Dr. Mike ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
Image from www.deviantart.com
As famous openings tell us, Superman has a triumvirate of powers. The Man of Steel is “Faster than a speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” We know that’s not all Superman does, but it’s enough of a quick summary to make us happy before someone starts shouting all that “Look, up in the sky!” stuff.
Superman debuted 85 years ago this month. While we love the guy, I think it’s safe to say that we’re not impressed with his super-leaping anymore. Superman can fly.
In fact, the reason that Superman got the ability to fly was that animators for his early 1940s cartoons got frustrated when they had to draw all that bounding around. Things would be a lot easier for them if Superman could just fly, they said. The convenience of flight was approved and worked into the comic stories too.
As a result, we tend to think of super-leaping as more of an Incredible Hulk thing now. That fact illustrates a big problem with the ability. After all, it’s not the super-leaping really. It’s the super-landing. What goes up must come down, but when you fly, you can at least control that process. No flight means that the whole power is really a super-leap of faith.
Powered by his gamma-irradiated muscles, the Hulk can leap for miles. How does he know what he’s going to land on though? Well, basically, he doesn’t. The Hulk just crashes to the ground, crushing whatever happens to be there when he hits. The Hulk doesn’t care. Property damage is really on brand for the Hulk. He probably enjoys it. Fortunately, the Hulk has never accidentally crushed someone in this way.
Superman does not have to worry about this because he can cheat the process a bit. His X-ray vision lets him see through the building he’s about to clear. With a bit of good timing, Superman misses any Metropolis citizen out for a stroll. If Superman wants to jump a very far distance, he can also use his telescopic vision as well.
For any other superhero, the only responsible choice is to vault to the top of the building. This invalidates any “single bound” claim. Plus, landing once again becomes an issue. As the parody superhero The Tick so hilariously demonstrated, rooftops are not that strong. It wasn’t long before the skyline of Tick’s beloved “The City” was peppered with pocks and broken bits from his many travels.
On the plus side, stopping at the rooftop does give a superhero the opportunity to say something particularly heroic before pouncing down into the villains.