Aside from being one of the strongest superheroes who ever lived, everyone knows Superman is a stand up guy. After all his motto is truth, justice, the American way, and all that jazz. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t immune to being a jerk from time to time, or even (*gasp*) killing someone.
Right up there with his red cape and spit curl, Superman’s virtuousness exemplifies his character. The usual argument is that Superman holds himself to a higher standard and so does not kill. Only he does. Probably a lot more than you realized. What’s more, there have been some pretty good arguments on why he should kill more often and the number of creative ways he could do it. After all, what’s more dramatic: showing The Punisher and Wolverine violently maul down dozens of bad guys or have the Man of Tomorrow’s sacred maxim put to the test?
Sometimes there’s just no peaceful resolution when someone’s trying to kill a pregnant Lois Lane or implode the universe. Here are 15 Times Superman Killed His Enemies.
15. Zod (Man of Steel)
The consequences of modern movie superheroes killing people has become a hotly debated trend. It all began with one of the most obvious and infamous entries on our list — when Superman kills General Zod at the end of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.
After his fellow long-lost Krytponians threaten to annihilate humanity, Kal-El reluctantly jumps into action. In the ensuing superpowered battle, thousands of civilians die, an entire city is leveled, and Zod puts Clark Kent in a rather tough predicament. The climax is befitting the film’s overall grim tone, with Zod threatening to laser eye an innocent family to death, forcing Superman to snap the general’s neck. Welcome to the new word of the DCEU, where superheroes are murderers.
In all fairness, Zod left Supes little choice. And he is pretty broken up about it (see: that blood-curdling scream of anguish), which is understandable considering he just comprised one of his core beliefs and eliminated the only other surviving member of his race in a single horrible moment.
14. Kryptonian Dragon (Superman Vol. 3 #13)
In the “H’el on Earth” saga of Superman’s New 52 series, Big Blue finds himself in the position of killing another being from his home world, only this time it’s a massive dragon. Released the same year as Zack Snyder’s reboot, this story similarly involved a villain from Krypton attempting to resurrect their long gone planet. Apparently, this includes dragons (yep, Krypton had dragons), one of which goes on a rampage through Metropolis. Superman appears on the scene, punches the dragon in the face like a boss and is then tossed by the dragon to Ireland. After their fighting resumes amidst a mining field, Superman realizes drastic measures are in order to prevent the beast from demolishing the home of Daniel Day Lewis. Using his heat vision to set a nearby oil well on fire, Superman again makes the choice to kill in order to save lives by causing a gigantic explosion that incinerates the dragon.
Now, on the list of things to kill, dangerous fire breathing dragons are probably pretty high up there. And technically, it wasn’t even alive since it was made up of dead decaying cells, as Supes noticed during their fight. However, the dragon was sentient and Superman didn’t seem too broken up about destroying it. To make matters worse, Supergirl informs him that the beast was a tripedal curosiananium, indigenous to their home planet. Hopefully with the coming of Rebirth, the cynical days of murderous comic superheroes is over and we won’t have to see Superman kill any more endangered species.
13. Titan (Smallville Ep. 127)
During season 6 of Smallville, Clark Kent went up against the deadly fighter Titan, an escaped prisoner from the Phantom Zone wh0 looked an awful lot like Kane from the WWE. In a no holds barred brawl with the muscular Zoner, Clark eventually lands an epic upper cut that sends the villain flying on top of his own spiked weapon. He then somehow manages to get up long enough to congratulate Clark on a good fight before finally dropping dead for good.
Whether Clark meant to kill Titan is questionable since he had no way of knowing his punch would lead to the impaling. But there’s no debating his actions did directly cause the villains death. In what will continue to be a recurring theme, Clark was pretty torn up over the whole thing afterwards. Though right before delivering his knock out punch, the up-and-coming superhero flashed a sadistic smirk, showing a momentary sign that he might actually relish the opportunity to take down his adversary. Maybe Superman enjoys this type of thing more than he, or we, thought. Or maybe that’s just The CW for you.
12. Lex Luthor (Justice League Ep. 37)
Surprisingly, of all the bad guys Superman has killed, he’s rarely (in any iteration) does in his greatest foe – save for in video games and this entry. Just like Batman with the Joker, Superman needs Lex Luthor, something the genius sociopath has no problem repeatedly pointing out. In the Justice League animated series episode a “A Better World,” Superman finally hears it one too many times and gives Lex the response he had coming.
