Kryptonian Armor Doesn’t Grant Super-Strength – How Kryptonian Powers Work – Take Two

CD3it1rWoAAEivVWith more images of Batman’s armor, the question has been raised as to how it might be able to contend with Superman and the idea that it grants Batman increased strength is a reasonable theory. The idea of armor or exo-skeletal strength enhancement is prevalent in real-world R&D and extensible from Kryptonian technology (but perhaps not in the way many assume).

There are many justifications on how Batman might, under contrived circumstances, stand a chance against Superman and increasing Batman’s strength is just part of it. However, this has re-raised the question as to whether Kryptonians in the Battle of Smallville had armor which granted them the abilities seen then. I don’t think so.

The topic has been raised before and it took me a while to crystallize my own thinking about what was actually happening, so my previous efforts tended to be more rebuttals of other theories than affirmative statement of what I think the final theory on powers actually is, but let me take one more crack at it. I’ll start with a quick rebuttal, a short statement of the rules, then a justification and support for what those rules are.

I respectfully request that you clear your mind of preconceptions and assumptions and try to operate under the theories to be set forth.

Issues With Strength

It’s never explicitly said in the film that the armor grants strength, so the only way you get there is by inference. However, inferring super-strength in the armor causes all sorts of consistency issues elsewhere, so it doesn’t solve or streamline the film any better than the traditional explanation.

If Kryptonian armor gives you powers like Faora’s speed or Zod’s truck-throwing strength:

Why wasn’t Car-Vex able to stop Lois? How did a door stop her and how was Lois able to wrestle with her? How were any of the guards stopped by the doors Jor-El closed?

Why didn’t anyone use these powers on Krypton during a military coup? Even if you say their armor on Krypton was different than the scavenged armor from the Era of Exploration, why would Kryptonian armor technology regress and lose powers that would be useful during a coup d’etat?

Now we certainly could create a theory to reconcile all of that, but it seems like creating a theory to justify a theory that was never spoken of or explicitly shown in the film.

The Four Rules of Kryptonian Powers

To reconcile everything you see in the film, you only need four rules:

  1. Kryptonians get access to ALL powers from radiation while exposed or stored.
  2. Kryptonians need training to USE all powers.
  3. Kryptonian helmets block sensory overload.
  4. Kryptonians lose access to energy stores while breathing Kryptonian atmosphere.

Each one of those rules are backed up by a scene and line of dialog, require no additional assumptions, and used together can justify every single scene in the film. Additionally, all of the rules are traditional except Rule 4, unique to Man of Steel but still not much different than other traditional weaknesses.

Rule 1 – Access To All Powers From Radiation

Superman gaining his powers from the Sun isn’t exactly new. This idea is reinforced by the film several times over. Jor-El says of the “main sequence yellow star” that, “His cells will drink its radiation.” Later, Jor-El says, “Your cells have drunken its radiation strengthening your muscles, your skin, your senses.” Then, Jax-Ur says, “The strength you derived from exposure to the Earth’s sun has been neutralized aboard our ship.” So Superman gets his powers from the Sun, unsurprisingly. Note that Jor-El does not ask about the atmospheric composition of the planet circling the star or explain Kal’s sensory powers as tied to atmosphere. Jax-Ur doesn’t mention Earth’s atmosphere when explaining Kal’s strength, but instead ties it to Earth’s sun.  When Jor-El tells Kal to “Strike that panel” and expose himself to the vacuum of space, he doesn’t warn him to first take a deep breath because he’s empowered by Earth’s atmosphere.  There’s no such warning because it’s not a condition of his powers.

The only line of dialog mentioning the benefits of Earth’s environment are when Jor-El says, “Earth’s gravity is weaker, yet its atmosphere is more nourishing.” However, he is not tying, restricting, or basing Kal’s powers in Earth’s gravity or atmosphere. Jor-El is merely explain how an alien could live in the environment of another world, which sets up the weakness when Kal-El collapses on the Black Zero. Note that Jor-El mentions these qualities of Earth together and in the same sentence, therefore any reliance on this line of dialog as an explanation for the powers should rely on both atmosphere AND gravity. Yet, we’ve seen Superman demonstrate powers both in the vacuum of space and under the World Engine’s gravity beam, so these do not appear to be constraints or sources of his power. Nor does gravity appear to be a significant factor between Krypton or Earth at all since Lois is able to freely move about the Black Zero and we can observe their relative gravities to be similar (as acknowledged by WETA).

