Superman is the oldest and perhaps most iconic superhero in all of comic book history. With countless TV shows, movies, cartoon series, books and at least two ongoing comics titles at any given time, there is no shortage of stories or antagonists that Superman has had to topple since his debut back in 1938. But who represent his greatest adversaries?
Superman’s rogues gallery is among the most famous and dangerous characters in the entire medium! Comprised in this list are Superman’s 15 most dangerous opponents. The general qualifications that went into making this list were their threat level, number of appearances and iconography. In addition to that, a more meta metric that was considered was what the villain represented to Superman conceptually.
Imperiex was created by Jeph Loeb and Ian Churchill in 2000 and debuted in “Superman” 153. Imperiex is a universal level threat and was the central antagonist of the “Our Worlds At War” story arc that covered not only the Super-books, but also comprised several one-shot tie-ins and other heroes’ titles. Imperiex is the embodiment of entropy and is an energy entity contained in an armored suit. Imperiex also appeared in the “Legion of Superheroes” animated series.
Imperiex is a massive, universal threat who sought to create another Big Bang from the center of the new Earth that emerged from the “Crisis on Infinite Earths” story. While it took any number of characters from the DC Universe to fight Imperiex and prevent him from causing universal catastrophe, Imperiex appeared in “Superman” and “Action Comics.” While other villains like Toyman, Atomic Skull, among others could have been placed here, Imperiex’s sheer power and threat level puts him on this list.
The grand villain in Grant Morrison and Rags Morales “Action Comics,” Vyndktvx first appeared in “Action Comics”#1 in 2011 in the rebooted New 52 continuity. He is a 5th-dimensional imp who was formerly a court magician for a grand king. After Mxyzptlk won the favor and fancy of the King’s daughter, Vyndktvx murdered the king in jealous envy and destroyed 331 worlds across time and space. He blamed Superman for this, and sought to ruin his life.
Morrison and Morales 18-issue run saw Vyndktvx as the primary antagonist. He is responsible for the death of the Kents and essentially seeks to ruin Superman’s life at any junction of his life possible. He helps assemble the Anti-Superman Army, a coalition of villains who feel wronged by Superman and seek to kill him, comprising of Kryptonite Man, Captain Comet, Metalek, Nimrod the Hunter, Superdoom, the psychic Susie Tompkins and Xa-Du. He would rank higher on the list, but only appeared in this one arc.
Ulysses was created during the New 52 by Geoff Johns and John Romita Jr. He first debuted in “Superman” #32, and was the primary antagonist during Johns and Romita’s run. He is conventionally similar to Superman in his origin, but unlike Superman, does not represent the same ideals or is a metaphor for humanity’s potential.
Ulysses is an interesting take as a Superman antagonist. His origin story is not dissimilar to Superman’s himself. The son of two Earthly scientists, he was sent to another dimension to save him from imminent death while the laboratory was exploding. Raised in the 4th dimension, he develops powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Ulysses is Latin for Odysseus, the great traveler who takes years to return home from war. Ulysses and Superman come into conflict when Ulysses’ true motives are discovered, but his motif is unique and he represented a threat to all life on Earth.
12. MANCHESTER BLACK
Manchester Black first debuted in Joe Kelly and Doug Mahnke’s “Action Comics” #775 in 2001. In one of the most famous Superman stories ever published, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” sought to juxtapose 90’s violent comics with traditional Superman values. The story was eventually adapted into an animated film called “Superman vs the Elite.”
Manchester Black, like the next entry on this list, was created to represent the popular antiheroes that had began attracting more and more limelight in the 1990’s. Black is the leader of a small team called the Elite that challenge conventional super-heroics by ruthlessly murdering villains to see to them never returning. This lead to a confrontation between Superman and the Elite where Superman proves how killing a villain is no better than the villain him/herself. Manchester Black was also seen as a member of the Suicide Squad during the “Our Worlds At War” storyline.
Magog first appeared in the first issue of “Kingdom Come” in 1996 and was created by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. Created to be a fundamental opposite of the concept of Superman, Magog was designed to resemble the “Rob Liefeld” style of superheroes that became prominent in the 1990’s. He is largely responsible for the biblical, cataclysmic event at the end of the “Kingdom Come” story.
Magog is an interesting addition to this list. Magog represents a sort of antithetical villain to the concept of Superman. By design, Mark Waid and Alex Ross designed Magog to represent the modern hero of the 80’s and 90’s. Magog was swift, violent, and decisive. He wasn’t old-fashioned like Superman, and his public standing only grew throughout “Kingdom Come.” Magog’s name deliberately is lifted from the Biblical story of Gog and Magog, and Magog represents the “golden calf” or the false idol. In the context of the story, that is precisely what Magog is, a false idol to the public both in DC Comics and to the readership of the time.
