Superman basically has all the best powers. He’s unfathomably strong, incredibly fast, and ridiculously durable. He can also fly and shoot lasers from his eyes, and he’s capable of all manner of other cool things, helping him maintain his position as one of the most popular superheroes of all time and making him into a global icon in the process.
However, endless stories about a hero winning all the time with little to no effort would be dull, so over the years, writers have found new ways to nerf Superman’s awesome abilities. The Man of Steel has found himself simply being the Man of Flesh and Bone on numerous occasions over the decades, often thanks to his infamous Achilles’ heel, kryptonite. Before we start, an honorable mention must go to TV show Smallville, a series in which the times Clark lost his powers could fill an entire list on their own, with a massive 21 occurrences over the series’ 10 seasons. However, as Clark wasn’t properly Superman until the end of the show, it doesn’t really count for the remit of this rundown. Without further ado and in no particular order, here are 15 Times Superman Lost His Powers.
15. Superman #40 (2015)
In the run-up to April 2015’s Superman #40, Clark discovers he has a new and powerful ability. After being pushed to his limits while fighting the villain Ulysses, Clark unleashes a huge “super-flare”, expending all his body’s stored energy at once in a gigantic destructive blast. Kal-El defeats Ulysses, but at the cost of temporarily losing his powers (and his clothes, which were burned off in the explosion).
In Powerless, the Justice League tests the phenomenon again. Clark flares up, and after a large blast that knocks out all electronics in the vicinity, Superman is left without his signature superpowers. After the experiment, Clark claims to be hungry for once, and the JLA go out for drinks in their civilian gear. The next morning, Kent wakes up hungover and switches on the TV to news that a shootout is happening downtown. He quickly dons the cape but remembers that flying is off the table. As a reference to his first appearances, Superman can now only leap large distances instead of speeding through the skies. Supes arrives at the scene, but finds that the thugs responsible are tougher than he thought when they start lobbing crackling energy blasts at him. No prizes for guessing who comes out on top, but Clark ends up actually sporting injuries from their scuffle. This proves to be a major factor in Lois figuring out who Superman really is.
This would eventually lead to the Truth storyline where a depowered Superman has his secret identity exposed to the world by Lois Lane in an effort to undercut the leverage that hacker and blackmailer HORDR_ROOT had on the Man of Steel. It was the New 52, guys.
14. Superman II (1980)
It’s fair to say that the sequel to Richard Donner’s groundbreaking 1978 Superman movie had a rocky journey to the silver screen. Backstage arguments and a pending lawsuit from Marlon Brando meant that the movie was changed drastically from what was originally intended, with work being scrapped and started anew over halfway through production. Donner was also given the super-boot and replaced with director Richard Lester.
In the movie, Lois Lane (the tough-as-nails Margot Kidder) grows suspicious of Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) and his relation to Superman. It’s only when Clark stumbles into a fireplace and escapes unharmed that he’s forced to admit his superheroic secret. He takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude and gives her the grand tour. In lieu of a gift shop at the end, Clark drops a bombshell of a revelation on Lois instead. He professes his love for her and his wish to live the rest of his life by her side. To do this, he must strip himself of his powers and become mortal. He exposes himself to red Kryptonian sunlight in one of the Fortress’ chambers, and bam! he’s human.
This doesn’t last long, of course. When Zod (Terence Stamp) and his posse threaten Earth, Supes uses a green crystal left by his parents to reactivate his powers in order to go and slap some respect into the Phantom Zone escapees. Frustrated that Lois has become distant since learning his true identity, Clark uses his incredibly convenient mind-wiping kiss ability (?) to wipe her memory of the events of the previous few days, putting everything back to normal. Fittingly, this baffling narrative choice is also best left forgotten.
13. Superman #49 (1990)
In the first part of Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite, Lex Luthor encounters the incredibly powerful interdimensional imp Mr. Mxyzptlk. Mxy gives Luthor a chunk of magical “Krimson Kryptonite” on the proviso that he can’t tell Superman of his involvement. Luthor accepts the terms and uses the red rock to mess with the Man of Steel, robbing him of his powers and reducing him to a mere mortal. Mxyzptlk warps Supes to Luthor’s office, who proceeds in giving him a vicious beatdown, fueled by his rage at losing his hand to the effects of Green Kryptonite. After he’s done giving Clark a sound whooping, Luthor has security throw him out into the street in a showing of complete power and contempt.
