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May 9, 2008 1:27 PM   Subscribe

If a super villain blocked out Earth's yellow sun, how long would Superman retain his powers?

Let's assume that a super villain was able to block out the sun so it was perpetual night. How long would it take for Superman to lose his super powers? He seems to function all right during the night, so it must be longer than that.

Wikipedia hinted that this was actually going to be a plot point in one of the unreleased Superman movies, I'm wondering how long you'd have to wait before he lost all his powers. If you didn't wait long enough couldn't he just fly up to the sun to get a recharge?

Is this addressed in the comics or Superman universe at all?
posted by mge to Grab Bag (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think it would depend on what time of year it was, relative to Superman's position on the Earth. I mean, if he were in a wintertime environment, the rays would be weaker, and thus maybe he'd have less stored up. Like flying around with only one or 2 battery bars.

But if a villain were to block out the sun like Mister Burns did that time, Superman could just fly to another part of the Earth out of the shield's reach and recharge. To really block out the sun in a meaningful way to Superman, the villian would have to encase the whole thing in Kryptonite.
posted by chinese_fashion at 1:33 PM on May 9, 2008

Response by poster: Let's assume here that blocking out the sun means perpetual night time darkness covers the entire earth at all times, so Superman can't just hop a train to the other side of the planet and recharge.

I'm interested if these things (like wintertime powers vs summertime powers) have been discussed in cannon at all.
posted by mge at 1:38 PM on May 9, 2008

It takes about eight and a half minutes for light to travel from the sun to Earth, so assuming that the supervillain (not being superlarge) builds a barrier right in front of the sun or turns the sun off, Superman would have 8.5 full minutes of sun in which he could act. Just a thought.
posted by suedehead at 1:42 PM on May 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If he's blocking out the sun at the source, and since it takes sunlight about 9 minutes to reach Earth, if Superman were on Earth when this started, he would theoretically start feeling the effects 9 minutes after the blockage started.

I'm wondering how long you'd have to wait before he lost all his powers. If you didn't wait long enough couldn't he just fly up to the sun to get a recharge?

A famous scene from The Dark Knight Returns involves Superman attempting to block a nuclear missile, only to be caught up in the blast, which blocks out the sun. He attempts to fly up out of the cloud, but in his weakened condition, he cannot do so quickly, and is struck by lighting before he can reach sunlight and safety. He then "absorbs" sunlight energy from nearby plants, enough to revitalize him to a case level. Days later, Batman remarks that Superman still seemed peaked from the experience.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:49 PM on May 9, 2008

>> case level

base level
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:49 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: Final Night was a DC crossover that addressed the earth's sun going out, the wiki page doesn't mention the scenario you described, but I'd imagine the book itself is as close as you're going to get to canon.
posted by Oktober at 1:51 PM on May 9, 2008

I think it would depend on what time of year it was, relative to Superman's position on the Earth. I mean, if he were in a wintertime environment, the rays would be weaker, and thus maybe he'd have less stored up.

Carrying this to its logical extreme, keep in mind that Superman's Fortress of Solitude is, in many incarnations, located in the Arctic or the Antarctic. So there would be some periods where he wouldn't get any direct sun at all for weeks at a time, and (I'm assuming) would have his powers functioning perfectly well during that time.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:52 PM on May 9, 2008

Depends on the writer, and even then, it can vary depending on the writer's interpretation. In the original script for The Dark Knight Returns Superman is weaker when the sun is behind clouds, he wins the final battle with Batman when the clouds part.

I don't believe the winter vs. summer thing has been discussed at all. You might want to look here for a great deal of information on the topic.
posted by Ndwright at 1:53 PM on May 9, 2008

Well, if the sun were really absolutely blocked, that would be a little worse than perpetual night; we'd be pitched into absolute darkness and would freeze to death. This would be a real drag, and only the most psychotic villain would try such a thing (unless s/he didn't actually live on earth), as it would result in his/her own death as well. In a true perpetual night situation, reflected sunlight (i.e., moonlight) is still in play, and presumably Superman would be able to absorb that and gain nourishment from it. He might be weakened, but he would still have some power.

( gods)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:54 PM on May 9, 2008

Wat a sec. I thought Superman had Super powers on earth not because of our yellow Sun, but because he was away from the influence of the (red?) sun of Krypton.
posted by Gungho at 1:55 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: I was just coming in here to mention Final Night. Pretty much exactly what you're going for: a giant space monster devours the Sun. See here for more info. I don't have it in front of me and haven't read it in probably 10 years, but I remember Superman being quite weak in less than 24 hours. Very rapidly he starts to lose, e.g., invulnerability. But Oktober's right: this is what you want to read for a canon answer.
posted by penduluum at 1:58 PM on May 9, 2008

As I understand it (my days of being a virtual encyclopedia on all things related to comic minutiae are far enough behind me that my recollection is fuzzy at best) there's some discrepancy in the books as to whether he gets his powers from continual access to the sun or whether his powers come from having been RAISED under the yellow sun.

