Superman is one of the most powerful heroes of all time, and as such you would think he would have a long list of great villains that would rival his abilities. Sadly, this is not the case. Apart from a handful of baddies including Lex Luthor, Braniac, and maybe Zod in a few different incarnations, Superman stories have been riddled with nonsensical bad guys with plans that consist of pick pocketing random citizens, or replacing Superman’s voice with that of a donkey.
Nothing’s worse than a wet-noodle of a villain, and Superman’s lore is unfortunately filled with those. From mindless hulks to campy hoodlums, this list is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to measuring up to the Man of Steel’s might. The villains mentioned here can be from any Superman medium; that includes anything from comics, movies, or the various TV shows that the Man of Steel has occupied. The other qualification is that they pose no real threat to Superman, or anyone else for that matter.
Here are the 15 Worst Superman Villains.
15. The Puzzler
DC’s eternal struggle to make this lackluster villain work represents a jigsaw where the pieces just don’t fit together, no matter how hard you try to push them in. The Puzzler is not just the name of one, but two failed DC villains, both of which are lame excuses for antagonists. The first made his debut in Action Comics #49, and was originally part of a Batman story. After the villain’s failed success to draw readers in, the idea was later revamped for a Superman comic, which had the Puzzler act as a low level enforcer. His specialty you may ask? Why, parlor games of course! As if a game of Tiddlywinks was enough to one-up the Man of Steel.
The second version of the character was spawned in 2002, and bears zero connection to the original. In the second go around, the character’s actual body was made out of puzzle pieces, which isn’t the ideal structure to have when fighting the strongest man on the planet. Seriously, who in DC thought that a walking talking jigsaw puzzle could put up a fair fight with Superman? At one point during their confrontation, the Man of Steel is naïvely cornered by the villain, but all he has to do to defeat her is separate her puzzle pieces and watch her fall apart. Why DC keeps trying to make this tired villain work is “puzzling” to say the least (we couldn’t resist).
14. Bruno “Ugly” Mannheim
Bruno Mannheim had the honor, or rather the dishonor, of being introduced not in a Superman comic, but in the spinoff series, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. You know a villain isn’t going to work when he starts off in Clark Kent’s plucky sidekick’s adventure stories, which often deal in silly irreverent humor.
Mannheim starts off as just another stereotypical gangster trying to stake a claim for himself in Metropolis, but eventually morphs into something much different and ultimately, confusing. He may be one of the most powerful mob bosses in the area, but really he isn’t anything that we haven’t seen before. Bearing no special powers other than greed or brutality, Manneheim was beefed up by DC when he was made leader of the Intergang, a world wide crime syndicate that answers to none other than Darkseid.
The psychopathic gangster is pretty much a hodgepodge of the best traits from other villains. He’s known to go Hannibal Lector from time to time, eating his enemies or subordinates that refuse to submit to him. He also grows several stories tall at one point after being mutated. His character seems to be as confused as we are as to whether he’s a grounded super-genius like Lex Luthor or a mad powerhouse like Darkseid.
13. Ross Webster
Ah, the abysmal Superman III, the film whose only compliment is, “not as bad as Superman IV.” There were enough problems in this movie to sink the Superman film franchise ten times over which included a cockamamie plot involving synthetic kryptonite fused with tobacco, an awkward metaphorical duel with Evil Superman and Clark Kent, and a vast array of wet-noodle villains with the otherwise fantastic Robert Vaughn playing one-note bad guy Ross Webster.
Webster is a villain so campy, so mind-numbling bland, that it’s impossible for him to appear the least bit threatening. Everything that comes out of his mouth is either a slow methodical speech or a cheesy quip that is begging for some kind of reaction from the audience. Unfortunately the only reaction he induces is boredom. After Gene Hackman’s commendable take on Lex Luthor and Terrance Stamp’s devious rendition of General Zod, Vaughn’s Ross Webster pales in comparison on almost every front. His evil scheme consists of taking over the tobacco industry, which compared to Zod’s world domination plot, isn’t the most compelling plan to watch unfold. Webster is such a terrible antagonist that he even ranked on our 15 Worst DC Movie Villains list, a testament to just how awful his super villainy really is.
Having a cool name doesn’t always ensure a cool villain; just look at Bloodsport. Great name, disappointing bad guy. Or we should say bad guys, as different henchmen have taken up the mantle of Bloodsport over the years. The first was Robert Dubois, who suffered a mental breakdown after his brother had taken his place in the Vietnam War and became a quadruple amputee. Somehow an agent of Lex Luthor persuades Dubois that Superman is to blame for all his troubles, causing him to adopt the name Bloodsport and go on a needless rampage in downtown Metropolis before being subdued after his brother confronts him.
