Was there ever a plausible explanation for Superman's vision powers

Over the years as Superman's mythos has expanded, we've been given relatively plausible explanations for his superhuman abilities(I'm not going to say it makes scientific sense for a difference in solar radiation to enhance his physical abilities but I'm willing to accept that explanation). However, he has a handful of abilities, mostly related to his vision powers, that don't make quite as much sense.

As his senses are all enhanced over a normal human's, I'm willing to accept (to a certain degree) his telescopic and microscopic vision powers. But what's the explanation for him being able to look through solid, opaque objects or fire laser beams ftom his eyes? Even with enhanced senses that stretches the credibility of what he should be able to do.

Yes, I'm well aware I'm talking about a fictional character that's had stories written about him by hundreds of different people olin the past, many of whom did not have a Mort Weisinger looming over their shoulders to make silure the continuity lined up. Still, this is just something I'm curious about. 

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His eyes must be structured very differently from a human's, for all they look like human eyes.  (As must Scott Summers', for that matter.)

If his powers are derived from solar energy, then his heat vision coyuld just be blasts of concentrated solar power.

Dunno how you'd explain his x-ray vision.  If it worked like regular x-rays, wouldn't he be irradiating people all  the time?

I consulted two books seeking an answer for your query: The Science of the X-Men (Link Yaco & Karen Haber, 2000) and The Science of Supervillains (Lois H. Gresh & Robert Weinberg, 2005). There is a chapter on Cyclops in the former, but it is not very helpful as far as Superman in concerned. There is a The Science of Superheroes, but I can't find it on my shelves so I may not have it (then again, it's more likely that I simply can't find it). As thorough as the super-villain book is, I can't imagine that Superman's vision powers are not covered in the super-hero one. 

I guess as a corrollary to my initial question, I have to ask if the differences between a Kryptonian's biology and an Earthling's have ever been discussed--if there's any difference at all. 

Well, there's Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex by Larry Niven. ;)

Well the original rationale for heat vision was that it was just x-ray vision intensified until it burned things. Then it became it's own thing but they never came up with a new explanation.

I was much amused when a number of people announced they couldn't get into Superman and Lois because it was ridiculous to think a Kryptonian and a human could produce offspring. As if up to that point everything about Superman had been based on rigid scientific logic.

When I get home, I can dig into Michael L. Fleischer's The Great Superman Book, but that tome was more about cataloguing things than explaining how they work.



Fraser Sherman said:

Well the original rationale for heat vision was that it was just x-ray vision intensified until it burned things. Then it became it's own thing but they never came up with a new explanation.

I was much amused when a number of people announced they couldn't get into Superman and Lois because it was ridiculous to think a Kryptonian and a human could produce offspring. As if up to that point everything about Superman had been based on rigid scientific logic.

Agreed, I finished reading an LSH Silver Age comic collection, and Superboy was literally using his X-Ray vision to melt stuff in it.

Yes, I remember well Superman using "the heat of my x-ray vision" from late Golden Age/Silver Age stories I read as a kid. Unfortunately, that doesn't explain how the xgray vision was supposed to work. 

ClarkKent_DC said:

When I get home, I can dig into Michael L. Fleischer's The Great Superman Book, but that tome was more about cataloguing things than explaining how they work.

I've got The Great Superman Book before me, and as previously noted, it doesn't explain anything. 

The entry on Superman himself, sub-section 5, "X-Ray Vision and the Other Optical Powers," states:

Today's Superman possesses a wide range of optical super-powers, including X-ray vision, which enables him to see through all substances except lead; telescopic vision, which enables him to focus on objects millions of miles away; super-vision, a combination of X-ray vision and telescopic vision, which enables him to perform such optical feats as peering through the wall of a house thousands of miles away; microscopic vision, which enables him to examine the tiniest atomic particles; heat vision, which enables him to apply intense heat to any substance except lead; infrared vision, which enables him to see objects lying outside the visible spectrum at its red end; radar vision, a term denoting infrared vision used at low power, which enables him to see in pitch darkness; and photographic vision, which enables him to perform such feats as memorizing whole books at a single glance.

The entry continues:

In Superman's earliest adventures, however, he exhibited no special optical powers, and the vision abilities he employs today are the products of a gradual evolution spanning many years of texts. Tracing the evolution of these abilities is difficult, for the terminology is often haphazard and confusing. "Telescopic X-ray vision," for example, used as a general term in many early texts to denote Superman's ability both to see through objects and to see objects from far away (S No, 11/2, Jul/Aug '41; and others)*, later comes to refer to the use of both these visions simultaneously (Act No. 260, Jan '60: "Mighty Maid!" and many others)**, a usage which is in turn supplanted by the term "super-vision" (Act No. 281, Oct '61: "The Man Who Saved Kal-El's Life!";*** and many others).

After that follows four and a quarter pages detailing the times Superman used one or more of his vision powers from 1939 to 1964, in any of the comics used for research for this book, primarily Action Comics and Superman. 

Hope this helps.

* This is written in the book's shorthand for Superman No. 11, second story, July/August 1941.

** shorthand for Action Comics No. 260, January 1960, story titled "Mighty Maid!"

*** shorthand for Action Comics No. 281, October 1961, story titled "The Man Who Saved Kal-El's Life!"

 heat vision, which enables him to apply intense heat to any substance except lead;

For some reason, this is what bugs me.  How the Hell could lead be immune to heat?

A friend of mine once said he's "Because He Can Man," as in:

"How does Superman do....?"

"Because he can."

However, there is the explanation that he shoots out solar energy that he has absorbed.

I do not, however, know how eyes can "shoot" anything.

It resists the radiation waves that Superman projects. It blocks his x-ray vision thus preventing his heat vision from agitating its molecules. Or it just plain can't melt lead! 

The Baron said:

 heat vision, which enables him to apply intense heat to any substance except lead;

For some reason, this is what bugs me.  How the Hell could lead be immune to heat?

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