1394: Superm*n

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 06:14, 11 October 2014 by (talk) (Explanation)
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See also: Spider-Man reboot in which he can produce several inches of web, doesn't need as much chalk powder on his hands when he goes rock climbing, and occasionally feels vaguely uneasy about situations.
Title text: See also: Spider-Man reboot in which he can produce several inches of web, doesn't need as much chalk powder on his hands when he goes rock climbing, and occasionally feels vaguely uneasy about situations.


By depicting how unimpressive the superhero Superman would be if his increase in powers, when compared to humans, were the same as the moon's increase in apparent size during a supermoon, Randall points that the use of the term supermoon is an exaggeration.

This comic was posted one day after a supermoon, an informal astronomical event where a full moon occurs when it is closest to earth, causing the moon to appear 10% brighter and about 7% larger. This is due to the apsidal precession of moon's elliptic orbit which has an orbital eccentricity of about 0.0549. The conditions for a supermoon happen once every 411 days, and the loose definition of the term means that the supermoon lasts for about two or three full moons.

Returning back to the not-so-Superman, the average American adult man is 69 inches tall, with a standard deviation of 2.9 inches. Not-so-Superman, at an assumed 74 inches tall, is within the 94th percentile - certainly a tall man, but by no means phenomenal. Basketball players, for sake of example, range an upwards of 80 inches. "7% stronger" (most likely a reference to how the supermoon is 7% brighter) is a bit harder to quantify, but it communicates "not actually impressive" to the reader all the same.


The comic's title makes use of an asterisk that is being used as a wildcard. When using search queries an asterisk represents an unknown character, or in some cases a set of characters. Therefore, Superm*n can represent the strings "Superman" and "Supermoon".

Title Text

The title text refers makes this same comparison with Spider-Man. Spider man is capable of firing large amounts of webbing, can cling to surfaces with superhuman gripping abilities, and has a sixth sense, "spider sense", that warns him about impending danger. The title text describes trivially minimal versions of these powers, analogous to the trivial size and brightness difference between a "supermoon" and a normal full moon.


Supermoon has been mentioned previously in 1080: Visual Field and 1052: Every Major's Terrible.


[Cueball is reaching for an item on a high shelf. Superman is rushing towards him]
Superman: I'll get it! I'm 5 inches taller and 7% stronger than the average man!
Caption: The new supermoon-inspired Superman reboot


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Excellent description, but minor niggle: In "Superm*n' , the '*' is a wildcard. This isn't a regular expression that would match 'Superman' and Supermoon'. A regexp could be "Superm.*n" - the '.' means 'any character' and the '*' means 'as many times as you like'. (More selective regexps exist) If you were to interpret 'Superm*n' as a regular expression, it would match 'Supern' , 'Supermn', "Supermmn', Supermmmn' etc. So you could describe 'Superm*n' as a 'wildcard search that would match superman and supermoon'. 05:11, 14 July 2014 (UTC)

You're approaching this from a very specific context. You may be correct in that context, but there are plenty of different programs, protocols, languages, etc which use wildcards in various ways. I once worked as a 411 operator, and in the search software we used at the time, a search on "SUPERM*N" would have found both "Superman" and "Supermoon" if both of those were names in listings (although our supervisors would consider that too many keystrokes and would suggest "SUP*N" instead). - 05:58, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
Oops, looks like I read the initial comment too quickly, didn't realize you were kind of making the same point I wanted to, you were just being more technical about it. Either way, I think the explanation of the wildcard in the article itself should be made vague enough to avoid further threads like this. - 06:03, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
It's clearly a Unix shell file glob. Jeremyp (talk) 09:54, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
This form of wildcard is used in the Windows command prompt as well, and is very well known for Windows users. I obviously can't speak for the full XKCD audience, but limiting the scope of that wildcard to Unix seems unnecessarily exclusive. (Wouldn't it be sufficient to just refer to it as a "wildcard" as a generic concept? I mean, You Know You're a Geek When...) KieferSkunk (talk) 20:12, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
Having grown up on MS-DOS, I second this. I remember typing DIR/a:h/s *.exe or something similar to search for games hidden by other students on my school's computers. 11:18, 15 July 2014 (UTC)

I figured that the asterisk was used to replace the letter 'A' in the name of the character so that Randall was not using a copyrighted/licensed name and was therefore safe from possible legal action for unauthorized use. 08:30, 27 September 2014 (UTC)

  • Superm..?n (or, Superm.{1,2}n, Superm(a|oo)n, etc....) KangaroOS 10:58, 31 March 2016 (UTC)

Came back to this comic through a link from another explanation, and sad that no one specifically mentioned Supermoron. I wouldn't want to meet that person. --BigMal // 18:55, 18 December 2017 (UTC)


If a Trivia section is warranted for this comic, I think it should definitely be pointed out this is one of the rare strips that uses a colour other than black or white. Is there an available statistic on use of colour in xkcd? - 05:58, 14 July 2014 (UTC)

Ya, I'd bite on this one. Jarod997 (talk) 12:20, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
There's a category, Category:Comics with color. -- 13:24, 14 July 2014 (UTC)

In a similar tune to the supermoon, could the sun at perihelion be called a "superstar"? 08:36, 14 July 2014 (UTC)

Wouldn't that be the Earth at perihelion? -- 12:33, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
The sun at Earth's perihelion. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I was gonna say, does the Earth get 12% larger when it's at perihelion to the sun? :) KieferSkunk (talk) 20:14, 14 July 2014 (UTC)
The sun appears about 3% larger to an observer on Earth at perihelion, compared to the sun we see during aphelion.[1] Not very apparent to the unaided human eye, given the other factors(including seasonal, diurnal and latitudinal variation) that influence our overall perception of the sun. (Not that I'm recommending naked-eye observations of the sun.) 05:27, 15 July 2014 (UTC)
Web-slingers and supermen

The comment on the title text makes it sound as though Spiderman canonically shoots webs from his body and only in "some adaptations" has a mechanical device that does so. That's backwards. The machine is the original, the biological version is what happens in "some adaptations" (ie, films). (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Exactly right. I've edited the description. Also corrected the spelling of Spider-Man. 18:16, 14 July 2014 (UTC)

Do we have the required information to calculate what percentage of people would have better than 107% of the average human strength, assuming a normal bell distribution? 07:15, 15 July 2014 (UTC)

Though it's quoted from a stupid NASA press release, "14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full moons" is misleading, as Sky and Telescope has been pointing out for years, and in fact they told this same exact Superman joke about it back in 2012. 1.14 is the ratio between perigee size and apogee size. (Even then there are different numbers floating around. If you look at the numbers in this graphic it's either 1.124 or 1.134, in the same image describing the same event.) Perigee size versus average size would be more relevant. This is why Randall's joke is that Superman is 7% stronger than an average man. In the S&T article it was 8% stronger. Pesthouse (talk) 18:51, 15 July 2014 (UTC)

Also... "14% Bigger"? Is that (apparent) diameter or area? (i.e. based upon the change in radians subtended to the eye or steradians, likewise.) Hopefully says something, in the sources, but it's a commonly disputable weasel-statistic (plus 14% bigger than 14% smaller doesn't return to the same size, so choose the right comparison but twist it and the unaware/charlatan statistics-vendor can give misleading figures). Talking generically, of course, as a pitfall we should not fall into, in everyday life. 11:56, 16 July 2014 (UTC)