Take the 2-minute tour ×
Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

While researching for this question, I came across a couple of conflicting images of Superman in space.

First we have him in space with no helmet - and talking to another character.

As far as I can tell, this scan is from Superman/Batman Volume 1, Issue 13, published in October 2004.

Superman with no helmet

But then we have him in space with a helmet.

This scan seems to be from Superman Volume 1, Issue 677 - published in August 2004

Superman with a helmet

Now, you could easily argue that the helmet wouldn't really do much there as there is no oxygen tank, but the image still implies that he needs to breathe. The first image, however, really contradicts that though. I found other images of him speaking in space without a helmet, but I think the one image demonstrates the point well enough.

So, which is it?

share|improve this question
    
I always thought that space being a vacuum was a misconception. Granted there isn't enough of an atmosphere to sustain humans but Supes ins't a human. –  Monty129 Apr 18 '13 at 19:11
    
@Monty129, yes, there is the misconception that it's a complete vacuum, but there's still not enough air/oxygen to sustain himself for unlimited periods if he needs to breathe. –  phantom42 Apr 18 '13 at 22:18
3  
Since the helmet is obviously being created by Green Lantern, I would bet it's for psychological reasons - probably GL is just uncomfortable talking to someone not wearing a helmet in space. Second alternative, it's just to hold enough air for Superman's vocal chords to work (presumably the generated sound is sent over to GL's helmet). Finally, at least in the last frame, the dog doesn't have a helmet - so either super-beings don't need air, or GL doesn't like dogs much... –  John C Apr 19 '13 at 11:49
    
@Monty129 - Space, even intergalactic space, isn't a total vacuum. There's still the occasional molecule (mostly H2) floating around. But it is a far harder vacuum than anything we've yet produced on Earth. –  Compro01 Jun 6 '13 at 4:42
1  
Worth noting that in that last panel, Superman has a helmet, but Krypto doesn't... –  lunchmeat317 Jun 28 '13 at 16:43

6 Answers 6

up vote 18 down vote accepted

Superman's powers have been inconsistently shown since his inception. The best way to keep track of his ability to breathe in space is to consider the depiction of the character and the time period. Most modern comic versions, his invulnerability allows him to exist in any hostile environment with little difficulty. This includes environments without air or under extreme pressure. See: As of 2012, how many different canon versions of the Superman character exist?

Superman's Versions

  • Early Superman: Golden Age or Earth-2 Superman, Fleischer Films, Superman on Television in the 60s - All of these Supermen tended to be men with super-powers. So they ate, slept, breathed much like normal humans did. They could suspend their need for longer than normal humans, hold their breaths for long times, go without sleep for days, not eat for longer than a month, but eventually they would need to partake of these things because the emphasis was on the MAN not the SUPER.

  • Earth-1, Silver Age: When DC started increasing Superman's powers in the Curt Swan era of the late sixties, the emphasis shifted from the MAN to the SUPER. Superman became bigger than the other heroes of the DC Universe. His powers let him go without breathing, sleeping, eating (and we assume excreting). His invulnerability seemed to include his ability to resist the harsh environment of space and his ability to survive without any of the things humans normally need to live. He became a static thing impervious to all environments including underwater and deep space. His adventures in space never had him using a helmet or suit unless he was visiting a world with a red sun (under which he would revert to a normal human physiology, unbolstered by his strange solar energy conversion).

  • Animated Adventures: However, when they decided to create the 90's versions of Superman for Superman Adventures (based on the popular series Batman Adventures which started in 1992) he was significantly depowered. He was a bit stronger than the Fleischer Age Superman but much less capable than the Earth-1 standard we had grown used to. He seemed a revision made for television allowing him to be powerful but not unstoppable and thus able to be written for on a regular consistent basis. This Superman could not breath underwater, though he could hold his breath for a while, and could not breath in space and needed a suit designed for him at Star Labs. This would remain the status quo in the series. When the JLA and JLU series started, it was supposed to be the same character, but they tweaked the design a bit.

  • Man of Steel, John Byrne: In the comics, for the most part, the only time he lost the ability to go without breathing and interacting in space was during Byrne's Man of Steel era. Again, an attempt to use a bit of science to explain the Man of Steel's powers. His hair grew, he ate food, he shaved with a mirror (though he did that in some of the Curt Swan era work as well.)

