Just a few years after writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster created the character, Superman became an American icon. Largely credited as being the first superhero, Superman’s immense popularity helped to establish the archetype of the superhero that’s dominated American comics throughout the bulk of the medium’s history.
Today, people the world over immediately recognize Superman as a selfless hero with an unwavering moral code. We think of The Man of Tomorrow as a protector of the innocent, a symbol to aspire to, and as a person who embodies values like righteousness, honor, and virtue. However, Superman wasn’t (and isn’t) always portrayed as a perfect hero. Whether it was due to mind control, in an alternate reality, or when his back was simply up against the wall, there have been multiple times that The Man of Steel took a life.
15 SUPERMAN KILLS SOUTH AMERICAN SOLDIERS
It wasn’t until the 1940s when Editor Whitney Ellsworth instituted a code of conduct required for every character at National Allied Publications (DC’s name at the time) that Superman started to take on the humanitarian persona he’s known for today. In Siegel and Shuster’s early Superman stories, the character was portrayed as being far more aggressive and at times even ruthless. While he still used his powers to protect the innocent, he rarely seemed concerned with the lives of the criminals he dealt with or the collateral damage that his powers often caused.
In a story called "War in San Monte" from issue #2 of "Action Comics", Clark Kent is sent on an assignment to the war-torn South American country of San Monte. While there, he finds a man torturing prisoners, and throws him like a javelin over a forest clearing, seemingly to his death. Later that same issue, a San Monte army camp is under attack by an enemy aircraft, so Superman jumps into the propeller of the plane, causing it to crash without the pilot being able to escape by parachute.
14 SUPERMAN WATCHES A MAN CHOKE TO DEATH
Thanks to Superman’s popularity, "Action Comics" was an immediate hit and, in 1939, just one year after the character’s debut, Superman was given his own solo book (something unheard of at the time) called "Superman" published monthly alongside "Action Comics."
In a story called "Superman Champions Universal Peace!" featured in "Superman" #2, also by Siegel and Shuster, Superman is trying to track down a deadly poison that’s been stolen so it can be sold to a man named Lubane. After arriving at Lubane’s hideout, Superman crashes through the ceiling and demands Lubane hand over the formula. Unfortunately, his scientists have already had enough time to develop the deadly toxin, so Lubane threatens to drop a vial of it, killing them both if Superman doesn’t leave. When Superman advances, Lubane is startled and drops the vial. As the poison fills his lungs, he pleads for help and wonders aloud why Superman is unaffected. Meanwhile, Superman explains with a grin that the gas has no effect on his physical structure as he watches the man die.
13 SUPERMAN SLAYS A KRYPTONIAN DRAGON
In "Superman" Vol. 3 #13, Clark has just recently quit his job at the Daily Planet after a confrontation with his boss, Morgan Edge, about the direction of the publication. Clark gives a rousing speech about journalistic integrity hoping to inspire his coworkers to follow him, but we then see Clark out to lunch with his friend Cat Grant, the only other person to walk out with him.
During their lunch, Clark hears something massive that's fast approaching them. A moment later, we see a giant dragon-like creature known as a Tripedial Curosiananiun soar through the skyscrapers. Despite not wanting to hurt the creature, Clark recognizes that with the amount of destruction it’s already caused, he has no choice but to stop it quickly and for good. He hits it with “a blow that could topple a small mountain,” knocking out its head, before realizing its paws are also sentient. They land a blow that sends him flying all the way to a mining plant in Ireland before with the creature following close behind. When it arrives at the plant, Superman uses his heat vision to set the oil being mined ablaze, incinerating the dragon.
12 SUPERMAN KILLS MISTER MXYZPTLK
In September, 1986, legendary comic writer Alan Moore collaborated with long-time Superman artist Curt Swan to create the two-part story "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" Moore wrote the story as the final chapter for the Silver Age Superman, whose story had been rebooted after the DC Comics event "Crisis On Infinite Earths."
