Invulnerability Vulnerability : an article by: GF Willmetts

December 4, 2016 | By | 2 Replies More

Don’t confuse invulnerability with having dense enough tissue to bounce bullets off of as you might not be able to survive more powerful artillery shot at you. The one thing you never see with Marvel characters is the bruises. We’re talking the kind of invulnerability that Superman has that, with few exceptions, nothing can get past.

Marvel’s main invulnerable characters tend not to be terrestrial with some exceptions. Luke Cage, Power Man, is reputed to have bullet-proof skin but that is based off flesh density. Examples of this is more extensive. All the muscular gamma mutates share this property and so does the hybrid Sub-Mariner and he has his own limitations. Fred J. Dukes, the Blob, has rubber-like flesh that regular ammunition cannot penetrate. His late partner, Angelo Unuscione, otherwise Unus The Untouchable, had a force field that truly was invincible and eventually killed him when he couldn’t shut it down and starved of oxygen.

There are other forms if invulnerability. Being composed of or being able to transform into a light-form, like one of the Captain Marvels, Monica Rambeau, or of sound like Ulysses Klaw or even be able to turn intangible like Katherine Pryde or the Vision gives its own form of invulnerability because they can’t be touched. Then again, so does the retro-metabolism that Wolverine and Madcap have to survived limited damage.

DC Comics probably has the most invulnerable characters. Had Krypton not been destroyed and they had all discovered they gained super-powers under a yellow sun, they might have been more widespread across the galaxy. As it is, there are only a few survivors, most well known is Kar-el, also known as Superman, who is classed as truly invulnerable and able to survive even flying through the heart of a sun.

Mon-el or maybe Valor depending which era your belong to.

Mon-el or maybe Valor depending which era your belong to.

The off-shoot and hybrid Daxamites lack of immunity to lead has restricted most of them leaving their planet until the 30th century. Their invulnerability comes from a bioelectric force field more than super-dense flesh. Quite how lead can weaken them fatally is harder to work out unless it earths their bioelectric force field. Considering the abundance of lead on other planets, you have to wonder how Lar Gand never came across it in sufficient quantity to bring on his fatal demise earlier than his encounter with Superboy. His survival after lead contamination depended on being projected into the Phantom Zone and only released, initially temporarily by Querl Dox, Brainiac 5 of the Legion Of Super-Heroes in the 30th century, with a temporary cure before a second serum, containing kryptonite, which he has to digest on a regular basis. Presumably, his bioelectic force field can let it be digested. One would have to wonder if this would be any use to other Daxamites unless they were already being poisoned by lead. One would wonder why the Daxamites have a bioelectric force field but maybe on an adopted world without lead, maybe this was a protection against any harm caused by radioactive elements.

The real confusion is why have so many other super-powers when invulnerability alone would be enough if based off super-dense flesh because this would also given super-strength. After all, no matter how much Superman lifts, he is unlikely to suffer muscle damage or even fatigue. This would explain some of his unlimited abilities. In many respects, it is DC Comics own fault by dividing the abilities up instead of saying several of them are as aspect of one. This brings up an interesting dilemma when it comes to Jo Nah, Ultra Boy of the Legion Of Super-Heroes, who has to direct his energy towards which ability he appears to be using so can only be temporarily invulnerable.

