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January 16, 2009


Pat Curley

I remember that he had a vibrate through walls power in the Superman TV series; that became an issue because a crook sealed himself inside a granite vault intending to live out the statute of limitations for his crime.

David Morefield

I'm guessing this face-changing bit was lifted from Richard "The Avenger" Benson in the pulps. I always found it unsettling when applied to Superman, because how do we know he's not doing it all the time? What if under those matinee idol looks is a face that's not even human? Would a super-powerful being be so warmly embraced by humanity if he actually *looked* like a space alien?

Remember Byrne's lousy Action Comics story where Ma and Pa Kent "reveal" to Lois that they found Superman as a baby and raised him as a sort of "secret brother" to Clark? If Lois had half a brain, she'd be asking how a being from a planet light years away just happened to land on the property of a couple with a human child who looks exactly like him. The only halfway logical "out" would be that Superman is a shape-shifter who took the form of the human closest to him. Eww!

Comic Coverage

It was an especially odd ability in light of Superman's whole invulnerable "Man of Steel" bit. It's difficult to maintain the concept of super-strong, impervious skin when you also suggest it's stretchy and pliable. Plus, I've never thought Superman was the type of character who needed to sneak around wearing disguises....but I guess during these early years, they were still trying to get a handle on how he operated and which abilities best fit into that role.

As for that Byrne story, YEEESH! Who can forget THAT lame-brained "solution"? It's no mystery why nobody ever brought up the matter again...although it might be funny for one of the current writers to work in a bit where Lois teases Clark about the lame "Superman's my secret brother" story he told her way back when...and that, if anything, it only encouraged her suspicions rather than deflecting them.

Mark Anderson

:/ Hmmm...so...they were trying on the future abilities of the Martian Manhunter?

Mental abilities...shapeshifting...plus the other abilities of Superman...that's J'onn J'onz.

1947, that predates J'onn by 8 years.

Mark Engblom

Great point, Mark! I hadn't looked at it that way....all Superman needed was invisibility and he would have had the complete Martian Manhunter superpower package!

In hindsight, it would've been kinda cool if they'd retained these exotic extra powers for the Earth-2 Superman, who was sort of a "catch-all" for many of the divergent elements from the earliest Superman stories. Imagine the surprise of "our" Superman when discovering the Earth-2 Superman could control minds and shape-shift and....well, you'll just have to wait for all the other powers!


If memory serves, Superman also used the "vibrate through walls" trick in an episode of Lois & Clark.

Actually (this I'm less sure about), it seems to me that Superman would do this on rare occasion in Bronze Age comic books. I think there was inconsistency on whether the "vibrating your molecules" trick was something only the Flash could do, or whether it was more or less a built-in extra you get with *any* super speed power set.


Of course, the Martian Manhunter *himself* is a great example of a character given new super powers all over the place, as chronicled extensively at The Absorbascon:


Ian B

This kind of thing is why I was a Marvel not DC reader as a kid :) Superman always just seemed to have far too many powers. Spider-man OTOH- his powers were well defined, his strength had limits- heck, he even got bruises and the occasional broken bone. Must admit the spider-sense always seemed a bit arbitrary though...

I also liked Iron Man's early ability to achieve virtually any effect he desired with a horseshoe magnet, a torch battery and a transistor.

Ivan Wolfe

Are you going to stick to comics, or will the movies be there to?

My personal favorite was his "fix the Great Wall of China" vision.

Comic Coverage

Well, Ivan, I was just going to stick to the comics (since Hollywood has always screwed up the powers to some extent), but man....the Great Wall of China Vision is just too good (bad) to pass up.

I'll give it some thought!

Martin Gray

Fantastic piece (I'm several years too late here, but Adam Benson has linked to you from Captain Comics). I'd not come across the massive shapeshifting shown here.

I'm also impressed by the page layouts, which are more imaginative than much stuff of the time.

Mark Engblom

Hi Martin! You're never "several years too late" here at Comic Coverage. I read all of the comments that continue to come in, so thanks for your interest!

You're right....those were some fairly forward-looking page layouts (possibly) drawn by John Sikela.

Again, thanks for stopping by!

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