Superman’s forgotten weakness turned out to be a huge advantage thanks to a group of villains who hadn’t thought through their deadly plans.
Warning: contains spoilers for Superman: Red & Blue #3!
Lovers of classic Superman comics will remember that while the Man of Steel is incredibly powerful, he still has a number of weaknesses that challenge his abilities. Everyone knows Superman loses his powers around kryptonite, and comic fans know he has no particular defense against magic, but there’s another, commonly forgotten substance that poses a problem for Kal-El – even if it doesn’t work in the way his villains seem to think.
In the long history of Superman comics, writers have worked hard to find new and daring ways to add conflict to the adventures of one of the most powerful beings in fiction. As a super-strong, super-durable alien with the power of flight, it seems like there isn’t much that could possibly stop Clark from beating the bad guys at every turn. So, some weaknesses had to be added too, including the now-famous kryptonite – the glowing green stone made from the fragments of Superman’s broken home planet – and something a little more benign. Superman’s x-ray vision allows him to see through the buildings of Metropolis in order to help the city’s citizens, with the small caveat that he cannot see through lead.
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In Superman: Red & Blue #3‘s ‘Deadline,’ from Jesse J. Holland and Laura Braga, Clark Kent is running late to a dinner with fellow Justice League members Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince. Challenged to make it on time with the promise of charitable contributions from the two wealthier members of the League, Kent changes into his Superman garb to make it there all the faster. Of course, being the do-gooder he is, he cannot help but stop and assist any citizens in peril and apprehend any criminals on his way. But one group of ne’er-do-wells are seemingly ready for the Man of Steel, as they reveal they’ve hidden bombs around the city in lead boxes, assuming that since he can’t see the bombs with his x-ray vision, he’ll be unable to find and disarm them. Thankfully, Superman points out that since lead is the only thing he can’t see through, “putting something in lead doesn’t make it invisible… it sticks out like a sore thumb.”
While Superman may not be able to see through lead, that doesn’t render it invisible to his senses. Lead may be a great way of obscuring what you’re hiding from Kal-El, but it’s a terrible technique for obscuring where you’re hiding it. In recent comics, there has only been one exception to the rule. In Brian Michael Bendis’ Action Comics run, an underground criminal network known as the Invisible Mafia avoid Superman’s watchful eye by holding meetings in an old, lead-lined water tank. The tank, already a familiar feature of Metropolis and one that has been there for a long time, is a perfect way to avoid Superman’s spying while also never arousing his suspicion.
Superman may need some weaknesses to keep him relatable, but the fun of superheroes is how they use their powers to overcome unexpected challenges, and Kal-El’s inability to see through lead is the perfect example of this kind of storytelling. Superman is able to make his appointment with Batman and Wonder Woman, showing that while he may not be all-powerful, Kal-El is smart enough to understand and utilize his limitations – even if the same can’t be said for his enemies.
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