Mort Weisinger took over editor duties on the “Superman” titles in the late 1940s, but it would not be until the 1950s that Weisinger began to really put his stamp on the direction of the titles. You see, Weisinger really tried to plug in with his audience in a way unlike most comic book editors of the time. Weisinger would asked fans what they wanted to see and he would give them just that, and often more than once (working under the theory that the fans who read a story in 1955 would no longer be reading comics in 1960, so the same story idea would be fresh to a new generation). One of the things that fans loved to see was weird transformations!
The idea of Superman going through strange transformations was such a common one that the “Superman” books even introduced a specific mineral, red kryptonite, that would cause transformations in the Man of Steel. However, red kryptonite was far from the only thing that caused Superman to go through strange changes. Here are the 15 weirdest Superman transformations.
15. Fire-Breathing Superman
Superman’s time as a fire-breather came under particularly unusual circumstances. In “Action Comics” #283 (by Robert Bernstein, Curt Swan and Stan Kaye), two shapeshifting Durlans from the future came to Earth to kill Superman. They had a two-part plan. They first attacked him with a pile of red kryptonite, so that he would go through a countless stream of transformations (the way red kryptonite worked at the time was that each piece of red K would have a single different effect on each Kryptonian that it encountered, so once its effect was finished, that piece could no longer affect that same Kryptonian), with the hope that one of the effects would be awful enough that they could then kill him.
One of those changes was to have fire-breathing powers. Another one was the ability to have wishes come true! Once the red kryptonite was seemingly depleted, the Durlans decided to try to go with green kryptonite. They impersonated the Soviet Premier Khrushchev and the American President Kennedy, and were all set to send Superman into a room filled with green kryptonite, but they didn’t know that he was still under the effects of the last piece of red kryptonite. This gave him telepathy, so he could hear them thinking of their plot and he was able to stop them.
14. Fat Superman
One of the most common transformations for Superman was to make him fat. In “Superman” #221’s “The Two-Ton Superman” (by Cary Bates, Curt Swan and George Roussos), Clark Kent is doing a story on the space program when he is suddenly hurtled into outer space, at which point Superman then ballooned up to enormous size. As it turned out, Superman had just helped out an alien race and they rewarded him with a special nectar drink that they use for ceremonies, only they had not used it for so long that it changed chemically and was now a powerful poison. Superman’s invulnerability saved his life, but not without him becoming really fat.
This caused two major problems. One, Lois now could try to prove Clark Kent was Superman if she could see a fattened up Clark and two, Superman was needed in a day to open up a special lock based on his exact body weight from the previous day. He fooled Lois with a funhouse mirror and a projection system (since solar flares ruled out using a Clark Kent robot as a substitute), and he then lost almost all the weight through some intense weight-loss exercises. Even then, in the end, he still had to use some anti-gravity disks to make his weight match.
13. Kryptonian Monster Superman
In “Action Comics” #303 (by Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and George Klein), Superman is intrigued when an egg lands on Earth from Krypton. It is an egg of the Drang, a horrible monster from Krypton. When Superman went into the crater that the egg created, however, a giant Drang appeared with Superman’s tattered costume in its mouth. Jimmy Olsen can only surmise that the Drang killed Superman! In reality, as it traveled through space, the Drang egg hit the same radiation cloud that turned kryptonite into red kryptonite, so the entire egg was now red kryptonite! As a result, it turned Superman into a Drang!
Superman tried countless times to spell out in giant words in various places, “I am Superman,” but the army kept fighting him and accidentally destroying his words. It came down to the military deciding to kill the Drang with green kryptonite, but luckily, Supergirl first attacked the Drang. However, she was accidentally hit by some green kryptonite meant to kill the Drang, so the Drang then saved Supergirl! Superman was then able to get her a message to stop trying to kill him and eventually he returned to normal.
12. Caveman Superman
In “World’s Finest Comics” #151 (by Cary Bates, Edmond Hamilton, Curt Swan and Sheldon Moldoff), Superman and Batman discover a device that somehow survived the destruction of Krypton. However, like any other piece of Krypton that traveled through space, it had converted to kryptonite during its journey. In any event, after an inspection by Batman, it turned out that it was an evolutionary device, a machine that could fast-forward or reverse an animal’s evolution. Batman accidentally used it on himself, evolving him into a future being. He now had a genius intellect but was, sadly, a total jerk.
Now jealous of anyone else gaining the same intellect, Batman devolved Superman, changing him into a caveman. Batman then convinces the devolved Superman to travel to the past where he belongs. Once there, Superman grows lonely and returns to the present, where he battled with the still-jealous Batman. In the end, Superman manages to get Batman in front of the machine again and Batman is cured. Batman in turn then uses the machine to cure Superman.