Either way, the fact is that yellow sunlight reinvigorates and nourishes him. Part of his powers, however (leaping tall buildings (in the earliest days of the book he couldn't fly) and super strength) come from his having been born on a planet with far higher gravity than earth's. Those powers would likely not directly diminish, though he may feel generally weaker and/or undernourished.

The important thing to remember is that I do not believe that the comic books will be a reliable source of info since it is entirely possible that one among the many thousands of one-shot crappy "Is THIS the death of Superman?!!!!!!" stories may have involved just that, only later to be either ret-conned or flat-out ignored when it was convenient for another story. Either way, Superman has regularly flown between galaxies in deep space, powered by naught but his own flight ability, for months and possibly years at a time. There is every reason to believe that even distant starlight can sustain him. Further, in the frictionless environment of deep space he can travel at speeds so incredible that the possibility of him punching the villain, flying to another yellow star to rejuvenate, flying back to punch the villain again all before the villain could get away or prepare himself is actually rather high.

so, the answer to the question of "would blocking out the sun be an effective way to stop superman" is "probably not."

the answer to the question of "how long would supes last if he were trapped in a lightless box he couldn't escape from and were properly fed so that it wasn't starvation that killed him?" is "who knows?" I do not believe that he would die, but merely lose some or most of his powers. I don't think he has ever been properly put to the test in this regard, though. At least, not that I recall.

I can't believe I just geeked out that hard.
posted by shmegegge at 2:00 PM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

My husband says:

Power available from sun = 1kW/sqm
Surface of Superman = ~1sqm

It's not enough energy to do anything useful so Superman must be able to store up energy (which also means he needs to have periods of nonactivity). Therefore, depending on timing, Superman would have sufficient stored energy to solve the problem. Or he'd have none.

In summary: it depends.

Apparently there's an article about this called something like "Why Can't Superman Save Everybody all the Time?" but google didn't find it on the first page.
posted by tracicle at 2:01 PM on May 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

This has actually been addressed in many Superman comics/episodes/etc including even an episode of 'Lois and Clark'. In the 'Death of Superman' series, I believe it was established that he "died" because, essentially, he had used up all his stored solar energy while having his red-clad butt handed to him. That being the case, I would imagine he could last quite a while without the sun unless Doomsday showed up. And, depending on the version of Superman you flavor, he could always fly into space around the blockage to get recharged.
posted by elendil71 at 2:14 PM on May 9, 2008

Honestly, it really depends on who is writing that specific issue of the comic. There is no absolute answer to a question about an impossible super power based on fiction (not fact). Even if you did get an answer, someone could come along next week and redefine the problem. (AKA "A wizard did it.")

That being said, he did leave earth for an extended period of time in the comics, far from the sun (using a teleportation device) and still remained "super".

So I'm voting for "about a month".
posted by blue_beetle at 2:38 PM on May 9, 2008

Best answer: As long as the narrative logic demanded.
posted by Artw at 2:59 PM on May 9, 2008 [3 favorites]

Spoiler alert...

In Death of Superman, when he's 'officially' dead, they bury him, after a certain amount of time, he kicks back into life and all is well again. Go hollywood endings.

So obviously being without sun (buried in a grave) isn't an issue for at least a certain amount of his super-powers. I'd imagine it takes quite a bit of effort to dig yourself out of a grave.
posted by Static Vagabond at 3:07 PM on May 9, 2008

First, it's a comic book, so it's not going to make a lot of logical sense.

In reading Superman comics for 25+ years, here's the overall understanding I have.

Kryptonian's store the energy from yellow suns in their body. They store enough that day or night doesn't matter.

Red sun light saps the energy from Kryptonians. The speed depends on the intensity of the light source.

By that basis, if removed from a yellow sun, Superman's powers would last days to weeks depending on his exertion levels. That assumes he's not exposed to red sun light.

Different writers have different takes on the exact behavior. Sometimes the effect is instantaneous, recharging or draining in seconds (for dramatic effect, obv.) Other times, it's a slow process.

None of it makes sense compared to the reality of physics, so don't try too.

As for the Superman movies, to longtime comic book readers, they are Hollywood-ized into stupidity with giant crystals & Marlo Brando. So don't expect the comic book reasoning to apply to the films.

On a side note, recently it was shown that under a blue sun, Superman can give others Kryptonian powers.

I could go on in detail if you want, but dinner's on the table.
posted by Argyle at 7:27 PM on May 9, 2008

If the sun was blocked out, Superman might be forced to replace his phone booth with a tanning bed
posted by fonetik at 7:58 PM on May 9, 2008

Supervillain: "MWHHAHAHAAHA! I have spent TRILLIONS of dollars blocking out the sun. You are poweless, son of Krypton!"

Supes: *switches on UV lamp*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:30 PM on May 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Supervillain: "I mean 'powerless', of course, and...wait, is that a UV lamp?"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:31 PM on May 10, 2008

in "Kingdom Come" Batman assumes that Supes is even immune to kryptonite at this point because he has been on Earth for so long and absorbed so much yellow-solar radiation. I don't think even blotting out the sun with kryptonite would work if you get an old enough Superman.
posted by jrishel at 7:00 AM on May 12, 2008

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