In part two of the story, featured in "Action Comics" #583, Superman finds himself going toe to toe with Mister MXYZPTLK after realizing he’s been the one behind a recent strings of attacks against Superman that led to the deaths of several of his close friends, including Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, and his dog, Krypto. Superman says his name backwards to summon him and Mister MXYZPTLK appears revealing that he’s grown bored of merely annoying Superman, and has decided to see what it’s like to be truly evil.
Transforming from his normal cartoonish appearance to a frightening creature, he attacks, attempting to overpower Superman and kill him. Superman attempts to subdue him with a Phantom Zone projector, but MXYZPTLK reacts by saying his name backward in order to escape to his home dimension, but this tears his body in two separate directions and kills him.
11 SUPERMAN EXECUTES ZOD AND HIS KRYPTONIAN ALLIES
Without question, one of Superman’s greatest nemeses is the Kryptonian General Zod. While he’s never quite matched up to Lex Luthor as a foil for The Man of Steel, he does have the special honor of being one of the few characters Superman has had to kill on multiple occasions.
In "Superman" Vol. 2 #22 written and illustrated by John Byrne, the Post-Crisis Superman finds himself in a Pocket Dimension where Zod, and his associates Quex-UI and Zaora, have escaped from that universe’s Phantom Zone and killed almost every human being on that universe’s Earth. The only survivors included Lex Luthor, a small rebellion force and that universe’s Supergirl. Superman joins forces with Lex’s rebellion and, using Gold Kryptonite (that he’s immune to since it’s from another dimension), he is able to depower Zod and his companions.
After the remaining humans are wiped out and Lex is mortally wounded, Luthor makes Superman promise to never let what happened to his Earth happen to that of the Man of Steel's. Left with no alternative, Superman (with a heavy heart) sentences the genocidal Kryptonians to death by exposing them to Green Kryptonite.
10 SUPERMAN MELTS JOE CHILL
DC’s "Elseworlds" books tell stories of familiar DC heroes set in alternate, non-cannon stories and universes. One such story, “Speeding Bullets,” written by J.M. DeMatteis and drawn by Eduardo Barret, examines what it would be like if Dr. Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne had been the ones to find baby Kal-El instead of the Kents. The Waynes name him Bruce and raise him to be a compassionate person who should use his incredible gifts to aspire to be something greater.
Superman has a happy and normal childhood with the Wayne family for many years until, after an evening out on the town, he lives his own version of Batman’s origin and sees his parents gunned down right in front of him by Joe Chill. When Chill takes a shot at Bruce, the young boy loses control of his powers and, in a fit of rage, melts his assailant’s face with his heat vision, killing him. Bruce is found the next morning by the police “eyes wide and unseeing,” muttering the words “the bullets” to himself over and over.
9 SUPERMAN KILLS DOOMSDAY
Much like Zod, the ultimate killing machine, Doomsday has been taken out by Superman multiple times since his debut in 1992 (only to come back stronger each time). However, no clash between the two titans could ever be as iconic as their original “final” battle, the conclusion of the "Death of Superman" arc (in "Superman" Vol. 2 #75 by writer/artist Dan Jurgens and artist Brett Breeding). Doomsday had made a path of destruction devastating cities all across America, so Superman pledged that the carnage would stop in his home city of Metropolis one way or another. After getting one last kiss from Lois and telling her he’ll always love her, Superman rushed back into battle.
The army tried to assist Superman to no avail, as the two fought to the death in front of the Daily Planet. They traded blows until Superman finally managed to break Doomsday’s neck, but not before taking a fatal blow himself. The issue closes with reactions from Superman’s friends and family as Lois cradles his dead body in her arms, begging him to hold on for an ambulance.
8 SUPERMAN SHATTERS THE CYBORG SUPERMAN
Following our last entry, Superman remained dead for about half of an arc known as "Reign of the Supermen" which established the superheroes Steel and the Kon-El incarnation of Superboy. The storyline showed both Steel and Superboy, as well as the Cyborg Superman and The Last Son of Krypton (better known as the Eradicator) competing for the mantle of Superman in the aftermath of Clark Kent’s death. It’s revealed over the course of the arc that Cyborg Superman is actually the villainous Henry Henshaw, and along with the alien warlord Mongul, he destroyed Coast City, the home of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern.