Taking place in an alternate universe, Lex Luthor has risen to the presidency and murdered the Flash along the way. This in turns leads the Justice League to storm the White House. As Wonder Woman and Batman fend off the Secret Service, Superman bursts into the Oval Office. Lex threatens to start a nuclear war by pushing an ominous red button and then, in true Lex Luthor fashion, blabbers on about how he and Superman are too good together, mocking the Man of Steel for being an accomplice in his crimes. Usually Superman just patiently waits things out and ships Luthor off to jail. Not this time. Fed up with Lex’s incessant talking, he uses his trusty heat vision to fry President Lex Luthor to death.
When Wonder Woman and Batman arrive at the Oval Office to find a crispy Lex they ask Superman if he’s ok. He turns to them and says he feels great, flashing an unnerving smile that makes Tom Welling’s smirk above look like a happy baby laughing. You gotta love cartoons.
11. Parademons (Justice League Vol. 2 #3)
If the New 52 loves doing anything, it’s turning superheroes into grim killing machines. This time around we find Superman, along with the rest of the Justice League, absolutely obliterating a swarm of Parademons, the monstrous alien shock troops of Darkseid. (You might have noticed some in the knightmare sequence from Batman v Superman.)
Just like with the dragon, it’s debatable how “alive” these monstrous aliens are. But they do bleed, or at least spew some kind of liquidy goo. And it doesn’t make seeing Superman ruthlessly dismember them any less surprising. Though to be fair, Superman killing a Parademon is probably the equivalent of one of us killing a fly. Regardless, one thing that became quickly apparent with the New 52 emo Superman was that he showed zero restraint, something well out of character for humanity’s hope for a better tomorrow. For those who found this too much to handle worry not, the old version is back with a vengeance.
10. Nuclear Man (Superman IV)
Christopher Reeve’s Superman seemed to have no problem killing his enemies. Case in point: when he throws Nuclear Man down a power plant tower in the hella ridiculous Superman IV: A Quest for Peace. Formed when Lex Luthor attaches a strand of Superman’s hair to a nuclear missile that ends up in the sun, Nuclear Man is consensually one of the worst villains ever. He considers Lex his father, crushes hard on a classless socialite, uses his long fingernails to scratch Supes, and can only fight when it’s sunny out. Lame.
Given all that, it is easy to understand why audiences lost little sleep over Superman turning Nuclear Man into a surplus of power for Metropolis’ electrical grid. Contrary to the contentious ending of Man of Steel, Superman ridding the Earth of Nuclear Man seemed entirely warranted and desirable, especially for a villain who could easily be defeated by an umbrella.
9. Brainiac (Smallville Ep. 152)
Superman’s whole no kill thing comes up in an electrifying way in the Season 7 finale of Smallville. After Brainiac attacks Clark Kent’s best pal Chloe, puts Lana Lang into a catatonic state, and sends Supergirl to the Phantom Zone, the young hero seeks out the computerized supervillain for some good old fashioned revenge. What ensues is a heated (albeit brief) back and forth on whether Superman could kill in cold-blood and deliberately take a human’s life. Clark posits that Brainiac isn’t human — so alls good — and then rams some amped up power cables into his foe, electrocuting him until he explodes.
Technically, Brainiac isn’t entirely dead. He lives on partially in the mind of Chloe and will eventually reappear the next season in a different form. But as far as the version that terrorized Metropolis above, Superman killed him good. What’s most noteworthy about this instance is that Clark knew exactly what he was doing and made the intentional choice to kill, reasoning himself out of any feelings of guilt. Guess the feelings of sentient robots just don’t count that much.
8. Dr. Light (Justice League Vol. 2 #22)
Sometimes Superman’s enemies can be good guys. Take for instance the alternate universe of “Absolute Power” from the Superman/Batman comic series, where a tyrannical Batman and Superman rule the world and the latter incinerates Green Arrow and kills Wonder Woman with her own lasso. Or how about the time he back handed Green Arrow to death in Injustice: Gods Among Us and then later destroys the living planet Mogo by pushing it into the Sun.
Then there’s the New 52 crossover Trinity War. The latest recruit of the JLA, Dr. Light, mistakenly attacks Wonder Woman. Before he has a chance to apologize, an enraged Superman (who is dating Wonder Woman) laser eyes the good doctor’s head clean off. The impulsive response is overkill to say the least and surprises everyone witness to it, including Superman.
