ASK...THE QUESTION: How Smart is Superman?

Hello. I’m Alex Jaffe, better known in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion. My personal mission: to take on any question you have about the DC Universe—no matter how strange, granular, or obscure—and present you with an answer. As a faithful steward of the truth, I offer my time in this monthly column to address these inquiries. If you’d like to submit a question of your own, you can stop by my virtual office over in the Community at any time to state your case. I’ll do my best to address them all to the best of my ability.

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Are there any other canon examples of main universe Superman being a genius? Which version of Superman showed the most intelligence?

“Super intelligence” is among the least demonstrated of Superman’s powers, but it’s one which writers do remember to bring up from time-to-time. In the Silver Age, it was Superman’s “super-memory” which allowed him to recall his own birth and the destruction of Krypton. Kryptonian super-intelligence was similarly given as the reason that Krypto, when exposed to our yellow sun, could think and reason on a human level. Throughout Pre-Crisis comics, we see Superman continuing his father Jor-El’s work as a scientist and inventor, constantly tinkering with projects in his Fortress of Solitude.

Morrison, as you mentioned, is probably the most likely modern Superman writer to utilize “super intelligence,” from absorbing every text in a medical library, to performing complex interstellar calculations faster than a super-computer. The most impressively intelligent Superman, in fact, is likely Morrison’s own in All-Star Superman, who creates an entire universe in miniature as one of his final feats on Earth.

That said, I personally don’t quite care for when Superman is able to super-think everyone. It’s like letting him run faster than the Flash, you know? Let some other members of the Justice League do some stuff better. But who asked for my opinion? Well, that’s the kind of editorializing one must occasionally endure in exchange for answers when you ASK…THE QUESTION.


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Think of it this way- Clark’s mind is like Google. He knows vast amounts of information, can speak every language there is, etc. But reading every book imaginable won’t help you plan for the Joker the way working with someone like the Batman, whose been through that experience several times over, will.

Even with his level of intellect, he could never understand team dynamics the way someone like Martian Manhunter can, with his ability to read minds.

Reading Sun Tzu’s Art of War wouldn’t be the same as working with a woman who helped him write it and regularly battles the God of War.

Superman is well known throughout the universe, but when it comes to alien life forms and knowing the ins and outs of their customs, culture, etc: nothing beats having an intergalactic space cop like one of the Green Lanterns on the team.

Etc etc. Clark knows the value in trusting others and not trying to do everything on your own.

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It definitely bothers me when they portray him (or other serious superheroes) as dumb, since it makes me think that it would be better if practically anybody else got the powers. I thought that in Amazing Spider-Man, The Flash, and Brainiac Attacks that the hero is too dumb to think of as Super.

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I’m extremely fond of “casually hypercompetent Superman,” which extends to superhuman intelligence. However, to me a lot of that is more about processing power than necessarily being “smarter?” So for example, if Bruce Wayne is reading “Finnegans Wake” across the room while hanging upside down facing Kal-El, then Kal can read it just as easily, and faster, than Bruce can, even though he has to read the text upside down, backwards through the page, across the room, and at a really weird angle.

However, they probably have about equal chance of actually understanding James Joyce’s infamously bloody incomprehensible masterwork. Clark Kent seems a bit more like he’d be into modernist lit than Bruce, who’s probably better versed in the classics. But that’s got more to do with CK’s personality than his “smartness”.

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Clark has done that before. He kept spoiling it.

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I see it as this. I could read a book explaining calculus over and over again. But would I understand it?

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Agreed! I enjoy moments where Superman cleverly outsmarts the bad guys, but I don’t necessarily want him to use super-brains on every problem. My favorite Superman moments are where he has the power to do something, but has to make moral or ethical decisions about whether he should do something.

Sidenote: Does this mean I get the “Answering the Question” badge? :slight_smile:

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I’ve kinda gotten tired of Superman navel gazing about whether he should act or not… No other superhero runs into that question as often. But I love the classic situations where Superman has to outwit an opponent or obstacle he can’t outright. Most of his classic foes fall into that category. Mxy, Metallo, Parasite, Brainiac and his impenetrable forcefield, other Kryptonians, etc. And of course, all of Luthor’s various inventions and gadgets!

Overcoming those kinds of obstacles probably requires less “super intelligence” than “heroic cleverness,” thiugh!

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I don’t need a smarter than everyone else Superman, but I am not a fan of the either act immediately without thinking or go ask Batman for help Superman we sometimes get. (I seem to remember New 52 Superman having that problem at times.) Let the guy think and strategize a little bit. If I can think of a way for Superman to use his powers that he can’t think of, we’ve got a problem.

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Interesting and accurate observations, all. Something that the writers of early World’s Finest team-up stories encountered when Batman shared the stage. This was even more obvious to the listeners of the old Superman radio program. Then, it was almost always Kent doing his best Sherlock Holmes impression, before bringing Superman in on the action. Something Perry White commented on, more than a few times.

Even when Batman & Robin guest starred, the Caped Crusaders usually played second fiddle to Kent’s detective skills. Of course back then, kids were just thrilled to have them together, at all! This also carried over onto the Superman tv show. With Kent often showing up poor Inspector Henderson. Again, a throwback to radio.

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