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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Perhaps the simplest reason why "heat vision" became a separate super-power was to explain why no one ever got burned or felt hot when they got scanned with "x-ray vision". Irradiated perhaps but never burned!

Fraser Sherman said:

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

Right you are, Mr. Sherman.

80-Page Giant Annual [Superman] # 11 (Jun., 1965) carried a text piece titled "Superman's Super-Vision".  Here are the two pertinent listings:

HEAT VISION---Allows Superman to heat anything by focusing the infra-red heat waves from his eyes.  He can melt any solid object, except lead.

RADAR VISION---Infra-red vision used at low power, enabling Superman to see in pitch blackness.

Mort Weisinger followed this up with an entry in his text article, "The Superman Legend", appearing in Superman # 225 (Apr., 1970):

. . . And his hear vision can melt the hardest steel with its massive concentration of of infra-red rays.  Used at low intensity, his infra-red vision enables Superman to see in the dark.

Interestingly, there was a previous text version of "Superman's Super-Vision" that appeared in Superman Giant Annual # 2 (January, 1961).  This was a few months before the in-mythos change from "the heat of Superman's X-ray vision" to outright heat vision.  Unfortunately, I don't own a copy of this issue, and the various on-line references for reading it all omit the text piece.  It would be interesting to see if that article addresses "heat vision" or still insists that the Man of Steel can melt things with the heat of his X-ray eyes.

That's going to be one of those things that bugs me until I find out someday.

I remember a few stories where x-ray vision did have various side effects — turning gold into lead, or burning out memory cells (i.e., the ones with someone's secret identity).  Inconsistently applied as required by the story.

Philip Portelli said:

Perhaps the simplest reason why "heat vision" became a separate super-power was to explain why no one ever got burned or felt hot when they got scanned with "x-ray vision". Irradiated perhaps but never burned!

According to The Essential Superman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger and Martin Pasko: "The Earth-2 Superman's x-ray vision was initially said to generate a certain degree of heat and could be used to melt objects (Action Comics #139, December 1949, others). But heat vision as a discrete power per se--sometimes referred to in connection with the post-First Crisis Superman as laser vision--was first manifested by the Superman of Earth-1 (Action Comics #275, April 1961). The vision powers remained consistent in post-First Crisis incarnations of Superman."

This is the book I think I have around here somewhere...

...but I also found these online:

Jeff of Earth-J said:

According to The Essential Superman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger and Martin Pasko: "The Earth-2 Superman's x-ray vision was initially said to generate a certain degree of heat and could be used to melt objects (Action Comics #139, December 1949, others). But heat vision as a discrete power per se--sometimes referred to in connection with the post-First Crisis Superman as laser vision--was first manifested by the Superman of Earth-1 (Action Comics #275, April 1961). The vision powers remained consistent in post-First Crisis incarnations of Superman."

I have that book but have learned not to trust it.

Superman Giant Annual # 2, p52

ClarkKent_DC said:

Jeff of Earth-J said:

According to The Essential Superman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger and Martin Pasko: "The Earth-2 Superman's x-ray vision was initially said to generate a certain degree of heat and could be used to melt objects (Action Comics #139, December 1949, others). But heat vision as a discrete power per se--sometimes referred to in connection with the post-First Crisis Superman as laser vision--was first manifested by the Superman of Earth-1 (Action Comics #275, April 1961). The vision powers remained consistent in post-First Crisis incarnations of Superman."

I have that book but have learned not to trust it.

I can understand why.  Before I commented on the information that Jeff provided from that book, I wanted to double-check what I had put out in a post on the previous page.  Lord knows, I've been mistaken enough times.  But, aye, my facts were on the nose.  

Superman's first use of the heat of his X-ray vision to melt something occurred before Action Comics # 139 (Dec., 1949).  That first instance was shown in the tale "The Man of Steel's Super-Manhunt", from Superman # 59 (Jul., 1949), as seen here:

I determined that independently, but Michael Fleisher's The Great Superman Book corroborates it.

The Essential Superman Encyclopedia is also wrong about the first appearance of heat vision as a discrete power.  In "The Invader from Earth", from Superboy # 88 (Apr., 1961), the Boy of Steel melts missiles by using what he clearly designates his "heat vision". 

Yes, Action Comics # 275 was also cover-dated April, 1961.  But references show that Superboy # 88 hit the stands on 16 February 1961, while Action Comics # 275 didn't go on sale until 28 February 1961.

But I'm still wondering what the "Superman's Super-Vision" text article from Superman Giant Annual # 2 (Jan., 1961) has to say.  That might be the first mention of heat vision as a power discrete from X-ray vision.  I may just have to find a cheap copy available for purchase on line, just to know.


Don Mankowski said:

Superman Giant Annual # 2, p52

Thank you, sir!   

And it's the same text piece that was reprinted in 80-Page Giant Annual [Superman] # 11 (Jun., 1965).  So that establishes that Mort Weisinger intended to separate heat vision from X-ray vision at least as early as November, 1960.  (Superman Giant Annual # 2 went on sale on 10 November 1960.)

I've come across a few on-line articles that have dealt with the subject of when "heat of his X-ray vision" became "heat vision", but none of them, nor my own, has ever uncovered this bit of knowledge, that the two vision powers were separated within the mythos months before it happened in the stories themselves.

Much obliged, Mr. Mankowski.

Y'r welcome! 

I see the pic a bit clipped on the right, but if you double-click on it, it will appear in full (at least in FireFox).

I'll bet that if one goes through subsequent "annuals," one will find places wherein the word HEAT preceding VISION is clumsily pasted over what must have been X-RAY in the reprinted stories.

Don Mankowski said:

I'll bet that if one goes through subsequent "annuals," one will find places wherein the word HEAT preceding VISION is clumsily pasted over what must have been X-RAY in the reprinted stories.

Close. What one usually sees in the reprinted pre-1961 stories is "the heat of my/his X-ray vision" re-lettered to read "the rays of my/his heat vision".

That makes sense.

As I said early on, om the early 1960s, people were being advised to ask their physicians for chest x-rays and their dentists for tooth x-rays. It wouldn't be too good for children (and some adults) to avoid x-rays for fear of being burnt or melted! Talk about comics as a bad influence! So, they changed the terminology as a public service.

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