The original run of the origin story was gritty and dark, but the following issues with Bloodsport had the character go downhill. Some time after Dubois was locked up, a fanatical racist and member of the Aryan Brotherhood, Alex Trent, takes the title of Bloodsport and starts stealing weapons from a warehouse using a teleport machine. He’s eventually captured by Superman and sent to prison, where he encounters the original villain, Dubois. The two square off in a fight, which leads to Dubois’ death, while Trent is burned alive later on in his prison cell.
A new incarnation of the character has recently appeared in Superman comics, but little has been revealed about him at this point, resulting in the character’s fate in the limbo of being a one trick pony. Too bad, as Bloodsport has the potential be a great multidimensional villain if he ever got his due again.
11. La Encantadora
Superman’s one weakness is kyrptonite, a substance that every super villain in Metropolis would kill to get their hands on. While some, like Lex Luthor, have spent an endless fortune and time to fashion the rare green rock into weapons to take down the Man of Steel, La Encantadora, real name Lourdes Lucero, is just interested in making a quick buck. Endowed with the powers by the Mists of Ibella, La Encantadora has the ability to manipulate the perceptions of others. Naturally, she exploits this power by painting some regular rocks green, and selling them to super villains as kyrptonite, who stupidly believe it’s the real deal.
While we respect Lucero’s ability to pull one over on some unsuspecting villains, it doesn’t really put her in the leagues of Luthor or Brainiac. Hustling some bad guys to make some extra cash doesn’t exactly make a great villain. La Encantadora isn’t much of an opposing threat to Superman besides toying with him using her mind games. At one point she’s able to convince the Man of Steel that the green painted rocks are the real thing, and Superman thinks he’s being affected by them. That’s about the extent of her schemes, which are really more like shenanigans.
Like his fellow DC counterparts Supergirl, The Flash and Green Arrow, Superman is no stranger to his own televised series. Starting with the black and white Adventures of Superman (which we’ll be getting to later on) and more recently to The WB dramatic series Smallville, the Man of Steel has leaped off the comic pages and onto our TV screens for the better part of a century now. During the 90s yet another small screen adaptation of Superman’s story was aired, titled Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. Implied by the title, the series focused on the romantic relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and was generally popular thanks to it’s brand of campy humor.
That’s not to say that the show didn’t suffer from some problems. Some of those campier undertones the series was so fond of tended to go a little overboard, and nothing was more corny than the array of super villains the show featured. The campiest of them all was Tempus, a time traveler from a future utopia created by none other than Lois and Clark. His dastardly plan consisted of him journeying to the past to stop this utopia from ever happening. Not the most rock solid plan when the time traveler is a dimwitted buffoon. Aware of Clark’s duel identity, Tempus keeps coming up with overly complicated plans to reveal it to the public, which fail at every turn due to his bumbling shenanigans. Frequently the cause of his own defeats because of his stupidity, Tempus is a worse time traveler than Biff Tannen trying to deliver the Sports Almanac to himself.
9. Gus Gorman
Richard Pryor is one of the most iconic comedians of the century, with his stand up routines going on to influence everyone from Eddie Murphy to Dave Chappelle. That being said, there’s some things that just don’t mix well, and Richard Pryor and Superman movies is one of them. Whoever came up with the idea of the popular comedian to star alongside Christopher Reeves in Superman III must have either been drunk or given up trying that day.
Abandoning the somewhat grounded approach of the first two installments in favor of a more silly vibe, Superman III hit a new low when they hired Pryor as a supporting player. His character Gus starts the story as a unemployed loser who finds that he is insanely good at computer hacking by chance; you know, that old story. He quickly gets a cushy job as a programmer and is taken under the wing of CEO Ross Webster, a villain that’s already made this list. Gorman is eventually seduced into making a supercomputer to battle the Man of Steel, which now appears horribly comical and dated. Pryor’s over the top schtick as Gus becomes old rather quickly, and while he’s not the sole reason of why Superman III turned out a mess, he certainly doesn’t help.
8. Mister Mxyzptlk
With a name that’s just as confusing as his character, Mister Mxyzptlk is one of Superman’s sillies enemies. Also unsurprising, he’s one of his oldest, dating back to the campy undertones of the 1940’s. One of the few impish super villains, and for good reason, Mxyzptlk is, wait for it, a trickster that comes from the 5th dimension. No, Mxyzptlk doesn’t have super strength, but he does have super pranks. The guy loves to mess with people, especially Superman who he finds fascinating to torment. And by torment, we mean switching Superman’s voice with that of a donkey.