The idea that Kryptonians get all their powers from the Sun isn’t confrontational or new.  It’s only a problem if you make assumptions about atmosphere and try to parse the powers when the film didn’t say you had to do that. If you think about all the Kryptonians who have ever come to Earth throughout Superman lore, the vast majority gain the full suite of powers upon immediate exposure to the Sun.  In a handful of cases, they need more time to store-up energy to gain all powers, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

In the few instances where the visitors don’t have all their powers are accounted for under Rule 2.

Rule 2 – Use Of Powers Needs Training

Question: Why didn’t Clark fly in the oil rig rescue?  Answer: Clark hadn’t learned how to yet.

Much of the struggle to parse the powers with technology, environment, or theories stems from trying to resolve or reconcile why not all the powers are used from the outset.  The unspoken assumption is that if they had access to such powers certainly they would use such powers, right?  Except the film gives us an explicit example of that not being the case: Superman learning to fly.

Superman always had access to flight, the capacity to do so, but his actual use of the power demanded he learn to do it.  There was no change in technology or environment, only Superman’s training.

In fact, we get several examples like this: 9 year-old Clark learning to focus. Superman learning to fly. Zod learning to focus in the arctic. Zod discovering heat vision in a fit of rage. Zod learning to fly. In dialog, every one of these scenes are tied to training! Focus, testing your limits, mastering your senses, training on a farm, etc. The film explicitly provides an explanation for limited use of powers despite full access to powers.

So there is no need to imply, infer, or create a theory tied to technology or environmental limitations which training or experience is a sufficient explanation.  The rule is already given to us, so why create a new one?

This is quite a traditional idea. In other stories, Kryptonians who come to Earth almost always have a short training sequence to show their discovery and exploration of their powers. We get this idea with Kal learning to fly and Zod learning to focus in the Arctic.  Anytime a Kryptonian doesn’t use a power they should otherwise have access to can be explained by a lack of training or experience.

Rule 3 – Kryptonian Helmets Block Sensory Overload

Okay, so here’s the crux of a lot of the confusion.  When the helmet goes down, new powers seem to kick in, therefore there is a rush to tie the powers to different radiation levels, atmospheric exposure, and other similar theories.  It is, perhaps, one of the weak points of the film that this isn’t clearly explained leading to many competing theories (although I’d argue if you follow them all only a tiny handful are free from contradiction).  So what makes my explanation any better than the other theories out there?

It’s what Superman says!

Zod asks, “What have you done to me?”

Superman responds, “My parents taught me to hone my senses, Zod. Focus on just what I wanted to see. Without your helmet you’re getting everything. And it hurts doesn’t it?”

Superman explicitly says this to Zod. Superman was just taught that part of the apparatus is called a “breather”, but he didn’t say to Zod that he was suffering because of atmospheric exposure or a compromised “breather.”  Superman doesn’t talk about Zod gaining access to new or more powers.  Rather, Superman correctly assesses the issue as a lack of focus (training and experience) compensating for the failure of Zod’s helmet over a power Zod already had.  The sentence only makes sense if Superman assumes Zod has the power and that the issue is focus.  If the issue was the atmosphere, Zod could hold his breath (Superman has already proven he can survive in a vacuum) or some such and the issue would leave him.

How would Superman even know that exposure to Earth’s atmosphere is the trigger for gaining sensory powers and subsequent sensory overload?  We’re generally not shown Clark intentionally depriving himself of Earth’s atmosphere to make such a discovery and it would be a dangerous sort of experiment to test considering the consequences of the test failing.  “Whoops, looks like you needed to breath to live.  Sorry, you’re dead.” Moreover, how would Superman even know, conclusively and for certain, what Zod was breathing? Conversely, the film established that focus was a cure to the sensory powers.  The issue was never access but training.  Superman would have an intuition that clasping your hands over your ears (like he did as a child) or that a helmet might provide protection from sensory overload better than any atmospheric-based explanation.

