Superman is one of the first and most recognizable superheroes in all of comics and beyond. Created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel in 1938, the alien from the doomed planet Krypton has struck terror in the hearts of criminals for decades. Anyone who tries to commit crimes in the city of Metropolis knows that he could show up at any moment, hurtling down from the sky to sweep them off the ground and into jail. Superman is almost invulnerable so you'd think he wouldn't have much to worry about, but that's wrong. Superman is one of the most powerful beings in the DC universe with a host of powers like strength, speed, heat vision and unbreakable skin, but that doesn't mean he can't be scared. The superhero has his own problems to deal with, and we're going to go over sixteen of them right now.
When it comes to fears, Superman's are a little different than most people's. He's not afraid of guns or knives or even bombs. No, he has a whole other class of terrors that might not be ones you or other heroes share. Some of these will be abstract concepts like his own power, and others will be actual beings he's fought against and even alongside. Wondering who or what could make Superman break into a sweat? CBR is ready to open the nightmare closet in the Fortress of Solitude, and dig deep to find out what keeps Superman awake at night, and what he's afraid of finding in the shadows.
Superman and Batman have worked together and have been allies and friends for decades, but the truth is that Batman scares the blue tights off of Superman. There's a real clash of ideas between these powerful heroes. Superman is trusting and believes in the good in everyone while Batman is so paranoid that he plans to take down all his friends.
With Batman's paranoia, ingenuity, and limitless resources, Superman always has to wonder if Batman will cross the line. Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns perfectly illustrated Superman's worst nightmare, that if he and Batman ended up on opposite sides, Batman would win and become unstoppable.
Superman is one of the most powerful beings in the universe with superstrength, superspeed, flight, heat vision, and near invulnerability. Yet with all his power, Superman is never satisfied. He always has to wonder if the day will come when his powers fail him, and he can't be everywhere at once, so the thought of failure haunts him on a daily basis.
We saw that in Superman #30 (Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, Keith Champagne, Patrick Gleason, Peter J. Tomasi) when Superman was captured by Sinestro and forced to face his worst nightmares. The hero was haunted by visions of people pleading for his help and wondering why he couldn't save them.
For all the allies and enemies that Superman has faced, there's only one that he has openly said he's afraid to face in open combat, and that person is Martian Manhunter. Superman once called him the most powerful being on the face of the Earth. Why would Superman be afraid of him? Let's count the ways.
Martian Manhunter is as fast and strong as Superman, occasionally even more so. He also has powerful psychic powers including mind control, and can change his shape and density in almost limitless ways. His intelligence is such that even Batman asks J'onn for advice. He's also durable enough to survive and pull himself out of a black hole. Just be glad Martian Manhunter is on our side.
While Superman is a world-famous hero who lives in a crystal palace and is almost worshipped, his alter ego Clark Kent is much more modest. That's the way Superman likes it, which is why he lives in fear of having his secret identity exposed.
Over the years, Superman has gone to great lengths to hide his identity. In many close calls, he's pulled off elaborate stunts like switching clothes with Batman or using robot duplicates. He treasures his privacy and the ability to walk among humans as a normal person, and also fears his loved ones being targeted. But it's still not enough to use a different disguise besides glasses.
One of Superman's biggest regrets is the loss of Krypton before his birth. He's never gotten over losing an entire planet and civilization. So since he has already lost one world, he worries about losing his adopted home planet of Earth.
While Superman can and is willing to defend anyone in the Galaxy, he's focused on Earth. Whenever bad guys try to destroy the world (and they do), Superman is willing to do anything to stop them, even giving up his own life. One of his worst nightmares is to fail and watch Earth get demolished the way Krypton did while being unable to stop it.
When people think of Superman's weaknesses, they usually think of Kryptonite, but that's just one of many things that can rob him of his power. The other is red sunlight. Superman gets his power from being around the yellow sun of Earth, but being exposed to a red run like the one orbiting Krypton will take his abilities away.
Of course, it's not easy to get red sunlight so he's not as worried about it as kryptonite, but when he goes to a world with a red sun or a villain manages to pull some out on Superman, it's devastating.
As an alien who uses advanced technology, Superman is a man of science, so his natural enemy is magical forces. Superman is vulnerable to magic, so a nuclear bomb could drop on Superman's head and he would barely feel it, but a stick with a magic spell on it could bash his head in.
For instance, one of Superman's powerful enemies is Black Adam who has strength and speed almost equal to Superman, but is powered by magic so Superman is helpless against it. Superman fears magical enemies, and there are enough of them around to keep Superman awake at night, knowing they could have his number.
