The DC Universe is officially the oldest shared superhero universe in comics, and with that comes thousands of issues across over 75 years. As both DC and Marvel will tell you, maintaining a continuity in a tightly controlled shared space like that isn’t the easiest thing in the world. That’s why you’ll find plenty of retcons, reboots and reimaginings throughout the history of pretty much all your favorite superheroes. On a month by month basis, or even from one generation of fans to the next, this isn’t such a big deal, but when you take a look at the big picture of the adventures across a superhero’s life there are plenty of things that start to not make sense.
Take Superman, for example. The Man of Steel, Kal-El of Krypton, aka Clark Kent of Smallville Kansas, has been around since 1938, and in that time there have been numerous Crises and multiversal Armageddon’s that have resulted in a reboot of Superman twice and then… whatever the opposite of a reboot is, which saw him return to a version from two universes prior. Look, comics can be complicated, which is why here at CBR, we’ve decided to list the 15 things about Superman that just make no sense!
15. HIS CLARK KENT DISGUISE
We’ll get the obvious one out of the way first — the elephant in the room if you will. If we were to be completely real with this, then the biggest thing that makes absolutely no sense in the superhero lexicon is the fact that no one recognizes Superman when he puts glasses on.
There have been a few attempts to explain this in the comics over the years, but the truth is that it doesn’t have to make sense, you just have to accept it. It’s like the litmus test for new comics readers: if you can take the simple fact that a simple pair of spectacles hides the identity of the most well-known superhero in the world then you’re absolutely ready for everything else comics will throw at you.
14. HIS KRYPTO-RAYGUN
It could be difficult to imagine, but there was a time when Superman wasn’t the massive household name that he is today. Superman has been huge for a long time, but some of his tropes and background information, things that we take for granted were not always so fully established.
It’s for that reason that this Krypto-Raygun makes absolutely no sense now that the mythos of Superman has been so firmly established. Firstly, Superman never really uses guns, they’re kind of pointless when you’re the Man of Steel. Secondly, kryptonite hurts him, how would he be able to use a raygun powered by a radioactive green fragment of his home planet (presuming that’s what this kryptic gun does)? It turns out that this is simply a child’s projector and not a part of Superman’s official canon, which, considering some of the ridiculous toys out there this is probably best left alone.
13. HE USED TO BE A JERK
Comic book covers have always been a crucial part of the industry, if you want your issue to sell well, it’s got to have an eye-catching cover that begs you to buy the book and see what’s inside.That was never more true in the Silver Age when comics weren’t confined to comic book stores but sat on newsstands to be seen by a much broader audience.
The covers of Superman comics were bonkers in the silver age, which was itself a generally wild time. But the covers threw everything at you to get you to pick up the book, including making Superman appear to be a giant jerk. Most of the time it would turn out to be a trick or a villainous manipulation, but other times it would make absolutely no sense, and it didn’t need to, just as long as you bought the issue.
12. HIS ADULT FILM WITH BIG BARDA
Superman comics, like all superhero comics that have lasted this long, have gotten downright weird. But things got no weirder than the time the Man of Steel and Big Barda were manipulated into (almost) making an adult movie together. It happened in Action Comics #593 from 1987, written by John Byrne and Keith Williams.
This was all at the hands of Sleez, a denizen of Apokalips cast out to Earth for being too creepy (let that one sink in for a second). He manages to kidnap the love of Mister Miracle’s life — Barda — as well as Superman and force them into degrading acts that, luckily for all concerned, Superman resists because he’s just “too pure.” It’s a crazy concept for a comic, so very dark but also kind of ridiculous, the kind of comic that could only really come out in the eighties.
11. HIS GANGBUSTER PHASE
The original Gangbuster was Jose Delgado, a boxer that grew up in the suicide slums of Metropolis, and took on the crime-fighting alter ego to try and prevent the youth in his community from succumbing to the violent gangs that were spreading through the city. However, following an accident where Jose is crippled trying to save Lois Lane’s life, another Gangbuster emerges, one more violent than his predecessor.
As it turns out, this new version is actually Superman, who is suffering a sort of mental breakdown and becoming Gangbuster in his sleep. It’s explained that following a few adventures where he, a) killed some criminals in an alternate dimension, and b) had his brain messed with by Brainiac, Supes had a breakdown and a darker side of his personality emerged. Who knew Superman had a dark side, and how long before Gangbuster returns?
10. LEX BLAMES HIM FOR BEING BALD
Almost every rendition of Lex Luthor on the big screen has portrayed him as bald, and with good reason: he’s been that way for nearly 80 years. When he was first introduced in the ‘40s, however, he had a shock of bright red hair to rival Archie Andrews. His baldness came from an accident that will forever turn him against Superman.
In the original Superman stories, it’s established that a young Lex idolized Superboy and even worked hard on a cure for Kryptonite poisoning. An accident in his lab caused a fire, however, and Superboy came to the rescue. He blew out the flames with his ice breath but in the process blew some of the Kryptonite cure onto Lex, causing him to go bald. Lex lets his vanity overwhelm him, and swears to a life of vengeance against the Man of Steel, which makes absolutely no sense.
9. CLARK KENT EXISTS IN THE MARVEL UNIVERSE
While the number of times the Marvel and DC universes have officially crossed over can be counted on one hand, the unofficial figure is far greater. In fact, Clark Kent has appeared over a dozen times in Marvel comics stretching back as far as 1976! Always depicted as a journalist in the background of some major Marvel throwdown, Clark can be found in books like Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Thor.
This all started off as a joke between Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum, who decided to poke fun at their Distinguished Competition by seeing what they could get away with in the backgrounds of the biggest Marvel comics. It wouldn’t be the first time something like this had happened, but it begs the question that if Clark Kent exists in Marvel comics, does Superman?