11. Clark Split from Superman
Very soon after the concept that the same effect couldn’t occur twice, writer Leo Dorfman decided to come up with an experiment in “Action Comics” #311 (drawn by Curt Swan and George Klein) that violated that rule, and thus red kryptonite split Superman into two beings for the second time in two years (it also happened in “Action Comics” #293) – the powerless Clark Kent and the now tyrannical but still super-powered Superman. The issue ends with Superman having taken over the world and Clark leading a rebellion against his own self.
In the second part of the story, in “Action Comics” #312 (same art team, but Robert Bernstein now writing it), Clark is shot and forced to become a being like Metallo. He continues his rebellion against Superman, but then he discovers that Superman was only pretending to be a tyrant to help stop an alien invasion. With that threat over, Superman gladly re-merges with Clark.
10. Old Man Superman
In a very clever story in “Action Comics” #251, Clark Kent volunteers to drink an experimental serum that might prolong people’s lives. Instead, it turned out that it significantly aged them! The effects only lasted seventy-two hours, but that was still trouble for Superman, who now was an old man with a long white beard. Since everyone knew that Clark Kent was temporarily aged, he could not allow himself to be seen as Superman with such bizarre facial hair (which was extra problematic since his indestructible hair couldn’t be cut).
Instead, Superman then fought three groups of bad guys while pretending to be three different people. First, he was the Old Man of the Sea, then he was Santa Claus, and finally he was Father Time. He then turned back to normal, which is lucky since, once again, Superman’s robots were of no use to him, as they did not respond to his voice commands due to his voice now sounding so old.
9. Toddler Superman
As noted before, red kryptonite originally could only have a single effect on each Kryptonian that encountered it. Therefore, once its effect wore off, the Kryptonian who did encounter it (which back then was Superman, Supergirl and Krypto) would bring the piece to the Fortress of Solitude where it would be catalogued away in lead containers just in case such an effect ever came in handy in the future.
That’s exactly what happened in “Action Comics” #283 (by Robert Bernstein, Curt Swan and George Klein), when Superman gets a message while visiting a phoney psychic stating that he needs to turn into a toddler to do something very important, when he picked out a piece of red kryptonite that had once turned Supergirl into a little girl. As it turned out, the message was from Mon-El, Superman’s friend that he had put into the Phantom Zone to keep him safe until a cure for his deadly reaction to lead could be resolved (it ended up getting resolved in the future, at which point Mon-El joined the Legion of Super-Heroes). It turned out that a small hole in the Phantom Zone had opened up and was getting bigger and bigger. Toddler Superman was the only person who could fly through it and then close it to keep the criminals in the Phantom Zone stuck there.
8. Midas Touch Superman
In “Action Comics” #193 (in a story drawn by Al Plastino and written by an unknown writer), Superman finds himself afflicted with the ability to turn everything he touches into gold due to an accident where he plugged a volcano with a piece of gold ore, so the gases of the volcano somehow melted the gold to the point where…okay, it doesn’t actually make any sense, but just go with us on this one, okay?
Superman has to come up with interesting ways to avoiding touching things or at least hiding the fact that he’s not touching anything, like when he used his super-breath to press the keys on his typewriter instead of touching them. He also painted his now golden clothes the same color as his normal clothes. In the end, it turned out that the only thing to stop his power was to touch pure gold. Once he did, things were back to normal.
7. Superman Red and Superman Blue
In the early days of “imaginary stories” (DC’s version of “What If…?” stories before they came up with “Elseworlds”), the stories often had endings that were not exactly happy, like the classic “Death of Superman.” However, the story of Superman Red and Superman Blue in “Superman” #162 (by Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan and George Klein) stood out because its ending was a very good one.
The story opened with a real jerky move, however, as the people of Kandor signal Superman and let him know that he’s been a huge disappointment to him, because he hasn’t solved all of the world’s problems yet. Since he hadn’t done so yet, they propose that he switches places with one of them and they’ll give it a try. Superman therefore creates a machine that will increase his intelligence so that he can tackle the list of problems that the Kandorians sent him. The machine was powered by a variety of kryptonites. It resulted in Superman being transformed into two identical super-intelligent versions of himself, one wearing red and the other wearing blue.
Superman Red and Superman Blue then go off and essentially solve all of the world’s problems, and they marry Lana Lang and Lois Lane.
6. Mood Ring Superman
In “Action Comics” #317 (by Otto Binder and Al Plastino), Superman is exposed to red kryptonite and then discovers that its effect is that his face changes colors based on his emotions. Everyone discovers this when Superman gets purple with rage when he sees that Luthor had escaped prison again (the headline turned out to be a hoax). This obviously causes trouble for Clark Kent’s secret identity, since Lois knew what Superman was going through. Clark then had to spend the whole day working with Lois Lane on a story while his face is changing color whenever he feels a certain emotion, with Lois carefully looking on.
