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When Superman flies his typical position is either one arm, or both out in front of him (either flat palm or fist closed).

Drawing of Superman flying as described above with his fist closed

There are occasions where he does fly with his arms at his sides (usually when he's going for maximum velocity).

Front cover of issue 1 of "Superman: The Man of Steel" comic showing a stern faced Superman flying with his arms by his sides away from a silhouetted city

Obviously he doesn't have to worry about aerodynamics, is there ever an in universe or "Word of God" reason given for this pose?

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    To shew birds away from his face. – Gorchestopher H Oct 19 '12 at 14:11
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    Nah - it's to air out his pits. He has super-sweat too. – Jeff Oct 19 '12 at 19:15
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    He flies with his fists first in preparation of punching bad guys in the face when he lands. – jbabey Oct 19 '12 at 19:45
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    He is holding onto the real source of his flight power, an invisible balloon. – Gorchestopher H Oct 19 '12 at 19:49
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    So we know he is flying. – Secko Oct 20 '12 at 23:53
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I suspect this has more to do with the original historic images of Superman from the early covers of Action Comics and the Fleischer Superman animated films. YouTube keeps a nice collection of the Fleischer films on hand with decent video quality.

  • In the early radio programs and even from the very first Fleischer film Superman (aka The Mad Scientist) Superman was supposedly "leaping" from place to place. But artistically having to show our hero jumping around was stylistically difficult given the film lengths and effort required to make them.

  • So his leaps would transition from a jumping movement where he would use his running momentum to jump and his hands to point skyward. This often transitioned into a swimmer's pose with his hands at his sides as he would begin to "fly" and gain speed. It was from this position he would streak to his target "like a speeding bullet." Look at the Mad Scientist from 6:36 to 6:40 showing a jumping to flight transition.

    Early covers of Action Comics, #7, 10, 13 showing Superman flying between buildings with one arm extended in front and looking backwards to his other which is grasping the foot of a man he is carrying; Superman leaping up into the nose of a red plane with his right arm and leg out in front and Superman rising from a flooded river onto a broken railway track with his left arm on the front of the train to stop it

  • He would often, however, have to deflect materials, bullets, shells, deadly beams of energy and would use his hands to do so. This lead to a pose where he would have at least one of his hands out in front of him to catch or deflect incoming attacks. He would also do this if he were carrying someone to protect them as well.

    Early covers of Action Comics, #23, 28, 34 showing: Superman flying downwards with his left arm extended reaching for a woman in a green dress who has fallen from a tall building; Superman leaping onto the roof of a building with his right arm outstretched where a blue suited man has just fallen and a green suited man is waiting to stop Superman; Superman flies over a river in front of a large dam, his left arm is extended towards a group of 3 baddies with his right ready to punch behind him, one baddie has his hands on a TNT detonator and another points a pistol at Superman

  • This ultimately lead to the later flying scenes where he would be shown flying and artists treated his flying as if it were a form of anti-gravity swimming where he would alter his direction by twisting his body and changing his leading pointing hand.

Today, I would consider it a matter of artistic style, not necessity as to why he might keep his hands out or at his side while flying since the character is so far removed from his origins, artists are likely to assume such poses for appearance sake, not even remembering how or why they came to be.

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  • Apropos of the swimmer's position comment, if YOU were to leap into the air with a significant chance of coming down fast, you would throw your arms forward - so that you could break your fall with them. – Chris B. Behrens Jul 7 '14 at 16:01
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In universe: Just looking at his shape in the two illustrations you posted, I'd guess it is to reduce air resistance. This is similar to why swimmers dive into a pool with their hands extended, so they can slice into the water with less resistance.

Out of universe: It looks much more heroic to be drawn that way.

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    Although that cape must not helping in the air resistance area. – John Oct 19 '12 at 18:18
  • and, as stated at least, he puts his hands to his side for maximum velocity.. so is he usually doing it to worsen his aerodynamics so that he doesn't go too fast? – PeterL Oct 19 '12 at 20:22
  • @PeterLeppert: aerodynamics work differently at different speeds. Something that's designed exclusively for supersonic flight often is rather suboptimial for subsonic speeds. – leftaroundabout Oct 20 '12 at 13:03
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I always suspected it was to steer and maintain his balance. It would be undignified to be sideways.

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I read a theory that he was using the hand out front to keep a sightline with the horizon. This is the same as glancing at the corner of the car hood to make sure you're not weaving. Maybe he just wants to keep his flight level. Getting pulled over for weaving is bad enough. Having the Air Force think you're flying drunk would be worse.

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  • This is an interesting idea, can you sight any references to this theory to back it up? – Monty129 Dec 18 '13 at 22:27
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To protect his face

He may be indestructible, but there are other indestructible things and beings in the DC universe. On top of that, invisibility is a thing. If he's going to crash against Wonder Woman's invisible airplane midflight, it'll hurt less if he hits with his fist than if he hits with his face.

It's pleasant

Ever got your arms out of the window of a moving car? I feel the windy senstion is really pleasant. Maybe Kal-El just likes the way the air moves around his arms as he flies.

He's mimicking a swimmer

When athletes jump in the water, and in at least one swimming style athletes will keep their arms in front of them like that. Not only that, the whole body position is similar. The difference is that Kal El looks head instead of downwards and sometimes he makes fists rather than having his palms open.

Maybe he saw people swimming before and he originally thought flying was like swimming in the air. That stuck with him and he never had any reasons to change how he flies. Compare with Marvel's doctor strange, which flies purely by magic, and also Marvel's Thor and the little prince, which fly by holding on to magic tools.

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Aerodynamics of course. It's like a stealth fighter jet... It has a long needle on the nose to help break the sound barrier. Same concept with superman. But that's just my take on it.

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    Superman's flight is described as deriving from either psyonich ability, or manipulation of gravitons, so aerodynamics aren't really a factor. – Monty129 Oct 31 '13 at 12:17
  • Ok right but he still has to break the sound barrier... And it's easier to punch tru with small objects like a hand as opposed to hisface – Zach Oct 31 '13 at 23:25
  • I suppose, if his hands were flat palm down like a diver that would make more sense though. – Monty129 Nov 1 '13 at 11:50
  • And psycokenitic flight makes more sense than manipulation of gravitons. Using m of g flight is to essentially create a 0g environment around him which would allow rocks and other debre to rise up with him – Zach Nov 2 '13 at 1:23
  • But if it is psycokenitic flight wouldn't he be able to do other things psycokeniticaly? – Zach Nov 2 '13 at 1:25

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