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Superpowers most people don't know Superman has

Ask anybody what Superman's powers are and they'll tell you he can fly, he's super-strong, and nothing can hurt him. Most people will also recall his X-ray and heat vision, and of course his super-speed. Quite a few people will remember that he also has super-breath, which in some stories can blow so cold it freezes things in ice. 

But Superman's been around for a very long time, and he's had more superpowers than many of the most dedicated readers realize. Some stuck around for years, and some were just for one story. Here's a look back at some of Superman's weirdest—and less-remembered—abilities.

Super-Ventriloquism

This power is rarely mentioned anymore, but it came up a lot during the Silver Age. It's exactly what it sounds like—Superman had the power to talk with his mouth closed and throw his voice, but better than any normal human ever could (even a famous ventriloquist like Edgar Bergen). Superman could stand right in front of you and make it sound like Clark Kent was yelling something from the next room. Once, on a visit to the Revolutionary War era (more on that later), he made everyone think a black cat was speaking to Batman, which nearly got the Caped Crusader burned as a witch. (A lot of weird stuff went on in those Silver Age comics.)

Exactly how Earth's yellow sun gave Superman ventriloquism powers was never explained—but then again, how it enables him to fly has never made a whole lot of sense either, and nobody worries about that. In the old days, the rule was basically "Superman can do anything that's necessary for the story," and that was that. Sometimes you just need to trick some colonial types into thinking Batman's in league with the devil, and making a cat talk is an efficient way to get there. Once or twice he even used it to do an actual ventriloquist act, as we can see in the panels above.

Super-Genius

Another thing that came up a lot in the old days was that Superman was a Super-Genius. Action Comics #1 described him as "A genius in intellect." At the time, his powers were shared by all Kryptonians regardless of the color of the sun, so it makes sense that he'd have the intelligence of such an advanced alien race, but when later stories established that his powers came from the light of Earth's yellow sun, his high intelligence was implicitly attributed to that as well. Which makes as much sense as anything, but strangely, he never seemed to have any extra trouble with problem-solving or thinking in general in the stories when he lost his powers for whatever reason—which is when he needed his wits the most.

In the Silver Age, Superman used his genius to engineer his Fortress of Solitude, design and build an army of Superman robots, and create various other super-science devices to help him on his adventures. In Superman Vol. 1 #162, he even built a brain-evolution machine that was supposed to make him that much smarter. It succeeded, but also duplicated him into Superman-Red and Superman-Blue. Together, the two super-super-genius Supermen were able to make the Earth a utopia. Of course that story wasn't in continuity, as it would have been hard to come back from.

Super Knitting, Weaving, and Sewing

Classic Superman also had a habit of using his powers for various arts and crafts. He could quickly restructure clothes into other outfits, which wouldn't look any different from those made by professional tailors. He could knit scraps from a bunch of flags into one big flag, using flagpoles as knitting needles. Which is weird, actually, because it seems like it would be faster and more convenient just to use regular knitting needles at super-speed, but maybe he didn't have any nearby. 

Early Golden Age stories even said Superman had woven his own costume out of the Kryptonian blankets he was wrapped in. Later stories would abandon that idea in favor of either having Martha Kent sew the costume or making it some sort of pre-existing Kryptonian outfit.

Obviously super-speed would always be a key factor in getting these tasks accomplished quickly, but where did he get the specific skills involved in sewing, knitting, and weaving? It's nice to imagine Martha, back at the farmhouse, patiently teaching a young Clark how to sew as he clumsily breaks needles against his fingers rather than pricking them. But honestly, it's just as likely that he's entirely self-taught when it comes to this sort of thing—he is a super-genius, after all.

Superman Vision

This is a surprisingly recent one, although the story was something of a throwback to Silver Age tropes. In "Escape from Bizarro World," a story by Geoff Johns and Eric Powell that ran through Action Comics #855-857, Bizarro kidnaps Superman's adopted father, Jonathan Kent, and Superman pursues them to a cube-shaped planet orbiting a blue star, which turns out to be a new version of the Bizarro World from Silver Age stories.

Superman receives a warning that the blue star's rays may give him new superpowers he doesn't possess on Earth, but it takes until the last chapter of the story for a new power to manifest. When Jonathan is attacked by Bizarro Doomsday, Superman instinctively blasts his father with blue-red-and-yellow beams from his eyes—which cause Jonathan to become a Superman as well, enabling him to defeat the monster, and he dubs his son's new power "Superman vision." The power fades when they go back to Earth, but it's certainly interesting to learn that the potential for new powers is always out there.

It's worth noting that Bizarro also gains a new ability under the blue sun, but his enables him to create more Bizarros from his own body, leading to the creation of Bizarro versions of Superman's entire supporting cast and rogue's gallery—thus the aforementioned Bizarro Doomsday—as well as a Bizarro Justice League.

Super-Metabolism

Since Superman absorbs so much energy from Earth's yellow sun, he probably doesn't even need to eat food to live. But when he does eat, his digestion and metabolism are just as super as everything else about him. Even if he didn't get so much regular exercise from fighting giant irradiated apes and throwing evil robots into outer space, it would be hard for Superman to put on weight. 

 In Armageddon: Inferno #2, there's even a scene in which Clark Kent explains to Lois Lane that she shouldn't eat French fries because they're so unhealthy for her, but that it's okay for him to eat as many of them as he wants, because he's Superman. Can you imagine having to be married to that guy?

