Could Superman die of old age?


New Earth Superman: Got rid of the bloomers on the outside and now I’m too sexy to get old…

[science of science fiction]

This question cannot be definitively answered because DC Comics has never definitively answered it.

And this is still one of the greatest shames of the DC Comics franchise. Without a clear quantification of Superman’s powers, it is truly impossible to answer some of the most important questions around the character, including Could Superman die of old age? Granted, given the powers of his enemies and the danger of his lifestyle, the possibility of him living to a ripe old age is probably slim to none but should he find himself growing older and want to consider whether he should sign up for a 401K, the question does need to be asked.

To address the question effectively we have to check a few things before we dive in. The first question is WHICH Superman are we talking about? Since the character has had multiple iterations and multiple continuities, each has possessed varying levels of longevity.

See: How many canon Supermen have existed since his first appearance in Action Comics in 1938? 

The main versions of the character include the Golden Age version, the Silver Age version, the Post-Crisis version and the Modern DC New Earth version. We are going to skip the Post Crisis, John Byrne version because he no longer exists and we will skip over the DCnU version because he is still too new for DC to have revealed enough to know for certain. He has been returned to his youthful age of 25 to 30-something after their recent reboot of their universe.

We will talk about a couple of examples of Supermen who didn’t appear to age and a couple that did.

DC has published the DC One Million storylines where a Superman has retreated into the sun to live (yes, INSIDE the sun is where he places his Fortress of Solitude, and I can bet he gets NO visitors) and has gained powers far beyond any of the versions of the character that has existed to date. His powers were so fantastic, he was able to power his descendants giving them extraordinary abilities as well. Superman Prime (as he was called) appeared to be invulnerable, immortal and completely unaging. This was a Post-Crisis version of Superman.


DC has also shown signs of Superman aging. The original Golden Age Superman (Kal-L) whose origins on Earth-2 (Pre-Crisis) seemed to age as an ordinary human would. He married his universe’s Lois Lane and the two seemed to age at comparable rates. His powers also diminished as he aged, making him only a fraction as strong as the Earth-1 Superman of the same time period.

Another aging Superman was the Kingdom Come Superman (which counts as an alternative Earth storyline, but it was a very popular version of the character). He aged far slower than humans, and grew more powerful as he aged. He lost his vulnerability to Kryptonite but was still capable of being harmed by the chaotic energies of magic (he tests this by cutting his finger on Wonder Woman’s god-forged  sword). In this iteration, his power were great (not as great as the Silver Age Superman or the Superman Prime character) but quite formidable and he hadn’t appeared to lose a step due to the aging process.

Silver Age Superman

The Silver Age Superman (the second most powerful version of the character, and the version you probably grew up on before his reduction of powers after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC’s first universal reset) had vast powers under a yellow sun and did not appear to age at all. While he could be (theoretically) killed in battle, once he reached an adult age, there was no further sign of aging. This character existed Pre-Crisis as well. This character was so powerful in one of his stories he sneezes and destroys a solar system. I believe this is the real reason the Crisis on Infinite Earths had to happen…

So CAN Superman die of old age?

The question can’t be answered effectively because no one has ever written the definitive treatment on how Kryptonians acquire superpowers on Earth, (or for that matter how metahumans acquire powers in the DC Universe) and there is no ratified documents describing how the Kryptonians (Homo Sapiens Krypton), who resemble (Homo Sapiens Sapiens) in appearance, but vary so far from us in terms of biological processes.

  1. Are the Kryptonians related to Humans and happen to have a convergent evolution?
  2. Are the Kryptonians genetically-modified humans, who use technology to create superhuman abilities when powered by particular wavelengths of energy?
  3. Are the powers of Kryptonians only viable in certain environments or under certain conditions but in all other ways they resemble humans?
  4. Are Kryptonians peak engineered humans whose physiology without powers is simply better, having reduced or eliminated the threat of disease, genetic dysfunction, and slowed or erased the aging process?

These are the questions which are never definitively answered so questions about Superman’s aging (with yellow sun or without) can be answered fully.

Man of Steel

As a thought experiment, let’s look at the recent Man of Steel version of Superman to determine through inference if Superman can die of old age.

The Kryptonians had a population management program where members of the society were born through an in-vitro process of genetic recombination of traits. This may imply:

  1. Kryptonians possess superior genetic recombination science. They were able to selectively mix and match genetic capabilities to ensure genetic dispositions for abilities were passed down.
  2. The Kryptonians had already cleared away genetic imperfections or diseases which shorten lifespans. This may be the reason they were utilizing population controls. A species with very long lifespans may need to keep populations under control lest they overrun and destroy their environment with near-immortals consuming everything.
  3. Since they were mining the core of their planet, this may imply they had already HAD an ecological over-population which precipitated their regulation of their population as a potential counter.
  4. Though we have no indications of how old anyone was, we do see examples of older Kryptonians on the Council, and Jor-El is a bit grey (approximating the age of a man in his mid-fifties) though he appeared hale and hearty enough to hold his own in an unfair fight.

