Superman is a role model among his superhero peers, the people of the DC Universe, and the real-life fans who follow his every adventure. The wholesome Big Blue Boy Scout persona has permeated nearly every portrayal of the character in television and film, making him one of the most morally centered characters in all of fiction. Some feel that Superman’s personality, along with his godlike powers, makes him a boring superhero, but his fans know how fun and interesting he can be.
Though he is usually depicted as the shining pinnacle of heroism and a man of perfect character, this doesn’t mean he is without his own flaws. In the character’s 80 years of existence, Superman has made mistakes, failed those who counted on him, and has otherwise let us down. Not even a fictional character can be perfect all of the time—that would be boring. Instead, it’s important to remember these moments and embrace Superman for his imperfections. Despite his alien heritage, Superman has always been a story about humanity, and what it means to be a member of society. What’s more human than making mistakes?
15. A GOVERNMENT STOOGE
Frank Miller is considered to be one of the most iconic Batman writers ever, but his depiction of Superman leaves a lot to be desired. In the seminal The Dark Knight Returns, the Man of Steel has become a tool of the government and now serves the President of the United States directly. Instead of standing up for truth and justice, he is now an enforcer for the American way.
Superman fights a war for the American government and inadvertently causes a nationwide blackout. He is then sent to Gotham to take out Batman because his former ally has been far too effective at keeping his city safe. Superman, as obedient as ever, agrees to fight the Dark Knight directly. He continues to serve the government in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, and it’s all a shame.
14. SUPERBOY PRIME TURNS EVIL
When Superboy Prime was introduced in Crisis on Infinite Earths, he represented everything Superman would one day grow up to become. He was filled with hope and potential, but that wouldn’t last. After he seemingly sacrificed himself alongside Alexander Luthor Jr. and Earth-2 Superman, things did not turn out like he had initially hoped.
Trapped in a pocket dimension as a boy, he watched the universe play out. Without the experiences that honed Clark Kent into Superman, Superboy Prime lacked the morality of his future self. Through his actions in Infinite Crisis, “The Sinestro Corps War,” and other DC stories, he proved to be an immoral, jealous and resentful child filled with rage and hate. Superman has repeatedly fought him and declared how much of a disappointment he is to the S-shield.
13. A SUPERMAN CORRUPTED
Superman III was disappointing in a lot of ways, but none more so than how Superman himself is depicted throughout the movie. When Gus Gorman exposes the Man of Steel to his artificial Kryptonite, he kind of just becomes a huge jerk who experiences unstable mood swings and commits acts of vandalism.
He shamelessly flirts with Lana Lang to the point where he avoids saving someone’s life. Instead of saving an oil tanker from crashing, Superman chooses to get laid, resulting in a massive oil spill. This all culminates in him going on a drinking binge and then splitting into two personas — good and evil. Sure, he defeats his evil side and gets better, but at this point he’s done more than enough to tarnish his reputation.
12. HE LET KINGDOM COME HAPPEN
Let’s get this out of the way right now: The events of Kingdom Come are all Superman’s fault. After Lois Lane is killed by the Joker, Superman goes into seclusion and abandons his life as a superhero. That’s all understandable, but his absence allows more violent vigilantes like Magog to take his place, ultimately leading to the major conflict of the story.
If Superman had intervened sooner, maybe things would have been different. Maybe Kansas wouldn’t have been destroyed because he would have dealt with Magog and his kind. Then, when the Man of Steel finally decides to get up off his butt to do something, Batman tells him not to because it will only make things worse at this point. Guess what? It absolutely made things worse and a ton of people died.
11. DEADBEAT DAD
The 2006 film Superman Returns takes place years after the events of the Christopher Reeve series of films. He spends five years out in space trying to find the remains of the planet Krypton before returning to his adoptive world. He discovers that life has moved on without him while he was away. Lois Lane has moved on and married another man, his foster father has passed away, and Lex Luthor is continuing to scheme.
One thing he learns later in the film is that he unknowingly left Earth when Lois was pregnant with his son. After five years away with no contact with his child, Jason believes that Perry White’s son is actually his father and Superman is pretty much nothing to him. It’s only at the end that Clark begins to take interest in his kid.
10. DESTROYS LOW-INCOME HOUSING
Superman’s hatred and distrust for Lex Luthor gets the better of him in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Clash.” When Luthor is running for president, he announces the opening of Lexor City — new low-income housing that will help the poor. While the young and innocent Captain Marvel approves of the message, Superman maintains his skepticism.
Clark discovers a suspicious device under the city and wants to investigate, but Captain Marvel tries to stop him, and the conflict erupts into a full out fight. The device proves to be nothing more than a power generator, as Lex says it was, but the damage is already done. The town is destroyed, Captain Marvel quits the League in disgust, and the American public no longer trust Superman. Everything went according to Lex Luthor’s plan.
9. HE CAN’T STOP DARKSEID’S INVASION
Superman is supposed to be the one superhero who never loses, but in the first issue of Earth 2, that doesn’t end up being true. Darkseid and Apokolips stage a massive invasion of Earth that proves too much for our heroes to handle. Wonder Woman is killed by Steppenwolf and Superman dies in an explosion caused by a mass of Parademons.
The Batman of Earth 2 is ultimately able to stop the invasion while sacrificing himself, but Superman’s supreme power should have been able to last longer in battle. Because these three heroes are dead, Apokolips is able to stage another attack in Earth 2: World’s End. Without the power of Superman on their side, the Wonders are unable to stand a chance and the planet is destroyed.
