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Author Topic: Superman's vulnerabilities, chronologically  (Read 7262 times)
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Meach
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« on: February 26, 2011, 03:07:24 PM »

In the early days, his skin was so tough that "nothing short of a bursting shell could break his skin". 

Of course, over time his invulnerability became far stronger than this, to the point where ONLY kryptonite could affect him.  This was maybe mid-fifties?  I think this was literal at the time--you could literally have a force powerful enough to destroy the universe, or even increase that force exponentially, and it wouldn't even leave a scratch on Superman if there was no kryptonite involved. 

Although, I think there was really a second weakness, even in those days.  Other people, creatures, and things from Krypton, as well as super-strength in the neighborhood of Kryptonian type levels of super-strength or stronger (e.g., other Kryptonians [e.g., Krypto, Supergirl, General Zod], Daxamites [e.g., Mon-el], Martians [e.g., J'onn J'onzz], maybe Wonder Woman, although she might not have been strong to affect him in the fifties--she got physically stronger over time from the fifties to the eighties [well, except for that time in the seventies when she lost her powers briefly]).  Of course, this category would include things like Virus X, although Virus X specifically wasn't introduced until a little later (~1962).    Let's call this weakness "Kryptonian etc."  So this is two weaknesses 1) Kryptonite, and 2) Kryptonian etc. 

And no, Kryptonite does not fall into the same category as "Krytonian etc.", because kryptonite is the one thing from Krypton that does not become super-powered by the yellow sun; the category "Kryptonian etc." is things that affect Superman because they are super-powered just like Superman is.  For example, although it is uniquely unaffected by oxidation due to its unusual chemistry and therefore the meteors do not burn up when passing through earth's atmosphere, kryptonite can otherwise be destroyed by anything that can destroy an ordinary rock, unlike other substances from Krypton, which are physically invulnerable to harm under the yellow sun.  Kryptonite affects Superman even though it is not super-powered. 

I seem to recall stories in these days where Superman would be subjected to ultra powerful forces/devices, and state, "that can't affect me--I'm only vulnerable to kryptonite!"  He stated this many times.  In some cases, the device would turn out to be powered by kryptonite, and would affect him.  Otherwise, it wouldn't affect him, no matter how powerful. 

Shortly thereafter two more weaknesses were introduced, 3) red solar radiation; and 4) magic.  In spite of these extra vulnerabilities, the invulnerability was still extremely potent.  Even the most advanced levels of super-science could not affect Superman at all without incorporating kryptonite or red-solar radiation.  I think by the late fifties these weaknesses were established. 

Initially, even super-scientific devices that only affected the mind Superman was immune to, unless there was kryptonite or red-solar radiation involved.  But at some point (~early sixties) an exception was established that super-scientific devices could affect superman's mind--his invulnerability applied only to *physical* harm at this point.  Whereas previously I specifically recall him being immune to even ultra-scientific mind-affecting devices.  I'm sure I could dig through and find at least one example of him being invulnerable to a mind-altering scientific device in the fifties, maybe in a JLA comic or something, but I don't recall the details off hand.   

Conversely, an early example of being affected by devices that affect the mind is shown in a Legion story, Adventure 314 (November 1963)--Superboy: "I don't know what kind of weird weapon you're using.. it can't harm me!"  Villian: "Of course you're invulnerable to physical harm, Superboy!  But my psycho-changer affects the mind and personality, not the body!"  This is Superboy not Superman but of course Superboy is the same person, just younger.  But let's not include this as a vulnerability--we're listing the exceptions to Superman's *physical* invulnerability.  It is interesting to note though that this was a change, a further lessening in the extent of Superman's invulnerability. 
 
I seem to recall at some later point, maybe late sixties, anti-matter was established another thing that could destroy Superman.  So we'll call this weakness 5) anti-matter.  But I forget the details.  Does anyone recall when Superman's vulnerability to anti-matter was established for the very first time? 

And I think this list of 5 are the silver age Superman's only weaknesses--i.e., things that can overcome his physical invulnerability, specifically.  1) Kryptonite, 2) Kryptonian etc., 3) red solar radiation, 4) magic, 5) anti-matter.  (Or was anti-matter even established in the silver age, or was that not until the bronze age?  I don't recall).   I seem to even recall a letter by T. M. Maple or one of the other prolific letter writers specifically listing these five vulnerabilities and discussing them in a letter at the back of one of the comics of Action or Superman.  (If anyone can happen to identify which issue had this letter I'd be curious to know--because I know I have that issue but it would be tough to find which one it is). 

In the bronze age, the vulnerability was increased further.  The well-established concept that ONLY kryptonite, red solar radiation, and magic could affect him was discarded.  Those remained his primary specific weaknesses, but not his only ones.  Granted, his invulnerability still extremely potent, with even a hydrogen bomb not leaving a scratch, but very potent forces, including super-scientific weapons, could certainly affect him.  Powerful enough super-scientific weapons could affect Superman physically without requiring kryptonite or red solar radiation, as was the case in the silver age.  All manner of powerful advanced scientific weapons could affect Superman in the bronze age. 

