An important thing to understand about the history of superheroes is that they did not just spring out, fully formed, from nothingness. There were clear influences on the creation of every major superhero, and Superman was no exception. While the idea of super strength was a relatively novel one at the time, there were some notable precursors that directly influenced Jerry Siegel. The Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp fiction character, John Carter of Mars, gained superpowers when he traveled from Earth's atmosphere to Mars'. Phillip Wylie's novel, Gladiator, featured a baby who was born with super-strength.
Those were the influences when it came to fictional depictions of super-strength, but people have been fascinated with the idea of great feats of strength long before there were such things as pulp novels and comic strips. Circuses routinely featured so-called "strongmen," who would wear colorful costumes and ply their muscular trade to gasps from the attending audience. Superman's original costume, as designed by Joe Shuster, was clearly designed to look like a circus strongman. All of these influences combined to form the most important superhero in comic book history. So, as you can see, there is a long history of strength in pop culture, and with respect to Marvel's resident Hulk, Superman is really the strongest there is! Here, then, are his most impressive feats of strength from the comics!
20 200 QUINTILLION TONS... ONE-HANDED
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's iconic masterpiece, All Star Superman, is, in general, a love letter to Superman's past, with Morrison coming up with new takes on lots of classic Superman stories. However, the framework of the story is based around the basic idea that Lex Luthor sabotaged a mission of Dr. Leo Quintum and his team from the D.N.A. P.R.O.J.E.C.T. (a variation on the classic Project Cadums) to the sun, knowing that when Superman entered the sun itself to save Quintum and his team of scientists, that the sun would overcharge Superman.
The process of over-charging Superman's cells is that he will ultimately die from being effectively poisoned by the very sun that gives him his strength in the first place.
The strange effects of the over-charging, however, is that Superman temporarily becomes more powerful than he ever was before he ultimately succumbs to the effects of the poisoning. So, for a while, Superman gained a new superpower with regularity. His strength also tripled, as Quintum notes here, he is easily lifting 200 Quintillion tons with just a single arm! He barely seems to even need to brace himself, as his strength is just off the charts. Sadly, Superman does die at the end of the series, as he merges with the sun to save it from exploding. Since we see the Superman from the future in the story, however, we know that he will eventually re-emerge from the sun some day.
19 PUNCHING TIME AND SPACE ITSELF
At the end of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the various worlds of the Multiverse were combined together such that there was only a single Earth that the heroes from the various other worlds were merged into. So instead of there being an Earth-1 and an Earth-2, there was just one Earth with the characters from both worlds merged together. However, at the end of the story, a few distinct people survived in a sort of pocket universe. Those survivors were Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2, Superboy of Earth Prime and Alexander Luthor, Jr of Earth-3.
As it turned out, they could monitor the combined Earth from their home/prison and they kept getting irritated that Earth was "wasting" the sacrifices that they made in saving this world for them. Superboy would get so angry that he would often punch the wall of the pocket dimension, which would alter reality in minor ways. For example, Jason Todd was dead, but Superboy punched the pocket dimension and suddenly, Jason Todd was alive. When they escaped from the pocket dimension to "fix" things, the Post-Crisis Superman fought Earth-2 Superman and their battle was so powerful that it caused many ripples in time and space itself.
18 BENCH PRESSING THE EARTH (FOR FIVE DAYS)
One of the side effects of the creation of the New 52 was that the Wildstorm was merged into the DC Universe. Recently, DC walked that decision back and gave the Wildstorm characters their own universe again, but in the early days of the New 52, the DC heroes suddenly had to interact with Wildstorm heroes and villains. One of the major Wildstorm villains was Helspont, who was part of the Daemonite invasion of Earth that was the centerpiece of the early WildC.A.T.s comic books back in the early 1990s. Early in the New 52, Superman found himself matched up against Helspont and he was shocked to learn that the villain might be too much for him to handle!
Superman felt that he had to increase his power so, basically, he started to work out.
Therefore, in Superman #13 (by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort), he went to go visit his friend, Dr. Shay Veritas, a scientist who specialized in superhuman research. So much of her work was theoretical until she finally met Superman and Supergirl and thus, some of the machines that she had built were given practical use for the first time. In any event, Superman felt that he had to increase his power to make him a stronger threat against villains like Helspont, so Veritas built, in effect, weight machines to help Superman get stronger. He hit his peak when he was able to bench press the equivalent of the Earth's weight for five days straight!