Superman keeps coming up with clever solutions to this effect, like when he turns green with envy upon watching a couple get married, he uses super speed to move an inn named after Green Lantern that was next to him and Lois, so that the inn’s bathed both of them in its light, making them both look green. Some of those colors, by the way, were weird, like Superman going “black” with hatred after going “purple” with rage. Luckily, Clark kept Lois from ever seeing him change without an explanation.
5. Lion Superman
Interestingly, just a single issue after the Bottled City of Kandor was introduced, it played a major role in the resolution of a super-transformation. In “Action Comics” #243 (by Otto Binder, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye), the mysterious Circe tried to woo Superman. When he rejected her, she made him drink an elixir that he was confident couldn’t do anything to him. He was wrong, as it transformed him into a walking, talking lion!
Most of the story showed Superman just doing interesting lion stuff (like infiltrating a pack of lions, becoming the head of the pride and then backing off and letting another lion take over, a lion that Superman had somehow determined seemed like a nice lion – huh?!) until he discovered that he had been exposed to kryptonite. That’s when he realized that Circe must have been Kryptonian, so he goes to the Bottled City, gets an antidote, and he was back to normal in no time!
4. Long Fingernails Superman
Like many other parts of the “Superman” mythos (like Bizarro and Krypto), red kryptonite first appeared in a “Superboy” story. It made its way to the main title in “Superman” #139 (by Otto Binder, Curt Swan and John Forte), when Superman encountered some red kryptonite, which led to him first remembering his past experiences with the mineral, thus establishing that red kryptonite did appear when he was a teenager and was not a brand-new creation.
This time, the effect of the red kryptonite is that Superman’s hair and fingernails grew out really, really long. Lois Lane, naturally, figures out that this is a perfect opportunity to prove that Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same. Luckily, Superman enlisted the help of Supergirl and Krypto, having them to both use their heat vision at high power to trim his beard and nails. Interestingly, when they cut the beard off but had not yet cut the rest of his long hair, he temporarily looked just like how he did in the mid-1990s when he decided to grow his hair long.
3. Three-Eyed Superman
In “Action Comics” #275 (by Jerry Coleman, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye), Brainiac comes to Earth to attack Superman. He feels confident that Superman can’t do anything to him, as even when Superman uses his heat vision on Brainiac’s force fields, they are unable to defeat his force field. Brainiac then blasts Superman with a ray that combined green kryptonite with red kryptonite. Everyone is curious as to what effect the ray would have.
At first, it appeared as though it turned Superman into some weird hat guy, as he kept wearing different hats and every time he showed up wearing a specific hat, he would do actions that would coincide with the hat. For example, when he wore the turban of a swami, he ended up using a giant crystal ball to save the day. While wearing a soldier’s cap, he acted like a solider, and so on and so forth. In the end, though, after burning through Brainaic’s force field and defeating him, Superman revealed the truth – the rays had given him a third eye in the back of his head and only wore all of those hats to disguise it! The reason he could suddenly defeat Brainiac’s force field is because he now had a third eye to add to the power of his eye beams.
2. Ant Head Superman
Edmond Hamilton and Al Plastino told the cautionary tale of the giant ants in “Action Comics” #296, where giant ants showed up on Earth and began attacking specific government facilities around the country. Superman tried to fight with the ants, but they carried green kryptonite with them constantly, so he was useless. He was even more upset when they kidnapped Lois Lane. Then he remembered that Krypto once went through a cloud of red kryptonite dust where just thinking about becoming a collie transformed Krypto into one, so he did the same thing and just thought about being a human ant.
Doing so transformed him into a human/ant hybrid. Since he could now communicate with them, he discovered that the ants were from another planet of humanoids that had destroyed itself through nuclear war (and the radiation had enlarged the ants). The ants would then travel from world to world to get other planets vow not to go to nuclear war. While here, though, their spacecraft crashed so they had to appropriate parts to fix it. Superman helped them on their journey and then they went home, but not before giving a speech about the dangers of atomic war.
1. Mini-Superman-Shooting-Out-From-His-Hands Superman
In “Superman” #125 (by Jerry Coleman, Wayne Boring and Stan Kaye), Superman was exposed to some strange energies when the engine on an alien spacecraft exploded. The energy ended up giving Superman a bizarre new power. He now no longer had super powers himself, but he could create a miniature version of himself that he could shoot out of his hands and that creature would have all the powers of Superman.
Over time, the main Superman grew jealous of all of the attention that the mini-Superman was getting, so he actually devised a plan that would end up with the mini-Superman dying (it involved being exposed to green kryptonite). In the end, the plan didn’t work but the mini-Superman then saved the original Superman’s life when some bad guys tried to hit Superman with a giant piece of green kryptonite. Once he “died,” the mini-Superman’s powers went back to the main Superman.
What was your favorite Superman transformation? Let us know in the comments section!
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