Later it is revealed that a sliver of green kryptonite had been inserted into the Man of Steel’s optic nerve, allowing a diabolical villain to coerce him into committing the cold-blooded murder. So technically he lacked intent. Of course, none of that makes Dr. Light any less dead. Though it could be argued (you’ll notice a lot of technicalities when it comes to Superman killing) Dr. Light isn’t his enemy. Then again, anyone that causes harm to a girlfriend of Supes isn’t a friend either. Moral of the story: don’t mess with Superman’s woman.
Speaking of which…
7. The Joker (Injustice: Gods Among Us #2)
When NetherRealm Studios released its Mortal Kombat-inspired video game, Injustice: Gods Among Us, they felt it oddly necessary to explain at length why all these DC superheroes might want to rip one another’s heads off. The result is the popular Injustice comics. Amongst many other weird plot lines, this alternate reality saw Superman opening a Twitter account and Alfred beating the crap out of him. It also gave use the most horrifying entry on our list.
The Joker loves to say everyone can have one bad day. The Man of Steel is no exception. When Joker shoots Jimmy Olsen in the face and kidnaps Lois Lane (who is pregnant with the Man of Steel’s super baby) so he can perform open-heart surgery on her, we find out just how bad a day Supes can have. While attempting to rescue Lois, Joker gases him with a mixture of Scarecrow’s fear poison and Kryptonite, tricking Superman into believing his pregnant wife is Doomsday. Superman immediately flies off with “Doomsday” into space to kill his enemy from a lack of oxygen. The gas wears off and Superman realizes he’s just killed Lois and their unborn child instead. When her heart stops it triggers a monitor that has been implanted in her chest by Joker, setting off a nuclear bomb which destroys all of Metropolis and its citizens. Now that’s one bad day.
Understandably, this makes Superman upset. He walks right into Batman’s interrogation of the Joker and rams his fist straight through the Crown Prince of Crime’s heart. Batman’s expression when Superman kills Joker pretty much speaks for all of us, and these days, we’re left wondering who else the Man of Steel will kill in the upcoming Injustice 2. One thing’s for sure, the Joker has earned his spot on the list of Gotham’s greatest villains.
6. Imperiex and Brainiac (Action Comics Vol. 1 #782)
During the “Our Worlds at War” crossover, the living force of pure entropy known as Imperiex Prime slowly makes his way to Earth. Once there, he plans on turning the planet into Ground Zero for “hollowing” the entire universe. Obviously this freaks people out, so much so that DC’s greatest superheroes form an alliance with some of their greatest adversaries like Darkseid and the future extraterrestrial android, Brainiac 13.
When Brainiac betrays Earth, joins up with Imperiex and attempts to seize the being’s substantial powers for himself, Superman is once again faced with a “for the greater good” scenario. After conventional attacks prove futile, he and several others, including Lex Luthor, create a Boom Tube (it’s complicated, don’t ask) that allows a solar powered suped-up Superman to send both Imperiex and Brainiac back in time 14 million years to the Big Bang, destroying both villains in the massive explosion that creates the universe. Because comics.
Considering the whole “Our Worlds at War” ordeal had already cost 8 million lives, you can easily argue Supes made the right choice. For his part, Superman defends this drastic decision by arguing he didn’t actually kill the evil duo, but merely “spread their consciousness across trillions of light years instantly.” Keep telling yourself that, Kal.
5. Zod (Superman II)
For anyone bothered by Superman killing Zod at the end of Man of Steel, they probably don’t remember the ending of Superman II. Here’s a quick refresher: Zod, Ursa, Non, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Superman are all caught up in a Mexican standoff at the Fortress of Solitude. In a shrewd move, Superman uses his molecular de-powering chamber in reverse to turn the Kryptonian criminals into your everyday human weaklings without their knowing. What follows is a classic Superman “gotcha” moment. Zod attempts to assert his dominance over Kal-El only for Supes to crush the general’s hand and nonchalantly throw him into a bottomless pit like a bag of garbage. All to the satisfying sounds of a John Williams score. Even Lois gets in on the murdering fun, sucker punching Ursa into the abyss. Smiles abound and all around.
At least in Man of Steel, Superman felt awful over the whole neck breaking thing. Here, Christopher Reeves’ character caps off his deadly performance with a charming salute as if to say, “yeah, I did that.” To all those who say it is not in Superman’s character to take a life, kindly point them in the direction of the 1980s light-hearted killfest, Superman II.
4. Mister Mxyzptlk (Action Comics Vol. 1 #583)
When Alan Moore gets his hands on Superman you know things are going to take a dark turn. Often cited as one of the best Superman stories ever created, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” gave the Silver Age Man of Steel one last go around before the epic Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot streamlined the entire DC universe. And boy, did Moore and long-time editor Julius Schwartz make the most of his exit.
