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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When Julius Schwartz was the Superman editor, he liked to present at least a veneer of scientific or practical plausibility to the various Superman conventions.  Along those lines, in the "The Life Story of Superman", from Action Comics # 500 (Oct., 1979), Martin Pasko included a passing explanation of the Man of Steel's vision powers.

On page thirty-one, panel 2, Superman relates:

"Solar energy affects human development here on Earth---for example, all of you absorb vitamin D from the rays of Earth's yellow sun!  Similarly, my physiology was conditioned by Krypton's red sun . . . "

It's about as "scientific" a rationale as we ever got for his super-eyes.

Hope this helps.

Captain Comics said:

Just as weird -- and I wrote about this in CBG years ago -- is that Mon-El was as vulnerable to "lead radiation" as Superboy was to "kryptonite radiation." I can see that the writer was going for symmetry. But the problem is that kryptonite had been established as a radioactive element (i.e., it "radiates" energetic particles), where lead is inert. It doesn't radiate anything.

And to bring the conversation all the way around, lead actually STOPS radiation. So how could Mon-El suffer from lead "radiation"?

Over many years the lead thing has morphed to the point where now DC is saying what felled Mon-El was breathing lead in the Earth's atmosphere, belched out by car exhaust and pencil dust and so forth.

But that's not what they said "Superboy's Big Brother" and similar stories back in the day. And they confused the heck out of me.

When I read your CBG article about "lead radiations" those many years ago, Cap, I was inspired to write one of my earliest Deck Log entries on it.  I bent my brain doing the scientific research on it, and I was gratified a few years later, when I heard from a physicist who read the article and told me it was accurate, except for being slightly off in an isotope number.  That was a huge relief, since my science acumen is about on par with Julie Schwartz'.

Here's the link:

https://captaincomics.ning.com/profiles/blogs/from-the-archives-dec...

Hope this helps.

It probably can't be helped.  Superman as he turned out to be portrayed  since at least the 1960s or so just doesn't make much scientific sense. 

For instance, he routinely flew through outer space at speeds that themselves did not make any sense, and somehow while going through and between whole galaxies while somehow never running out of stored yellow sun radiation.  For all intents and purposes and until Crisis he had a power of teleportation through the whole universe that only made the most token attempts at looking like flight. Also, he somehow could stand still on air and even change direction mid-flight with no obvious explanation.

At that point any attempts at explaning those feats pretty much have to resort to either some form of magic or odd, apparently unconscious uses of psychokinesis.

Thanks Commander. I wouldn't call it a great explanation, but it is an explanation and more or less what I was looking for. 

Commander Benson said:

When Julius Schwartz was the Superman editor, he liked to present at least a veneer of scientific or practical plausibility to the various Superman conventions.  Along those lines, in the "The Life Story of Superman", from Action Comics # 500 (Oct., 1979), Martin Pasko included a passing explanation of the Man of Steel's vision powers.

On page thirty-one, panel 2, Superman relates:

"Solar energy affects human development here on Earth---for example, all of you absorb vitamin D from the rays of Earth's yellow sun!  Similarly, my physiology was conditioned by Krypton's red sun . . . "

It's about as "scientific" a rationale as we ever got for his super-eyes.

Hope this helps.

To be honest, I wasn't really looking for something that necessarily made sense, just an explanation beyond "because he's Superman." Really, nothing about Superman makes sense when you get down to it. 

Actually, the original explanation of his powers as a difference in gravity made more sense, at least for his original power set. 

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

It probably can't be helped.  Superman as he turned out to be portrayed  since at least the 1960s or so just doesn't make much scientific sense. 

For instance, he routinely flew through outer space at speeds that themselves did not make any sense, and somehow while going through and between whole galaxies while somehow never running out of stored yellow sun radiation.  For all intents and purposes and until Crisis he had a power of teleportation through the whole universe that only made the most token attempts at looking like flight. Also, he somehow could stand still on air and even change direction mid-flight with no obvious explanation.