17 MOVED THE SUN
During the Silver Age, one of the most amusing aspect of Superman's great feats of strength is just how seemingly mundane some of them were. What we mean is, Superman was so strong in this era that he would do some of the most amazing things ever and he would do them nonchalantly. One of these examples occurred in an amusing story in Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #33 (by Otto Binder, Curt Swan and Ray Burnley), where Jimmy Olsen appeared on a popular TV game show. The show was watched live by over 60 million viewers. The category that Jimmy was answering had to do with mythological creatures.
As it turned out, lightning had struck a nuclear dump and created a special prism that was powered by the imagination of the viewers on the show. So when Jimmy gave an answer about one of those mythological creatures, the prism would turn them into physical beings. So Jimmy and the viewers made Jack Frost a reality. Superman had to stop Frost from starting a new Ice Age, so Superman simply flew into the sun and moved it closer to Earth, forcing Jack Frost to run away from the heat. Yes, to make Jack Frost run away, Superman moved the sun closer to Earth!
16 HELD A BLACK HOLE IN HIS HANDS
In JLA #77, Rick Veitch, Daryl Banks and Wayne Faucher did a fill-in issue of the series that introduced a powerful new villain called Mnemon. Mnemon was an artificial being who was created by a scientist on a distant world who believed that the best thing about any given world is its memories, so he built a being who could collect the memories of the world. However, since he was built to value memories above everything else, Mnemon soon turned on his own creator and destroyed their world after collecting all of their memories.
Superman's body was almost torn apart while he held it together.
He would continue to do this to other planets until he encountered the Justice League. He fought against them by stealing the memories of how their powers worked or, in the case of Batman, his memories of how to speak. Firestorm thought that he had succeeded in destroying Mnemon, but he only unleashed Mnemon's power source, a miniature black hole! Superman used his hands to contain the black hole, but the force was insane, as Superman's body was almost torn apart while he held it together. Green Lantern enclosed his hands in a force field and they transported the black hole to a safe place in the galaxy to unleash it into a wormhole created by Green Lantern.
15 CREATED A SUN
As we know, Superman's powers come from the fact that he lives on Earth. Back on Krypton, he would be an ordinary person. However, what has changed over the years is the reason why Superman gained powers from being on Earth. Currently, it is because of Earth's yellow sun that charges Superman like a solar battery, while the red sun of Krypton had no such effect on Kryptonians. Previously, though, the reason for the change was the difference in the atmosphere of Earth versus Krypton. In Superman #58 (by artists Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye), they played with that notion by having an Earth baby rocketed to a planet with a weaker atmosphere than Earth, so this little kid grew up to become Regor, the equivalent of Superman on the constantly cold planet Uuz!
Regor, though, was driven from his home by a new villain on Uuz who figured out a way of countering Regor's powers. He landed on Earth and met Superman. The Man of Steel agreed to train him to make him stronger and then return with him to Uuz. After they defeated the bad guys together, Superman then smashed some moons together and formed a sun to warm up their chilly planet!
14 DRAGGED A GALAXY
Generally speaking, we are keeping our list to feats performed by Superman, but we have to make an exception for this one feat that Superman performed when he was younger. While we prefer not to use Superboy feats, the fact of the matter is that Superboy is Superman, just younger, so it really should count. In any event, this feat from Superboy #140 is especially amazing due to how it was presented in the story.
Talk about treating amazing feats like they were just commonplace!
The story (written by Jim Shooter and drawn by Al Plastino and George Klein) is about a gambler who begins an operation in Smallville where he creates threats and then has underworld figures bet on how Superboy will stop them. For example, will Superboy figure out which vial has a deadly contagion in it before the vials explode and engulf Smallville? Plus, of course, you could bet on which of the vials has the contagion in it. That doesn't sound like the sort of thing to involve a whole galaxy being moved, right? That's because it is just what Superboy is up to at the start of the issue while the gambler arrives. Yes, that's right, Superboy moving an entire galaxy of planets was just a throwaway bit at the opening of an otherwise unrelated story!
13 DESTROYED A SUN
There is a certain trope called "Superdickery," which refers to the fact that Superman stories in the Silver Age were often designed so that it would seem like Superman is a total jerk, until the readers discovered that there is a very good reason for why he is doing what he is doing. These stories would result in striking covers that would practically dare readers to pass the issue over. "Why is Superman killing Aquaman and Jimmy Olsen? Why is he burning Batman at the stake?"
