Let’s Talk about Sextillion

This is something that’s been bugging me for the last couple of weeks.

I was surfing around the Intarwebz and landed on this Wikipedia page that listed Superman’s powers. We all know that Supes pretty much hit the superpower lottery — he’s got just about everything, and he’s got more of it than just about anyone else. But there was this bit that bugged me:

After being saturated with yellow solar energy in All-Star Superman, his strength was tested as exceeding the force of 200 quintillion tons (or 2×1020 tons, in scientific notation, i.e., two hundred billion billion tons), enough to pull the Earth away from the sun. As of The New 52 reboot, his strength now exceeds 5.972 sextillion metric tons.

I’m willing to buy that for “All-Star Superman,” when, again, he’d been overdosed on solar energy — and the focus of the story wasn’t on his physical strength. But the New 52 bit just annoys me, partly ’cause they’re just trying to one-up Morrison’s story, and partly ’cause it’s just so stupid. Here, lookit this panel from the Reboot’s Superman #13:


And here are the panels, if that’s too small to read. First, the technician helping test Supes says this:



And Superman replies:


This bugs me, and not just for the arrogance the Man of Steel is flashing here.

Really, that level of strength is freakin’ unrealistic. Yes, even for a superhero comic book. Especially for a superhero comic book. Bench-pressing the planet is stupid — and I felt the same way when Grant Morrison had Superman, Wonder Woman, and Martian Manhunter do it all the time in the classic “JLA” series.

Being powerful enough to juggle planets may be a power fantasy (but I don’t know anyone who fantasizes about juggling a planet — juggling bullies, sure, planets, no way), but it makes for boring storytelling.

Where’s the challenge for someone who can juggle a planet? Got a comet on the way to hit Earth? Juggle the planet out of the way. Lex Luthor has a new robot? Is it heavier than the planet? Toss it aside. Lex Luthor got a chunk of Kryptonite? Swat it out of the solar system before it actually reduces your powers or causes you any serious harm. Or have Wonder Woman or the Martian Manhunter or Apollo do it for you, ’cause it’s been pretty well established that they’ve all got Superman-class strength.

Challenge comes from being able to be challenged, and the DC Reboot just prioritizes a few creators’ feeble egos and shallow fantasies above good storytelling.

Superman was a better character back when John Byrne was writing him in the mid-’80s — not just because Byrne was a better writer, with a better grasp of the Man of Steel’s personality and motivations, but because he understood that Superman was more fun to read about when he couldn’t juggle a planet.


  1. snell Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 7:01 am

    Allow me to present one counterpoint to your position:


    5.972 sextillion TIMES A DOZEN!!!

    Silver Age wins again.

  2. scottslemmons Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 7:06 am

    This doesn’t necessarily disprove my thesis that a character who can carry that much weight makes for poor storytelling… 😉

  3. snell Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    You dare question 16 year old Jim Shooter?

    Bonus–think how long and heavy that chain must be…


  4. scottslemmons Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    Every time I read a Silver Age comic, especially one with Superman or Batman in it, I’m a little amazed that comics have been able to survive as long as they have.

  5. Maxo Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 11:10 am

    The power-up bugs me, too, and for the same reasons – a god-like, essentially unbeatable Superman just isn’t as interesting. Where’s the challenge to overcome? Where’s the risk? And, most importantly, how is any reader going to relate to this character who is, at heart, supposed to be the most human of them all?

    I think the power level is what’s made me like the latest version of Aquaman – he’s basically Golden Age Superman.

  6. scottslemmons Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 11:13 am

    Max, the only good Aquamen have been the Aquamen with beards. If it’s not Morrison-JLA Aquaman, Diniverse Aquaman, or Batman-The-Brave-and-the-Bold Aquaman, it’s crappy Aquaman…

  7. JD Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    So he’s as strong as the overpowered Silverest Age version– but he still needs body armor?

  8. Buryak Said,

    January 30, 2013 @ 8:37 pm

    That makes me angry… sort of like Full House and Family Matters reruns make me angry. “That’s… all… you… got?” I feel like punching something.