OK, correct me if I'm wrong about anything above, just going off the best I can roughly remember. 

Can any Superman lore expert give a rough timeline of when each of Superman's vulnerabilities were first established?  For example, when was magic first established as a vulnerability?  And I'm particularly interested in when anti-matter was first established as a weakness, as I don't really recall the details on that one. 
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India Ink
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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2011, 04:58:35 AM »

It's an interesting topic.

I recall, from reading the Archives, that Superman/Clark was sometimes immune to hypnosis and sometimes vulnerable to it in the early stories.

Also in the early stories (wartime era), Superman encountered magical beings who could make him do what they wanted.

But I don't think at this time the editors were trying to nail down Superman's vulnerabilities.

This is much more developed in the 1950s when Weisinger has increasing control over Superman.
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Osgood Peabody
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« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2011, 06:04:24 PM »

Well, Superman was certainly established as being vulnerable to magic by the time Mxy first appeared (Superman #30, Sep/Oct 1944), but I don't know if there were any wielders of magic who appeared prior to that.

The red sun vulnerability is easier to pinpoint, I think. In the story "When Superman Lost His Powers" (Action #262, Mar. 1960), Clark and his pals are stranded on another world where he loses his powers and it's implied (though not explicitly stated IIRC) that it's due to the planet's red sun.

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India Ink
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« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2011, 11:57:07 PM »

Prior to Mxyztplk, there were the Squiffles. Magical smurf-like imps, led by Ixnayalpay, who help out Hitler. On the opposite side, helping the Brits, are the Gremlins.

Superman is powerless against the Squiffles and enlists the aid of the Gremlins. This all happens in Superman no. 22 (May/June 1943).
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Meach
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« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2011, 09:20:26 AM »

Very interesting.  I haven't read very much prior to 1958 or thereabouts, so it is interesting to hear about Superman's tangles with magic in the forties comics.  Of course old Mxy has been around since the forties.  It sounds like treatment of his vulnerabilities may have been somewhat inconsistent in the forties. 

I seem to recall a time though, somewhere within the time frame of late fifties to early sixties perhaps, when it was established that Superman's only vulnerability was to kryptonite.  In fact, during this time period Superman would often state something of the lines of "That can't affect me... I'm only vulnerable to kryptonite!"  Shortly thereafter, magic and red solar were added.  Of course, there is also the "Kryptonian etc." category, not necessarily explicitly stated as a vulnerability.  So for a decent period of time those were his only four physical vulnerabilities.  Of course he had more vulnerabilities prior to the "kryptonite is his only vulnerabilty" stage, and had more vulnerabilities after the silver age ended. 

Was I remembering that correctly--that there was a "kryptonite only" phase--or was magic always a vulnerability from the forties onward?  I thought there was a brief period that it was stated that kryptonite was his only physical vulnerability, but maybe I'm remembering that wrong.  Among other things, I think he stated it in some very early JLA and Legion tales, so that gives some idea of the time frame, if I'm remembering correctly.  Perhaps this was an inconsistency noted later--perhaps Superman went around saying he was only vulnerable to kryptonite for a brief time until someone said, wait, you're forgetting something--we've established from encounters with Mxy and others that he's vulnerable to magic--so it's really kryptonite and magic.... 

Anyone recall when it was first introduced that anti-matter could hurt Superman?
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superboy
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« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2011, 03:38:39 PM »

Antimatter first hurt him in1968, when Q energy appeared in Supermam comics.
Superman can be hurt by a bursting shell(1938) then later Kryptonite,1940's, then magic( late 1940's), then large amounts of force, like being hit by a other kryptonian(1958) then Q energy(1968), then red solar energy(early 70's), cold, like when Killer Frost froze his mind(1978), and then none until 1986 when anything practically hurt him. ; Wink
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Rugal 3:16
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« Reply #6 on: June 16, 2011, 12:57:49 AM »

Superman is not "Especially" weak against magic like Kryptonite (which affects him in significant and specific quantities).. he is ONLY Vulnerable to it..

same thing as any superhero who doesn't have magical defenses are Vulnerable to it

so Captain Atom
Batman
Green Lantern
Flash
Captain America
Iron Man
Spider-man
long list and so on..

are all no less vulnerable to magic than superman is.
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Meach
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« Reply #7 on: June 23, 2011, 12:41:47 PM »

Good ol' Qwa-energy.  I loved silver age GL comics as well the Superman-oriented comics.  

Red solar energy came way before the early 70's.  I know for certain that red solar radiation taking away superman's powers was well established by 1963, and probably earlier.  I believe red solar radiation as a weakness first occurred in 1960 actually.  But I'm sure it was 1963 or earlier.  
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