One of the most notable examples of this trend was Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #33 (by Otto Binder, Curt Swan and Ray Burnley), which saw Superman decide to adopt Jimmy Olsen and then, abruptly, become so cruel to him that Jimmy asked a judge to void the adoption. Superman then explained to Jimmy that a computer had made the prediction that Superman would destroy his son, so he wanted to save Jimmy's life. Why he didn't tell Jimmy about this is a great question, but as it turned out, Superman misheard the computer. It was referencing his "sun," as Superman had recently created a sun for a solar system to help the planets there after their original sun died out. The new sun was malfunctioning, so Superman had to destroy it and replace it with a new one. Superman destroys and replaces suns like it is no big deal!
12 DESTROYED A GALAXY WITH A SNEEZE
This list is generally about feats of sheer physical strength, but there are interesting areas of Superman's history where it is unclear, exactly, how you would classify a certain act. For instance, if Superman used his heat vision to tremendous effect, you wouldn't consider that a feat of strength. Similarly, when Superman flies so fast that he travels through time, that's amazing, but it's not really a feat of strength. Where, though, do you classify super-sneezes? We think that it is enough of a gray area that we couldn't bring ourselves to pass up one of the most shocking feats in Superman's history.
Even for the Silver Age Superman power level, this was crazy!
In Action Comics #273 (by Jerry Siegel and Al Plastino), Superman grows so sick of Mister Mxyzptlk's stunts that he decides to travel to Mxy's dimension and give the mischievous imp a taste of his own medicine by pulling a number of the same pranks that Mxy would play on Superman! The prank by Mxyzptlk that drove Superman to this drastic course of action was creating a bunch of super-powerful sneezing powder and so Superman had to unleash a super-sneeze. The Man of Steel knew that would be devastating, so he flew to a solar system that was uninhabited and then destroyed the entire solar system with a sneeze!
11 DRAGGED THE CONTINENTS APART
The fascinating thing about Superman's feat in World's Finest Comics #208 (by Len Wein, Dick Dillin and Joe Giella, with a stunning Neal Adams cover that we used for the featured image for this entry) is how Superman was disappointed in himself over it! The issue opened with Superman noting that his vulnerability to magic was beginning to cause a problem for him, so he sought out some of his magic-using friends to see if they could make him invulnerable to magic. Zatanna could not do it, but she sent Superman to see Doctor Fate on Earth-2. Doctor Fate actually was willing to help him, but first he wanted Superman's help against a new group of villains.
These magical villains had begun to push the continents on Earth-2 together, with the idea that when the continents finished colliding, they would unleash a great power that the villains could absorb and make them omnipotent. Superman helped Doctor Fate stop them and then Fate gave Superman some magical chains to drag the continents back to their normal place. Here's the thing, though -- Superman had recently lost a sizeable chunk of his power as part of a quasi-reboot of the character when editor Julius Schwartz took over the Superman titles, sort of like how Schwartz had Batman change his costume when he took those titles over. So Superman was disappointed that he could "only" drag the planets around, as he was used to being able to move planets easily.
10 MOVED THE EARTH
Superman #220 (by Jim Shooter, Curt Swan and George Roussos) was an odd comic book. Most of the issue involved Superman and Flash suffering from amnesia. Since they were wearing each other's costumes for some reason, they convinced themselves that they were each other. The Flash created a special Clark Kent mask to deal with the fact that Barry Allen obviously didn't look like Clark. Superman just remains in the Flash costume during the whole issue.
The seed was about to hit Earth when Superman smashed himself into the planet.
When they finally met up with each other, they slowly regained their memory. They had set off to stop an evil alien race that had shot a special giant seed that was going to land on Earth and quickly grow into a giant plant that would slowly destroy the planet. Superman came up with the costume switch idea because his costume could protect Flash in outer space (because it was indestructible). They were defeated by the aliens, who then gave them amnesia so that they couldn't try to stop them again. The seed was about to hit Earth when Superman smashed himself into the planet enough that he moved it out of the path of the seed, which instead landed in the sun and was destroyed!
9 LIFTED WARWORLD
During the crossover event, Our Worlds at War, the whole universe was at risk when the dreaded Imperiex, a giant being with a powerful suit of armor, sought out the destruction of the universe itself because he saw a flaw in the universe that he wanted to fix by creating a new "big bang." He had to destroy Earth to do so, because Earth is apparently the center of the DC Universe following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths. Imperiex would send powerful probes that would destroy whole worlds ahead of Imperiex's journey to Earth. In some instances, he would destroy entire galaxies in a similar way that he planned to destroy the universe.
