Superman has been around for more than 80 years (creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster conceptualized the character in 1933, years before they sold him to Detective Comics), which has given a lot of people the opportunity to work on the character. Whether a new artist added a muscle group here or a new tweak to the costume there, he has gone through some visual changes. More than that, he has changed considerably in terms of origin, personality and even power-level. What began as a character who was more powerful than everyone else on Earth evolved into a character more powerful than anything or anyone, anywhere and anytime… that is, until things were changed again and again over the years. With so many people involved over so many eras, Superman is nothing like he once was 10 years ago, let alone 80.
With so many variations (there are plenty we decided against for this list), we looked back through cartoons, films and comics to come up with the most powerful versions of the Man of Steel. We decided to nix the idea of Superman wielding the sword or the Thought Robot, as we wanted to focus more on the character himself and not anything he might wield to make him more powerful. What follows are the 15 most powerful versions of Superman, ranked from weakest to strongest, and picked from alternate Earths, Elseworlds, reimaginings and his regular chronology.
15. GOLDEN AGE SUPERMAN
The first version of Superman is certainly the least powerful. When he first debuted in Action Comics #1, written by Siegel and penciled by Shuster, he was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and could leap tall buildings in a single bound! Compared to the versions that followed, he doesn’t match up. His max running speed was about 60 MPH, he couldn’t fly and he wasn’t invulnerable. That whole “leap tall buildings” bit literally meant he could jump over buildings, but that was it.
Given the time-period in which he was introduced, Superman typically fought gangsters, corrupt politicians and regular criminals. The original Superman was more than the guy who stopped purse-snatchers but not by much. Superman’s golden Age form existed between 1938 when the first comic debuted and 1955 when the Golden Age of Comics gave way to the Silver Age (more on that later).
14. NEW 52
DC has never been shy about mucking with their continuity and changing things, which is why they launched the New 52 concept back in 2011 rebooting all of their major properties. Along for the ride was, of course, Superman, who got a few changes along with the rest of the characters. There were some changes to the origin story — he is younger, kind of a jerk — and he has a new costume… well, a modified costume. He also has some power-level changes as well, especially at the beginning.
When he was reintroduced in 2011, Superman couldn’t fly and he could be injured. They reset some of his power-levels all the way back to the original version, but still kept a lot of the ones that developed over time since his debut. It was an interesting approach to a character who was nearly invincible, but DC decided to increase his powers, even giving him some new ones, before redoing it again when they launched Rebirth in 2016.
13. SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES
The Superman presented in Warner Bros.’ Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000) was one of the most powerful to appear in animation up to that time. When the studio launched the series, they decided to focus on a version of the character that was an amalgamation combining parts of Superman before and after the Crisis on Infinite Earths. The settings, animation style and many of the villains paid homage to a more classic look while Superman’s personality and power level landed square in the modern age more reflective of John Byrne’s Man of Steel reboot.
Supes didn’t have to hold back on some of his enemies in the series, which gave fans a fun look at the character as he was presented in the comics. All of the previous cartoons and movies presented him in a slightly weaker light so it was truly a change for the character in the medium.
12. SUPERMAN: RED SON
The version of Superman presented in Superman: Red Son, written by Mark Millar with pencils by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett, was an alternate reality creation of the hero showing what would happen to Kal-L were he to land in Soviet Russia and not in Kansas. The Superman that developed was still a hero, but he was antithetical to American values. His arch-nemesis was still Lex Luthor, only Luthor worked for the U.S. Government to create hybrids and monsters strong enough to fight the Soviet Superman.
In terms of power, it is never specified exactly how powerful Kal-L is in the series, but all indications are he is as powerful as the Modern Age version. With this, he has the standard set of Superman attributes such as flight, super strength, invulnerability and the like. Additionally, he appears to be nigh-immortal through revelations made in the series.
