Hollywood's latest take on the decades-old rivalry between Batman and Superman may be a dud, but it does raise an important question. How could humanity take down a seemingly invulnerable demi-god?
I reached out to a noted U.S. military scientist and weapons-designer who once helped us devise a strategy to kill Godzilla. I asked how the American armed forces could deal with a rogue Last Son of Krypton.
"Superman's powers are formidable," the scientist told me on condition of anonymity. "He is described as virtually invulnerable."
But Superman does have weaknesses — and the military could exploit them. The scientist explained his plan. Frankly, it sounded a like a more-practical version of the various methods Batman has tried over his many years of kicking Kal El's ass.
This story includes some minor spoilers for Batman v Superman.
Batman rarely faces Superman alone. In Frank Miller's comic The Dark Knight Returns, he enlists Green Arrow. And in Miller's sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again, the combined forces of the Green Arrow, Flash and Atom make quick work of Superman.
Our weapons-designer said he approves of Batman's team philosophy. "The clever use of combined arms will be crucial," the scientist said. "Sophisticated complementary employment of information operations and the most lethal weapons-effects will be needed to outwit and outgun [Superman]."
Batman's command of information is the main reason he almost always wins in his various battles with Superman. Bruce Wayne is smarter than Kal El is — and he always plans way ahead. Superman, so accustomed to being the strongest guy in the room, always rushes headlong into Batman's traps.
Our military scientist said he thinks an evil Clark Kent would be doubly weak. "An evil Superman will, by nature, suffer one more vulnerability — hubris. This arrogance can be exploited by military's deception and psychological operations."
The scientist proposed a plot to draw Supes into the desert by gathering all his enemies in one spot — and calling him out.
I can do one better. Just copy the plan Batman and Lex Luthor employ when they want to draw Superman to a particular location — kidnap Lois Lane.
Once the Last Son of Krypton is in position, the military would spring its trap. "The weapon must overcome the best of Superman's protections — his accelerated healing capabilities, his speed and agility," the scientist explained.
"Light-scale speed and overwhelming penetrability of destructive effects will be key," he continued. "Lethal radiation [is] promising, so Superman's demise probably demands the crafty application of nuclear weapons."
Superman's survived nukes before, but more on that later. For the weapons to have an effect on Kal El, the military would have to weaken him first — and that means kryptonite. That's something Batman knows, too. In pretty much all of his fights with Superman, Batman wields the glowing green rock that saps Supes' strength.
"But those harmful rays are traditionally delivered as a chronic dose over time," the scientist explained. Batman often lures Clark close to the radioactive rock, but never uses it to kill him. Bats always holds back. Even the aerosol version he packs in Batman v Superman — and in The Dark Knight Returns — is carefully formulated to weaken, not to kill.
But our goal isn't to weaken Superman. We want him dead. The weapons-designer told me an aerosol kryptonite would be the best Superman-killer. But we'd want to totally blanket the battlefield in the radioactive green fog.
"An acute dose delivered instantaneously will be critical for assured mission-accomplishment," the scientist said. With the Man of Steel reeling from the kryptonite cloud, it'd be time to hit him with mankind's deadliest weapon. A nuclear bomb. Actually, several of them.
"Nuclear weapons offer a smorgasbord of lethal and acute radiations," the scientist explained. "These include neutrons (fast and thermal), x-rays, gamma rays, fission fragments, alpha particles and high energy freed electrons (beta radiation)."
"The most penetrative of these are fast-neutron and gamma radiations, both prodigiously produced in fusion reactions. A redundant array of small, concealable, fusion-boosted fission bomb detonations should do."
How many nukes constitute a "redundant array" when dealing with the Man of Steel? Superman has taken a nuke to the chest before and lived. In both The Dark Knight Returns and Batman v Superman, he survives an ICBM.
Sure, Supes almost dies both times, but almost doesn't count when you're trying to fell a living god. So let's be safe and hit Kal El with a dozen strategic nukes. Six megatons in all. Enough to kill millions of people.
The weapons-designer said the military should bury the nukes just below the surface, deep enough to hide the devices from Supes' initial glance. The scientists said he wants to put his trap on top of the atomic land mine. I want to use Lois Lane.
Yeah, we're probably going to lose the intrepid reporter in the resulting blast, but what's one life compared to the harm an evil Superman might inflict?
Superman possesses x-ray vision, so it would be possible for Kal El to seethe subsurface nuke trap, but the scientist said he has a plan for that, too. "X-ray-sensitive detectors would cause the networked array to detonate as one."
"At close range, invulnerability will prove to be a myth," he said. "High-energy neutrons, gamma radiation and hard x-rays will overcome any conceivable [defense]. Superman's legendary cellular make-up will disintegrate into a plasma gas. His legendary speed [won't] permit him to outrun nuclear death approaching him at light-comparable speed."
"The battle would culminate instantaneously, and decisively. The arrogance of [Superman] would evaporate in a mushroom cloud, never to reappear. Not even in a sequel."