettling superpower was never really explained in any way until Superman #118 (1958). In "The Death of Superman", we find the Man of Steel captured by an evil impersonator and kept helpless by a kryptonite-tinged glass slipper (don't ask).
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Not so fast, Superman Impersonator! Three pages later, a decidedly non-dead Superman crashes the crime syndicate's party and offers an explanation for his "death"...
So "super muscular control" was not only the key to feigning death, but also to its opposing (and equally creepy) bonus power of super-loud heart throb!
Second only to the holiday of Thanksgiving, Superbowl Sunday is probably the biggest officially-sanctioned day to pig-out on the American calendar. As such, of all the obscure superpowers of Superman, his ability to eat endless amounts of food would certainly come in handy on a day like today.
Telling the story of how Clark Kent was hired by Perry White in Superman #133 (1959), the Daily Planet editor unknowingly exposed Clark to Kryptonite, causing the rookie reporter to faint. Tricking Perry and Lois into thinking he'd fainted from hunger (thereby whisking him off to a restaurant), Clark gulped down a five pound steak...then revealed to the reader that the stomach of Superman knows no bounds!
Years later in Action Comics #454 (1975), the Toyman invented a gadget that could siphon off Superman's super-energy, leaving him exhausted and starving! To keep functioning, Superman was forced to indulge into a SUPER PIG-OUT...which (as you can see below) looked an awful lot like the spread at your average Superbowl party!
With Valentines Day only a few days away, it's time to feature a forgotten superpower that had nothing to do with catching crooks and everything to do with impressing the ladies!
At the Daily Planet Christmas party in Action Comics #306 (1963), Perry White maneuvered Clark Kent and Lois Lane under the mistletoe...bringing some eye-opening dialogue to the normally G-rated world of the 1960's Superman. After Lois promised to give Clark a "thrill", the normally mild-mannered reporter decided to "teach this minx" a lesson by unleashing the power of....THE SUPER-KISS!
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Flushed, dizzy, and (gulp) sweating, the super kiss obviously had a profound impact on the minx...er...I mean Lois. And how about that "Who's YOUR Daddy?" look on Clark in that final panel?
I should add that the super kiss wasn't entirely forgotten once Lois mopped the sweat from her brow. In fact, a variation of it would pop up at the conclusion of Superman II (1980). Realizing how the knowledge of his double identity confused and tormented Lois, Clark made the decision to remove all memory of their love affair by administering the Super Amnesia Kiss!
Of course, let the record show that the very first super kiss in a Superman comic book wasn't administered by Superman....but by Lois Lane herself! Following her rescue from raging flood waters in Superman #3 (1940), the grateful girl reporter plants a super-kiss on a super-man...becoming the first of many over their 70 year fling!
When I began my survey of Superman's more obscure, offbeat and (mercifully) forgotten powers, I felt it was best to confine the coverage to the comic books themselves and ignore the various radio, TV, and movie adaptations...long known for their nonsensical additions and alterations. However, there's one Hollywood superpower that's so stupendously insane...so awesomely off-the-rocker, I just had to make an exception.
It's long been an accepted fact that Superman IV: The Quest for Peace(1986) is the not only the worst modern-era Superman film, but possibly one of the worst films to ever be projected onto a movie screen. But that's not all. Within this stinky pile of lazy filmmaking is a sequence that, in my opinion, is the absolute low point of Superman's entire 70-year history. A strong charge...but I've got video proof!
During the laughable, low-wattage battle between Superman and a super-powered Chippendale dancer named Nuclear Man, their clash takes them to the Great Wall of China. Nuclear Man (over-actor Mark Pillow) proceeds to blast the famous wall to pieces with his solar-ray zapping powers before slowly being hoisted away on a flying harness. Cue the badly-composited Superman, who, after catching a falling tourist, sets about repairing the damage to the wall. Does he use his legendary super-speed to rebuild the wall? Nope...not enough money in the budget...so he resorts to Plan B: the heretofore unknown power of Rebuild Great Wall of China Vision! Check it out (if you dare):
It's like an even lazier version of the oddball telekinetic power the Phantom Zone criminals of Superman II shot from their hands. But they were at least willing to raise their arms to use the power...Wall of China Vision Superman just glances around like someone looking for his car in a parking lot...made even worse by Christopher Reeve's rather obvious boredom.