I have always been the first on to kvetch when writers decide to give Superman new powers. What, the Last Son of Krypton* isn't powerful enough for you? His near godlike abilities aren't enough, so you have to give him new skills to pull out of his hat? (I'm looking at you, second season of the Legion of Superheroes cartoon, and at you, too, Superman II).
But...you read enough Superman stories, and you'll find that this is hardly a new phenomenon. Sure, Golden/Silver Age Superman had flight, invulnerability, super-strength, heat vision, x-ray vision, super-breath, super intelligence, super-hypnosis, super ventriloquism, super-hearing, telescopic vision, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. But even to the early creators, that just wasn't enough.
Take, for example, Superman #251. This was one of the first comics I ever had...no cover, terrible condition because I've read it 5 thousand times. And, while continuing the Sisyphean task of organizing my collection, I came across it and started reading it again.
And the middle story was a reprint of Superman #45, from 1947. Oh, man, the memories came flooding back as I read this. And as an adult, I kept finding myself exclaiming, "Hey, Superman can't do that!!" Of course the 1972 editor is kind enough to tell us in a caption on the first page, "Sharp-eyed readers will note the Man of Tomorrow takes on a couple of super-powers in the tale that are no longer considered part of Superman's super-abilities!" Like this:
This ugly yellow dude from another dimension, using a "dimensional travel device," (in 1947!!)comes to earth and captures prominent and special earthlings--he's a collector, you see. He'll tell you himself:
So the dude comes for Superman, and Kal-El "plays possum," pretending to let the alien win, so he can go to the alien's dimension and free the captives. But Superman waits to long, and is trapped in a glass case with "suspended animation gas," so he can't move. Fortunately, it's easy to escape when writers can make up new powers as they go along:
Ah, yes, Superman's famous "telepathic will-control." Too bad he apparently forgot how to use it; it might have come in handy against, say, the Dominator invasion, or Imperiex, or...
But wait! That's not all! After Superman manages to escape from his display case by rocking until it topples (hey, wait, I thought you were paralyzed!!), he is still weak. So he decides to use "strategy," and yet another new superpower:
Yep, suddenly Kryptonians are shape-shifters...wow, again we have a power that would have come amazingly in handy any number of times...but as far as I know, never used again.
Hey, wait a minute!! All of Superman's powers, plus telepathy and shape shifting?!? Is Superman really a Martian? Has J'onn J'onzz come to earth a decade early to assist Superman? Or is Superman really a White Martian who has been hypnotized to think he's Kryptonian because...
Uh oh, we'd better not let Dan DiDio know about this, or we'll have a new 20-issue maxi-series with 24 spin-off books to explain it...
SPOILER ALERT: Superman rescues Lois (of course, she was one of the hostages. Duh!) and the other hostages, and destroys the dimensional travel device so it can never be used again. The collector and his species are never even named, and are never heard of again...)
*Does not apply in current continuity. Probably. If they ever finish that damned story.
All panels from Superman #251, reprinting Superman #45 (1947).