Yes, Superman can see in the dark. But it might not have been the case during this early encounter. Neither Superman nor Batman know much about the other with this being their first real encounter in the early DC universe. More importantly, the editors and writers were still working out the character's developments.
- In fact, this is the duo's first official meeting (Superman Vol. 1 #76, 1952) and they would not meet again for a number of years due to economic constraints of the industry.
It might have even been said at that particular time in Superman's character development he did not have any true night vision at all! Many times he was treated just like an ordinary man in terms of his senses and awareness.
Most of Superman's more advanced visual acuity (his microscopic and telescopic visions, for example) does not occur until after the Silver Age of comics in the later 1960s and early 70s, when Superman developed new powers weekly and became completely over powered by the end of the Silver Age.
Let's cover a few things in the proper order:
- Darkness is relative. What most people consider darkness is still filled with electromagnetic radiation detectable by most modern depictions of Superman's superior visual prowess.
In a room without visible light, normal humans would be blind, but to Superman, the room is still bathed in a variety of electromagnetic energies he can detect. Visible light is only a tiny part of the entire spectrum of energy available to his senses.
Superman's normal light awareness is superior to a normal human, giving him the ability to see more in far less light. The average low-light situation would be similar to the visual acuity of a cat before adding any of his additional energy-based powers.
To truly stump Superman's vision and create an area of TRUE darkness, you would have to be able to block all forms of electromagnetic radiation from the environment.
His main visual sense depictions include infrared detection, active or passive.
His vision allows him to engage in active infrared detection to detect heat emissions of infrared light given off by living beings or thermal imaging differences in background temperatures of different materials.
Even if you could put Superman in an environment completely free of any form of external electromagnetic radiation, he could emit heat vision at a level low enough to heat his environment and then use it to see by!
His second go to in night time environments if heat isn't available for tracking is to simply increase his visual acuity along the UV part of the spectrum.
Superman's visual senses are so acute he can span and discern unique frequencies along the entirety of the electromagnetic spectrum. He can isolate individual frequencies and track them to their source either by ear or by sight.
Yes, in most modern depictions of Superman, he can control his visual acuity well enough to follow a radio wave to its source! From Adventures of Superman #41.
Superman's first visual power (X-ray vision) predates the above meeting of Superman and Batman by at least a decade.
Superman's X-ray Vision has never been clearly explained but likely does not include the emission and detection of X-rays because of the inherent danger to living things.
The most likely theory indicates he is able to detect and see concentrations of background radiations as they strike other objects. Anything he can't see through is likely to be lead, dense or radiation-resistant. X-Ray vision was first used by Superman in Action Comics #11 (April 1939), where it was called "Superman's X-ray eyesight.