I’ve explained in my videos why or how a helmet might serve to act as a crutch that provides an artificial band of focus for the Kryptonians who haven’t yet learned to focus, but the most persuasive proof is simply that Superman says the issue is the lack of a helmet rather than exposure to Earth’s atmosphere.

I admit you can attempt alternate theories on this, the question is whether this matrix of rules creates any contradictions when compared to other theories?

Rule 4 – Kryptonians Lose Access To Their Power Stores While Breathing Kryptonian Atmosphere

We understand that exposure to Kryptonian atmosphere aboard the Black Zero makes Superman weak.

“I feel strange. Weak.”

“Here in this environment you are as weak as a human.”

“If that thing is making Earth more like Krypton won’t you be weaker around it?”

Which is really all you need to understand the vast majority of the movie and largely consistent with some portrayals of traditional weaknesses like Kryptonite or Red Solar Radiation (which have an array of nuance with respect to their specific mechanics in any given story in tradition).  If you understand this much, you can navigate Man of Steel without contradiction for most of the film.

I offer only two nuances which are by no means necessary but streamline a lot of collateral explanation.

First, that Kryptonian atmosphere removes access to, but not power from, Kryptonian energy stores.  I conclude this primarily because of how quickly the powers return with no time or ability to recharge.  We know that Kryptonians store their energy like batteries because Jor-El uses the analogy of drinking or hydration twice (a function that relies on stores within the body), this view is consistent with the film, and this view is consistent with modern tradition.

Second, I propose that while Kryptonian atmosphere removes access to power stores, it does not in and of itself remove power access if the Kryptonian is exposed to radiation.  By way of analogy, even if Kryptonian atmosphere removes the battery, it doesn’t unplug them from the wall. This is by no means an explicit or necessary inference, however, it greatly simplifies the Battle of Smallville.

While you can come up with rationales for what Zod is breathing in Smallville, why, and build an entire theory around it, if this second proposition is true, then it doesn’t matter and we don’t need to speculate and build theories on top of theories for things unspoken in the film.  My preference is to not use two rules where one will do, so fewer rules that still present a consistent picture is my preference.

Behind-The-Scenes Creative Justification

Although the scene was cut from the film and never produced, we know that at one point the Krypton scene included a Kryptonian Warsuit which Jor-El could don or allow one of the robots to take over and fight alongside him.  This means that modern Kryptonians did have armor that granted strength, but it was larger and worn over the armor they already wore, which presumably didn’t grant strength like the Warsuit.

While not in the film, it wouldn’t be a stretch for such designs to be available to humanity by way of Zod’s abandoned Arctic drop ship and act as the inspiration for powered armor in the DC Cinematic Universe.  This would also give those designs the traditional bulk we expect from such suits when compared to the more form-fitting normal Kryptonian armor.

While Batman’s armor may have received some upgrades inspired by Kryptonian technology, careful inspection of high resolution images of its patina suggest a weathered suit that has seen use and abuse before its cinematic debut.  It may have its origins elsewhere.


To review, my proposal is that you only need these four rules to reconcile every demonstration of power (or lack thereof) in the film:

  1. Kryptonians get access to ALL powers from radiation while exposed or stored.
  2. Kryptonians need training to USE all powers.
  3. Kryptonian helmets block sensory overload.
  4. Kryptonians lose access to energy stores while breathing Kryptonian atmosphere.

If there are issues or contradictions that arise because of these rules, let me know, but more importantly, let me know if there is an alternative with the same or fewer rules.  We can always create special-case rules to accommodate any and every situation, but that becomes increasingly less elegant and less intuitive… it may strictly work as an explanation, but the value of an explanation where every answer is a special case is questionable.

The easier your rules, the closer they’re tied to dialog or a scene, the stronger your presentation or argument for their justification is going to be.

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  1. I left this question on the YouTube channel, but as it appears you are addressing comments here directly, I’m going to repost it here. I apologize if it seems like I’m bugging you!

    This has to do with the whole notion of Kryptonian atmosphere blocking access to their solar reserves, their “battery” as you put it. Again, this is an amazing catch, as I have seen the movie several times and didn’t quite put that together. Everything you outline fits the events and the logic of the film perfectly. I have no doubt you are correct and that this was intended by the filmmakers.

