In Dark Knight Returns part II, Superman stopped a nuclear missile from hitting an island off the coast of the USA. He experienced the blast full on and it showed that he was a shriveled up, almost-corpse who then killed a bunch of plants around him in order to get most of his strength back.

Why did this happen? I've never read or heard of Superman becoming disabled cause of a nuclear explosion.


In the graphic novel, the blast from the nuclear missile blocked out the light of the sun.

Since superman draws his Kryptonian strength from the light of the sun, its absence apparently prevented him from resisting the damage of the blast fully, or healing afterwards, or possibly both.

However, he is somehow able to draw the stored energy from the sun out of the plant life nearby, which also draws upon solar energy for food (a very thin connection, I know).

The relevant panel is here:

enter image description here

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  • 3
    That first panel makes it look like he pissed off Thor, too boot. – Jeff Jun 7 '13 at 14:56

From the graphic novel:

They can split the very fabric of reality... blast a hundred thousand tons of sand into the sky... blotting out the source of all my power...

So the problem is the combination of massive damage and lack of sunlight.

It may not be consistent with other portrayals of Superman's powers, but consistency is weak across different writers anyway, and The Dark Knight Returns got its own universe because it deviated so much from Batman's canon history.

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  • You should also address the bit where Supes absorbs energy from the plants afterwards. – user1027 Feb 6 '13 at 22:20

There is no good reason. Superman draws strength from the sun. The sun is a million billion megaton nuclear explosion. There is no radiation emitted from a nuclear bomb that isn't emitted from the sun x1000000. Even if the explosion blacked out the sun Superman would be none the worse for ware, he would even be energized. The writers of the dark knight returns just needed a plot devise other than the over used kryptonite, which they ended up using anyway, to even the odds for batman. Fans of the graphic novel will just have to imagine the nuke had magical properties that disabled Superman.

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  • Exactly. Whenever I find something that doesn't have a clear explanation, even in comic book rules, I always go by the statement: "because the script says so..." – Spandan Jan 16 '16 at 6:35

I think they were also trying to imply that he had aged as well, along with everyone else in the story. I think that age coupled with damage from the blast and "blotting out the sun," was why it was supposed to have crippled him so severely. This is the only time I can remember Superman being shown to shrivel up and actually look withered after being cut off from his power supply, Earth's yellow sun. The way I interpreted it was Superman is retaining his youthful looks & strength because of the solar energy from the sun, so being cut off from this source, his body was no longer able to sustain this and shriveled up like a sun dried tomato. I did think this was a neat take on Superman, even if it doesn't fit in with Superman's official lore. It did make me laugh that he happened to fall into a patch of *SUN*flowers. Miller tried really hard to make sure you get that connection. I guess since they are asking the reader to accept Supes shriveling up like that, they don't want you to have to think to hard about him absorbing solar radiation from surrounding plant life or you'd be calling total BS by that panel.

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  • He's also shown as emaciated and weak in the Flashpoint Paradox alternate reality, because the US government had kept him immobilized and under red sun radiation his entire life. – Monty129 Sep 8 '13 at 18:42
  • But that was because he had been deprived of it his entire life, this happened in an instant. He literally withered up and lost all of his power instantly. – Brownstain Sep 9 '13 at 4:05

I just had this discussion with a friend at work. We both came to the conclusion that Kryptonians have the ability to absorb radiation and convert it to energy much like a plant. Given that Superman, Supergirl and Zod all draw their power from our yellow sun.

We then assumed that the ultra high levels of gamma radiation from the nuclear bomb would be directly absorbed into Superman's body and fed into the "extra organs" that Kryptonians use to store additional solar radiation. This would potentially cause an effect to Superman like cancer or maybe a similar (alien) condition.

As for "killing everything around him" I believe Superman gives off an amount radiation as well. Lois lane has said several times that Superman is "warm" next to him... I am assuming she means TEMPERATURE warm here guys... Thusly, if Superman is "poisoned" by this toxic gamma radiation, then the radiation he gives off would be toxic as well.

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  • RE: your last paragraph. I read that story once. Spider-man killed Mary Jane because 'all his bodily fluids' were radioactive. – Jeff Nov 1 '13 at 17:56

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