With the information given, you can probably work out how this one goes — well at least some of it. Superman enlists the help of fellow superhero Starman, who impersonates the Man of Tomorrow in Kent’s absence. Starman steals the Krimson K away, and Supes sets up an interview with Lex under his reporter guise in exchange for the “recovered” rock. With the ore back in his solitary hand, Luthor brags about Mxyzptlk to Clark, unknowingly breaking his contract. Superman regains his powers and the jig is up. Not to be defeated, the imp scrapes off a sample of Luthor’s skin and becomes a lumbering monster made of human flab with a ludicrously tiny head (we’re not making this up, we promise). The fully repowered Kryptonian easily defeats Mxy, destroying the body and then literally ignoring the imp out of existence.
If that wasn’t enough to take in, the story ends with Lois accepting Clark’s proposal of marriage and the couple sharing a climactic kiss. We can’t wait for Warner Brothers to work their way around to this one.
12. World’s Finest Comics #178 (1968)
This September 1968 edition of World’s Finest opens with Batman addressing the reader directly. He informs us that the tale we’re about to read is imaginary, and will tell us how Superman became another hero named “The Nova”. Apart from rocking new duds including a mask and a cape with a stylish high collar, there’s one crucial difference. Nova has no superpowers.
While in space, Superman investigates a strange planet that looks like a gigantic avocado. He explores the planet’s surface only to be sprayed with a mysterious alien goo. The effect of the chemical is almost instant and Supes barely makes it back to Earth before blacking out. When he wakes on an army base, he’s informed that his superpowers are completely gone and he’s now as mortal as the assembled doctors. Kal doesn’t take the news well and flips out, damaging the lab (and himself) in his anguish, leaving Batman no choice but to punch his lights out. Thanks to the example set by Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne, Clark realizes he doesn’t need powers to fight the good fight. He uses an unbreakable lightweight cape that he got from Leonardo Da Vinci when he traveled back in time (no, really) to glide on air currents and hold bad guys in place. This issue and the subsequent adventures of Nova were later retconned in 2005 in the Crisis on Infinite Earths Compendium, where it was revealed that it all took place on the parallel reality Earth-178.
11. Action Comics #583 (1986)
If you know anything about the Superman comics, you’ve likely heard of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Alan Moore’s seminal imaginary tale told with his uniquely depressing sensibilities. In Part Two of the story, appearing in Action Comics #583, Superman discovers that Mr. Mxyzptlk is behind a plot by the Legion of Super-Villains that leaves Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, and even his faithful dog Krypto dead. Yeah, this isn’t the goofy imp we talked about earlier. Moore’s take on Mxyzptlk was at the opposite end of the silly spectrum, presenting us with a dark and terrifying take on the character.
The story culminates with Superman confronting Mxy and using a Phantom Zone projector on him. As the projector is activated, Mxyzptlk speaks his own name backwards to return home, but is caught between the two dimensions and literally ripped apart. Dismayed that he’s broken his no-kill rule, Supes hits rock-bottom and intentionally exposes himself to Gold Kryptonite, stripping himself of his powers. He then walks into the frozen wasteland, presumably to die. Returning to the framing device of a future Lois giving an interview about Superman’s 10-year disappearance, we see her young son Jonathan take a piece of coal and crush it into a diamond, implying that there may still be some hope for a soaring superhero in the future.
10. Convergence: Superman #1 (2015)
Unlike many of the other entries on this list, the main story of Convergence: Superman isn’t really about the Man of Steel’s depowering. The first issue starts with a supposedly nerfed Clark scampering around the rooftops of a domed Gotham City. It transpires that Clark and a heavily pregnant Lois have been living under the dome for a year, with the bubble taking away the powers of all of the captive DC heroes. Kent’s lack of abilities hasn’t stopped him from doing his best Batman impression as he scampers over Gotham’s rooftops and attempts to bust some drug dealers. The thugs are packing more than knives and bats, however, and one of them busts out a flamethrower. Instead of roasting Clark, all the flames do is burn away his vigilante costume, revealing his classic red and blue suit underneath. Superman is back! He makes short work of the dealers and flies home to find the dome has disappeared, explaining his lucky escape.