Ultimately, the combined forces of Apokolips, Earth and Brainiac's gigantic Warworld managed to defeat Imperiex. Brainiac-13 then betrayed his allies and absorbed Imperiex's powers for himself. Superman could not let this stand. He had just been super-charged by a visit to the sun so Superman managed to somehow lift Warworld itself, a planet that dwarfed both Earth and Apokolips and sent it and Imperiex back in time to the original big bang. It was there that Imperiex realized that the flaw he saw was actually his own presence at the first big bang!
8 BROKE GREEN LANTERN CONSTRUCTS
During the crossover "Sacrifice," we learned that Maxwell Lord had slowly been expanding his mental powers to the point where he was able to take control of Superman's mind. He would cause Superman to see hallucinations of Darkseid, Doomsday and other villains killing Lois Lane. This led to Superman being willing to use methods that he normally would never use, like lethal force. Lord finally unleashed his secret weapon when Batman was getting close to uncovering Lord's plans, so Superman nearly killed Batman. The only thing saving the Dark Knight was the Justice League's defense system realizing that Superman was a threat, so they attacked him long enough for the rest of the Justice League to show up and rescue Batman. Superman then turned on the rest of the League.
His strength was so much that he was able to break through John Stewart's force field easily!
Later, when DC's continuity was rebooted with the New 52, we saw the first meeting of Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Superman in Justice League #2 (by Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Scott Williams) and Superman easily destroyed Hal Jordan's ring constructs, just as easily as he destroyed John Stewart's constructs earlier.
7 MOVED THE EARTH (AGAIN)
After the power-draining villain, the Parasite, debuted, he tried to absorb all of Superman's powers. However, he learned that only a Kryptonian like Superman could handle those powers, so it overcharged him and he was defeated. When he attacked Superman in a story in Superman #320-322 (by Martin Pasko, Curt Swan and Frank Chiaramonte), Parasite came up with a clever way to defeat Superman. First, he made Superman think that his powers had increased to dramatic levels. He tricked Superman into artificially reducing his powers through a sort of "red sun cream" he put on his body. Superman thought that he was bringing himself back to his normal levels, but in reality he had dampened his powers to half of his normal levels.
With Superman's powers now reduced, Parasite safely absorbed most of them without it negatively affecting him. Superman almost died, but he survived and once he removed the cream, he was back to half his normal power level. He then used the sun to charge himself up. He was only at 75%, though, when Parasite launched a laser attack on Metropolis from outer space! Even at his reduced levels, Superman was able to move the Earth so that it was out of the beam of the satellite!
6 THREW A GIANT APE THROUGH TIME!
During the 1950s, a common theme in the Superman titles was that they would introduce more and more "super" characters. There was Supergirl, Superman's dog Krypto, Supergirl's cat Streaky, Supergirl's horse Comet, and then, there was, of course, Titano the Super-Ape! Introduced in Superman #127 (by Otto Binder, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye), Titano began life as Toto, a highly intelligent chimp who befriended Lois Lane. He was sent into outer space for an experiment but his capsule was exposed to strange radiation from a collision between two meteors.
When his capsule landed, Toto mutated into a giant super-ape, now dubbed Titano.
The major problem with Titano is that he somehow also developed the ability to shoot kryptonite rays out of his eyes, which meant that Superman couldn't even come close to him! The army planned to just kill him. However, Lois came up with a plan that tricked Titano into putting on lead-covered glasses. This allowed Superman to then throw him through time, back to the pre-historic era, where he could interact with dinosaurs. Yes, Superman is so strong that he can literally throw things threw time! He's also thrown Jimmy Olsen through time before, but that was less impressive than throwing a giant super-ape, we think you'll agree.
5 DRAGGED MAGEDDON
Before Grant Morrison's JLA run began, there was first a miniseries by Mark Waid, Fabian Nicieza, Darick Robertson and Jeff Johnson that established why the "Big Seven" formed, as they were the only heroes to break free of a spell created by the villainous Know Man. It gave superpowers to a bunch of people on Earth while erasing their knowledge of any previous heroes. When they defeated Know Man, he mentioned that he was trying to prepare Earth against a future threat. That threat turned out to be Mageddon, a giant sentient machine of destruction that made the sun look like a tennis ball.
It had been behind the destruction of the Old Gods that predated the New Gods and it was now on its way to destroy Earth. It first poisoned people's minds ahead of its arrival, to make the populace weakened. It sort of broke Superman's mind, while at the same time, forcing him to move the chains that caused the long-dead cogs of Mageddon to move. So Superman helped move a machine that was many times larger than the sun. Later, Superman absorbed the anti-sun energy powering Mageddon and used it to destroy him, along with the people of Earth, who the Justice League had temporarily empowered, as they remembered Know Man's earlier strategy.
