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  1. #1
    Extraordinary Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    Default The nitty gritty of Superman's biology

    Time for some comic book pseudo-science.

    I often wonder about some of the details about Superman's biology. The documentary "The Science of Superman" was pretty interesting at providing a foundation for some of his abilities, but there are always questions I have fun trying to find explanations for. So I'll pose some questions for you to rationalize or dig up old panels for:


    How often does he breathe? Once a day? A week? A month? We know he can travel in space while holding a crazy amount of oxygen in his lungs.

    On a related note, does Superman have super-smell? Of all the senses, this is the one I'm least interested in him having. Or is it like an over-sensitivity, a sense of smell so strong he avoids smelling the air unnecessarily?

    Does he sleep as an ordinary human does? I don't imagine he does. Is his "sleep" more of a kind of meditation? Then again, he processes a ton of information; maybe he needs the same relative amount of rest?

    In terms of food, I think most fans would say he doesn't need to eat, but does so to varying degrees as part of his human lifestyle. So then, does he poop? Or is his body mega efficient at breaking down food?

    Lastly, how do he and Lois make love? Do they use romantic red sun bedroom lighting, or does Superman find pleasure in having to restrain himself immensley?


    Add more questions and theories of your own!

  2. #2
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    I think the details depend on the version you look at. In Miller's Year One, Clark adapted so he could breathe underwater. In pre-Crisis I *think* he could stay in space indefinitely and didn't need air at all. In post-Crisis he could hold his breath for hours, eventually days and weeks. In the New52 he spent months in deep space and was just fine, but I can't remember if he could just hold his breathe for a long time or if he didn't need air at all.

    Personally I like the idea that Clark's natural biology doesn't depend on oxygen; he gets something else from our atmosphere (argon? Nitrogen? Something we're not even aware of?). And I love the idea that he's sorta-not-exactly photosynthetic and can get all he needs from solar radiation and can forgo breathing completely if he wants to.

    So how much he breathes would just depend on his mood and circumstance. He probably breathes more in Smallville than he does in Metropolis, and breathes in Metropolis more than he breathes in Gotham. Given the man's lung capacity he might only need to take a breath every few months (if at all), but does so far more often as part of the "human" experience. I actually like to imagine that "Clark Kent, intrepid reporter" is a semi-out of shape guy who gets winded if he jogs half a block, so Clark would end up breathing a lot more in this case than most people.

    And yes, Clark does have a enhanced sense of smell. Doesn't get much panel time but he does have it, in canon. All his senses are enhanced, but you only see writers use his sense of smell on the rare occasion he's trying to follow a chemical trail he can't look at, or whatever.

    I think Kryptonians do poop, yes. But I think in Clark's case, since his biology is being pumped up by yellow sun, he uses 100% of everything he eats so there's nothing to actually poop out. Nothing that goes into Clark's body is wasted; it's all fuel for him. On a related note, I really miss the days when Clark had a weird-ass diet and would eat minerals, rocks, all kinds of things we can't, and enjoyed the taste. And I wish we got to see Clark eating alien food more often; the dude has been everywhere and you're telling me there's not some Almerac dish he loves? Or a recipe from Krypton he's re-created?

    As for sex, Clark probably does it like everyone else. I'm not a fan of the "man of steel, woman of Kleenex" theory. If Clark can monitor all of his bodily functions in order to pass as a regular human, that means he's controlling things we consider involuntary as well. If he can do all that, he can have sex with his wife and not require red suns, a kryptonite condom, or whatever. If you wanna know what position/s he likes.....I've never considered that, ever, so I'll get back to you on that (kidding; I'm not thinking about this one).

    I think we have to toss the idea of Clark being like a regular person, but with powers, out the window. He's not a regular person who got bitten by a super sunbeam and became a hero. He's a gods damn photosynthetic alien from another world with wildly different environmental conditions who's race genetically engineered themselves to be among the greatest scientists the universe has ever seen. Clark's values, appearance, and morality is like our own, but his body and brain function in very, very different ways. We can see bits of that in his behavior and how he handles his life, and I don't believe these things should ever have a major focus (no need to highlight how different he is, his very existence does that) but it's also something writers (and fans) should keep in the back of their minds. Clark's not one of us. He's not going to react the way we would to every stimuli.


    EDIT. Well, now you got me thinking about it, gods damn it. Clark probably has sex in the air, three feet above the bed.
    Last edited by Ascended; 09-30-2019 at 03:56 PM.
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  3. #3
    Astonishing Member Vordan's Avatar
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    Wasn’t there a recent book put out by DC about this? The “Science of Metahumans” or something like that? Written in-universe by Batman, I remember that.

