Superman Comic Books
The Lex Files - Case File #140205: "Layers"By Lex Luthor.
Whenever we look deeper into something, historically, we've tended to find a reality that was more sophisticated, more baffling, more fascinating, and far more incredible than any we had imagined before. Imagine how the first person to peel back the skin of an onion must have felt, to discover that this apparently simple round bulb, presumably homogenous throughout like an apple, actually contains concentric shells, or layers, all the way through. The way the onion looks from the outside is still true, it is a simple round bulb, but that description falls short of the true depth, the true beauty, of the onion.
Imagine, too, how Einstein must have felt when working on his theories of Special and General Relativity, and discovering that Newton's Laws of Motion were not absolute. That when objects are moving at certain speeds relative to one another, or when they are affected by strong gravitational fields, the theories derived by Newton, which had been successful and unquestioned for centuries, could no longer be applied. They're still true, of course, and are still used today, but they're only true within a certain range of phenomena. Newton's laws alone fall short of the true depth, and beauty, of the universe.
Now, imagine how I am feeling right now, upon the realization that my own earlier speculation on the nature of Superman's powers, while still accurate, are likely nothing but a simplified view. I was seeing the bulb, but not the layers of the onion.
To truly understand the full depth of reality, we must look at all the layers together, all those we can see. And that's just what I've begun to do, as I began to re-examine the evidence.
You may recall that in [a previous case file] I noted that I had discovered a clue to the nature of Superman's powers. I had "overheard" my unwitting agent Wayne (Or "Batman", as some prefer to call him), analyzing another Superman who also apparently gets his powers from the sun, saying that "our" Superman takes in about 140 giga-watts (GW).
At the time, I told you that Superman taking in so much power was an impossibility, and then went on to explore some obvious implications of that revelation. But I didn't think to connect it with other clues I've been collecting about the "Man of Steel". And when I finally did, I realized that I didn't know the meaning of the word 'impossibility' until today.
You see, fairly recently, Superman visited an advanced research facility near the Earth's core, called "The Block," one of the few scientific facilities I'm truly envious of. (Imagine what I could accomplish with that sort of equipment). They were able to rig up an apparatus to test the limits of his strength, simulating a simple bench press.
A bench press with the weight of the entire Earth [See image].
And he lifted it, benched, repeatedly, for five days.
Perhaps I'm failing to convey the enormity of this discovery. Superman can bench 5.972 sextillion metric tons. And, almost certainly more than that.
At the time I first heard this, I was of course dumbfounded by the sheer magnitude of it. And back then, it just seemed the latest in a line of limitless powers he had demonstrated. It was all one grand magic trick. Back then I was half convinced it really was some sort of trick. That he was all some sort of special effect.
But, I now realize, and I must admit, on some level I was taken in by the hype. I accepted who and what he was at face value, without questioning it, and so it hardly seemed incredible that he challenged the very laws of physics yet again with this incredible bench press.
But that's not who I am. I'm Lex Luthor, and everything I've become, good and bad, it's because I didn't allow myself to be 'wowed' by anyone or anything. When confronted with something new, I've always examined it, learned about it, come to understand it, and ultimately, learned to manipulate it.
Superman is, then, perhaps the biggest challenge to my character I've ever received, but I knew I had to focus, to see past all the myths and the hype surrounding him and understand what he is.
It has been common wisdom that Superman's power comes from the sun. The media believes it, the public believes it, and the man himself says so, and he probably believes it.
Except for one problem. It's impossible.
Even if Superman were perfectly efficient, and absorbs 100% of the 140 GW that Wayne tells me he pulls in from the atmosphere, and could perfectly store all that energy, he'd need to store up enough energy over time to bench that much.
Well, the energy needed to move something over a certain distance is called 'Work'. And we know that this equation is true:
So if I want to figure out how much energy Superman needs to bench press the Earth, I need to figure out how much force is needed, and multiply that by the distance off his chest. An average person's arm length is about .635 meters, and that's how far off their chest they need to push the weight. So that's the Distance.