Kal arrives back home, and he and Lois have a heart-to-heart. He confesses that his downtime with her has been one of the best years of his life. The couple intend to have the baby back in Metropolis, so Superman flies high to get the lay of the land. He sees that they’re on a strange planet made from fractured realities. Supes’ reappearance is caught by Flashpoint Batman, who masterminds an attack on the potential threat utilizing the Flashpoint versions of Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Captain Thunder (Shazam). After the obligatory fight, they all reach an understanding, and Lois’ labor becomes the pressing issue. Dr. Bruce Wayne and Clark deliver the new baby Kent in the Batcave. There are definitely worse places to be born.
9. Superman #122 (1997)
Back in 1997, an attempt was made to modernize Superman for the upcoming millennium. We all know that most modernization attempts for classic characters tend to result in disaster, but that didn’t slow progress down on giving Superman a new suit and new powers for Y2K.
In The Kandor Connection, Clark finds that his powers aren’t working as they should. Worse still, he starts becoming intangible, and when he confronts several armed crooks, some stray bullets pass straight through him and injure an innocent bystander. Kal intends to get to the bottom of this mystery, and he takes Lois to the Fortress of Solitude to get some answers. It’s there that he’s sucked into the bottle city of Kandor, a tiny living metropolis home to thousands of aliens. Clark manages to escape, but not before learning that his DNA has become messed up somehow. The story was a jumping-off point for a larger arc concerning Superman becoming a powerful energy being that must wear a special containment suit to keep his molecules together (see above). Kent also gains the ability to switch his powers off, something that takes some mastery and results in many false starts. Things take a turn for the bizarre when Supes splits into two separate versions of himself, Superman Red and Superman Blue, each with their own distinct personalities. Fan reaction was mixed at best, and it wasn’t long before the two Supermen were merged back into a singularity and The Man of Steel was once again in his iconic red and blue outfit.
8. Superman: The Animated Series (1997)
Whilst not quite as well-regarded as the revered Batman: The Animated Series, Superman’s animated adventures were arguably just as good. It also delivered where it counted with solid, mature storytelling and a fantastic Lois and Clark in the form of voice actors Dana Delany and Tim Daly, respectively. The show ran for a total of 54 episodes, and is often thought of as one of the best and most faithful takes on Superman that’s ever been done, which is a huge achievement.
In the episode “Solar Power”, Superman finds his powers failing him. He begins to feel weak just as Lois is (surprise, surprise) put in mortal danger, with her cable car stalled and an energy beam cutting the mechanism holding it up. Supes zips down to save her, but struggles to hold the weight of the car, getting Lois to climb up to him for safety. The villain behind this nefarious turn of events? That would be Luminus, real name Edward Lytener. The baddie hacked the LexCorp satellites in orbit around Earth and programmed them to filter out yellow sunlight, Superman’s power source. With the globe now turned a fetching shade of red, Clark must find a way to defeat Luminus without his usual go-to abilities.
Lytener plays holographic mind games throughout the episode, but he’s undone by his own hubris, leading Clark right to a kidnapped Lois and Jimmy Olsen. Luminus fires a laser blast at Superman, which is deflected by a grabbed satellite dish into the master controls, shorting out the entire system. The LexCorp filter now gone, The Man of Steel easily dispatches Edward and hands him over to the authorities.
7. Superman: War of the Supermen #2 (2010)
The War of the Supermen arc concerned Kryptonian jerks Zod, Non, and Ursa up to their old Earth-destroying, genocidal tricks (oh, those scamps). Zod threatens to wipe out our humble blue planet after New Krypton does what Krypton always does and blows up, killing nearly all of its inhabitants. Superman enlists the help of Supergirl and the (admittedly limited) assistance of Steel, Jimmy Olsen, Supergirl’s BFF Flamebird, Nightwing, Superboy, and The Guardian to stop the planet’s destruction.