    Edit: Anatomy of a Metahuman that’s it.

  4. #4
    Extraordinary Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    I think the details depend on the version you look at. In Miller's Year One, Clark adapted so he could breathe underwater. In pre-Crisis I *think* he could stay in space indefinitely and didn't need air at all. In post-Crisis he could hold his breath for hours, eventually days and weeks. In the New52 he spent months in deep space and was just fine, but I can't remember if he could just hold his breathe for a long time or if he didn't need air at all.

    Personally I like the idea that Clark's natural biology doesn't depend on oxygen; he gets something else from our atmosphere (argon? Nitrogen? Something we're not even aware of?). And I love the idea that he's sorta-not-exactly photosynthetic and can get all he needs from solar radiation and can forgo breathing completely if he wants to.

    So how much he breathes would just depend on his mood and circumstance. He probably breathes more in Smallville than he does in Metropolis, and breathes in Metropolis more than he breathes in Gotham. Given the man's lung capacity he might only need to take a breath every few months (if at all), but does so far more often as part of the "human" experience. I actually like to imagine that "Clark Kent, intrepid reporter" is a semi-out of shape guy who gets winded if he jogs half a block, so Clark would end up breathing a lot more in this case than most people.

    And yes, Clark does have a enhanced sense of smell. Doesn't get much panel time but he does have it, in canon. All his senses are enhanced, but you only see writers use his sense of smell on the rare occasion he's trying to follow a chemical trail he can't look at, or whatever.

    I think Kryptonians do poop, yes. But I think in Clark's case, since his biology is being pumped up by yellow sun, he uses 100% of everything he eats so there's nothing to actually poop out. Nothing that goes into Clark's body is wasted; it's all fuel for him. On a related note, I really miss the days when Clark had a weird-ass diet and would eat minerals, rocks, all kinds of things we can't, and enjoyed the taste. And I wish we got to see Clark eating alien food more often; the dude has been everywhere and you're telling me there's not some Almerac dish he loves? Or a recipe from Krypton he's re-created?

    As for sex, Clark probably does it like everyone else. I'm not a fan of the "man of steel, woman of Kleenex" theory. If Clark can monitor all of his bodily functions in order to pass as a regular human, that means he's controlling things we consider involuntary as well. If he can do all that, he can have sex with his wife and not require red suns, a kryptonite condom, or whatever. If you wanna know what position/s he likes.....I've never considered that, ever, so I'll get back to you on that (kidding; I'm not thinking about this one).

    I think we have to toss the idea of Clark being like a regular person, but with powers, out the window. He's not a regular person who got bitten by a super sunbeam and became a hero. He's a gods damn photosynthetic alien from another world with wildly different environmental conditions who's race genetically engineered themselves to be among the greatest scientists the universe has ever seen. Clark's values, appearance, and morality is like our own, but his body and brain function in very, very different ways. We can see bits of that in his behavior and how he handles his life, and I don't believe these things should ever have a major focus (no need to highlight how different he is, his very existence does that) but it's also something writers (and fans) should keep in the back of their minds. Clark's not one of us. He's not going to react the way we would to every stimuli.


    EDIT. Well, now you got me thinking about it, gods damn it. Clark probably has sex in the air, three feet above the bed.
    Just the response I was hoping for!

    I think your last point (about the nature of his makeup, not his preferred position, although I did Lol) is an important one. He's not just human-plus. He's something else entirely. Eating rocks and reacting totally differently to different Earthly substances reinforces that beautifully.

    I would also love to see him casually eating totally alien foods. In a story I'm completing, he opens the fridge in the fortress of solitude to reach for a beer during a stressful time (as a comforting treat and placebo, as he obviously wouldn't feel any kind of buzz) and next to the beer there's all sorts of strangely colored drinks. It would be great to see him invite Lois over and show up wearing glowing metallic oven mitts (if anything at all), holding a pot of something bizarre stew that partially floats in small globs.

    Side note, if I ever made a Superman movie, a good chunk of it would be from his visual (and perhaps audio) perspective. The day to day small stuff, as well as the epic and beautiful. He and Lois look out into the night sky, as she asks him how he always manages to stay so positive; our regular perspective of an ordinary star-filled night sky falls away to a wondrous tapestry of faraway cosmos. Writers just don't tap into his sensory reality often enough.

  5. #5
    Extraordinary Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vordan View Post
    Wasn’t there a recent book put out by DC about this? The “Science of Metahumans” or something like that? Written in-universe by Batman, I remember that.

    Edit: Anatomy of a Metahuman that’s it.
    I'll definitely have to check that out!

