Superman is one of the toughest superheroes ever, but that doesn’t mean the Last Son of Krypton has never suffered a beat down. He has super strength, super speed, X-ray vision, shoots lasers from his eyes and blows air cold enough to freeze and shatter steel — all abilities granted to him simply by being beneath Earth’s yellow sun. But even with all of his much-vaunted powers, the Man of Steel has been defeated more than once by various comic book characters.
Notice how we didn’t just say “villains” up there? That’s because Superman has battled foes and friends alike, and from such a large pool, there are bound to be folks who can match Supes’ super-ness. He’s gone up against monsters, devils, gods and fellow heroes, and while he has often given as good as he’s gotten, there are a few times when even the best has been bested. With that in mind, here’s a run down of 15 characters who have made Superman look decidedly not-so-super.
15. The Flash
After a freak accident at S.T.A.R. Labs doused forensic scientist Barry Allen in lightning-laced chemicals, giving him super speed, he became The Flash, the Fastest Man Alive. But could the Flash beat Superman in a race? In the 1960s and 70s, the Flash just couldn’t get to the finish line before his buddy Superman. Both Big Blue and the Scarlet Speedster can run faster than a speeding bullet and have even been known to break the time barrier, making them more than a match for each other. But it wasn’t until “The Flash: Rebirth” that The Flash let loose and finally beat Superman in a race.
It was then that the Flash revealed how in all their previous races, which were for charity, he had been holding back to make them more interesting. When The Flash decided to leave everyone behind in order to save them from himself, he tapped into the Speed Force. He felt his muscles bunch, his spine tingle and his connection to the Speed Force that turned him into pure electricity. That speed allowed him to leave Superman, and everyone else, completely in the dust.
14. The Avengers
Marvel and DC Comics, the two biggest comic book publishers in the world, have occasionally partnered on a crossover story or two. In one of these crossovers, the Avengers soundly defeated the Man of Steel. It happened in “JLA / Avengers,” when Krona and Grandmaster set up a game that involved the Multiverse. The Avengers, who were chosen as Krona’s players, and the Justice League, who represented the Grandmaster, were tasked with finding and collecting six items of power from each of their universes.
The climactic battle between the Avengers and the Justice League saw Superman beat Thor into submission, but he was left very weak from the fight. Looking to avenge their comrade, the strongest Avengers piled onto Superman. She-Hulk, Hercules and Wonder Man used their incredible strength to pound on Superman, while The Vision and Iron Man used their energy beams to finish him off. Sure, it took almost the entire team — after he literally just beat up a god, no less — but handicap or not, The Avengers still got the job done.
13. Muhammad Ali
The late, great Muhammad Ali may not have been a “superhero” in the strictest sense, but if ever a meta-human did exist in the real world, it would have been him. It wasn’t for nothing that Johnny Wakelin & The Kinshasa Band once describe him as “the black Superman,” after all! He won a Gold Medal for boxing in 1960, and earned the World Heavyweight Champion title a record three times throughout his incredible career. He died on June 3, 2016, leaving behind not only a phenomenal Hall of Fame boxing career, but also a legacy of humanitarian work.
Way back in 1978, Muhammad Ali took on one of the strongest characters in history: Superman. In “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali,” an alien force invaded Earth, tricking Muhammad Ali and Superman into fighting each other. Powerless thanks to the aliens’ tinkering, Superman held his own for an honestly surprising amount of time, but eventually Ali’s speed, agility and infinitely more experienced fists knocked the Man of Steel out cold. With Ali’s help, Superman got up and helped “The Greatest” himself rally against the invading alien force, finally defeating their champion and sending them back to outer space.
Hawkman alone may not have been able to beat Superman, whose strength and invulnerability is greater than the winged superhero’s. But Hawkman’s weapon has a magical might that Superman was defenceless against.
Hawkman was originally from the planet Thanagar, where his weapons and wings were forged from a mysterious material known as Nth Metal. His mace, known as the Claw of Horus, was created by Prince Khufu in ancient Egypt, and draws its power from Earth’s magnetic core. In “Superman/ Batman: Public Enemies,” when Lex Luthor is president, Hawkman is one member of a team of superheroes called on to bring in Superman and Batman, both of whom Luthor framed for a terrible act against mankind. Superman held his own in a flying fist fight for quite some time, but it is finally a blow from Hawkman’s Claw of Horus that brings down Superman. To paraphrase Hawkman, he essentially hits Superman with the power of a planet.
William, who became Gog, was the sole survivor of the nuclear disaster in Kansas, the focal point of Mark Waid’s “Kingdom Come.” He believed that Superman was the world’s savior and went about setting up a church for him. But when Superman informed him that he wasn’t an all-powerful, perfect being, William went mad. To help him seek vengeance against Superman, the Quintessence (a council of the universe’s most powerful beings) granted William with the powers of the ancient god known as Gog.