Mister Mxyzptlk is like the Bugs Bunny of the DC Universe. He can pretty much do whatever he wants, which the comics explain by having the posession of 5th dimensional technology which appears “magical” in the 3rd dimension. How does he use this power? By pranking people. In one of his earliest appearances the superpowered imp fakes his own death when pretending to be hit by a truck. When the ambulance comes to help and loads Mxyzptlk in the gurny, he changes his size becoming too fat for the EMTs to carry. As you can tell, this guy isn’t what you would call a criminal mastermind. Still, his chidish antics are at least amusing to watch, even though we can’t take him seriously as a villain.
7. The Prankster
Like Mister Mxyzptlk, the Prankster loves, you guessed it, pranking people. Unlike his impish counterpart however, the Prankster is just downright annoying as opposed to occasionally funny. First appearing in 1942, this supervillain is all bark and no bite. His particular gimmick when committing crimes is of course various practical jokes, all of which fall flat on the floor. Obviously, DC was trying to give Superman his own version of Batman’s Joker, who had first graced comic books a mere two years earlier than the Prankster. While the Clown Prince of Crime is the perfect opponent to the Dark Knight, the Prankster going up against the Man of Steel, who is seemingly omnipotent, just doesn’t make sense.
After his original run as a simple conman, the character was rebooted for the Modern Age of comics in 1988. In an attempt to broaden the villain’s appeal, his backstory was fleshed out as the host of a long running children’s show. As the ratings for the show plummet, the networks executives decide to pull the plug, which doesn’t sit well with the Prankster. He decides to get revenge on the fat cats that gave him the boot, but not before his plans are thwarted by Superman.
Coming off as a watered down version of the Joker, the Prankster does his best to toy with Superman but never quite succeeds. While the Joker has deadly laughing gas, the Prankster uses ultra-sonic waves to make the citizens of Metropolis break out into mass hysteria. All of his shenanigans feel like a cheap rip off from the Clown Prince of Crime, and his antics just annoy Superman more than they do appear as any real threat.
6. Terra Man
Essentially a super powerful cowboy from the future, Terra-Man isn’t half as cool as he should be. As a gunslinger that uses some of the most powerful futuristic weapons on the market, he has all the trimmings to be a really interesting villain. Unfortunately he’s as about as half baked as DC villains come, coming off laughably bad in the process. The Pre-Crisis version of the character has him fly around on his noble steed, Nova, as he tries to lasso Superman, which comes across like a cockamamie version of a cheap rodeo.
The Post-Crisis version isn’t much better, with the character reworked as a greedy business mogul who has a sudden change of heart when he realizes his company is destroying the environment. Like a Captain Planet who woke up on the wrong side of the bed, Terra-Man begins attacking any companies that are hurting Mother Earth. The new backstory makes everything that could have been cool about the character turn lame. His guns were changed to be all environmentally friendly (i.e. they make plants attack people), and he has a band of lame green-thumbed thugs named the “Terra-Men.” This is one gunslinger that should have hung up his spurs a long time ago.
5. The Laughing Gas Bandits
Campy and lacking any sense of logic, the Laughing Gas Bandits were nothing more than a pitiful marketing attempt to get readers to go out and buy Hostess products. That’s right, boys and girls, comic readers of all ages, Superman wants you to know that there’s nothing better than a Hostess Fruit Pie when you’re out thwarting crime.
The Laughing Gas Bandits were never given an official story line in the comics, just a advertisement panel for the snack company, and that’s probably a good thing. The evil plan in their one-time offering consists of standing on a rooftop as they pour laughing gas on the unsuspecting citizens on the streets below. Once their victims are all uncontrollably laughing, the bandits stroll onto the curb and pick pocket anyone they see. As for the threat of Superman, the bandits thought of that, and spiked their gas with Kryptonite, ensuring the Man of Steel stay far away from their dastardly deeds.
While the bandits are busy stealing everyone’s wallets, they come across a Hostess Fruit Pie salesmen, and naturally they steal all of his treats. As the bandits munch down on the snacks, the salesman quickly sheds off his suit to reveal himself to be none other than Superman. Foiled by the superhero, the Man of Steel announces that the Bandits better enjoy those fruit pies, as they won’t be getting anymore where they’re going. Thankfully Superman was right, and the stupidity known as the Laughing Gas Bandits were never seen or heard from in comics again.
