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When Supes started out, all he could do was leap tall buildings (not fly), and while "nothing less than a bursting shell could pierce his skin", presumably a bursting shell could. There was no heat vision, no super-cold breath, no heightened senses at the very beginning. At some point between now and then (in the comics, one presumes), these powers were folded in.

When did we first see Superman use heat vision?

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From the Fleisher's Great Superman Book:

  • Originally, Superman had vaguely defined vision (there's a story from June, 1940 where Superman uses his "telescopic x-ray vision"--there didn't seem to be a disctinction betwen the two until the late '40s.) Most of the vision powers (microscopic, telescopic, x-ray, "see in the dark-vision", "see things moving at super speed-vision", "see invisible things vision" etc) were developed in the early '40s. Note that the lead weakness in his x-ray vision didn't show up until the late '40s.

  • In Superman #59 (July '49) he melted a glacier with "The tremendous heat of his x-ray vision". This makes it possible that it was Seigel/Shuster...it was certainly pre-Weisenger. Note also that there were at least a few stories where he couldn't melt lead with his x-ray vision.

  • His vision powers expanded and he was capable of "Spotlight vision" for at least one issue--"By concentrating, I can lengthen the waves of my x-ray vision enough that they become light waves and illuminate the ocean floor" (Action #167).

  • About this time, "telescopic x-ray vision" started splitting into two seperate powers (ie: if he was seeing at a distance in an open field, he'd only refer to "telescopic vision", not "telescopic x-ray vision")

Cover of Superman from May, No. 145

  • In Action #158, (July 1951) there's a text page that says that Superman can control the inensity of his x-ray vision so that he can burn things. Liken it to the creation of an x-ray laser beam.

  • He used x-ray vision to burn/melt things throughout the '50s, and it wasn't until April '61 (Superman #145) that the term "heat vision" was first used--and it was used pretty much exclusively after that. As an aside, isn't that about the time that they started pulling fluroscopes out of shoe-stores as people started learning about the dangers of x-rays?

  • To give an idea of the power levels of his "heat vision", he casually melts a hole all the way through the Earth in Action #298. His telescopic vision allows him to read the lips of everyone on Lexor--which is in another galaxy! He can also scan the entire earth to determine that a single individual (Luthor, IIRC) isn't there.

All of these instances are Pre-Crisis Superman and were still feats less powerful than the Silver Age or Bronze Age Superman, whose powers grew so great that he had almost no limits. This would be revisited after the Crisis on Infinite Earths, when the writers would redefine Superman's abilities. John Byrne would be the first major architect of change for Superman's powers.

After the Byrne Superman, his powers were scaled back and defined loosely as a collection of psychic abilities like pyrokinesis, and remote viewing. This did not last long and after the next Universe reboot, his powers went back to a scientific background (that no one explained the science of how they actually worked.)

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Doing a little research, it looks like Superman's Heat Vision was introduced in the Silver age (1960's, 1970's). There apparently was no mention of heat vision in the Golden Age. Not a real good answer, but best I could find.

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