The plot sees a whole bunch of classic characters meet their demise, including Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen and even Superman’s pet dog, Krypto. Behind all their deaths is the 5th dimension trickster Mxyzptlk. While normally portrayed as a mischievous nuisance more than anything else, Moore turned him into a bored villain curious as to what it was like to be really evil. When he finally reveals himself as the true architect of all that preceded, he transforms into a mind-bending monstrous creature and chases Superman around the Fortress of Solitude. Superman eventually realizes there’s only one way to put an end to this and whips out a Phantom Zone projector. Seeing this panics the bloodthirsty prankster, and he tries to flee back to his own dimension. At the same time, Superman activates the projector, trapping Mxyzptlk between two dimensions and effectively ripping him apart. Suffice to say, Mxyzptlk dies, but not before unleashing a terrible scream.
3. Zod and the Phantom Zone Criminals (Superman Vol. 2 #22)
Superman kills Zod a lot. We’ve already touched on several of those times, and won’t even bother going into the time Russian Zod died by flying into Superman’s chest. However, there’s no ignoring one of his most famous and least ambiguous in-canon kills.
Following the Crisis on Infinite Earths event, Superman was repurposed for modern audiences. which basically meant he looked the same and adhered to the same standards, only now with a cellphone. It also meant he was decreed the only true survivor of Krypton. So in order to cross paths with any others of his race, Superman had to venture into a “pocket universe.”
The whole thing is a little convoluted, but essentially pocket universe Zod, Quex-UI and Zaora break free from their Phantom Zone imprisonment and kill the entire human population on pocket universe Earth. Superman, who travels to this alternate universe, eventually defeats them. He later learns that the mass murderers were sentenced to death on their home planet before it was destroyed. Being the Last Son of Krypton, he takes it upon himself to carry out the postponed execution, only after telling them they are worse than Nazis (ouch). To carry out the sentence, he exposes them to some deadly pocket universe Green Kryptonite, which being from a different reality, he is immune to. As the criminals collapse painfully to the ground and beg for their lives (with Zaora promising to pleasure him for eternity if he lets her live), Superman sadly watches on, shedding a tear.
Despite the whole pocket universe thing ruining much of its poignancy, it’s a heart wrenching scene. One that left Superman effed up for a long while after. So much so the three criminals haunt him as ghosts later on. As a result of all this he vows to never kill again.
A vow he pretty much sticks to until…
2. Doomsday (Superman Vol. 2 #75)
If ever there was such a thing as a noble kill, this is it. The Kryptonian monster Doomsday and Superman have fought many times in many mediums. TV, soft jazz, and most recently, Batman v Superman. There’s also the recent comic when Supes ripped Doomsday in half like a badass. But it was their first confrontation that still remains the most epic and momentous.
Everyone knows the story. Doomsday arrives on Earth, stomps the Justice League and fights full out with Superman in the streets of Metropolis until they both fall dead beside one another. In one of the biggest comic events ever, the Man of Steel sacrificed himself in both body and spirit, committing the one act he had vowed never to do again, all so he could save Earth. Now that’s a hero. Who cares if it was belittled in an all too short period by the confusing appearance of way too many Supermen, the revival of Doomsday, the end of the speculators boom and that unfortunate mullet. That’s neither here nor there. The point is Superman killed Doomsday and no one can ever hold it against him for doing so.
1. Himself (Action Comics Vol. 1 #583)
When Superman kills Mxyzptlk at the end of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?,” it has a major impact on him. We’ve already seen how killing can get the Man of Steel down, but none of those can come close to this occasion. So appalled is he at having violated his oath against killing, Superman realizes he has become his own worst enemy. As penance, he (heroically?) decides there is only one recourse. With one final super smile, Superman walks into a nearby room of Gold Kryptonite, permanently removing all of his superpowers and in essence committing super suicide.
This story brought a definitive end to the canonical Silver Age of Superman. Alan Moore has even said that he wanted it to serve as a complete conclusion to the character’s mythology. Even though the ending indirectly reveals that a powerless-Superman lived on, having taken the name Jordan Elliot and settled down to a typical middle-class suburban life married to Lois Lane, it doesn’t mean the superhero isn’t still both literally and figuratively dead. No wonder this story was billed as “The Last Superman Story.”
Did we miss any of the Man of Steel’s best kills? Let us know in the comments.