4. Microwave Man
Punch-proof, bullet-proof, capture-proof, as well as entertainment-proof, Microwave Man is just as nonsensical and goofy as his name suggests. Created in the 1930’s, he might just be the earliest terrible supervillain of all time. His real name is Lewis Pagett, who was a turn of the century scientist. He found a way to give himself superpowers with the then-new technology of microwaves. Of course this also turns the scientist evil, and he begins robbing bands, causing mayhem, the usual shtick. Unfortunately his superpowers had the side effect of bringing him to the attention of aliens, who invited Pagett to travel the galaxies with them.
After his space adventures, Microwave Man returns to Earth many years later as an old man. He’s enticed when he comes across Superman, and of course wants to test out his powers and do battle with the Kryptonian. The aliens restore his youth and Microwave Man challenges the Man of Steel to a fight. While the supervillain at first appears to have the upper hand, Superman concocts a plan to time travel them both back to the past where Microwave Man’s powers aren’t as great. He ends up not using it though, as the aliens telepathically tell him that Microwave Man will die after the fight ends. Superman takes pity on the villain, and allows himself to be defeated so he can give Microwave Man one last hoo-rah before his demise.
We might catch some flack for this one, but when boiled down to it, Doomsday really isn’t that great of a villain. Yes, he’s credited with killing the Man of Steel, a feat which made him infamous to the public, comic book readers and not alike. But aside from that, there really isn’t much that elevates Doomsday to a very note-worthy villain. Essentially, he was a character cooked up so as someone who could realistically rival Superman’s strength and kill him. He was rushed out the door so quickly that not much went into as to what makes this guy tick.
As soon as Doomsday arrives on Earth, a tiny bird lands in his hands, and he proceeds to crush it as he maniacally laughs. That’s pretty much the extent of the supervillain’s thought process. He likes to smash stuff. That’s it. He’s just a wrecking machine lug-head who breaks things because he feels like it. On top of that, he can’t fly. A trait which should give Superman quite the upper hand in a fight. All he has to do is just stay in the air and drop down to throw the occasional punch. The hero makes the unexplained reason to brawl with Doomsday the entire time on the ground, and we all know how that ends up.
Doomsday is often compared to Batman villain Bane, due to their sole purpose of defeating their respected heroes, and both being created around the same time. But at least Bane was a villain that could think for himself, who was as cunning as he was strong. All Doomsday can do is mindlessly break things, and there are already plenty of Superman villains that can do that.
2. The Mole Men
It doesn’t get much campier than this.
By 1951, Superman’s fame had skyrocketed with his appearance in comics, newspapers, cartoons and radio. It was eventually decided that a television series featuring the Man of Steel would be created, titled The Adventures of Superman. The first story was shot with the intention to be released to movie screens, and was titled Superman and the Mole Men. It has Clark Kent and Lois lane visit the small town of Silsby to report on the deepest oil well in the world. Unfortunately the deepest oil well in the world also allows access to the most diabolical monsters in the deepest darkest recess of Earth. Or in this case, the Mole Men.
For being titled after the subterranean mammal, these villains certainly don’t look like moles. They look more like several little people with obviously placed bald caps, turtle-necks and accented eyebrows, which is what they are. As villains they are neither powerful or convincing. Meant to scare the unsuspecting people of Silsby, we suspect that you’re more likely to laugh than be frightened if you eve encountered these guys walking on the street.
1. Nuclear Man
Remember when we said it doesn’t get much campier than the Mole Men? We were wrong. Nuclear Man is without a doubt the strangest, weirdest, half-baked idea for a supervillain ever concocted. Not just as far as Superman stories go, but perhaps of all time. He’s the main baddie of the worst Superman film to date, Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Ironically, people were on a quest to find their ways out of the theater when they laid eyes on the laughably bad Nuclear Man. When the Man of Steel decides to rid the world of all nuclear arms, he inadvertently creates the supervillain, who is played by Mark Pillow but for some reason voiced by Gene Hackman.
It’s just one of the many things that make this guy a complete disaster of a villain. His motivations for his evil plans are pretty much nonexistent. The only thing we know about Nuclear Man is that he has a school boy crush on the Daily Planet’s new reporter, and for some reason, he doesn’t like Superman. Other than that the villain is as about as clueless as to what he is as the audience is, and we’re forced to sit in our seats as Nuclear Man mindlessly throws things around and delivers one piece of cringe-worthy dialog after another. He’s the villain that almost tanked the Superman film franchise for good, and successfully killed the acting career of Mark Pillow, who has never been in another movie since. We would say than this more than qualifies him as the worst villain the Superman canon has to offer.