We eventually see the true Superman return in "Action Comics" #689 (although without powers) before we see him fully retake the mantle in "Superman" Vol. 2 #82, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens. Upon returning to his normal self, the very first thing Superman does is take his cape back from Cyborg Superman, punch him through the chest and vibrate his arm fast enough to shatter Henshaw's entire body into pieces.
7 SUPERMAN STRANDS IMPERIEX AND BRAINIAC AT THE BEGINNING OF TIME
In the 2001 crossover event, "Our Worlds At War," Imperiex, the living embodiment of entropy, has detected imperfections in the fabric of the Universe following the events of "Crisis on Infinite Earths." As a result, he targets New Earth (the center point which holds the new universe together) to destroy it and cause a new big bang, allowing him to create a new, perfect universe.
While making his way to Earth, he annihilates countless planets and even entire galaxies, posing such a great threat that Earth’s heroes strike up an uneasy alliance with Darkseid and a legion of other villains. One such villain uniting against Imperiex is Brainiac 13, who, after a successful attack on Imperiex, betrays the coalition and absorbs Imperiex’s energy for himself with the plan of using it to take over the universe.
In "Action Comics" #782, written by Joe Kelly and drawn by Kano, Earth’s collective forces make one final desperate attempt to save the universe from the combined power of Imperiex and Brainiac. Using their combined efforts, they’re able to give Superman a chance to push them through a temporal boom tube, abandoning the pair at the exact moment of the Big Bang, where they are destroyed.
6 SUPERMAN VAPOPRIZES GREEN ARROW
In an arc known as "Superman/Batman: Absolute Power," the 31st Century’s Legion of Super-Villains' members Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen, and Cosmic King go back in time and eliminate key members of the Justice League. That's excluding a young Superman and Bruce Wayne, whom they raise as their sons.
In the arc’s first issue, "Superman/Batman" #14 by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Carlos Pacheco, we see that by present day, Superman and Batman have been conditioned to become the undisputed dictators of the world by manipulating the economy and killing all of their opposition. In that same issue, we see firsthand that, as a gift for Superman’s birthday, Batman has tracked down one of the few remaining vigilantes, the Green Arrow. The pair arrive in Star City and hunt down the Green Arrow, who thanks to a well-placed Kyrptonite arrow, is initially able to hold his own. However, after landing one too many good shots on Batman, the fun is over and he is vaporized by Superman’s heat vision.
5 SUPERMAN STRANGLES WONDER WOMAN WITH HER LASSO
Later that same arc, in "Superman/Batman" #15, Wonder Woman has tracked down Uncle Sam in hopes of saving the “Age of Heroes” that the Amazonian “fates” have described. After recovering the Green Lantern’s Power Ring so Sam can take up the mantle, the two find surviving members of Sam’s team the Freedom Fighters including Phantom Lady, The Ray, Doll Man, and The Human Bomb who are living civilian lives and plan their attack.
During their assault on one of Superman and Batman’s strongholds, Wonder Woman does her best to reason with Batman, explaining that in the unaltered timeline, Batman and Superman were counted among humanity’s greatest protectors. However, her words fall on deaf ears. When it’s apparent there’s no talking to him, Wonder Woman makes the decision to cut him down. Enraged by the loss of his brother, Superman viciously attacks her before choking her to death with her Lasso of Truth.
4 SUPERMAN VAPORIZED DR. LIGHT
Tensions were running high in "Justice League" Vol. 2 #22 by writer Geoff Johns and artist Ivan Reis. Shazam had traveled to the war-torn region of Kahndaq to spread the ashes of his enemy Black Adam despite their government warning Americans not to travel there. When the urn is destroyed by members of the military firing on him, he loses control, preparing to attack the soldiers. He’s intercepted by Superman and the Justice League who demand to know why Shazam is here. Before they get an answer, they're interrupted by the government-organized JLA, who inform the Justice League they are there to escort them out of the country since Kahndaq believes it is being invaded.
