I’ll come right out and say it: I think super-ventriloquism is a better Superman Power than heat vision.
This goes against the majority opinion, I’d wager. I know that, on the internet at least, super-ventriloquism is routinely mocked as silly, and as a sign that Superman has too many powers. Meanwhile, the heat vision is cool. It allows Clark to get into big laser fights and, more recently, to threaten people with glowing eyes when he gets angry. And I don’t deny that laser fights are cool. I may not care for threatening glowy eyes, but overall I don’t have too much problem with the zappy eyes. But once you start mocking the super-ventriloquism, well then I have to disagree. If you think that Superman has too many powers, I say you cut the lasers before the voice.
For posterity I should explain: Super-ventriloquism is a power that Superman had in the olden days allowing him to throw his voice to anywhere in the world (and imitate people as well) without needing to move his lips. It was used more often than you’d think, not a one-time deal. If he needed to get a message to someone across town, he could do it. If he wanted to make it seem like something inanimate was talking, he could do it. These were the days when superhero comics were about finding innovative uses for super powers, not about who can do the punching the best way to win all the fights.
For the most part, Superman’s powers are just things that regular people can do, turned up to Super levels. Superspeed is basically just running, but Super, right? And flying (an outgrowth of the “leap over tall buildings” thing) is just jumping, but Super. Telescopic and X-Ray vision are just looking, but Super. And so on*. But then look: Super-ventriloquism is speaking, but Super. Heat vision is starting fires, but Super? That one doesn’t fit the pattern.
There’s a logic to how the heat vision came to be one of his powers, though. In the early days they gave him the ability to see through solid things and they called it X-Ray vision. Superman’s powers didn’t actually function exactly like X-Rays, but that’s the name they gave it, after an invention that was at that point younger than many of the people in the world. The connection to X-Rays was there, and they knew that real X-Rays gave off heat. They carried that over into the stories, Superman using his X-Ray vision to heat things up. Over time, it drifted to became a totally separate ability.
The fact that superhero stories have grown to be more about combat than anything is a big part of why heat vision is beloved, but I don’t think it is the whole reason that super-ventriloquism is reviled. I genuinely think it is the name. I feel like if it were called “voice projection” or something similarly bland but more accurate, it would be accepted.
I do think that if we brought super-ventriloquism back, we’d probably need some manner of limitations on there. Instant communication to anywhere being something hard to write around is why so many horror movies have to write out cellphones right away. Here’s a couple ideas:
- Firstly, I’ve seen him use it to talk to people in space. I don’t think I need that. Let him need to find other ways to solve that problem.
- He should need to know where he projecting his voice to. It isn’t telepathy so he can’t magically reach a person by thought. I envision super-ventriloquism as a physical ability of sending sound waves to a location, so he’d need to know where the target is to send them there. Given his vision powers, this wouldn’t be too hard, but it is something.
- Maybe he has to put more effort in to not be drown out by other sources of noise at the target location? If the target (let’s say Lois) is in an abandoned warehouse with not a lot of noise, Clark can be heard easily. But if she’s standing on a busy Metropolitan street, he needs to put some more effort in. We know Superman can be loud (after all, one of his other powers is shouting, but Super), but putting that effort in might make it a little harder to look like he’s not speaking to people around his real location.
What I’ve got here is not a significant limitation of his powers, I could probably come up with more if I were doing it as more than a mere thought experiment, but those limitations weren’t the important part of this whole post anyway. The take-away message here is that heat vision is a sillier super power than super-ventriloquism and anyone who disagrees is incorrect.
* Freeze breath is basically just blowing on stuff to cool it down turned up to Super levels, but it is a dumber example than the others I gave there.