Is Superman really super compared to other Kryptonians?
Yes, Superman was really super even compared to other Kryptonians. (Or at least he was until the DCnU New 52 changed the DC Universe, yet again.) Under the original premise, as the Last Son of Krypton, Kal-El/Superman gained his powers due to the slow and long-term exposure of his body to the radiation of our yellow sun. This made him a force to be reckoned with in comparison to other Kryptonians because of his much greater strength, durability, experience and control in the use of his many powers.
Superman and the rays of the Sun
Yes, according to writers who wanted to boost Superman's powers in the early 1950's he gained extraordinary abilities after his exposure to the Earth's yellow sun. Early Superman was only capable of leaping a quarter of a mile and running faster than a freight train. These modest feats would still make him amazing by the standards of the early 1940-1950s. Take a look at these clips from Secret Origins #1.
Early Superman being heroic, leaping tall buildings and chasing cars on foot.
- No, there is nothing currently in science that would explain this, so don't think too deeply, the writers who conceived of Superman's powers beyond those that were derived from Earth's lessened gravity.
- They knew next to nothing about stars, solar energy, radiation or properties of stars.
They did not realize how little difference there is between a red sun and a yellow one besides color, energy output and the star's life-span.
This exposure to a yellow sun would activate a process by which his Kryptonian cells would become super-charged and along with the reduced gravity of Earth, make him capable of a host of amazing superhuman abilities, making him one of the physically most power powerful beings on the planet.
That said, over the years, there have been many reboots and changes to the premise of how quickly Kal-El would gain his powers (one continuity had him gain his powers as a child and have an entire career of superherodom as Superboy.) This was later retconned out of existence. Most tales now have Superman gaining his powers as an adult after years of exposure to solar radiation.
This however does not explain the rapid speed that most Kryptonians seem to gain their powers once exposed to the yellow sun of Earth. In the new Krypton stories, the Kryptonians also possess superpowers and this was not after decades of exposure.
So what makes Superman super?
What make Superman super has been characterized by the RESTRAINT he has in the use of his powers. Even when Kryptonians have had powers from the sun, he was often considered stronger due to the amount of exposure he had compared to theirs. Current DCnU seems to be working toward the idea of Kryptonians needing time to gain powers under a yellow sun. Supergirl's spaceship had a device designed to charge her cells with yellow sun radiation.
In earlier continuities, Superman was considered to have a store of internalized energy that had built up over the decades, making him stronger, tougher, with greater endurance than a Kryptonian who found themselves empowered by the sun but not with the longevity Superman would have had being continuously exposed to the power-giving radiations.
His other advantage, played up by writers was his experience with using his superpowers. This may not be as apparent with the reboot of the DCnU but in earlier continuities, his experience being Superman, the use of his powers, the vulnerabilities he had to learn to overcome gave him a decided advantage in a fight with other Kryptonians.
Imagine discovering yourself with the ability to hear all along the auditory range and not having practice discerning which sounds were important, how to differentiate sound levels, and controlling what ranges you were interested in hearing sounds at.
Supergirl is overwhelmed by her new super-senses. Supergirl #2
Now add to that visual acuity through the entire electromagnetic spectrum, telescopic, microscopic visions, energy projection from your eyes, a sense of smell ten thousand times better than a human and all of this happening simultaneously in addition to having strength millions of times greater than you previously had before, all of this would make for a confusing time as you learned to adjust. Did I mention, flying?
In the previous DCU all Kryptonians under a yellow sun, possess vast superhuman strength, speed, and stamina, invulnerability; flight; super breath; x-ray vision; telescopic and microscopic vision; freeze breath; heat vision; and super hearing. If they are trained properly, they will be able to use these abilities with some degree of effectiveness.
Why does Supergirl in the DCnU appear more powerful than Superman?
If previous continuities are any gauge, Kryptonians grow more powerful, the longer they remain under a yellow sun. So both Superman and Supergirl, assuming they do not deplete their store of internal energy (See Doomsday vs Superman in the Death of Superman) will continue to slowly grow more powerful over time.
- Supergirl has appeared in conflicts with Superman to be more physically powerful. Superman asserts he has spent his time as a superhuman learning how to restrain his powers to do as little collateral damage as possible.
Exercising restraint often means having to take significant abuse on Superman's part.
Where Supergirl, new to the fragility of the Earth's environment has not yet learned how to control the amount of damage she causes when she uses her powers at their highest settings.
If this does not change, she will most assuredly kill someone, most likely as an unintended consequence of using her powers without a degree of discretion.
one of my biggest complaints about *Smallville* was how every other Kryptonian *except* Clark had full access to and control over their powers, sometimes after minutes on Earth. :\ So much for "no flights/no tights".
Smallville was designed to be a soap opera where we would never truly see the hero as we knew him, we would only see him during his journey. This meant he could NEVER be flying since that was the trademark of Superman, his power of flight. It was one of my pet peeves of the show, too.
I had no problem with Clark not flying; I agree that it probably improved the show a lot to save that until the end. I just hated that he seemed to be the *only one* that couldn't fly, thus totally ruining the impact when he finally did.
One of the best depictions of Superman's restraint, or lack of, was in the series finale of Justice League Unlimited. Supes goes toe to toe with a Braniac empowered Darkseid in the middle of an evacuated Metropolis. Clark makes this great speech about feeling like he lives in a world of tissue paper most of the time, but that he can finally cut loose, because he's found something that can take his full power...a super charged god.
Do you have a citation for this? "In the early 1950's he gained extraordinary abilities after his exposure to the Earth's yellow sun" - Wiki lists it as Action Comics #262 (March 1960) - I'm trying to determine how far apart Kryptonite was from the Solar Power explanation