Superman’s original powers were not really that spectacular, especially when compared to later reincarnations. In fact you could say that they were really rather poor, almost on par with many other ordinary superheros that have been created in his shadow. But as the character grew in popularity, his powers also grew in number, to a point where many of them had to be removed.
Superman is without a doubt the best known, and arguably the best superhero of all time. He entered the world on April 18, 1938. Although he look visually the same as the man of steel we are all familiar with, he was vastly different where it mattered. Superman’s original powers were really rather thin, and unevolved.
This is the peculiar thing that I really never paid much attention to. The catchphrase for him went as follows, and should have pointed out his shortfall in powers. But being a modern generation kid, I was only familiar with the more recent reincarnations. “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…It’s Superman!” See that last bit? I was always aware of this sentence, but I never looked into it too much. Superman couldn’t fly when the comic was first created. He did have superhuman abilities, but flight was not one of them. Instead of flying he had the ability to jump to the extreme.
But lacking flight early on wasn’t the only problem the young man of steel faced. While kryptonite has always been his weakness, it seems that a shell could have also stopped the lad in his stride. But as time wore on he built up his strength and abilities to a point where he could survive an atomic blast. Now that’s more like it.
Apart from his super strength, super speed, super senses and being practically invulnerable, he also developed several abilities in this early part of his life that were dropped as fast as they were introduced. A few of these were the ability to telepathically control others, which kind of makes you wonder why he would need any other skill. Paraphrasing Jim Carrey‘s character, Fletcher Reede from Liar Liar, he could just telepathically tell all of the criminals to “stop breaking the law, asshole!” I can see why that dropped that one. They also toyed with a weirdness that the T1000 would have been proud of. In one edition of the strip the writers gave him the ability to change the shape of his face so it looked like someone else. I couldn’t imagine why that would be necessary of a superhero like Superman. If he really wanted people to find it hard to recognize him why s his disguise only a pair of glasses and a suit (yes, unlike other superheros his disguise is Clarke Kent, not Superman).
As time progressed so did his abilities and superhuman feats. By the early 1980’s the writers realized that he had gathered so many features that he was practically unbeatable, and creating a villain capable of even proving a match for him became difficult. To make their life easier that decided to part with some of his abilities. His strength and speed were both reduced, along with many others. But it was only a temporary setback. His superhuman abilities are once again quickly developing.