4 FOUGHT HIS WAY THROUGH THE BIG BANG
Years before he helped re-define Lex Luthor as a villainous man of industry, Marv Wolfman had done the same basic idea with Vandal Savage in the pages of his Action Comics run. The immortal villain had positioned himself as a titan of industry and fought against Superman from being a boardroom, using public relations to sometimes turn the people of Metropolis against the Man of Steel. One of his plots involved using these mysterious power pyramids that had popped up around the Earth to trick the public into thinking that Superman was working against the Earth.
Superman fought his way through the big bang itself to fix time, itself!
Savage put a bunch of spores onto Superman that would spread throughout Metropolis, causing prehistoric plants to grow quickly and engulf the city, with Superman getting the blame. Superman figured it out and burned the spores away. They then learned that one of the power pyramids was loose in time, set at the big bang itself! It was wreaking havoc with time, so Rip Hunter took Superman back in time in Action Comics #553 (by Wolfman and artist Gil Kane) and Superman fought his way through the big bang itself to destroy the pyramid and fix time! Since we saw that the big bang could destroy Imperiex and Warworld, that was quite a feat!
3 CREATED AN ECLIPSE
For many years, one of the most common types of Superman stories was about Lois Lane trying to prove that Clark Kent was secretly Superman. In Superman #110 (a story by a mystery writer with art by Ruben Moreira and Al Plastino), Superman learned that there was another person out there suffering from the same problem! You see, Superman had visited the town of Highville in the past and he dropped a note that he had written to himself and a local man named Hal had picked it up. People saw him with it and assumed that he was Superman.
Hal decided to add some chemicals to a volcano nearby that would shake the town enough to bring out those who lived there into the street. He assumed that they would all see Superman fly out to save the day and know that Hal was not Superman. However, the chemicals he used accidentally activated the volcano. Superman has to save the day, but Clark Kent and Lois Lane were in the town on assignment, so Superman had to also prove that Clark Kent isn't Superman. So Superman grabbed a man suffering from amnesia and put makeup on him to make him look like Clark Kent and then flew into outer space and threw a planet past Earth so that it would cause an eclipse precisely at the time that "Clark" would be outside and Superman was saving the volcano. As you can see, this was a weird and really confusing story.
2 MOVED A PLANET (YET AGAIN)
In the early 1970s, college student Elliot Maggin got his first story published by DC Comics. He was given the chance to pitch other story ideas. If this failed, he probably wouldn't have a future at DC Comics. He had a few ideas of his own, but when having dinner with a family friend, he talked with their teenage son and the kid came up with a great idea. Maggin did his pitch and DC passed on all of his ideas. So he used the idea that the kid had suggested and they loved it. Maggin then went on to write for DC for the next decade. That kid? A young Jeph Loeb!
That story became "Must There Be a Superman?" from Superman #247 (art by Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson), which saw the Guardians causing Superman to question whether he was hurting the development of Earth by causing them to rely on him to solve their problems. People forget, though, how Superman got to that point in the story. You see, he had to stop a dangerous pod of spores despite it being next to a red sun. So he formed a planet to block it. He did all of this despite being weakened by the red sun! It was an amazing display of strength, which left him nearly dead when he finished. The Guardians rescued him and then made him question his role on Earth.
1 BROKE HIGHFATHER'S STAFF OUT OF THE SOURCE WALL
An interesting addition to the Fourth World mythology that was not actually part of Jack Kirby's original stories was the idea of the Source Wall. Kirby had noted that there was a "final barrier" keeping us from the Source, the sort of supernatural unifying force of the universe (some people think George Lucas was inspired by the Source to create the Force). The actual wall was not introduced until Walter Simonson and Chris Claremont featured it in the Uncanny X-Men/New Teen Titans crossover that they did together. In any event, the idea of the Source Wall is that anyone who tried to pass through it to get to the Source itself are trapped in the wall and cannot escape.
Superman managed to pull out the staff from a wall that had trapped old and new gods alike for generations!
In the Superman/Batman storyline, "Torment," by writer Alan Burnett and artists Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs, DeSaad helps free Darkseid from the Source Wall by first taking control of Superman's mind via a partnership with the Batman villain, Scarecrow, and his mind-altering drugs. DeSaad sent Superman to the Source Wall to free Highfather's staff from the Wall so that DeSaad could use it to free Darkseid.