10. MR. MXYZPTLK
Mr. Mxyzptlk was invented by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1944 in “Superman” #30. He is one of Superman’s oldest foes and has been fairly consistent in most of his portrayals. He has appeared in shows like “Superman: The Animated Series” where he was portrayed by Gilbert Gottfried and shows like “Smallville.”
Try spelling his name over and over without reference; it is not easy. Mr. Mxyzptlk is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in all of comic books. A true product of the Silver Age, “Mxy” is generally portrayed as a 5th-dimensional imp who is not bound by the dimensions and confines of either the second or third dimension, however one interprets the reality of comic books. He generally seeks a challenge in Superman, challenging the Man of Steel with various pranks and mischievous trials and obstacles to overcome, and he is generally thwarted by having him spell out or say his name backwards. Perhaps the most notable version of Mxy is in Alan Moore’s and Kurt Swan’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” where Mr. Mxyzptlk becomes an evil imp, going on a rampage to essentially ruin Superman’s life, legitimately killing his friends and family and trying to kill the superhero himself as well.
Debuting in “DC Comics Presents” #27 in 1980, Mongul was created by Len Wein and Jim Starlin. Wein described Mongul as a villain deliberately designed to represent a physical threat to Superman, and has been a consistent threat to Superman in his various incarnations over the years. Mongul was seen in “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited” in fairly faithful adaptations of books that he appeared in, and has also appeared in “Young Justice” and “Batman: Brave and the Bold.”
Mongul is notable for two major storylines. While he has certainly been utilized in other stories, such as when he began picking off Sinestro Corps members and taking their rings, Mongul is notable for his role as the warlord of War World, where Superman was forced to fight gladiatorial like battles, and perhaps more notably than that, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons used Mongul as the primary antagonist in “For the Man who has Everything,” where Mongul ensnares Superman with the Black Mercy plant making him vicariously live in his dream life. Mongul and his son have been utilized as consistently dangerous throughout the years, but especially considering Mongul’s psychological devastation of Superman, he ranks high on this list.
Different people throughout the decades have gone by the moniker of Parasite, perhaps most notably Rudy Jones of the post-crisis era created by John Ostrander and Joe Brozowski in “Firestorm” vol. 2 #58 in 1987. However, the original Parasite was created by Jim Shooter in 1966 and emerged from the pages of “Action Comics” #340. He has has also debuted in the DCAU cartoons such as “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League.”
Parasite, in his different forms and incarnations, is not just one of the most dangerous threats to Superman, but also to the larger DC Universe collectively. Parasite absorbs the powers of anyone he touches, and so if he ever touches Superman, he drains his powers and abilities. It is a two-pronged sword however, as he also acquires their weaknesses. Parasite is very dangerous, and generally has to be outsmarted to be thwarted. Notably, Parasite was in the fifth issue of “All-Star Superman,” where he absorbed Superman’s ambient energy while Clark Kent was interviewing Lex Luthor in prison, where Clark had to subtly stop him without dawning his tights.
Debuting in “Action Comics” #252 and created by Robert Bernstein and Al Plastino, like several other villains on this list, Metallo hit the scene in 1959. Metallo has appeared in various television shows like “Superman: The Animated Series,” and “Smallville,” he is generally portrayed as a cyborg with a heart of kryptonite. He has also appeared in any number of video games like “Lego Batman 3” and “DC Universe Online.”
If there’s one thing that is consistent about Metallo in all his different incarnations and forms, it is that he is never treated lightly by Superman. The cyborg and oftentimes Terminator wannabe has a heart made of Kryptonite and a punch of steel. In the New 52 continuity, John Corben is given an extra layer of dimension in his connection to Superman, as it is revealed that Corben had once dated Lois Lane, Clark Kent’s perpetual love interest. Metallo is consistently a threat to Superman, and notably shoots Superman in the chest with a kryptonite bullet in “Batman/Superman: Public Enemies.”
Invented by DC Comics with the sole purpose in mind of killing Superman, Doomsday was invented by a committee of creatives in 1992 by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern. Doomsday first debuted in “Superman: The Man of Steel” #17 and is most notable for his role in the “Death of Superman” story arc of the same year. Doomsday made his film debut in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and has been featured in several TV shows.
Doomsday literally killed Superman. Should Doomsday be higher on a list of most dangerous Superman villains? Perhaps. However, he has less iconography compared to the other villains, and while he was able to accomplish what essentially no other villain could, he is less of a consistent nuisance to the Man of Steel compared to other antagonists, and since killing Superman, it’s been relatively downhill for the monster since.
(Full disclaimer: I initially tried to write this entry in Bizarro speak, but I simply couldn’t do it.)