Who is Superman's greatest enemy? No, it's not Lex Luthor or Darkseid. The one Superman fears more than anyone else is himself. He knows he has god-like power and could crush almost anyone and anything with a flick of his hand, so he always worries about losing control.
He almost never hits anyone with his full strength, and has literal nightmares about accidentally hurting someone he loves like Lois Lane. Superman has even created a failsafe by giving Batman a piece of kryptonite to use in case he goes out of control, a sign of his trust in the Dark Knight, and lack of trust in himself.
Until 1992's Superman: Man of Steel #17 (Dan Jurgens), Superman had never truly fought someone on his level of strength and power. That all changed when he met Doomsday, and Superman was never the same. Doomsday is a genetically engineered creature from prehistoric Krypton who is dedicated to nothing but hate and destruction.
More importantly, he can fight Superman to a standstill and is the only one who ended Superman in combat. Superman came back, but he continues to have a fear of Doomsday returning, and has had to face the villain over and over again. Thankfully, Doomsday has never been at his full strength again, and Superman dreads if he ever is.
What would drive a man of virtue like Superman to cross the line? That's been the question asked in many movies, TV shows, and comic books, and usually, the answer involves losing someone he loves.
In the movie Superman: The Motion Picture, Superman broke the rule imposed by his father and reversed time so he could save Lois Lane. In the Injustice video game, the passing of Lois Lane causes Superman to enslave the world. Just threatening Lois Lane is enough to get Superman to go crazy, because he can't handle the thought of losing someone he cares about. In his nightmares, he holds the body of his true love, and he couldn't do anything to save her.
One weakness of Superman is psychic powers. He has a superpowered brain, but it can't resist the power of mind control. Villains like Brainiac have the ability to shut down Superman's mind with massive psychic probes, leaving him and his invulnerable body helpless.
Even worse, some villains can take control of Superman and make him do things against his will, which is one of the hero's worst fears. Superman already worries about his power going out of control, and the idea of someone making him unleash his full strength is crippling to him. Fortunately, Superman has been able to resist, but he wonders if it's only a matter of time.
When it comes to villains in the DC Universe, there are only a handful who can stand up to Superman, and one of them is Darkseid. One of the New Gods created by Jack Kirby, Darkseid is the ruler of the nightmarish planet Apokolips who wants nothing less than control of all existence. He's come very close to succeeding.
Darkseid has strength and durability equal to Superman, and one of the few who can fight him in hand-to-hand combat. On top of that, Darkseid commands the army of an entire world, and a ruthlessness that has horrified Superman many times.
Superman is strong enough to punch through solid steel and tear apart titanium, which is awesome, but it's easy to forget how difficult that makes everyday life for him. Superman, though, never forgets. He has nightmares of crushing Lois Lane with a hug.
This was best illustrated in Justice League Unlimited when Superman was talking to Darkseid in a speech that became known as "World of Cardboard." Superman says the world is like it's made out of cardboard and everything breaks easily to him. He always has to pull his punches or risk hurting someone with a tap. But when he faces Darkseid, he finally can let loose. That was scary in itself.
When Superman was first introduced, he was the last of his kind, launched by a rocket from the planet Krypton as the world imploded. Over the years, other Kryptonians have emerged from his cousin Supergirl to the supervillain Zod. While Superman has often celebrated the return of his species, he's been equally frustrated because his kin give him a lot of problems.
Let's start with General Zod who wants to conquer Earth, and is just as powerful as Superman with military training to boot. Then there's the bottle city of Kandor whose inhabitants keep escaping or bringing other people into the miniature city to wreak havoc. In general, Superman knows now that other Kryptonians spell trouble.
Even casual fans of Superman know that his greatest weakness is kryptonite, the radioactive crystal that can weaken and even kill him. The worst part about kryptonite is that he has no defence against it.
As if the regular green kryptonite wasn't bad enough, there's also red kryptonite which turns him evil and black kryptonite which splits him into good and evil beings. Superman has spent a lot of time and energy trying to protect himself against kryptonite, including destroying as much as he can, and building special suits and vehicles to protect himself from it. In the end, he's still left wondering if the next bank robber he runs into will have a chunk of it.
In the Silver Age, Superman was a scientific genius who would whip up new inventions at the drop of a hat, but even in the modern era, he's smarter than most of his enemies. The big exception is Lex Luthor, who terrifies Superman.
Every great villain is the exact opposite of the hero, and that's why Lex Luthor is a near perfect villain. As smart as Superman is strong, Lex Luthor uses his brilliant mind to get rich, and then uses that wealth to try to take over the world. Luthor's genius at strategy and technology leave Superman in the dust, and his complete lack of concern for human lives often leaves Superman in awe.