The Force is just the amount of weight being lifted, which is the Earth's mass times gravity; 5.972 Sextillion metric tons, or (5.972 septillion kilograms) times (9.8 meters per second per second).
If you multiply those three numbers together, as I did, you'll see that the amount of energy needed is huge. Since we know that Superman is getting 140 GW, we can now calculate how long he'd need to be storing up energy at that rate of energy intake in order to lift the weight of the Earth.
Assuming he's been taking in a constant amount of energy the whole time, Superman must have been on Earth, storing energy for about 8.4 million years.
Now that's pretty unlikely. He appears to be in his late 20s, though when it comes to aliens masquerading as humans, appearances can be deceiving. But Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's work in locating and capturing images of Krypton's destruction clinches it. I very much doubt he came to earth before Krypton's destruction.
...Unless he did, and he's really the advance scout for an all-out alien invasion, like they're saying in the media, and the images of Krypton are elaborate fakes. But no, that's childish naiveté on the part of the media. He has more than enough power to take the world on his own, and he has no need to earn our trust to do it.
No, whatever his motives are, they're far more subtle, perhaps more dangerous than that.
In any event, for now, I think it's safe to assume he arrived here more or less when he claims to have: about 27 years ago. And if his homeworld lacks the kind of sun he needs, then he can only have been storing power for 27 years. Nowhere near the 8.4 million needed. And that's just what's needed for one rep with that bench press machine. He clearly has far more than that.
All of this leads me to one inescapable conclusion. Superman simply can't be getting all his power from the sun.
Certainly he's getting some from the sun, specifically 140 GW as we already learned. But where is the rest coming from?
I began to consider the various possibilities, and at first, none of them made sense.
For one thing, he comes from an advanced civilization, one who's certainly capable of some fascinating works of genetic engineering. Assuredly they can also create nanotechnologies to augment their bodies if they want to. A body can be pumped up to greater than human strength without much extra energy from the sun.
Of course there are limits to this artificial evolution, and there's only so much it can accomplish. Certainly not nearly enough to bench the Earth itself.
Another possibility is the difference in gravity between the two planets. If Krypton had significantly higher gravity than the Earth, then a species who had evolved there would be adapted to the high gravity. They would have to have stronger muscles just to be able to walk around normally on Krypton, so when one of them came to Earth he'd have much greater than normal strength and speed.
This isn't too incredible. Even today on our world exist creatures with "super-strength". The lowly ant, for example, can lift weights hundreds of times its own, while the grasshopper leaps what, to man, would be several city blocks.
We know that Krypton's gravity is probably about 5 times as strong as ours, meaning that someone who was perfectly adapted to living there would have to be 5 times stronger just to walk around comfortably.
Of course that can't account for his other powers, such as flight and heat vision, nor could it account for the amount of strength he demonstrates. At most, due to the difference in gravity, I'd assume he'd be able to leap about an eighth of a mile, raise tremendous weights of over 600 pounds, and outrun an express train. Five times stronger than a normal human doesn't do much towards benching the Earth.
I don't care how massive Krypton is, even if our estimates of Krypton's size are dramatically wrong, it's not massive enough for that. Its inhabitants will never be able to lift a planet because of the gravity difference.
Of course, in a sense, this is barking up the wrong tree. The possible biological and technological evolution of Kryptonian physiology, and the gravity difference, wouldn't explain where he's getting his energy - only how efficiently he uses it. Efficiency is important, of course - if you can do more with the same amount of energy, that's just as good as actually having more energy. But nonetheless, no system, no matter how sophisticated, is 100% efficient; and even if it could be, he'd still need an intense power source. Using 100% of a small amount of energy doesn't get one very far. So I'm left still looking for a power source, as his machinery is irrelevant. We don't know how it works, but we know it uses power, and we know it can't use any more power than it takes in. That has to be my starting point.