We can assume aging takes place among the Kryptonians while they live in their native environment, though its rate in comparison to Humans is as yet unknown. We can compare Kal-El’s growth rate from child to adult as similar enough to our own, he was able to blend into Human society without incident regarding his physiological growth rate.

Once he was fully an adult does he stop aging?

This is the question that cannot be answered effectively unless we are able to understand how he is able to fly, resist incredible amounts of physical damage and project energy from his body.

If we assume physical capabilities which require a catalyst to activate (in this case, the yellow sun) these abilities would be in addition to his normal Kryptonian genome, perhaps genetic technologies woven into their genome as a survival strategy for conquering other planets or surviving hostile environments.

With such abilities, however, a single Kryptonian could conquer any planet with an environment like Earth’s. And it would make sense for Kryptonians to do so. Unfortunately, only about ten percent of the galaxy’s stars are similar to our sun, so on most planets they would have far less durability or capability.

So if these are genetic patents designed to be a support technology increasing durability, strength and resilience, they would only be most effective on a tiny range of planets overall.

Did the Kryptonians know this? Judging from the speed some of them learned and used their abilities, I can only surmise that indeed, some of them were aware of what they were capable of.

If their genetic technology did not completely stop their aging on Krypton, but were an integral part of their biological structure, it is safe to assume, even under a yellow sun, the Man of Steel Kryptonians require sustenance, water, air and other biological necessities, which can be temporarily reduced or ignored while living under a yellow sun. For Kryptonians to be able to live and utilize energy as a biological organism, even a perfect one, experiences some level of entropy and overall decay.



My verdict would indicate the Man of Steel’s Kryptonians were masters of genetic and engineering technologies which give their underlying Humanoid physiology fantastic capabilities under a tiny window of conditions. Given the right solar energy levels, the right gravitational fields, they are prodigious engines of destruction but even they had limits. Note that Faora Ul (who was wiping up Smallville with Big Blue and the US Army) was taken down by a cruise missile which evidently delivered sufficient force to knock her down and out.

That means we still had technology strong enough to kill a Kryptonian, if you didn’t mind the collateral damage required to do the job.

Having 100,000 years of technological evolution to work with makes any Kryptonian advance technology appear as magic to us. They mastered space travel, dimension-crossing, wormhole generation, genetic engineering, recombinant DNA mastery, and energy manipulation abilities we don’t even have names for.


But their greatest limitation is their desire to maintain a human form.

  1. Is it vanity? Or is there some other societal issue?
  2. Is it an inability to alter their physical capabilities further without a change in their psychology?
  3. Why did they give their bodies such capabilities and then limit them to a tiny subset of environments?

Something in this limitation makes me believe there is an underlying limitation in their genome we are not aware of.

It is this unknown limitation which makes me believe they have mastered their genome sufficiently enough to REDUCE aging but not completely STOP it.

The Science of Science Fiction (1)

I find myself both a writer of science fiction and a questioner of science fact. When I find a question which intrigues me, I am compelled to try and answer. Today’s questions deal with the issues of ugly aliens in modern media and the question of alien languages. To start this off, let’s watch a video of some of the Earth’s ugliest animals. Believe me, it is relevant.

To be fair, some of these animals are pets and chosen because they were ugly, a couple were damaged due to car accidents or surgery, and at least one was premature in its development. The point of the video is for all of those who were NOT unnatural in their representation, they are as varied and diverse as could be. Yet they all share the same root DNA. And with that let’s ask:

Why are aliens in media so ugly?


Earth has been home to millions of different species in the time that it has existed in the known universe (an estimated 4 billion years, give or take). As far as we know, all life exists due to the existence of DNA/RNA interactions. Yes, there are some exceptions but for the most part, life as we know it, and almost as we define it, utilizes DNA as part of its makeup. Bear with me.

We as humans, have no idea what other potential forms of life can exist in the universe, because we have no information regarding the basis for that life. Does it use DNA? Does it use carbon chains? Is it even based in carbon at all? Look at all of the potential forms of life which Earth has spawned. Almost all of the ones considered common to most people reside in only three or four of these phyla listed below: plants, animals, algae and fungi. Within those four phyla are millions of potential aliens waiting to visit the Earth.

Writers take the liberty of creating aliens partially as metaphor, partially as mirror, partially as allegory, of the idea of the Other. That which is outside of us (Humanity). Since Earth has been host to millions of lifeforms it is safe to say that Aliens will be different than us, and depending on where they hail, will certainly NOT resemble us, television not withstanding.

Remember television has production issues and one of them is costuming, so our aliens must resemble us or their production costs become prohibitive. In writing Aliens, we have the liberty of making them different. Indeed, we have a responsibility as writers to make them different from us, because they WILL be.