It’s then that the JLA’s newest recruit, Dr. Light, loses control of his light absorbing powers thanks to Superman’s natural ability to absorb solar energy. After accidentally hitting Wonder Woman (who at the time was Supes’ girlfriend), Dr. Light is grabbed by Superman, who then vaporizes his head with heat vision. We later find out that Superman had Kyrptonite inserted into his optic nerve, so he wasn't responsible for the murder, but Dr. Light’s death is very much real.
3 SUPERMAN ACCIDENTALLY KILLS LOIS LANE
"Injustice: Gods Among Us" is the prequel comic to the 2013 video game of the same name, detailing the five years leading up to the events of the game’s story Superman having taken over the world. However, in "Injustice: Gods Among Us" #1 by writer Tom Taylor and artists Axel Giménez, Mike S. Miller and Jheremy Raapack, Superman is still the hero we know and love.
The issue has Jimmy shot by The Joker, who also kidnapped Lois. Superman arrives to find Joker and Harley Quinn wearing gas masks and operating on Lois. Horrified, and also seeing them accompanied by Doomsday, he immediately begins flying the beast up into space to protect Lois and the baby (it's revealed earlier in the issue that she's pregnant). After arriving shortly after, Batman is able to piece together that the Joker used Scarecrow’s fear toxin laced with Kryptonite to make Superman hallucinate.
Batman frantically tries to warn him over their communicators, but it’s too late. Superman comes to his senses only to realize he’s killed his wife and unborn child. Things take an even worse turn when the Joker reveals the operation they were performing was turning Lois into a detonator for a nuclear bomb, and as her heart stops beating, Metropolis explodes.
2 SUPERMAN PUTS HIS FIST THROUGH THE JOKER
Following the events of the previous entry, issue #2 of "Injustice: Gods Among Us," by writer Tom Taylor and artists Mike S. Miller and Bruno Redondo, picks up with a devastated Superman kneeling in the wreckage of what was once Metropolis as he cradles Lois’ body. Wonder Woman arrives and tries to console him by reassuring Superman that this was the Joker’s fault. Superman then asks her to hold Lois’ body before taking off and telling Wonder Woman that he’ll be back soon.
Green Lantern intercepts him and tries to convince his friend not to face the Joker so as to avoid risking doing something he’ll regret, but he’s unable to stop Superman from getting to the Gotham prison where Batman is interrogating the Joker. Superman bursts through the wall, pushes Batman aside, and places his arm through the Joker’s chest. The Clown Prince of Crime dies with a maniacal grin on his face as Batman looks on in horror.
1 SUPERMAN KILLS GREEN ARROW (AGAIN)
Several issues later in "Injustice: Gods Among Us" #11, by writer Tom Taylor and artists Tom Derenick, Jheremy Raapack, and Bruno Redondo, Batman has formed an Insurgency with some of the other heroes who refuse to follow Superman. After learning about an experimental super-pill that Lex Luthor has developed in hopes of giving Superman a superhuman army, Batman plans an attack on the Fortress of Solitude in collaboration with the President of the United States, in an effort to steal some of the pills being kept there.
The President violates Superman’s worldwide ceasefire by sending U.S. Naval forces to attack Korea, a diversion giving Batman, Captain Atom, Catwoman, Black Canary, and Green Arrow a chance to break into the Fortress of Solitude. After a clash outside with Captain Atom, Superman returns to the Fortress to deal with the only Insurgency member left inside: Green Arrow. During his fight with Superman, Ollie hits him with an arrow that ricochets off his chest and hits Johnathan Kent in the shoulder. Infuriated that his adoptive father was wounded, we see Superman beat Green Arrow to death from Arrow’s perspective.
Which of Superman's kills did you find the most shocking? Let us know in the comments!