11. CALVIN ELLIS
Calvin Elvis is the Superman of Earth-23 who first appeared in Final Crisis #7, written by Grant Morrison and penciled by Eddie Berganza. Being from an alternate reality, there are clearly a few differences between the Superman of Earth-1 and Calvin Ellis, but his power-level seems to be mostly the same. What he does have that our Superman lacks (or, at the very least, is less skilled at) is superior leadership abilities.
Calvin Harris doesn’t masquerade around Metropolis as some do-good reporter. No, Mr. Harris is the duly elected President of the United States of America! Other than his skills at diplomacy and hiding a Superman costume under his Presidential garb, Ellis has the standard set of Superman powers to include invulnerability, ice breath, heat vision, flight and the rest.
10. SUPERMAN: THE DARK SIDE
After seeing what it would be like to raise Superman in the Soviet Union, DC went ahead and kicked it up a notch by seeing what would happen if Kal-El’s rocket didn’t make it to Earth, but to Apokolips instead. After landing as an infant, he is raised by none other than Darkseid, who develops him into a willing disciple who was all too eager to participate in the destruction of New Genesis.
Throughout the three-issue miniseries, written by John Francis Moore and penciled by Kieron Dwyer, Superman wears black and red armor with a familiar-looking symbol on the chest. It’s a lightning bolt made from two smaller bolts to create the letter S, but it is reminiscent of the logo used by the Schutzstaffel (also known as the SS) during WWII.
9. INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US
In yet another alternate version of the Man of Steel, Injustice: Gods Among Us imagined what would happen if Superman finally had enough and realized the only way to truly protect the people was to rule over them with an iron… well, steel fist. After the Joker kills Lois, Superman loses it and becomes the world’s biggest bad. He establishes himself as the High Councilor and becomes the ruthless dictator of Earth.
This version of Superman isn’t necessarily more powerful than the Superman from Earth-1 who arrives to help stop him, but his willingness to do whatever he feels is necessary to preserve the peace makes him far more dangerous. This is a Superman who won’t hesitate to slaughter anyone who gets in his way or threatens to destroy his new world order.
8. KINGDOM COME
Kingdom Come, written by Mark Waid and Alex Ross who also provided the illustrations, is a four-issue miniseries telling an Elseworlds story of a future version of DC’s heroes and their offspring. Because this is set in the future, Superman is far more powerful than his modern incarnation. This is due to the continued exposure to yellow sun radiation, which has rendered him all but immune to Kryptonite and enhanced all of his other abilities.
The series focuses more on the events that led up to Superman abandoning his post as the protector of Earth (Lois is killed by the Joker who is killed by a new “hero” named Magog who goes free) and his return to set things right. Because of this, we don’t get to see too many of Superman’s powers expanded upon, which is why this future version of the Man of Steel falls so high on this list.
7. BIZARRO SUPERMAN
The character called Bizarro began as a clone of the original Superman, though he first appeared in Superboy #68, written by Otto Binder and penciled by George Papp. Bizarro was originally created by Professor Dalton while demonstrating his duplicate ray to Superboy (pre-Crisis). Eventually, Lex Luthor attempts the experiment again and creates the Bizarro Superman in question.
Bizarro has chalky white skin and does everything in an opposite fashion to Superman. Because he is a mirror image (of sorts), he can breathe fire and shoots ice beams from his eyes, as well as absorbing energy. He has X-Ray vision but can only see through lead where the regular Superman cannot. While under the light of a blue star, he gains the ability to create new Bizarro-like duplicates. Otherwise, he has many of the same powers as any of the Supermen on this list, but with a skewed sense of morality, making him super dangerous.
6. SUPERMAN X
Superman X, named Kell-El, is from the 41st century. He first appeared in season 2, episode 1 of Legion of Super Heroes titled “The Man from the Edge of Tomorrow” and was given the origin story of having been created from the original Superman’s DNA and Kryptonite, making him a living weapon with added abilities the original Superman lacked.