8. HE DESTROYS METROPOLIS
For some reason, the Superman in the DC Extended Universe doesn’t really seem to care about human life all that much. In Man of Steel, Jonathan Kent convinces him to hide his abilities to save himself, and Martha says he doesn’t have to help people in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In his battle with Zod and the Kryptonians, it would appear that Superman would agree.
Not only does the battle put Metropolis in harm’s way, but Superman does absolutely nothing to try and avoid collateral damage. The Superman we know would have tried to move the fight away from civilization, but Henry Cavill’s interpretation of the character doesn’t seem worried about the wanton destruction of the city he’s supposed to be protecting. It’s no wonder Batman is so pissed at him.
7. HE MESSES WITH LOIS LANE’S MIND
On more than one occasion Superman has had no problem messing with Lois Lane’s mind because it works out well for his whole secret identity thing. In Superman II, Lois discovers the true identity of Superman. Clark believes that the truth is too much for her to bare, so he kisses her and uses his super mind wiping abilities (???) to erase her memories from the last day.
He’s done something similar in the comics too. In Superman #27 from 2014, Lois Lane is attacked by Parasite. Instead of helping her immediately, he actually allows the villain to feed off of her long enough so that she forgets Superman’s true identity. We all know that Clark was kind of a jerk in the New 52, but this seems to be a recurring theme with him, so who really knows.
6. HE ABANDONED HIS FRIENDS
In Smallville, Lois Lane is sent one year into the future. With Lois gone, Clark became inconsolable and turns his back on all his friends. He goes into isolation to train, and in the meantime, Zod and his followers attack Earth. It’s not until he finds Lois one year later that things change for him.
Unfortunately, by that time, he is no longer friends with Chloe Sullivan and Oliver Queen. Clark’s actions eventually lead to all their deaths in an effort to stop the renegade Kryptonians. However, he was able to send Lois back to the past so she could fix everything that had happened. It seems like the easy thing to do would have been to get a grip and do what needed to be done to keep the world safe.
5. GOODBYE NEW KRYPTON
When it was discovered that hundreds of thousands of Kryptonians were actually alive in the bottle city of Kandor, Superman took on the responsibility to protect his people. When they decided to form their own planet and be left alone, Clark moved to New Krypton to be with his people. It was a heartwarming turn of events, but Superman made a fatal mistake in the end.
By choosing to live a Kryptonian life, he abandons Earth and never sees it coming when the US government launches an attack against his people. While Kal-El is busy playing house, the new Kryptonian society is broken down and eventually destroyed outright. He can’t contain Zod’s forces, and once again becomes The Last Son of Krypton. This failure is what leads to his infamous walk around America.
4. HE IS A MURDERER
In one of the most controversial Superman comics of all time, our hero travels to a pocket dimension in Superman #22 by John Byrne. In this universe, three Kryptonian soldiers escaped from the Phantom Zone and were able to kill nearly everyone on Earth. Superman promises to put an end to their rampage no matter what.
After fighting Zod, Faora, and Quex-Ul, he uses gold kryptonite to permanently remove their powers. It doesn’t stop there, though. Despite the trio no longer being a threat, and everyone already being dead, Superman decides to execute them with the use of green kryptonite. This isn’t necessarily an argument about the death penalty because he’s not exactly a government official. Instead, this is more of a revenge killing than a real execution, and Superman should be above that.
3. HE IS A TRAITOR
Superman has betrayed his friends and teammates before, even if it has been done unintentionally. In the Superman: The Animated Series two-part series finale “Legacy,” Darkseid brainwashes Superman into thinking he is from Apokolips. This results in the Man of Steel leading Darkseid’s army during their invasion of Earth.
In the Batman Beyond episode “The Call,” Terry McGinnis is invited to join the Justice League by an older Superman. It soon becomes apparent that there is a traitor on the team, and they are trying to kill the remaining members. It turns out to be Superman who has betrayed the League while under the control of Starro. While the Man of Steel didn’t exactly turn evil, it didn’t make Batman happy to be part of the team.
2. HE WAS A FASCIST
There have been times where Superman has gone from guiding humanity to controlling it. In the Superman: The Animated Series episode “Brave New Metropolis,” Lois Lane enters an alternate reality where she died and Superman had worked with Lex Luthor to create a safer city while ruling the people with an iron fist. This world’s Clark was, of course, being manipulated by Luthor.
In the two-part Justice League episode “A Better World,” Lex Luthor murders the Flash. Sick of the cat and mouse game he plays with his enemy, Superman finally decides to kill Lex. The Justice League then goes on to rule the world as the Justice Lords in order to provide a safer world. In both instances, it is clear that falling into fascism is not the right answer for Superman or the people he is trying to protect.
1. HE CAN BE A TYRANT
There has been no bigger instance of Superman being a disappointment than in the story of Injustice. Not only did he fail to save Lois Lane from the Joker, he was also responsible for her death and the millions of lives in Metropolis when a bomb went off in the city. It’s understandable that he would be shaken up by this, but it was despicable how low he truly sunk.
Superman immediately murders the Joker and then goes on to establish the worldwide authoritative One Earth Regime with himself as the leader. Yes, he manages to eradicate crime, but he also fights against the superheroes he once called allies. He ends up murdering Green Arrow with his bare hands, kills Shazam, and breaks Batman’s back before he is finally brought down.
When has Superman truly disappointed you? Let us know in the comments.
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