Superman Rogues’ Gallery - All Superman enemies

List of Superman enemies

As Superman is one of the most powerful superheroes in the history of the genre, the ability of comics creators to create villains of equal power has proven challenging. In the beginning, Superman merely fought common criminals: street gangs, mafia leaders, corrupt landlords, and politicians.

Superman Rogues’ Gallery - All Superman enemies

 As such, Superman’s rogues’ gallery is not as populated or complex as, say, Batman’s or Spider-Man’s. His litany of villains, however, is powerful and more than a threat to the Man of Steel. As with all rogues’ galleries, the villains have come to define the hero, to focus his mission, and provide conflict for the protagonist.

Superman’s archnemesis is Lex Luthor. Originally, in 1940, the character was known only as “Luthor” and had red hair (Siegel and Shuster, Action Comics #23, April 1940). For decades, Luthor was simply a mad scientist bent on global destruction (though he often utilized weapons stolen from others); he had no real issue with Superman personally.

Superman Rogues’ Gallery

In 1960—by which time Luthor had already become bald—Lex was shown to be a young scientist in Smallville and a fan of Superboy’s, even going so far as to try to develop an antidote to Superboy’s reac[1]tion to kryptonite. Due to a lab accident that Lex associates with Superboy, Luthor becomes bald and swears eternal hatred for the hero (Siegel and Plastino, Adven[1]ture Comics #271, April 1960). 

In the Superman films of the late 1970s and 1980s, Luthor—portrayed by Gene Hackman—is presented more as a bumbling “crim[1]inal genius” with delusions of grandeur. The modern portrayal of Lex Luthor as a megalomaniacal businessman who hates Superman began in the post–Crisis on Infinite Earths continuity (John Byrne, The Man of Steel #4, November 1986).

Superman Rogues’ Gallery

That portrayal has been consistent in the decades since. Perhaps the most iconic portrayal of the character outside of comics has been in the popular television ser[1]ies Smallville (2001–2011), as played by Michael Rosenbaum and combining the 1960 and post–1986 incarnations of the character.

Rosenbaum portrayed Lex as a friend to teenage Clark and who, due in large part to the machinations of his evil father, devolved into villainy. Over the years, there have been story lines and uni[1]verses where Luthor has been a heroic character.

Many of Superman’s most memorable villains were introduced in the 1950s and early 1960s under the editorship of Mort Weisinger. In 1958, readers were introduced to Brainiac. Though the character has gone through multiple reincar[1]nations over the decades, Brainiac is, in essence, a cyborg/synthetic life form from the planet Bryak—though some incarnations have him as Kryptonian; he travels the universe and miniaturizes cities from planets, placing them in bottles and pre[1]serving them in order to rule them.

See also: Who is Joker?

Most famously, he bottled the Kryptonian city of Kandor before the planet’s destruction, essentially making Superman no longer the lone survivor of the doomed planet (Binder and Plastino, Action Comics #242, July 1958). The character has been portrayed in numerous animated and live[1]action filmed adventures, perhaps most brilliantly in the live action series Kryp[1]ton, which began airing on the SyFy network in 2018.

Just a few months after Brainiac’s first appearance, the villain Bizarro was introduced, created by a Professor Dalton—originally as a duplicate of the teen[1]age Superboy. The duplicate is imperfect and soon destroys itself (Binder and Papp, Superboy #68, October 1958).

The popularity of the concept, however, called for a return the following year. Now, Luthor—making use of Dalton’s dupli[1]cation ray—tricks Superman into being hit with the device, creating Bizarro Superman. Lois Lane uses the device to create a Bizarro Lois, and the two Bizar[1]ros leave Earth together (Binder and Plastino, Action Comics #254–255, July– August 1959). Because the Bizarro duplicates are flawed, Bizarro Superman is the opposite of Superman in every way (i.e., he says “good-bye” when greeting some[1]one, and he produces ice rays from his eyes and flame breath as opposed to Super[1]man’s heat vision and freezing breath).

