Ever since his debut in 1938, Superman has been the shining example of everything humanity can accomplish one day. On top of all of his powers, Superman is known for being one of the strongest moral characters around, always doing the right thing and never killing. However, with a backstory as extensive as Superman’s there have definitely been times where his moral character has been called into question.
In fact, there have been a few occasions where the Man of Tomorrow has basically been a villain. Looking back at some of the more drastic things he’s done over the years, here is our list of 10 morally questionable decisions Superman has made in the comics.
10 Killing Zod
Though he was criticized for doing it in 2013’s Man of Steel, Superman himself actually did kill General Zod in the comics as well. In Superman #22 by John Byrne, Superman actually put a permanent end to Zod, deeming him too powerful and dangerous to be kept alive.
For years, this decision would continue to weigh down on Superman, a character who has seldom taken a life both before and since. While he really didn’t have much of a choice in the issue, the character is all about finding a better way to solve problems. Though the decision did continue to haunt Superman, it is still a very morally ambiguous action.
9 Killing Joker
The Injustice: Gods Among Us comics explore one of the darkest possibilities for the entire DC universe. After Superman is tricked and manipulated into killing his wife, Lois Lane, he then sets his sights on the man responsible, the Joker. Despite Batman’s pleas, Superman shoves his hand into Joker’s heart, putting a permanent end to the Clown Prince of Crime.
If that wasn’t morally ambiguous enough, that single action set Superman down an even darker path, where he continued to deteriorate morally until he was the villain of the series. While almost any number of his actions in these comics could land on this list, killing the Joker is the big one that started it all.
8 Silver Age Superman
Throughout the Silver Age of comics, Superman was arguably the biggest jerk around. At times, it would appear as though he were out to torture Lois lane, doing things like making her fat, accusing her of murder, and convincing her that Clark Kent killed himself. While many of these stories were completely ridiculous, they are still part of the character’s history.
Furthermore, for someone who is supposed to be the strongest moral character around, he really seemed to be the opposite of that during many issues from this time period. Overall, it is really easy to argue that Superman was even a villain during this time period, due to the questionable nature of his moral character.
7 Everything He’s Done to Jimmy Olsen
Also during the Silver Age, Superman did a number of horrible things to his “pal” Jimmy Olsen. Like with Lois, Superman did so many terrible things to Jimmy, that make it really hard to view him as a hero. For example, Superman actually adopted Jimmy for a while, where he then proceeded to abuse him.
Considering how Jimmy is supposed to be Superman’s friend, it is really surprising that he would do something like this. Thankfully, the character has since evolved back into his more traditional mindset, but that doesn’t change the fact that things like this still took place within the comics.
6 Killing Mr. Mxyzptlk
Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow is considered by many to be one of the best Superman stories ever told. Serving as a “what if” for Superman’s final days, the series follows Clark after a very deadly attack from some of his worst enemies. With his closest allies by his side, the series is genuinely a very nice “conclusion” to Superman as a character.
Towards the end, however, Mr. Mxyzptlk is revealed to be responsible for Superman’s more immediate troubles. In order to prevent the villain from wreaking more havoc, Superman traps him in the Phantom zone at just the right moment, ripping the villain into two and killing him. Recognizing how wrong his actions were, Superman then proceeds to give up his powers. Despite recognizing the gravity of his actions, it is still a very questionable thing to do.
5 Fighting Batman (TDKR)
In Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns universe, readers come to learn that Superman works as a government agent in the future. However, while he remains as strong as ever, being a government drone eventually leads Superman to do all sorts of actions that he wouldn’t typically partake in.
For example, it is revealed that Superman was actually the one who took Green Arrow’s arm, making it virtually impossible for him to shoot a bow and arrow. Though that is just one example, it is implied that Superman became more and more corrupt over the years, doing more of what the government wanted and less of what he believed in. Though it isn’t canon with the rest of the DC universe, it is still one of the most morally shady things the Man of Steel has yet to do.
4 Potentially Abandoning Earth (Permanently)
After Lois Lane mysteriously vanished along with half of Metropolis in For Tomorrow, Superman became desperate to find the missing people. For one year, he tried to find a way to bring them back, but with very little progress. Eventually, Superman finds a way to bring himself to the missing people, though he isn’t sure if he’ll be able to come back.
While it makes sense for Superman to sacrifice himself for others, he was potentially abandoning the Earth on a hunch that he had. Though he was able to make it back with Lois and everyone else, he could have potentially left the planet without its strongest protector. Despite the fact that he was trying to save people, Superman’s actions could have easily led to far more harm than it would have solved.
3 Letting His Son Go to Space
Shortly after DC launched their Rebirth event, Superman learned that his biological father, Jor-El was actually still alive. Unfortunately, due to losing Krypton and his family, Jor-El became a twisted version of the man he once was. Though he isn’t a villain by any means, he certainly has a much different view of humans than his son.
However, once Brian Bendis took over Superman and Action Comics, Clark found himself agreeing to let his son go adventuring in space with Jor-El. Though it is now clear that Bendis wanted an excuse to put Jon on the Legion of Superheroes, the fact that Superman let his son go on such a journey so quickly really doesn’t make much sense. While the entire situation did feel forced, it’s also an example of poor moral judgement on Clark’s part.
2 Basically Killed Darkseid
Hardcore DC fans know just how powerful and deadly Darkseid can truly be. Essentially, the villain is one of the most powerful DC characters in general, and has even managed to take down the entire planet at one point. For as big a bad as Darkseid is though, Superman effectively killed him at one point.
During the Superman/Batman series, Darkseid made an attack on the Kent farm that made Superman so angry, he drove the villain into the source wall. Though Darkseid was technically imprisoned, the source wall is effectively a permanent tomb. Of course, Superman knew this, drawing his moral character into question once again. Though he is redeemed on a technicality, it isn’t exactly the “most moral” option he could have picked.
1 Abandon the Earth
In the wildly popular Kingdom Come series, it is revealed that Superman retired himself to the Fortress of Solitude after Magog, a new hero, introduces a new form of justice into the DC universe. With Superman being rejected by the public, he chose to leave humanity behind, withdrawing himself for many years.
Superman would remain in hiding until things got so bad, that he decided to make a return. Though his decision makes more sense within other contexts from the story, the fact that Superman would quit so suddenly is a morally questionable decision, especially for a character like him. Though his return signals all sorts of cool and interesting changes for the DC universe in the series, Superman’s decision is still a bit darker than usual.