Ultra Boy of the Legion Of Super-Heroes

Ultra Boy of the Legion Of Super-Heroes

The problem with total invulnerability is how does Superman breath and eat? It has been shown over the years that Superman has swallowed and inhaled various toxic chemicals and gases and either spit or exhaled with no side-effects. This verifies total invulnerability but leaves the problem of how can Superman eat, drink or breath like a human so he can get nourishment. Indeed, he does appear to have lungs and a conventional digestive tract and might mimic their use when in civilian guise however I doubt they are used in a conventional sense. I doubt also that he can taste anything because that would have to get past his invulnerability and then he wouldn’t be invulnerable. Swallowing and digesting are two entirely different things, well, unless it was a kryptonite hors d’oeuvre. Quite how this krytonite’s radiation can penetrate such invulnerability, let alone produce various effects over the years can only be pure speculation. It certainly can’t be a conventional radiation or it would irradiate and poison everyone.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. When it comes to Superman’s other senses, there are similar problems. Hearing might still work. Being invulnerable doesn’t mean that the eardrum can’t still vibrate and the brain interpret the sounds. Smell, like taste, would have a similar problem. It is the optical abilities that are the real headache. After all, how can light penetrate the eyeball then the optic nerve and then hit the brain without damaging it? Now, I can hear you say well light is harmless. Coherent light isn’t and is still composed of photons. You normally call it laser light. The same thing that has partially blinded people in our reality. I doubt if even Superman can distinguish between the variety of lights to decide which to let in. He’s invulnerable. He would be effectively blind to anything potentially damaging. No wonder he can fly through a star without any eye damage.

Superman - where being invulnerable means never being able to eat.

Superman – where being invulnerable means never being able to eat.

Years ago, I did wonder about Superman’s heat vision when it was once written that he has to focus for it to burn through anything. That being the case, he would have to be pretty shifty-eyed and he daren’t stare at anyone or thing. Mind you, that is how his telescopic and microscopic vision works so must take more than a few seconds to kick in. Even so, with the evidence above, one would have to wonder how he can see anything let achieve any visual ability in the first place. Of course, if Superman was not totally invulnerable, that would be less of a problem. Most of Superman’s powers derive from being in the proximity of a yellow sun like that of our star. Under different colour stars, he is supposed to display different levels of super-powers although this hasn’t been explored as much as it should be. I mean, would a white star make him even more powerful than he already is? The red giant star, like Rao, that his home planet Krypton certainly deprives him of any of his abilities. If his powers do hail from the sun, then do they wane during the night when there is no exposure? Maybe the best time to attack Superman is before dawn although it might explain how he can eat or drink. He might not be consistently invulnerable.

The conclusion from all of this is that there shouldn’t be any such thing as true invulnerability simply because the person who has it can’t be self-sustaining. After all, I haven’t even dwelt on how the likes of Superman can eat for nourishment, let alone urinate or defecate. Assuming he can also shed skin, where would it go and how would he control the length of his finger and toe nails or hair length. It has been shown that he uses his heat vision for a haircut and shave in the past but if it could penetrate his invulnerability, he isn’t so invulnerable. If he was, anyone with a mirror could reflect his energy back at him. Where’s the Mirror Master when you need him?

What can make invulnerability seem absolute is the belief that someone truly is. After all, you are hardly likely to admit to any weaknesses possessed lest your enemies use them. With a variety of abilities, including super-speed, it would be a simple task to move out of the way of any substantial attack.

Don’t let the idea of someone like Superman lying seem against his character. Rumour has it that he has a secret civilian identity to provide some privacy and social life. Being thought of as a Superman in every description of the name provides the edge to back it up. I suspect other people in his profession proffer more than they are as well. It makes the villains of the piece try a little harder but not in the ways that could beat seriously beat him…well, most of the time.

(c) GF Willmetts 2016

Category: Comics, Science, Superheroes

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (2)

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  1. avatar Julian White says:

    Your article on Invulnerability reminded me of the essay on potential problems with Superman reproducing sexually – and a short riffle through my memory produced the necessary title (Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex) for me to look up the thing – it’s by Larry Niven and worth a look if only for the chuckle-inducing thought of a pubescent Superboy’s urges…

  2. avatar UncleGeoff says:

    Hello Julian
    I remember the article well. For all those seeking it out, you need a copy of Larry Niven’s book, ‘All The Myriad Ways’, still available cheaply.
    Niven’s emphasis was on Superman’s problems with social activities and proclivities but even without invulnerability, he’s still an alien so human-kryptonian off-spring was always going to be problematic but commonly used by a variety of writers across a variety of mediums.
    Geoff

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