And in many respects he resembles an ordinary human. So where does an ordinary human get energy? Food, of course. So I got to thinking. What if Superman is getting his excess energy from food? A normal man takes in about 2500 Calories per day, which is enough to let him move around and lift things and such. But not enough to lift a car. So let's take a conservative guess and say Superman eats 20 times what a normal person eats. Maybe he just loads up on Cheeseburgers before going out to "fight crime".
In that case, he'd be taking in 50,000 Calories of Cheeseburgers a day, which would require him to eat about 165 cheeseburgers per day, or the equivalent. I did a few calculations, and this gives him about 2,419 watts of power, not even noteworthy when compared to the 140 GW from the sun. Why couldn't he be eating more than 20 times a normal person, you ask? Because if he were, he'd be attracting too much attention. Where would he get all this food? He'd have to be going into the store many, many times per week, probably into several stores within the same day.
Luckily, the dominant fast-food joint in the greater tri-state area is LexBurger, while the most common supermarkets are either LexMarts or independent markets which are also mostly owned by me. So I was able to do an aggregate of security camera footage from all these locations, using facial recognition software to look for individuals who visited with greater than normal frequency. I also cross-referenced with sale records, looking for unusually large orders. Unfortunately, no such patterns emerged.
So he can't be eating that much more than normal. And if you were going to suggest that perhaps he's getting his burgers from the competition, please. A foe as formidable as he could never have such poor taste in burgers.
Yet another possibility is the difference in atmosphere between here and Krypton. Earth's atmosphere may contain something which feeds energy into his system. Maybe his system can process dust, microorganisms, and moisture in the air, and extract energy from that somehow. But that would grant at most a very small amount of energy, certainly much less than the 140 GW he takes from the sun, and probably even less than the energy in a single burger.
The average person breathes in about 860,000 bacteria each day, far less than the biomass of a single burger. More likely some chemical in our atmosphere is creating chemical reactions in his body, which could be releasing chemical energy.
The source of extra energy we're looking for, though, should be much, much more than what's coming directly from the sun.
So again I came up flat. A dead end. No more loose threads to tug on to unravel the tapestry.
But then it hit me. It was so obvious and elegant it was painful.
What if Superman's power doesn't come from any one, or even any two sources, but from a variety of sources? What if it's a chain, or a ladder, of sources? What if one feeds into another?
Let me paint you the picture. On Krypton, you become godlike, from evolution, as we discussed; strong enough to leap to a second-story balcony. With Earth's smaller gravity, your abilities are heightened further, and you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, much like Superman did in his early career (Back in his questionable era of jeans and white T-shirt costuming). Breathing our atmosphere, eating an abundance of LexBurgers, you feel increasingly healthy and powerful.
Your cells, meanwhile, have been undergoing severe physical changes due to what I call the 'photonucleic effect' - the reaction of a Kryptonian's cells to Earth's sunlight, which likely causes each cell to change and grow a hard cell wall. And the stronger your body gets from the other effects, the faster this process is likely to happen.
And, once the photonucleic effect has begun, it increases over time, allowing Superman to absorb more and more light the longer he lives on the Earth. And it gets worse. The newcomer Superman who Wayne mentioned, who we now know is called "Wraith," is taking in 160 giga-watts to Superman's 140. That means he's likely more powerful than "our" Man of Steel. And the reason he's taking in more than the Superman we know is that he's been living on Earth for decades longer. This implies that, over time, Superman will begin to take in more and more power from the sun, getting more powerful as he does so.
Near the North Pole, my people have turned up a somewhat interesting find. And by 'somewhat interesting,' I mean 'perhaps the most significant discovery in the history of humankind'. It's a broken alien robot of some sort, apparently consistent with the Kryptonian technology we've seen. But, quantum tests on the structure of the robot suggest it may have come from outside the universe - perhaps an alternate universe?