He is unable to defeat his nemesis from his own time and travels to the present in order to recruit the Legion to help him. In addition to the normal set of powers, he also can perform basic magic, energy projection, energy resistance (immunity to Kryptonite derived from his Kryptonite-embedded DNA) and enhanced senses allowing him to perceive the world in even greater detail than his predecessors.
5. SUPERMAN RED/BLUE
There have been two main storylines featuring Superman Red & Blue, but we have chosen to focus on the more recent of the two. Back in 1998, Supes was temporarily unable to acquire the solar energy required to empower him, which led to the development of energy-based abilities he needed to contain in a special suit. While he was in this state, Cyborg Superman created a special trap for the Electric Blue version of Superman (that’s what the fans were calling him), causing him to split into two beings, one red, the other blue. Both believed themselves to be the one, true Superman, which caused a few problems.
In terms of power, his/theirs changed a lot in this form. He could manipulate all forms of energy and consume digital information immediately. He could even shoot magnetic tractor beams from his eyes, which could become problematic for anyone at a bar or night club.
Ultraman is the Superman from Earth-3, but he is an antithetical doppelgänger of the Man of Steel. He first appeared in Superman Supacomic #14 in 1960. Ultraman derives his powers from Kryptonite instead of the other way around. Each time he comes in contact with the mineral, he acquired new, stronger powers. Much of Earth-3 is reversed from Earth-1, so having an evil Superman who grows up to lead the Crime Syndicate wasn’t much of a stretch.
Because his powers are derived differently, they don’t match up in exactly the same way. He still has the same types of Superman-esque powers but also has Cosmic awareness, berserker-level strength when he gets angry (you wouldn’t like him when he’s angry), energy absorption and several more. Given his evil nature and additional powers, he has an edge over the standard Man of Steel model earning him a place on this list.
3. SUPERBOY PRIME
Superman Prime comes from the same place we all do, Earth-Prime, a.k.a., the real world. He was raised by a kindly couple named Jerry and Naomi Kent who gave him the name Clark after Naomi’s maiden name, as well as the comic book character this entire list is all about. He grew up a normal young boy, but it turned out that he was, in fact, Kal-El of Krypton and possessed all the powers of Superman (as well as some additional ones placing him here on this list).
In addition to the normal array of Superman powers, Superboy Prime can alter his density, has berserker-level strength when he is really mad and used the anti-monitor’s armor to directly feed yellow solar radiation into his cells, making him insanely powerful. He also has a really bad attitude and is something of a whiny little punk… who could beat up all our dads.
2. SILVER AGE SUPERMAN
What? Superman from the Silver Age is #2 on this list? It may come as a surprise, but the Superman many fans grew up with was so overpowered, DC needed to make a few changes to their characters and decided the best way was to launch the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover event, which erased all of their many existing continuities and merged them into one universe. Essentially, Supes was so overpowered, DC decided to scrap much of their history and launch the Modern Age of Comics.
To be fair, Supes wasn’t the only reason, but his power-level had a lot to do with it. Superman could be seen in one panel literally towing a chain of planets or casually flying through the time-barrier in another. Pre-Crisis Superman had gotten too powerful for DC’s books to make sense anymore so the character was toned down moving forward.
1. SUPERMAN PRIME: ONE MILLION
Superman Prime from the series of DC crossover books numbered 1,000,000 is the Superman of the 853rd century who is so powerful, he is a living extension of the sun. Superman left Earth sometime in the 21st century and only returned in the 700th century when he bestowed some of his newly-acquired powers onto his descendants. He then went to his Fortress of Solitude at the center of the sun where he remained for more than 15,000 years.
After acquiring 15 millennia of saturated yellow solar energy, Superman’s power levels reached infinite levels with no apparent cap. Superman Prime is the future version of the Superman presented in All-Star Superman, which is why he isn’t on the list. His 853rd-century self is just too incredibly powerful to compare to any other Superman who has come before.
Which of your favorite versions of the Man of Steel did we leave off this list? Sound off in the comments and let us know!
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