8. THE MINI VERSION OF HIMSELF
By 1958, Superman had been around for around 20 years at that point, meaning that of course all the good stories were already told! Ok, that’s not entirely true, but you’d believe that the writers thought that with the frequency and veracity that they were willing to throw even the craziest ideas at the wall to see what stuck.
In Superman #125, the Man of Steel discovers a small spaceship while trying to save Metropolis from an earthquake. The ship explodes and imbues him with the strange power to project a tiny version of himself from his hands, one that performs all the things that Superman no longer can, because the little guy appears to leech all of his other powers. He eventually sacrifices himself to save Superman, bringing to an end the weirdest superpower the Man of Steel has ever had.
7. HE HAS A SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER
It’s not enough for superheroes to wear brightly colored costumes and punch giant robots and aliens, sometimes we want to see them deal with real-world problems that make them relatable. Spider-Man has tackled drug abuse, Wonder Woman has fought sexism, Luke Cage has rallied against a Latverian dictator owing him money. You know, real-world issues.
It’s probably for this reason that Action Comics in 1966 decided to give Clark Kent a Social Security Number. One of the most mundane, normal things for Americans is to have one, so why not the Man of Steel? To save you from Googling, Kent’s Social Security Number is 092-09-6616, but quite why he ever needed one is anyone’s guess, other than being a dutiful American. What’s strange is that this number actually belonged to a real guy, a New Yorker named Giobatta Baiocchi, who had died a year earlier.
6. PINK KRYPTONITE
You may or may not know this, but Kryptonite is actually radioactive fragments of Superman’s home planet of Krypton, and type of radiation emanating from any given rock will give it a different color and have a different effect on Kryptonians. We all know that Green Kryptonite is Superman’s weakness and not only reduces his powers but actively harms him. There’s also Red Kryptonite, which kind of does the same but also leads to violent mood swings, and blue kryptonite, which only affects Bizarro Superman.
Pink Kryptonite, however, has the strangest effect of all. For some unknown reason, comic book writers decided that whenever Superman is exposed to pink kryptonite it brings out homosexual tendencies in him. Aside from feeling wildly homophobic it also makes you wonder why this could possibly have been considered an important story to tell. What can we say? Comics are very weird (and kind of offensive) sometimes.
5. WHAT THE “S” ON HIS CHEST MEANS
Much like Clark Kent’s glasses, sometimes throughout the decades of continuity writers feel the need to try and explain things that really need no explanation. How does Superman disguise himself with only a pair of glasses? Because he just does, it’s comics. Likewise, over the years the iconic symbol on Superman’s chest has tried to be explained multiple times because having it stand for “Superman” is apparently not good enough.
The “S” on Superman’s chest has been established for many years now to be the symbol of the House of El, Kal’s family crest, if you will. Not only that, but the symbol apparently also means something else: hope. It was an explanation that has stuck despite being somewhat redundant, even being adopted by the movies in Man of Steel.
4. THE NEW 52/REBIRTH AMALGAMATION
The New 52 was an attempt by DC Comics to reboot their continuity for a new generation. In 2011, every comic book went back to issue number 1, and a new universe was unveiled, one where every character, including Superman, had been around for only 5 years. Despite being commercially successful for DC, it was considered a low point creatively by many fans.
In 2016, therefore, DC Rebirth was announced, that saw the old version of the universe squeeze its way back into continuity in some bizarre ways. The old, pre-New 52 Superman returned and at the same time, the new version of Superman died. Following some complicated narrative hoops, both of these Supermen had their essences merged, meaning that the current version of Superman is the official definitive version.
3. THE SUPERMAN CURSE
Much like the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, it appears that anyone involved in the making of a Superman production on the big or small screen has to suffer the consequences of a strange curse that has afflicted enough people for some believers to consider it genuine.
The “Superman Curse” is mentioned most notably concerning George Reeves, who played Superman on television in the ‘50s and died of a gunshot wound (that was ruled a suicide but is still disputed) and Christopher Reeve, who was famously paralyzed in 1995 following a horseback riding accident and later died of heart failure. Other victims of the so-called curse include Lee Quigley, who played baby Superman in the 1978 movie and died of solvent abuse in 1991, and Richard Pryor who starred in Superman III and suffered from drug addiction and Multiple Sclerosis.
2. HE PROPOSED TO A MERMAID
Kept hidden for the first 20 years of Superman’s stories, it was revealed in 1959’s Superman #129 that a young Clark Kent had fallen in love with a girl called Lori Lemaris while attending Metropolis University. Lori was secretly a mermaid but hid her true self by using a wheelchair during the day and always making excuses to Clark so that she could return to the sea every night at 8 pm.
Despite having never seen his girlfriend in the evening due to what must have been a series of increasingly implausible excuses, Clark decided to propose to Lori, causing her to end their relationship through guilt. Superman investigated and discovered Lori’s secret, but she maintained that they could never be an item because they were from two different worlds.
1. ALL HIS LOVE INTERESTS HAVE THE SAME INITIALS
Speaking of Lori Lemaris, while Clark’s mermaid ex-fiancee is very different from his other romantic partners in one distinctly fishy way, she does share one bizarrely similar trait, and that’s how pretty much all of the women that Clark Kent has been romantically involved with have the same initials.
Aside from Lori Lemaris, who Clark proposed to while he was at Metropolis University, there’s obviously Lois Lane, the best reporter in the DC Universe who married Clark and eventually had a son with him. Then there’s Lana Lang, Superman’s teenage love interest from his school days back in Smallville. Quite why this trend kicked off is anyone’s guess, but three partners all with the same initials is way more than a coincidence, at this point, it’s a sexual preference.
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