The robot appears to have been a media recorder, and it had a sound recording on it. I've become convinced, due to the content of the message, that it was intended for Superman, perhaps by someone on Krypton (or its alternate universe equivalent), someone who wished to prepare him for life on Earth. The message is as follows:
"Earth's sun is younger and brighter than Krypton's was. Your cells have drunk in its radiation, strengthening your muscles, your skin, your senses. Earth's gravity is weaker, and its atmosphere more nourishing. You've grown stronger here than I ever could have imagined. The only way to know how strong... is to keep. Testing. The limits."
Vindication. I've got you, Man of Tomorrow. I've got you. You don't get your powers from any one place. It's layers. Layers built upon layers upon layers of power, and there are perhaps some I haven't even thought of yet.
This, of course, makes him all the harder to defeat. If his power were coming from one source all I'd have to do is cut off that source. Blot out the sunlight he uses, I thought, and he'd be powerless. But now, under this new model, if I were to cut off his access to the sun, he'd be weakened, but still an unstoppable monster.
I am undeterred, of course. The challenge is steeper than I thought it was, but in the end the true challenge in overcoming something - anything - is in understanding it. Once it is understood, no matter the challenge, it can be surmounted.
But, once again, it gets worse. Because here's the problem. Adding up the contributions of all those layers I mentioned doesn't even begin to account for the missing power necessary to bench the Earth's weight. Sure, his layered powers make him all the more dangerous and frightening, but there's something more going on here.
I also suspect that each layer smoothly transitions into the next layer above it. Recall that, when he first appeared, as I mentioned, he was leaping tall buildings and tossing cars around, but not flying. Even then, some of his power must have been coming from the sun, because he was lifting things more than five times heavier than an average man can lift. A car, for example, weighs about 4000 pounds, which Superman was seen to lift. The average man can lift about 125, and so if Superman's powers came only from the gravity difference, he could only lift about five times that, which is 625 pounds. So even then, he must have been taking a lot of power from the sun.
Now, as he begins to transition onto that greater source of power, imagine what other powers he'll develop.
We're letting this alien live in our midst, drain our sun of its power, and grow strong. We're pampering him as he gorges himself on the energy that our world needs. He defends us, true, but who knows why? Maybe he wants a slave world as his seat of power while he crushes the rest of the galaxy beneath his boot. Maybe he's kind to us for no other reason than because he'd rather be adored than feared by his future slaves. The ultimate egotist.
Of course, that's pure speculation, and I really have no idea what his motives are, but my point is that you don't either. This "man" is an alien. An incredibly intelligent and powerful creature who we absolutely cannot afford to underestimate. We cannot afford to take him at face value.
But what concerns me perhaps more than that is his new source of power. The one greater, by far, than our sun. Where is he getting all that power? Is he stealing power from an alternate universe? That might explain the little robotic souvenir I mentioned from one such universe. If he's drawing power from outside the universe, perhaps other things are being drawn into our universe along with all that power.
Another creeping suspicion of mine is that perhaps he's learning to draw his power from the 5th Dimension. We've seen the incredible power of Vyndktvx, who comes from the 5th Dimension. Vyndktvx could interact with our world the same way we might interact with a two-dimensional world on the exact surface of a pond. And he torments us the same way a child might the little water-spiders living on that surface.
Imagine our resident hero gaining that much power. If that doesn't terrify you, it should. How sure are you, really, that he is as benevolent as he seems?
Because if you're not absolutely, completely, and utterly certain that he is who he says he is, you could be handing the keys to the universe over to a ruthlessly intelligent alien monster. Hell, he could remake the universe in his own image.
But that hasn't happened yet. It's not too late to stop him. And that's why my mission, and these case files, will continue.
Author's Notes: I must say, these New 52 comics are really giving me a treasure trove of clues. Real numbers, for me to do physics with. I'm having oh-so-much fun with this.
