So during a discussion about the new Superman and Lois elsewhere online, someone declared they couldn’t take the show seriously when it has a Kryptonian man impregnating a human woman (the Kents’ teenage sons are characters). Don’t the creators realizes that’s biologically impossible? This argument is simultaneously perfectly sensible and perfectly ridiculous, but I think ridiculous wins out.
It’s perfectly sensible because no, it’s unlikely Clark and Lois could produce children. Ditto countless other human/ET hybrid characters in comics, screen and print SF; people have made this point about Spock for years. The chance that human genes and extraterrestrial genes will be compatible is non-existent.
It’s perfectly ridiculous because come on, is there actually anyone who thought Superman was solidly grounded in science until they encountered this specific point? It’s one thing to discuss Spock because Star Trek does aspire to be a serious SF show. Superman has never aspired to that. Nobody ever sits around admiring the rigorous hard science that went into world-building the Superman mythos, then stops and says “But the one scientific flaw is the idea Superman and Lois could have kids!”
Yes, Larry Niven made that point, and others, in his short story “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.” But Niven, discussing everything from super-masturbation to interspecies sex, is being funny; just suggesting that Clark masturbates is a laugh-getter (of course, as Niven makes the point that Clark’s sexual drives may be quite unlike humans, maybe he doesn’t masturbate?). I’ve no idea if Niven was ever a fan of Superman in childhood, but I’m confident he knows that sex is not the only way the Man of Might departs from a realistic depiction of alien life.
Superman is, after all, someone who can simply take a deep breath and suck a poison-gas cloud large enough to smother Metropolis into his lungs. There’s simply no room in his lungs for that. It’s not physically possible. Nor is there any way Superman can exhale so powerfully he moves Earth through space (not that doing it with his hands is any more plausible).
He can shoot X-rays out of his eyes and see what they pass through. X-rays don’t turn our flesh invisible, they only create the image on film. So X-ray vision is just as impossible as the Kent children.
Superman can see things so far away that the light couldn’t possibly reach him. He can sit in Metropolis and hear what’s happening at that exact minute at the South Pole, even though sound can’t reach him that fast either.
He can super-kiss women to the point their head spins from the kissing-ness of it all. Kissing is physical, but it’s not a physical ability like lifting things or listening. Being stronger and faster than a human doesn’t make someone a better kisser.
Superman’s powers only make sense as a magical analogy: a human being can inhale smoke, Superman can inhale clouds of it. I can hear noise across the room, Superman can hear it across the planet. Some guys kiss well; Superman kisses better.
I’m fine with all that. If I insisted on hard science in my fiction, I wouldn’t be reading superhero comics, would I? But to accept all that, then object because Clark put a bun in Lois’s oven? That’s swallowing a camel, then straining at a gnat.
#SFWApro. Cover by J. Winslow Mortimer, not sure about the Superboy panel.