Created by Otto Binder and George Papp in “Superboy” #68, Bizarro first debuted in 1958. Bizarro is essentially a strange doppelgänger of Superman in just about any of his incarnations. He is usually as powerful as Superman, but gullible or with a very unusual sense of logic. He is extremely dangerous, because on top of his abilities, he is also a complete wildcard of a character.
If you have never read a book about Bizarro or seen one of the animated adaptations of the character, chances are you’re not familiar with the character, but generally speaking, Bizarro speaks in opposites. (No, literally. He literally says the opposite of what he means because he’s that stupid.) In the Silver Age and in the Modern Age of comics, Bizarro heralds from the Bizarro World, an unusual cube-shaped Earth where all the other people are Bizarro versions of familiar Superman friends, families and fellow heroes (including a version of the Flash who is the slowest man alive). In the Post-Crisis continuity and in the animated series, Bizarro is a failed Superman clone created by Luthor. Bizarro is extremely powerful with ice beam eyes and fire breath, and with his warped sense of logic, he is very difficult to thwart.
In 1961, Robert Bernstein and George Papp created Superman’s evil Kryptonian doppelgänger in General Zod. Having debuted in “Adventure Comics” #283, General Zod has come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, has appeared in video games and films, most notably being portrayed by Terence Stamp in the Richard Donner “Superman” films and by Michael Shannon in “Man of Steel.”
Superman has no shortage of adversaries from Krypton, such as Jax-Ur and Faora. Generally threats from Krypton represent Superman’s personal struggle with his dual identity as a citizen of Earth and a Kryptonian. While being a Kryptonian is an easy way to give Superman a physical equal, the conflicts usually arise from the questionable geo-political politics of most Kryptonians who generally seek to impose their vast strength and arrogance onto the Earth. General Zod has come in many forms and sizes throughout the years, but he’s extremely dangerous to Superman because of his physical prowess and militant nature.
In 1958, Otto Binder and Al Plastino released upon the world one of the most dangerous threats to interstellar civilizations in the form of Brainiac. First debuting in “Action Comics” #242, Brainiac has been a consistent and dangerous threat to Superman for six straight decades. Strangely enough, despite there being a half-dozen movies about Superman, none of them have featured Brainiac yet, despite his role in comic book history and Superman history.
One of Superman’s oldest and most dastardly antagonists, Brainiac shrank the lost Kryptonian city of Kandor before Krypton blew up. Brainiac has come in many different shapes and sizes throughout the years, which has been explained in the Geoff Johns storyline, “Brainiac,” as well as “Convergence.” Brainiac is typically depicted as a green humanoid alien from the planet Colu who steals and shrinks cities across the universe. He’s also been shown as a cyborg, and was even responsible for the death of Pa Kent in the Post-Crisis continuity.
Darkseid is a very iconic villain among comic book fans. First debuting in “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen”#134 in 1970, he is most famous for his run in Jack Kirby’s “Fourth World” epic published throughout the decade. Fashioned to resemble Adolf Hitler in several ways, including attire, militant fascist politics and general war-mongering, Darkseid is the ultimate evil in DC Comics.
Brainiac is perhaps more iconic than he is as a Superman antagonist, and referring to Darkseid as a Superman villain is in fact a disservice to Darkseid, but there is perhaps no other antagonist that poses a greater threat to the DC Multiverse than Darkseid. He is literally a god, in search of the anti-life equation (which is an equation the removes free will from people who read or hear it) in order to enslave the entire universe. Even when not being depicted as chasing the equation, he is still shown to be a large-scale threat to peoples, planets and even the universe itself. Darkseid has any number of memorable appearances such as “Superman: The Animated Series”, “The New Gods,” “Final Crisis,” “Superman/Batman” and “JLA” among many others.
1. LEX LUTHOR
One of the most iconic villains in the history of the comic book industry, Lex Luthor was created in 1940 by the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and debuted in “Action Comics” #23. Luthor is the arch-nemesis of Superman and is one of the most fascinating antagonists in the medium. He has had a series of different incarnations and a myriad of different actors portray him in both films and television shows.
Originally a mad scientist, reinterpreted as a large, executive CEO, and eventually the President of the United States, Luthor represents the worst in humanity. Luthor is pugnacious, vain, entitled, envious, jealous and perhaps worst of all, selfish. He believes he is the hero of his own story, the true Superman that the people need, and believes in his heart of hearts, that Superman is a roadblock that is obstructing the natural destination of humanity. He has any number of iconic and meaningful stories such as “All-Star Superman,” “Superman: Birthright,” or even “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel.” There is no one else on this list that could have come in at Number 1.
And that’s our list! Did any villains miss the cut? Let us know in the comments!