As noted in the previous "Lex Files," the 140 GW figure comes from Superman Unchained #2, as does Wraith's 160 GW. The main clue that inspired this article, Superman bench-pressing the weight of the Earth, is from Superman #13, the beginning of the "H'el on Earth" storyline.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, helped DC Comics choose a real star as the location for Krypton. That star is LHS 2520, a red dwarf, and its identity as Rao, Krypton's star, was revealed in "Star Light, Star Bright...," a backup story appearing in Action Comics #14. In that story, Tyson himself appears and gives Superman a rare glimpse at his home planet. Also revealed in that story is the length of Krypton's year (the time it takes the planet to orbit its star), 382 days.
In a blog at discovermagazine.com, Phil Plait uses this information to calculate the distance between Krypton and Rao, which he says is about 100 million km.
Based on this information, I went crazy trying to calculate Krypton's mass, and got author, cartoonist, and Calculus teacher Dale Debakcsy involved in the mayhem. But alas, as it turns out, it's not so easy to calculate the planet's mass without better observations of the star LHS 2520, which, sadly, hasn't been studied too closely. I couldn't find a definite mass for it, nor was there any way to know how fast it's wobbling back and forth. Although I can safely say its mass is between 20 and 36 percent of our sun's mass.
All of this turned out to be irrelevant when I discovered that Krypton's gravity - and hence mass - is already given, in Action Comics #5, when baby Kal-El's ship, approaching Earth, declares "Planetary gravity: 0.20 K". K, of course, likely refers to Krypton's gravity. So, that's why I say that someone adapted to that planet should be five times stronger here.
Debakcsy was nonetheless awesomely helpful and indispensable, and his brilliant idea to check the comics for instances of someone on Krypton falling while talking at the same time, and to use the interrupted speech as a clock to measure the time of the fall and calculate Krypton's mass that way (of which, sadly, I could find no instance), unintentionally lead to my finding ultimate solution, buried in Action #5.
The robotic recording device that Lex finds from an alternate universe is from the universe of the movie "Man of Steel", and the quote that it recorded is Jor-El answering his son's question, "Why am I so different from them?" Granted, it's cheating a little, taking things from another continuity like that, but it was so relevant to the article, so helpful, and so cool, I had little choice. Also, fair warning, this isn't the last time I'm going to do something like that.
There's a long history of official explanations being offered for Superman's powers. In the golden age comic strips, Siegel and Shuster paint a picture of a Krypton where the people have evolved biologically and technologically, such that they're supermen even on their own planet. Jor-El is seen leaping to his balcony window.
Later on, the gravity difference became the accepted primary explanation for Superman's powers. In this article, Lex unintentionally paraphrases Action Comics #1 (1938), in which Siegel gives a "scientific explanation of Superman's amazing powers".
By the Silver Age, the comic creators had realized neither of those explanations really cover everything Superman is seen to be doing, and so they came up with the idea of him getting power from the sun.
The "Photonucleic Effect" is a term used by classic pre-crisis Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin to describe a Kryptonian's cells changing upon absorption of sunlight from a yellow star. It's explained in his novella about Krypto, "Starwinds Howl". True, this could be seen as another instance of borrowing from another continuity, which it technically is, though the in-universe explanation is that it's just a coincidence that Lex happens to come up with the same concept we're familiar with from the pre-crisis comics. Plus I just like the term.
The idea of some power coming from nutrients in the atmosphere is from the Man of Steel quote I used. While I had thought of the idea of a layered power source at the time I saw that movie, I hadn't thought of that particular layer.
Part of my concept for this article was to investigate all these historical explanations as potentially valid, and all contributing to Superman's power. I also incorporate some new ideas, like the explanation of food as a power source (obvious though it may seem) and the unknown, incredibly powerful source.
As always, please reproduce any of my calculations and let me know if "the Greatest Criminal Mastermind of our Time" has made any mistakes. He is eternally reliant on your contributions to defeat the Man of Steel.
Finally, any fashion-related opinions on the part of Mr. Luthor are entirely his own and do not in any way reflect the views of this author or the Superman Homepage.