It's a known fact that x-rays can cause radiation poisoning and very bad adverse effects with prolonged exposure.

Can Superman's X-Ray vision (since his eyes emit the rays rather than absorb them) cause such damage to the average human?

Has this issue been addressed in the comics at any time?


The reason why I say he can emit the radiation is because of these panels in Action Comics #2 (Oct 2011)

enter image description here

  • 1
    You might want to distinguish between x-ray vision and heat vision. For example, in Superman II Zod uses his heat vision to ignite a fuel tanker truck. One could say that's from x-ray vision, but it's fair to argue whether the two abilities are two sides of the same power or if they're different powers. (Check here for reference: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_and_abilities_of_Superman)
    – Tango
    Nov 3, 2011 at 5:36
  • @TangoOversway I don't understand what you're trying to tell me. From the link you provided, there's a clear difference. Nov 3, 2011 at 14:46
  • I guess the link makes clear what I thought might be easily confused (that his heat vision and x-ray vision are not the same).
    – Tango
    Nov 3, 2011 at 17:28
  • i don't get the panel you've added. is that superman? what is he talking about when he says he emits radiation? ~ ie is he talking about xray vision, is he babbling?
    – bharal
    Feb 21, 2015 at 13:45
  • As I understood it, he doesn't have literal x-rays shooting from his eyes. Isn't "x-ray vision" just a way of saying that he can see through solid objects? I mean it sounds cooler than saying he has "see through anything" vision. Except lead of course. I know that indicates it is x-rays. But was it really x-rays at the beginning when he first got this power? Isn't he essentially an enhanced man? His powers are extreme versions of what we can all do: strength, invulnerability, vision, hearing. Don't know how the heat vision fits in there. Why would he have literal x-rays shooting from his eyes?
    – user63875
    Mar 28, 2016 at 10:07

3 Answers 3


Superman's "X-ray" vision is not really based on emitting actual X-rays. There are 3 reasons we know that's not the case:

  1. Most importantly, X-rays don't get reflected from most objects/materials (due to their wavelength) same way that visible light might, they pass through them. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-ray . As an example, cloths are transparent to X-Rays, as are soft body tissues.

    Real X-Rays work by virtue of the emitter and the sensor being on OPPOSITE sides from the x-rayed object/subject. Superman's vision therefore couldn't have been an X-Ray emitter since to see the result he'd need to stand BEHIND the object to "read" the image shown by the rays while he stood IN FRONT of the object when "shooting" the X-rays from his eyes. That's obviously NOT how his "X-Ray" vision works.

  2. Another proof that his "X-Ray" vision is not X-Ray is that he can see in color (e.g. he can see Lois's underwear color in 1978 "Superman" movie). X-Rays can't show "real" colors since these colors are an artifact of visible light wavelength (basically, different color cloths would absorb some VISIBLE light wavelengths and reflect others).

  3. Related to #1, Superman's "X-Ray" vision can penetrate matter selectively - basically, focus at will. See the above-mentioned seeing through cloths but NOT through underwear.

As to how this works, there are 2 possible explanations:

  • Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-ray_vision ) explains that the best "explanation" of how Superman's "X-Ray" vision works is some sort of psychic/remote viewing ability. Doesn't make TOO much sense but neither does the entire Superman mythology.

  • The second is that it IS based on electromagnetic radiation, but the emitter is not Superman's eyes but the Universe. Superman basically simply can see in 100% of the spectrum and his brain can compose coherent picture from the entirety of radiation.

  • I edited my question to include why I thought Superman emitted the 'X-Rays' from his eyes. Nov 3, 2011 at 13:17
  • 1
    @OghmaOsiris: Clearly Superman emits radiation from his eyes; his heat vision is definitive. There's no evidence he does this for X-rays - that's much higher energy.
    – Tynam
    Jul 12, 2013 at 11:16
  • Point 1 is not entirely correct: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backscatter_X-ray
    – Zommuter
    Sep 14, 2016 at 12:36
  • The mechanics of the X-ray vision vary wildly. In a silver-age team-up with The Atom (Superman 302), Superman came up with a way to x-ray his own skull using a lead-lined mirror. Jun 14, 2018 at 15:56

I think the name is a bit of a misnomer because he isn't actually projecting X-Rays at people to see through them; I've always seen it as a way of exploiting the natural background radiation of the world in a way human eyes can't. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_and_abilities_of_Superman has a similar stance:

Explanations for how this power works vary, but rarely include the emission and perception of actual X-Rays, as such high-energy radiation would actually be dangerous to living things he uses it on. A more common theory involves being able to see and concentrate on the patterns of natural cosmic radiation as it reverberates off objects.


Originally, his "X-Ray Vision" was linked to his Heat Vision:

[Heat Vision] was originally considered to be a subset of X-Ray Vision; for example, Superman was known to melt metal with "The heat of his X-Ray vision". As his powers developed and became more defined, however, Heat Vision became distinguished as an individual power.

However, even then, the effects were distinct from the sort of radiation poisoning caused by excessive exposure to X-Rays and such wavelengths of radiation.

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