  6. #6
    Extraordinary Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    Also, Ascended, I forgot to ask: How do you feel about Superman's sensitivity being a liability? Specifically smell (which wouldn't really factor in), and hearing. Black Canary putting him in serious pain makes sense to me, as much as I don't like him being torn down to make others look more powerful. He's not Daredevil but still.

  7. #7
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lightning Rider View Post
    Also, Ascended, I forgot to ask: How do you feel about Superman's sensitivity being a liability? Specifically smell (which wouldn't really factor in), and hearing. Black Canary putting him in serious pain makes sense to me, as much as I don't like him being torn down to make others look more powerful. He's not Daredevil but still.
    I'm all for Clark's senses being turned against him....within reason. We don't need "loud noises" added to his already abnormally long list of weaknesses. And when you think about it, he takes so much data in his senses aren't going to be as sensitive as our's; they're going to be as durable as the rest of him, otherwise he'd go blind, deaf, etc., from overload.

    But Canary making his ears bleed? Yes, absolutely. Specific, high-vibration sonics, or blinding wavelengths that would be visible to him? Yeah, sure. I'd rather see a villain pull out a move like that than kryptonite or red sun or magic or any other stupid dues ex machina writers throw at Clark because they can't think of anything worthwhile. This feels much more honest to me than the BS that is green rocks and funny words spoken by conjurers.

    And smell can be used to just as much effect as anything else. Think about how pheromones affect people. There are poisons you breathe. Look at what Red Cloud has been able to do because Clark has a nose. She's a featherweight compared to Superman when it comes to raw power, but she fought him twice and held her own, even before Lex's power up.

    But like I said; Clark's senses have to be as tough as he is, otherwise he'd be crippled by them. So "loud noises" and "bad smells" cannot become weaknesses. But they *are* a way to attack him and actually do some damage, if (like most) you lack the strength to give him a black eye.
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  8. #8
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    My take is that Superman is super,

    I like the idea of "The Science of Superman" but the book version (never saw the documentary) came at it from the wrong perspective for me. I prefer to start with the comics first then apply science, whereas these type of projects tend to go the other way.

    And my favorite take was always Elliot S! Maggin's from "Last Son of Krypton" where he describes a basically humanoid race adapting to a hostile Krypton. So the planet had extremely high gravity (at the upper limit that the original Kryptonians could withstand without being crushed) causing the Kryptonians to evolve ways of coping with that gravity (stronger muscles, tougher skin). The sun Rao was a dimmer red star requiring their visual senses to adapt ways of coping with lower light ("x-ray" vision, infra-red vision, etc). A thinner atmosphere where sound didn't carry as well (super-hearing).

    Then my personal addition is adapting Byrne's bio-aura idea as being an outgrowth of a natural version of Star Trek's "structural integrity field". On Krypton it served to keep the Kryptonians protected from things like increased inertia and gravitational pressure as they moved. And eating on Krypton was more about getting raw building blocks for cells than getting energy. They used solar energy to get most of the energy needed to keep them alive. But this system was designed to work for the lower amount of energy of a red sun. If you expose that system to a stronger power source (like our sun) it gets turbo charged.

    That internal field designed to protect them from Krypton's gravity crushing them combined with the stronger body tissues becomes invulnerability and super-strength. The ability to draw energy from sunlight to augment eating allows you to go long periods without external fueling (food, air). Reflexes designed to stop you in high gravity allow you to react with superhuman speed. Senses designed to analyze various energies to augment the lower light of Rao become superhuman in comparison to Earthlings who only see the ROY G BIV portion of the spectrum.

  9. #9
    (formerly "Superman") JAK's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    I'm all for Clark's senses being turned against him....within reason. We don't need "loud noises" added to his already abnormally long list of weaknesses. And when you think about it, he takes so much data in his senses aren't going to be as sensitive as our's; they're going to be as durable as the rest of him, otherwise he'd go blind, deaf, etc., from overload.

    But Canary making his ears bleed? Yes, absolutely. Specific, high-vibration sonics, or blinding wavelengths that would be visible to him? Yeah, sure. I'd rather see a villain pull out a move like that than kryptonite or red sun or magic or any other stupid dues ex machina writers throw at Clark because they can't think of anything worthwhile. This feels much more honest to me than the BS that is green rocks and funny words spoken by conjurers.

    And smell can be used to just as much effect as anything else. Think about how pheromones affect people. There are poisons you breathe. Look at what Red Cloud has been able to do because Clark has a nose. She's a featherweight compared to Superman when it comes to raw power, but she fought him twice and held her own, even before Lex's power up.