  • The Death of Superman/Energy Supermen: After his resurrection, and transformation into the Energy Powered or Electric Supermen, Kal-El returned to his, "a-nearly-impervious, godlike-element of the DC universe" able to go where he wanted and do what he wanted if he believed it was possible (as capable as the plot demanded).

  • The New 52: Like most of the modern versions of Superman he does not appear to need a spacesuit (though his current costume is far more capable technologically-speaking) to survive in space.

  • As far as communicating in space: Superman is inconsistently shown being able to communicate in space. In the Silver Age, Superman was said to be able to "throw his voice using super-ventriloquism" allowing him to communicate with others in space... Modern era Writers who pay attention are sure to make a technological reason for his communication (the JLA used tiny ear-bud communicators, or Martian telepathy (when they had a Martian). In the example above, I don't think Green Lantern is helping him breath, he is making it possible for them to communicate.

Also See:

How different is Superman's physiology from a normal human?

Why was Superman made practically physically invulnerable?

Is Superman incapable of averting the catastrophe of an earlier-than-expected nova?

share|improve this answer
    
You've forgotten "Lois & Clark" :-) –  Richard Mar 30 at 13:47

The answer of this question explains with enough details what you want to know.

It depends heavily on the period of time you're talking about and on the writer's needs.

If you're talking about the New 52 Superman, the answer is No, Superman doesn't need to breathe. He can hold his breath as long as he needs to.

But really, see the linked answer for more details, as a long answer would be a copy of that one.

share|improve this answer

I've seen quite a few portrayals of Superman flying through space without any sort of helmet in movies, cartoons, and comics.

He is also seen underwater for extended periods of time.

Both of these could be explained either by not needing oxygen, or by being able to hold his breath for extended periods of time.

The rationale for the helmet in the scene with Green Lantern may be entirely unrelated to breathing requirements, however.

Sound waves propagate through air. Therefore, the helmet Green Lantern created for him may simply be a way for them to be able to conveniently communicate in a vacuum.

share|improve this answer
    
The part about sound waves and communication is why I mentioned that the first image depicts him speaking to another character while not wearing a helmet. –  phantom42 Apr 18 '13 at 15:11
1  
If he's holding the breath, it would not be possible to talk –  RMalke Apr 18 '13 at 15:12
    
@phantom42 There's no reason I can think of why the other character would be able to hear him. Were the two sources you included written by the same team? –  Beofett Apr 18 '13 at 15:21
    
@RenanMalkeStigliani See my comment above. If he was in a position where he'd have to hold his breath, any communication in a vacuum that doesn't rely on lip reading (which wouldn't prevent him from holding his breath) is an indication of a plot hole. If he is in a vacuum, he can't talk, regardless of whether he's holding his breath or not. –  Beofett Apr 18 '13 at 15:23
1  
@Zoredache Has he ever exhibited telepathy elsewhere? This is the first I've heard of it. this image has Superman saying that his ears are ringing from the sound being so loud. –  phantom42 Apr 18 '13 at 15:34

The most plausible explanation is that in space Superman converts solar energy into oxygen which is absorbed directly into his cells.

share|improve this answer
    
Any proof of this "most plausible explanation" claim? –  Meat Trademark Jan 18 at 9:45
    
This sounds like a fan-theory to me –  Richard Jan 18 at 10:21

The helmet is there because the DC guys learned quite late that sound needs to travel through a medium. Since there is no medium in space for sound to travel, Superman is wearing a helmet to allow him to communicate with green lantern.

share|improve this answer
    
This should be a comment –  SSumner Mar 30 at 12:35
    
@SSumner - I disagree. They make a valid point about the helmet being used to communicate with the green arrow. It's definitely a poor answer but not an invalid one. –  Richard Mar 30 at 12:39
    
I did some further digging into the sources of the scans. The one with the helmet was released a few months earlier than the one without (August 2004 versus October 2004). –  phantom42 Mar 30 at 14:55

I grew up on superman and on everything I have ever seen or read he goes hours or even days without help but then in the same comic it'll show him with a helmet so, I believe that he has the ability to hold his breath for hours but at some point he has to take another breath.

share|improve this answer
1  
Then how is he talking while holding his breath? –  phantom42 Jun 5 '13 at 17:31

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.