Time travel

This now-abandoned power led to a lot of fun stories back in the Silver Age. By flying so fast that he broke the "time barrier," Superman could travel to the past or future without a time machine. He didn't even need to run on a special treadmill like the one the Flash used. Superman's time-hopping was completely unaided. He could even take other people with him, if he wrapped them in his cape for protection.

When silly, kid-friendly stories were what comic books were all about, this was a really great power for Superman to have. He could have adventures in ancient Rome, try to save Abraham Lincoln from John Wilkes Booth, or have Batman burned as a witch in the 1700s, like he tried to do in World's Finest Comics #186. It was all good fun, Batman-burning aside. But somewhere around the 1980s, continuity and consistency became more important, and a hero who constantly visits the past and future just makes things way too complicated. Not only was Superman's time travel power abandoned after Crisis on Infinite Earths, but a few years later, Superman writers Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern and Jerry Ordway teamed up with a legion of artists for a crossover story called Time and Time Again which was used deliberately to establish just how difficult time travel is for Superman and other DC characters in the post-Crisis universe.

A force field for his costume

This is a more modern power, introduced by John Byrne in his Man of Steel miniseries that rebooted Superman after Crisis on Infinite Earths. Basically, it was a solution for the problem of Superman's costume. Being Superman, he tends to be exposed to fires and explosions on a daily basis, and there needs to be some sort of explanation for how he doesn't constantly end up naked.

Previously, that explanation had been that his costume was made of invulnerable Kryptonian fabric and was just as indestructible as he is, but part of Byrne's revamp was to remove most of the Kryptonian trappings from the character in favor of a Superman who views Earth as his only home. Plus, with the complexities of modern storytelling, sooner or later it would become a problem if he couldn't get more costumes when he lost one.

So Byrne came up with the idea that Superman unconsciously generates a protective force field of a few inches around his body. It doesn't keep him from being touched, but it does keep his clothing from being torn, as long as that clothing is nice and snug. This has the added benefit of giving his elderly mother a good reason for making him such a tight-fitting costume. Of course this means his cape can be damaged a lot more easily, which leads to the very 1980s trope of a battle-worn Superman with his cape in tatters, representing how much he's been through.

Super-Hypnosis

Remember at the end of Superman II, when Clark kisses Lois and causes her to forget that he's Superman, and basically everything that happened in the entire movie? That was this power, and making women forget who he really is was always one of its primary uses. Needless to say, this might not be Superman's most ethical ability.

The exact nature of super-hypnosis was never explained at all—it was just one of those things he could do because he was Superman. It was usually just a convenient Deus ex Machina in stories during which his secret identity had been revealed. More than once Superman even made the impressive claim that he was slightly hypnotizing everyone all the time, to keep them from noticing that Clark and Superman look exactly like.

There were also a few stories, like the one pictured above from Superman Vol. 1 #45, when Superman's hypnotic abilities were that much more impressive, enabling him to actually control the minds of others rather than just affecting their memories, but the prevailing sense seemed to be that Superman's physical powers were unstoppable enough without making him a psychic juggernaut as well. And of course in more recent years, the whole idea of super-hypnosis has been abandoned entirely.

Projecting a tiny version of himself from his hand

"Superman's New Power" from Superman Vol. 1 # 125 could be called the epitome of a Silver Age Superman story. When our hero is caught in the explosion of a mysterious alien spaceship, he gains the ability to project a miniature version of himself from his hands, which has all of his superpowers. Unfortunately, he no longer has most of those powers himself—they're only possessed by his little doppelgänger.

Superman begins to get jealous of his tiny double, who has all the powers and seems to be getting all of the attention too. The public is won over by the unusualness of Superman's new ability, and they view the tiny proxy Superman as weirdly adorable. The mini-Superman even starts going out and stopping crimes on his own before full-size Superman knows they're being committed. Superman begins to have some really dark thoughts regarding what to do about the little gloryhound he projects from his fingertips, but before that comes to anything, mini-Superman sacrifices his own life to save his larger counterpart from Kryptonite, which causes regular Superman to regain all of his original powers. As in most of these classic stories, the exact status quo is restored by the last page of the issue, but "Superman's New Power" will always be remembered for just how bizarre it was.

Super-Flare

As recently as 2015, Superman gained another new power in Superman Vol. 3 #38, by Geoff Johns, John Romita Jr., and Klaus Janson. While caught in a desperate battle with a powerful enemy named Ulysses, Superman suddenly and to his own surprise released a vast amount of solar power all at once, from his entire body. Basically, he lit up like a man-shaped solar flare.

Analysis by Batman revealed that this is the power that Superman's ability to emit heat from his eyes has always been foreshadowing. It's not new information that his cells absorb solar radiation, the source of all his powers, but it turns out he also has the power to directly release that radiation in one big blast. It's literally the nuclear option of Superman powers, a last ditch chance against a very powerful enemy. Not only does the super-flare destroy everything and potentially everyone around Superman, but releasing all that radiation leaves him so drained that it takes up to 24 hours for his full powers to return again—which means if he were ever to use it and find that it didn't work against an enemy, he'd really be in trouble.

This ability to cause pure destruction feels appropriate, when you think about it, for the most contemporary of weird Superman powers. It lacks the absurdity of firing off a tiny doppelgänger, the wide-open if unwieldy storytelling potential of time travel, and even the hopefulness of Superman vision. It's simply violence and destruction. But on the other hand, it demonstrates that Superman, for as long as he's been around, will always be able to change and evolve for the stories he's being used to tell.