Clark and Kara end up in space, trying to head off the attack. However, Lex Luthor launches a missile stocked with Red Kryptonite through a black hole into the Sun, turning it scarlet and depriving both Kryptonians of their powers, leaving them gasping for air in the vacuum of space. Luckily for them, Flamebird steps up to the plate. Thara Ak-Var sacrifices herself by flying into space and burning the hottest she can to turn the sun yellow again. The play works, and Thara dies just before Clark and Kara’s powers return, making them able to survive in space once more.
6. Infinite Crisis #7 (2006)
Who doesn’t like a big, sprawling comic event? They’re always good excuse to give us unlikely pairings of heroes and villains, and they’re especially useful when it comes to spring clean comic continuity, often unifying realities and straight-up killing off characters whose comic sales just so happen to be flagging. As a sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, 2005/2006’s Infinite Crisis was an attempt to bring several continuities together in one epic story.
After many, many twists and turns, the evil Superboy-Prime takes his rage out on Oa, the home of the Green Lantern Corps. He smashes through the protective wall of sheer willpower, killing several Green Lanterns before Superman and Earth-Two Superman (Kal-L) grab him and fly him away to do battle. The forcibly fly him through the red sun Rao, which depowers all three men before they crash land on the sentient Green Lantern planet, Mogo. Prime beats Kal-L to death, but good old Clark triumphs over the troubled youth, putting him down long enough to be captured and held by the Lantern Corps. Clark being depowered stuck for a whole year (in the comic timeline anyway) until he regained them in the appropriately titled follow-up event, One Year Later.
5. Justice League (2003)
DC may have some problems when it comes to adapting their properties to the big screen, but they’ve been a shining example of how to produce compelling animated series for many years. Justice League was another great adaptation of DC’s back catalog. Kevin Conroy returned to lend his deep, gravelly tones to Batman, though Tim Daly unfortunately had to back out, leaving the equally great George Newbern to voice the Man of Steel. The show ran for two seasons before it was replaced with Justice League: Unlimited, which ran for a further three series before it drew to a close.
In the two-parter episode Hereafter, the JLA battles a team of lower-level villains calling themselves the Superman Revenge Squad. Toyman goes to shoot Wonder Woman, but Superman dives in front of the energy cannon’s blast, seemingly vaporizing him on the spot. What actually happens is that Clark is transported 30,000 years into the future, where he wakes up to find that his powers aren’t working under Earth’s now-red sun. Kal-El meets the immortal villain Vandal Savage, who expresses regret over killing the Justice League in his absence and expediting the planet’s demise. Millennia alone has given Savage a new perspective and he has reformed, realizing his quest for power was meaningless in the grand scheme of things. As the former baddie has had plenty of time on his hands, his lavish mansion built in the rubble of Metropolis contains a time machine. After fetching a power source — “like a miniature sun” which repowers Supes — Savage tells him all he needs to know in order to thwart the past Vandal’s plan. Clark returns to his time, and we stick with Savage as he gratefully fades into a new timeline, thanking his caped friend before disappearing completely.
4. The Final Night (1996)
The Final Night was a big crossover event that had some lasting implications on the wider DC Universe. The arc opens with an alien refugee called Dusk coming to Earth with a dire warning: an immensely powerful entity called the Sun-Eater is on its way. After several failed attempts to stop the Sun-Eater from living up to its name (including creating a second sun to distract it), the Sun-Eater engulfs our sun entirely, snuffing it out and leaving Earth a dark and frozen wasteland.
With an estimated five days before our planet becomes completely uninhabitable, the situation becomes desperate. Superman is also greatly weakened by a lack of a yellow sun and loses most of his powers. The day is eventually saved by Hal Jordan, then looking for redemption after turning heel and becoming the cosmic villain Parallax. He flies into the dying sun and absorbs all the energy from it, redirecting the radiation with the help of his green energy. The plan works and it reignites the sun, but Parallax dies at the heart of the burning ball of plasma. As for Superman? He probably got his powers back instantly and went on a celebratory flight, right? Wrong. Kal-El remained powerless for a while until after a meeting with the New Gods, who restored him back to his old self.