    But like I said; Clark's senses have to be as tough as he is, otherwise he'd be crippled by them. So "loud noises" and "bad smells" cannot become weaknesses. But they *are* a way to attack him and actually do some damage, if (like most) you lack the strength to give him a black eye.

    For me (with sound), it depends on if he's ready for it; if Superman can hone in on frequencies, that means he can kinda tone them out, too. That would make him much harder for someone like Canary to hurt, unless it's unexpected. And then, unless it dazes him, he only takes a millisecond of it before he filters it out.


    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    If you wanna know what position/s he likes.....I've never considered that, ever, so I'll get back to you on that (kidding; I'm not thinking about this one).
    EDIT. Well, now you got me thinking about it, gods damn it. Clark probably has sex in the air, three feet above the bed.
    There *is* actually a Superman position. And that's all I have to say about that..
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lightning Rider View Post
    Also, Ascended, I forgot to ask: How do you feel about Superman's sensitivity being a liability? Specifically smell (which wouldn't really factor in), and hearing. Black Canary putting him in serious pain makes sense to me, as much as I don't like him being torn down to make others look more powerful. He's not Daredevil but still.
    I'd say his senses are more controllable than ours. In the same way you can focus on a single conversation in a restaurant, Clark normally is filtering out most of what he hears. So Black Canary might not bother him normally- her scream is basically that loud song in the car sitting next to you at the light. Plus her scream isn't affecting the rest of the JLA most of the time either. But if Dinah is specifically targeting Clark the combination of her focusing on him, specific frequencies that he has trouble filtering out and the way the sounds interfere with his ability to consciously focus on filtering her out... I can see that working.

    And I mentioned in a magic thread concerning Superman before, I suffered from motion sickness. In a car my eyes could see that the seats and people were still (relative to me) so they said I was stationary, but my inner ear could tell I was travelling at a high rate of speed (40-60 mph). On the other hand if I was watching a first person video of a roller coaster my eyes said I was moving while my inner ear said I was sitting still. The idea is my senses were giving my brain conflicting data and it couldn't decipher it. I can see Superman's sense having similar problems. With magic, for example, he might have sensory cues telling him an object is both there and not there. It might even work if someone finds a way to stimulate only some of his senses- like byassing his filtering so he hears a conversation a mile away while one eye is seeing microscopically and the other is "x-raying" things- all while he is thinking his focus is on his immediate environment.

  11. #11
    Traveler of omniverses Thor-Ul's Avatar
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    I would say than Superman can a voluntary control over his senses better than humans because he would have a different nervous system, which either could have a more numerous quantity of nerve fibers or a higher sensibility. That also would permit him to feel above his invulnerability. To avoid a sense overload he should have (or maybe he developed on earth) a filter to avoid that.
    Also, the energy he should produce implies a higher level of heat, but that means he also should have a very impresive cooling system than itis the source of his freeze breath.

    And about the sex question, well, I dissagree with Larry Niven. If Superman have a control over his autonomic nervous system, he could control all body functions when they wanted.
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    Extraordinary Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    So do we prefer a calloused epidermis, or an ultra-sensitive one? Or a balance of both; tough but very informative to the nervous system.

  13. #13
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lightning Rider View Post
    So do we prefer a calloused epidermis, or an ultra-sensitive one? Or a balance of both; tough but very informative to the nervous system.
    Gotta be balanced, I think. If Clark's sense of touch is dulled by his durability then he loses the precise control he'd require for basic human interaction; shaking hands, opening doors, etc.
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    Extraordinary Member Lightning Rider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ascended View Post
    Gotta be balanced, I think. If Clark's sense of touch is dulled by his durability then he loses the precise control he'd require for basic human interaction; shaking hands, opening doors, etc.
    Right. I guess things like doing surgery with his fingernails shows why both are necessary.


    Also, in my head, Superman's x-rays show something non-human. Same basic shape, but here and there, missing bumps or different shapes to certain aspects of his skeleton. Maybe a different number of joints. Kryptonians are essentially more advanced humans, and we've got a long way to go before we hit evolutionary perfection.

  15. #15
    Ultimate Member Ascended's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lightning Rider View Post
    Also, in my head, Superman's x-rays show something non-human. Same basic shape, but here and there, missing bumps or different shapes to certain aspects of his skeleton. Maybe a different number of joints. Kryptonians are essentially more advanced humans, and we've got a long way to go before we hit evolutionary perfection.
    Absolutely. I think Clark definitely has some different organs than we do, is missing a few we have, his bones and blood are made of different things, etc.

    I think the biggest difference would be his brain. I think you could look at Clark's body and recognize it as being relatively human, but I think his brain has to got have a totally different structure than our's.
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