They have been born of another star, another planet’s life-giving chemicals in combination with billions of years of their own evolutionary, environmental, and potentially cultural information creating a creatures as unique, potentially fascinating and if they can cross space to get to us, as complex as we are.

We will probably find them difficult to look at, think about all the life on Earth we are not thrilled to see, snakes, frogs, bears, spiders, insects in general, because they are so different from what we consider the norm, our upright, bipedal, bilaterally-symmetric form with our endo-skeleton, squishy organs and folded brain inside of our cranium, our jelly-filled eyes, our fragile and easily punctured skin which contains our miles of nervous tissue, many yards of intestines and sponge-like oxygen capture system; not to mention our mechanically pumping cardiovascular system and electrically charged neural activity.

I don’t believe aliens will look like us. We share our genetic heritage with every living thing on Earth and yet there are millions upon millions of different forms of life on the planet. We share 94% of our genetic material with an octopus. That 6% difference has created a vastly dissimilar life-form. A 2% difference gives us chimpanzees or other simians. A 1% difference gave us the now extinct Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, and most of the modern football players of today. What will a creature from another world, that may or may not use DNA look like to human eyes? It may be more terrible than we an even imagine.

Our concepts of beauty are written into our DNA (our acceptance of the golden ratio, a natural evolutionary pattern of development used by plants and animals for leaf and branch development, nervous system density, and even the distance between our eyes, nose and mouth that we find pleasing to look upon,) so we may be repulsed by their appearance without even understanding why because their “golden ratio” may be different than our own.

Mona Lisa
In my opinion, if First Contact is a physical one, visible to the general public, and the aliens are not anthropomorphic (resembling humans in a bilateral symmetry, bipedal with a similar physical appearance), the human reaction will be directly related to what the human mind will associate the appearance of the aliens to creatures in our own environment. Humanity’s innate fears and revulsion will likely prejudice their responses if the aliens appear too non-human. If they appear to resemble insects or some extremely divergent form of life, for example (as the aliens in District 9 appear to) humans may not be able to even consider them as intelligent or sentient. On Earth, natural selection seemed to favor insects; there are physically more insects on Earth than any other kind of animal combined. (Don’t think about it, you will only want to go out and buy more Raid.) It is not too hard to see insectoid intelligences being a possibility as an alien visitor. If they resembled terrestrial insects, they may also have a completely different outlook on life or individualism as a whole, since insects have more of a collective intelligence than an intelligence based on individual thought or action. Each acts as part of a greater whole. Would such a society value individualism? Would they consider us intelligent at all?

To us, anything that isn’t us, isn’t normal. How traumatic it will be for us as a species to find other sentience out there that did not evolve into what we consider to be the ultimate expression of intelligent life on Earth. Of course we would consider it ugly. It isn’t us. It mocks us, likely by resembling some other member of our planetary phyla and reminding us that we aren’t all that special. Some other creature might have made it to the top of the food chain; and on their world, it wasn’t us.

What would an advanced alien language look like?

If anyone were being honest, the answer would be: We have almost no idea of what an alien language would look like either in appearance, structure, delivery, interpretation or nuances.

But we are not honest so we presume to have an opinion about what aliens might use for language. But the only creatures we could use as a reference point would be aliens whose physical characteristics, biome limitations, and species similarities would make them in most ways like us. They might communicate using written variations similar to languages used on Earth with written and vocal components. But reference the Kung! people for a variation outside of the norm of most people. (See Click consonant:

As humans we can barely conceive of a language which is encoded in flashes of light, potentially dependent on frequencies we cannot see, or on positions of the lights on the body of the alien, which could convey any number of concepts or notions, or depending on the medium of the light being emitted or the delay between entities giving subtleties and nuances about how the message should be received or what to do with the message after it has been interpreted.

We would be hard pressed to imagine a language from a creature with a four lobed brain (potentially capable of thinking or processing information in ways we have yet to conceive of) with multiple arms/tentacles who might use the position of their tentacles the same way a Chinese cuneiform might embed a particular meaning within the structure of the position of those tentacles, and the movement of the tentacles, and the positions between each character could convey a series of information about how the second character should be interpreted and implying what the next character may portend.


If the creature in question embodied information delivery the same way cephalopods on Earth change color, it could be another layered conversation taking place in the color transitions as well as the arm placements.

If the species in question lives in water, it may also take advantage of the medium’s enhance propensity for sending vibration to encoded sub-aural information as infra-sound, either as a completely separate information stream, or as a data supplement to arm position, and skin color information. Such a creature could conceivably attempt to communicate with us in three different formats and we would still have NO idea we were even being spoken to!

Humanity must admit when considering conversation with alien species, we will and should throw out all of our preconceived notions about what form or appearance such communication will take place in. It may simply be more fantastic than we can begin to imagine.

My answer to: Why are aliens so ugly? first appeared on © Thaddeus Howze 2013. All Rights Reserved [ @ebonstorm]