3. JLA: Act of God (2000)
Every good comic company has a line of imaginary stories that take established characters outside of all their pesky continuity and just have fun with them in a consequence-free environment. It also allows for a broader scope of stories and makes certain storylines possible to explore. For DC, their imaginary spin-off imprint was the Elseworlds series, which featured fantasy titles like Gotham by Gaslight, where Batman faced off against Jack the Ripper in a Victorian-era Gotham.
Others weren’t as compelling. JLA: Act of God explores the lives of the Justice League after a mysterious event called the “Black Light” permanently removes every superbeing’s powers. Many of our great heroes lose their minds, as they no longer feel they have a place in the world. Lois Lane leaves puny Clark, who in turn wastes no time in shacking up with former Wonder Woman Diana Prince. However, that relationship starts to sour too when Diana starts believing the event is a test from on high and that her faith will cause her powers to return. Kent doesn’t see it that way and leaves, winding up homeless and living on the streets. The two eventually make up, marry, and have a child together. Like in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, the story ends with the hint of a superpowered infant to carry on his parents’ legacy. The story was poorly received by fans and critics, who felt that too many of the heroes acted out of character. People especially had a problem with Lois and Clark splitting up for no real reason other than because the story needed them to.
2. Superman vs. Muhammad Ali (1978)
Superman has fought many impressive opponents outside of the usual DC universe over the years. He’s grappled with Marvel heroes like Spider-Man, the Xenomorphs from Aliens, and the Schwarzenegger troubling Predator. The most interesting of all these, however, is probably the time he went toe-to-toe with boxing legend Muhammad Ali.
We know what you’re thinking. Ali was great in the ring, but surely, Supes would trounce him. Not so much, as it turns out. An insane alien leader by the name of Rat’Lar comes to Earth demanding a champion to fight his species’ champion, a behemoth called Hun’Ya. Superman and Ali both nominate themselves for the position, and Rat’Lar decrees that they should fight each other to determine who becomes Earth’s representative. There is one small hitch. The fight takes place off-world in the light of a red sun, reducing Supes to human levels of strength and speed.
The match takes place and Ali runs rings around the Man of Steel before knocking him down for the count. Ali goes on to face Hun’Ya, whom he also beats, making him the greatest fighter in the universe. Clark regains his powers after returning to Earth and is shocked to find out that Ali has figured out his secret identity. The original peoples’ champ (sorry, Dwayne) promises to keep it a secret, and the two men shake hands to close the issue, with Ali declaring that they’re both “the greatest”.
1. Superman/Batman #53 (2008)
Issue #53 of Superman/Batman starts with the duo on a museum tour (in their civilian guises, naturally). Suddenly, the villainous Silver Banshee appears and grabs an artifact called the Cawdor Brooch. Superman dons his cape and takes the fight to her, and Batman bursts onto the scene moments later, but both are left defeated as the Banshee screams into the night. After the encounter, Kal-El finds himself without X-Ray vision, whereas Bruce is suspiciously fine after receiving a nasty beating. It soon transpires that the two have switched powers, meaning that Batman gets god-tier abilities and Clark gets bupkis.
Batman is soon drunk on his newfound power and starts a global patrol, getting more than a little heavy-handed when dealing with mortal crooks. Bruce becomes obsessed and a little deranged in his one-man crusade for justice, and the Justice League group together to take him down, but fail miserably. They end up reasoning with SuperBat and Bruce zips back to Earth, away from their awkward questioning. Kent confronts Wayne with the recovered brooch, and with some help from Zatanna, he manages to reverse the process. Not only did the storyline remind us of the great responsibility that Superman carries, but it also outlined Batman’s mental state and how he’s only a short (but oh-so-important) step away from becoming a villain himself. It basically reaffirmed everything we love about both characters in one neat narrative, and you can’t ask for much more than that.
Can you name any other comics in which the Man of Steel lost his mojo? Let us know in the comments.