    I was just wondering if you had a theory as to WHY this would be the case, going back to Krypton and the evolution of Kryptonian “hominids.” Considering the fact that Kryptonians clearly evolved to store sunlight as a resource, why would their atmosphere block access to these stores? The only thing I could think was that the atmosphere changed relatively recently, perhaps “man”-made, and their metabolisms hadn’t become adapted to it yet? Maybe their technology was advanced enough at that point to compensate (say, solar storage devices in the home, “resolarators” as opposed to refridgerators) but not yet advanced enough to actuality change the atmosphere?

    Anyway, just wondering if you’ve given this any thought on a purely hypothetical level – obviously it doesn’t affect the logic of the film or the application of your theory. Thanks!

    • Creatively, sometimes tradition trumps science. Superman didn’t start out as a solar battery in the 30s and 40s… although radiation- in the form of Kryptonite- was relevant to him in ’43 (radio) and ’49 (comics). In the 60s and for the next half-century plus, Superman was tied to solar radiation. In a certain sense, as a science fiction hero who continues with the times, it behooves Superman to stay one step ahead of popular science without necessarily adhering strictly to science… that’s the fiction part of “science fiction” after all.

      To me, Superman was tied to radiation in the 60s as a reflection of pop-culture and pop-science of the 40s and 50s and the so-called “Atomic Age” and is it any wonder than Marvel’s heroes at the time were tied to cosmic rays, radioactive bite, radioactive waste, gamma bombs, and mutant children of the atom?

      Questions of evolution, eugenics, genetic manipulation, etc. are definitely themes of Man of Steel, but only just reaching universal awareness in the United States. Which is to say, MOS is perhaps a bit ahead of its time as is your theory. When people completely accept that mechanism as intuitive and grade-schoolers take it for granted, then Superman will likely have the science fiction to address it… but we’re not quite there yet. If we’re honest, the mythos as a whole doesn’t hold up under strict scientific scrutiny and theories can only go so far in trying to increase plausibility… which is why the ultimate evolution of these characters may be anti-scientific in the end. For example, Flash tapping into a quasi-mystical force or Morrison essentially proposing Superman as the embodiment of fictional heroism diegetically as an excuse for it all.

      Put another way, whatever point you pick along Superman’s timeline there’s going to be something inexplicable if held up to the light of science, but what people pick as the lens will evolve with popular science… going from Newtonian physics, to radiation, to evolution, to quantum mechanics, etc. Some theories or justifications work under a certain lens, but not others… for example, the traditional gravity explanation was an attempt to apply a lens of mathematical proportionality and pointing to a biological parallel in insects (ants and grasshoppers to begin with)… which all makes sense (superficially with the scientific sophistication of 10-year-olds in the 40s), but under other lenses or with greater scientific scrutiny it has issues.

      In that sense, you’re trying to address one aspect of the evolutionary lens, but I think if you apply evolution with rigor or other scientific lenses you’ll probably run into issues. So, generally in a “literary” analytical approach, we’re looking more for self-consistency rather than scientific consistency. We don’t need to necessarily assume, for example, that it’s a “fact that Kryptonians clearly evolved to store sunlight” since that’s never expressly stated or shown and the ultimate reconciliation may be easier found in essentially magic. For all we know, their god, Rao, made them like that intentionally and their similarity with other humanoids is because Rao consulted with the pantheon of cosmics overseeing Earth’s development as well… probably not, but basically the level of speculation is too rampant and unconstrained for me personally to find interesting, especially with that X-Factor of Kryptonians looking exactly like humans on Earth… whatever your apologetics are for that probably have a greater outcome on any framework you develop than explanations for the solar battery ability.

      Basically, we often figure out the rules of what happens and what will reliably happen before we figure out why it happens… if we ever do. Humanity has charted the movement of the stars, mathematically described the laws of gravity, etc. long before understanding the mechanisms… this video basically presents a theory to describe and predict such behavior with consistency, before we understand the mechanism (which will never happen because, ultimately, it’s fiction… soaking in sun doesn’t give or grant these powers). A decade or so from now quantum mechanics might be an intrinsic part of how we describe Superman’s powers or we may shrug and acknowledge he’s magic.

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