At that point any attempts at explaning those feats pretty much have to resort to either some form of magic or odd, apparently unconscious uses of psychokinesis.

And let's not forget his ability to lift up entire apartment buildings without damaging their wiring, plumbing, etc. and presumably without disturbing everyone inside.

Randy Jackson said:

To be honest, I wasn't really looking for something that necessarily made sense, just an explanation beyond "because he's Superman." Really, nothing about Superman makes sense when you get down to it. 

Actually, the original explanation of his powers as a difference in gravity made more sense, at least for his original power set. 

Luis Olavo de Moura Dantas said:

It probably can't be helped.  Superman as he turned out to be portrayed  since at least the 1960s or so just doesn't make much scientific sense. 

For instance, he routinely flew through outer space at speeds that themselves did not make any sense, and somehow while going through and between whole galaxies while somehow never running out of stored yellow sun radiation.  For all intents and purposes and until Crisis he had a power of teleportation through the whole universe that only made the most token attempts at looking like flight. Also, he somehow could stand still on air and even change direction mid-flight with no obvious explanation.

At that point any attempts at explaning those feats pretty much have to resort to either some form of magic or odd, apparently unconscious uses of psychokinesis.

I seem to recall one of the novels (probably one of the ones written by Elliot S! Maggin) claimed that Kryptonians had both "active" and "passive" optic nerves, resulting in their ability to both perceive images from the light that enters their eyes, and to project excess energy from their eyes.  Presumably, Earth's yellow sun allows the "active" nerve to generate heat (& x-ray?) vision, while Krypton's red sun probably just allowed ancient Kryptonians's eyes to glow menacingly in the dark to frighten predators??  Of course, since the opening question specified "plausible" explanation, so I got nothing.

Richard Willis said:

This is a job for Commander Benson! Only he can ferret out when his x-ray vision was first used to heat something.

Oops! Sorry I'm late to respond to the Silver-Age emergency signal, gang.  Fortunately, I can save some time; I already addressed this one on another fora.

As the original concept had it, beginning with Superman # 59 (Jul., 1949), Superman melted or incinerated things with “the heat of his X-ray vision”. Heat vision did not emerge as a discrete super-power until “The Invader from Earth”, from Superboy # 88 (Apr., 1961), followed by similar scenes of Superman exhibiting “heat vision” in Action Comics # 275 (Apr., 1961) and Superman # 145 (May, 1961).

There was a bit of an overlap though, as a couple of subsequent stories still referred to “the heat of Superboy/man’s X-ray vision”. But, from Superman # 148 (Oct., 1961), it was consistently described as “heat vision”.

I’ve never come across a definitive reason why it was decided to break out heat vision as a separate super-power.

With regard to the matter of why Superboy/man's heat vision cannot melt lead, aye, there is no law of physics to explain that.  I suspect the Baron is right in his postulation that it was carryover from when the Boy/Man of Steel melted things by "the heat of his X-ray vision".  Even though Mort Weisinger codified lead's resistance to heat vision in his frequently printed text article "The Superboy Legend" (but not, interestingly, in its companion piece, "The Superman Legend"), by the dusk of the Silver Age, and certainly into Julius Schwartz' tenure as Superman editor, Superman's heat vision was melting lead regularly, as Mr. Sherman alluded.

Hope this helps.

Perhaps it was just shorthand initially. It could have been presumed to still be the heat of his xray vision, but over time become its own distinct power. 


Commander Benson said:

I've never come across a definitive reason why it was decided to break out heat vision as a separate super-power.

IIRC at least one text page in the silver age identified it as infra-red vision turned up to the max.

Randy Jackson said:

Perhaps it was just shorthand initially. It could have been presumed to still be the heat of his xray vision, but over time become its own distinct power. 


Commander Benson said:

I've never come across a definitive reason why it was decided to break out heat vision as a separate super-power.

..
Sorry, gents. I tried to post from my phone and something acted up. It's too lengthy to hunt-and-peck it out, again. So I'll re-post when I get home to-night.

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