Over time, an entire “Bizarro World” is developed, with Bizarro opposites of every character in the “normal” DC uni[1]verse. Unlike other Superman villains, Bizarro is often shown as being kind and misunderstood, a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster.

Metallo was first introduced just prior to the adult Bizarro. Originally, John Corben was a common criminal who became involved in a tragic accident. Profes[1]sor Vale—yet another mad scientist character—transmits Corben’s consciousness into a robot body. Corben soon learns that only kryptonite can permanently power his robot form, making him a dangerous foe for Superman (Bernstein and Plas[1]tino, Action Comics #252, May 1959).

Metallo’s debut happens in the same issue as that of Supergirl. In post–Crisis continuity, Metallo’s origin was slightly altered, with Vale’s experiment due to his fear that Superman was the first of an overall Kryptonian invasion force, and Corben/Metallo is meant as a protector of the human race (Byrne, Superman vol. 2, #1, January 1987).

The first Superman villain to be a true equal to the Man of Steel was General Zod. Once more introduced in a Superboy adventure, Zod was a Kryptonian crim[1]inal and military leader who was banished to the Phantom Zone, an interdimen[1]sional prison for Kryptonians. When Superboy is inadvertently trapped in the Zone, he meets Zod. As Zod had met—and surpassed—his original 40-year sen[1]tence, Superboy released him (Bernstein and Papp, Adventure Comics #283, April 1961).

Once exposed to Earth’s yellow sun, Zod soon develops the same powers as Superman and sets out on yet another attempted conquest. As an equal to Super[1]man in power, with the added advantage of military training, Zod has proven to be more than a match for Superman over the decades. He was portrayed by Terrence Stamp in the films Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980).

More recently, he was played by Michael Shannon in Man of Steel (2013), where controversy developed when Superman (Henry Cavill) kills Zod in his attempt to stop him. The character has also appeared in the live-action series Smallville, Supergirl, and Krypton.

One of Superman’s more powerful enemies was not even designed for the Superman universe. When famed comics artist Jack Kirby defected to DC Com[1]ics, it was under the agreement that he would be able to create his own comics. He first introduced Darkseid in the pages of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #134 (Nov[1]ember 1970). The cameo was designed to set up Kirby’s own “Fourth World” epics to be depicted in the comics Forever People, New Gods, and Mister Miracle.

superman vs darkseid

The failure of the Fourth World series led DC to return Darkseid to his Superman roots. Darkseid is the lord of the planet Apokolips, a dystopian world of slaves in service to the all-powerful Darkseid. Darkseid possesses godlike powers, not the least of which are his “Omega Beams,” which shoot from his eyes and can either incapacitate, kill, or resurrect those caught in their gaze.

Darkseid is a recurring threat to not only Superman but the entire Justice League. He was also the last vil[1]lain faced by Clark Kent—and his first as Superman—in the television series Smallville.

See also:Who is Aquaman?

To date, however, only one villain has been successful in killing the Last Son of Krypton: Doomsday. Introduced as a genetically engineered monster designed specifically to kill Kryptonians, Doomsday is first released in 1992 (Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove, Superman: The Man of Steel #17–18, November– December 1992). Finding his way to Earth, Doomsday inevitably faces off against Superman, killing the hero (Jurgens and Brett Breeding, Superman vol. 2, #75, January 1993). The “Death of Superman” issue would become one of the highest[1]selling comics in history.

Outside of comics, Doomsday has appeared in the tele[1]vision series Smallville, the home video animated release Superman: Doomsday (Warner Bros., 2007), and—in an altered form—in the major motion picture Bat[1]man vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (Warner Bros., 2016). Only in Smallville did Doomsday fail to kill the Man of Steel. The character also had a cameo appear[1]ance in the first season of Krypton.

Throughout his storied history, Superman has faced many powerful beings, each with the ability to take down the Man of Steel. Each has brought a sense of conflict that shaped the character to one degree or another. Among the most pow[1]erful villains in superhero comics, only Superman can stand in opposition to their destructive goals. Though all have tried, none have definitively defeated Earth’s protector.

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