His powers were very much like Superman’s, but in addition to flight, super strength, heat vision and freeze breath, he could also heal himself, giving him an advantage over Superman. Using his newly-bestowed godly powers, which also included energy beams and sheer size, he slammed Superman repeatedly until Superman was dead. But killing him once wasn’t enough. Gog traveled back in time, a day at a time, killing Superman in each timeline, until Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman learned to navigate Hypertime and captured him.
Darkseid is possibly the most dangerous villain in the entire DC universe. As dictator of the hell-planet known as Apokolips, he commands a legion of deadly beings known as Parademons and rules over his enslaved populace with an iron fist. He and Superman have battled several times in various storylines. Thanks to his super strength and incredible invulnerability, a genius intellect, devastating eye blasts he calls “Omega Beams” and god-level alien technology, Darkseid was able to defeat Superman in the “Death of the New Gods” storyline.
After Darkseid absorbed the souls of thousands of New Gods and added their power and energy to his own, he declared himself the ruler of all heavens. Superman tried to stop him, even landing a blow powerful enough to shatter Darkseid like glass, but the villain quickly reassembled and struck the Kryptonian with an Omega Beam. Rather than killing Superman, or end his existence in “a thousand dreadful ways” as Darkseid desired, the New God decided the most vicious punishment would be make Superman live out his days as a fellow inmate of the Source (which had taken on physical form in this story). Fortunately for Superman, Orion came and saved the day.
9. Hal Jordan
Hal Jordan became the Green Lantern after he came upon a dying alien who crash-landed on Earth and gifted him with the most powerful weapon in the universe. Now he wields the most immense power in the universe through his ring. That power was put to the test against Superman in the ’80s “DC Comics Presents” #26, wherein audiences discovered that the Green Lantern ring could make kryptonite.
To be fair, it wasn’t actually Hal Jordan who wielded the kryptonite construct against Superman. A malevolent being named N’Gom defeated Green Lantern and made a copy of Hal’s body, taking his power ring in the process. N’Gom, acting as the Green Lantern, created a huge chunk of kryptonite with his ring in order to kill Superman. Luckily, Hal was able to break the copy’s concentration by throwing a rock at it, causing the kryptonite construct to disappear. The two of them defeated N’Gom together, but had Hal not come to the rescue, Superman surely would have been dead. The Green Lantern ring would have proven much more than a match for the Man of Steel.
8. Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor is Superman’s arch nemesis, with a rivalry that began way back in the ’40s. Lex always knew he couldn’t kill Superman with brute force, so he used his genius intellect to come up with other ways of defeating him, which usually included some form of kryptonite. One of the less memorable (but no less amazing) ways Lex beat Superman was actually quite early in his career, when he killed the Man of Steel.
In “Superman #149,” a 1939 issue, Luthor won Superman’s trust by curing cancer, but it was all a ruse! Lex lured Superman into his lab, where he trapped him and gave him so much kryptonite, Superman legitimately died. Supergirl eventually brought Lex to justice for killing Superman before taking her cousin’s place, along with Krypto, in protecting the planet. Like “All-Star Superman,” this may have been an imaginary tale outside of continuity, but it shows that on any given day, Lex Luthor is capable of defeating Superman should he truly put his mind to it.
Batman and Superman are two very different superheroes. One is self-made, while the other has innate, alien powers. But the difference in their superhero abilities hasn’t stopped these two on-again, off-again friends from fighting several times throughout the years. These two founding members of the Justice League have even gone toe to toe on numerous occasions.
One of the most famous beat-downs in history happened in “The Dark Knight Returns,” Frank Miller’s masterful reinvention of Batman as an aging freedom fighter. In it, Superman became a government stooge, blindly following the tyrannical, war-mongering decrees of a Ronald Reagan stand-in. After diverting a Soviet nuclear warhead, Superman agreed to meet Batman in Crime Alley. Batman used Superman’s weakened state, which is a result of the nuclear bomb detonation. They throw down pretty hard, going toe to toe for some time, until Green Arrow fired off a kryptonite-tipped arrow at Superman. Superman collapsed, but Batman explained that he didn’t want to kill Superman, only get him out of the way.
Atlas, in the DC Comics, is much like the Atlas in Greek mythology, meaning he has incredible strength, speed and endurance. In Greek mythology, Atlas was punished by Zeus for his part in the war between the Titans and the gods, to hold up the heavens for eternity. In DC Comics, Atlas was pulled from ancient times into the present by the military’s Project 7734. General Sam Lane wanted to use him to fight against all alien threats, including Superman.
Atlas’s phenomenal strength, speed and agility made him a good match against Superman. In “Superman #677” through “Superman #680,” Atlas and Superman fought again and again, mostly ending in a draw. Finally, Atlas outlasted Superman, who was exhausted and weak from fighting Atlas’ super strength and incredible size. Atlas would have dealt Superman a final blow and killed him, if it hadn’t been for Superman’s dog Krypto, who saved his life with a well-aimed bite.
Although kryptonite is Superman’s greatest weakness, he also has no defence against anyone with magical abilities. That’s why Shazam, who has magical powers thanks to an ancient wizard, was able to overpower him in the “Kingdom Come” storyline. Under Luthor’s command, Captain Marvel showed up at a super-prison mass break out to keep the chaos going, so Superman tried to stop him. Captain Marvel called down lightning over and over by transforming back and forth between his super-powered self and his mere-mortal alter ego.
By standing right next to Superman, Captain Marvel/Billy Batson managed to strike him with several well-timed lightning bolts, until blood literally began running from Superman’s ears and nose. The fight eventually ended when Superman, near-death, covered Billy Batson’s mouth with his hand, preventing him from calling down more lightning and making use of his super powers. He then told him about an incoming nuclear missile, Batson changed back into Captain Marvel and sacrificed himself to stop the missile. However, had he chosen to, Captain Marvel could have simply resumed calling down his magic thunder to kill the Man of Steel.
4. Martian Manhunter
Superman has fought alongside Martian Manhunter as part of the Justice League. But even Superman himself has admitted that if anyone could defeat him, it would be Martian Manhunter. He has all of Superman’s abilities, including super strength, flight and heat vision. Plus, he even has additional powers that Superman doesn’t have, like telepathy, telekinesis, shape-shifting and invisibility. The Martian Manhunter can even alter his molecular structure to the point of being intangible.
In “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” J’onn J’onzz was on Batman’s side against the Insurgency, led by Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, The Flash and Hawkgirl. They captured Hawkgirl so that Martian Manhunter could masquerade as her within the Justice League. The truth came out, and a chase ensues. Eventually, the Manhunter doubles back and confronts Superman. What could have been an epic throwdown was instead a brief battle of the minds. Using his telepathy, J’onn forcefully enters Superman’s mind and makes him experience the mental anguish the Martian experienced when his race was killed off, as well as made Superman relive his most painful memories. Superman was helpless before the psychic attack, so fortunately he was rescued by Wonder Woman.
3. Captain Atom
The characters on this list who have the best chance of defeating Superman are the ones who have similar strengths and abilities, like Captain Atom. Captain Atom was originally Nathaniel Adams, who was part of a military experiment involving an alien metal alloy. Captain Atom could absorb and release radiation, which makes him a powerful foe.
In the “Injustice: Gods Among Us” storyline, Superman and Captain Atom were duking it out at the North Pole, where, hopefully, no innocent bystanders could get hurt. Captain Atom was beating the tar out of Superman. He claimed he always had the ability to defeat Superman before and just never tried because he was never ordered to (by his superiors in the military). Unfortunately for the Man of Steel, he then explains that”orders have changed.”
Super-charged with the power of 10 nuclear bombs, this strength amped him up to the point of dealing bloodletting blows to Superman. He knocked him so hard with a beam of radiation that Superman even went flying several miles into the sky at one point. Once again, it’s only because of Wonder Woman’s interference that Superman survived, because she breached Atom’s supersuit with a magic sword, causing him to have to leave the Earth in order to detonate in space.
2. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman is one of DC’s Big Three superheroes, who are founding members of the Justice League. Wonder Woman is known on Earth as Diana Prince, but she is actually an immortal Amazonian princess, sometimes depicted as Zeus’ daughter in some continuities. “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” showed us just how powerful her weapons are and how skilled she is at fighting. It’s no surprise that she has beaten Superman in a fight, considering she has superior fighting skills, bulletproof bracelets and the Lasso of Truth. While she and her weapons are incredibly powerful, it also helps that when she beat Superman, he was usually brainwashed or temporarily insane.
In “Wonder Woman #219,” Superman went insane when Maxwell Lord tricked Superman into thinking that Wonder Woman was actually Doomsday, and that she had killed Lois Lane. Superman immediately started punching her to outer space and back. Wonder Woman held back in order to avoid hurting him, but when she realized Superman would never stop, she finally used her magical tiara, forged by Hephaestus and razor sharp, to take him down by slicing his throat open (he survived, though).
In “The Death of Superman,” Doomsday was a monster who went on a rampage, destroying everyone and everything in its path. The Justice League was called in to stop Doomsday, but proved useless in front of his destructive might. Some, like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold, were very badly injured in the process.
Superman and Doomsday battled in the sky, while helicopters shot useless missiles at Doomsday. After essentially throwing all of Cadmus Labs on top of Superman, their battle then lead to punching their way through redwood forest (as in, through the actual trees) near Metropolis and a major gas station explosion that temporarily knocked Superman out of the fight.
Superman bounced back, re-entering the fray when Doomsday later took the fight to the heart of Metropolis. The two titans pounded away at each other, but aside from looking fatigued, Doomsday hadn’t taken any real damage. Meanwhile, Superman was bloodied and bruised, even getting himself sliced open by Doomsday’s bone shards in several instances. Eventually too tired to continue battling, the two poured every last ounce of their strengths into one mighty colliding blow. Superman managed to render Doomsday comatose for months this way, but the beast managed to accomplish what nobody thought possible: he killed Superman.
Who do you think was Superman’s toughest opponent? Let us know in the comments below!
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