Normally, Superman is the guy who saves the day. It's what you'd expect from the guy who is invulnerable, can fly, and has more than even he can remember at any given time. However, there are times when supervillains manage to get the best of the Man of Steel, and it's up to other characters to save his life. Sometimes, it's the characters that you would expect to bail him out, like Batman or Aquaman. Sometimes, it's the characters you least expect, such as Robin or Jimmy Olsen. However, the truth remains: without these characters around, Superman would have died a long time ago. Well, he would have died more than he already died a long time ago, at least.
Understanding the times that other characters have had to save Superman's life is actually really important for fans who are looking forward to the Justice League movie, too. That movie seemingly starts with the premise of Batman putting together a team to fight evil after Superman has died in his clash with Doomsday. However, everyone knows that Henry Cavill's going to get back into that tight spandex sooner or later, and he's going to need the support of the entire Justice League to fight the invading Steppenwolf and his boss, the big baddy Darkseid.
Without further adieu, you need to put on your most mild-mannered glasses and check out this guide to 15 Times Superman Needed To Be Rescued.
15 Booster Gold
DC Comics series 52 chronicled what happened when Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman were all off duty for a year. While Batman and Wonder Woman were taking a break to learn how to be better heroes and people, Superman was in a kind of forced retirement, as prolonged exposure to a red sun during his fight with Superboy Prime rendered him powerless. He tried to focus on just being Clark Kent, which nearly got him killed when he chased a story.
The big ongoing mystery of the 52 series was Supernova's identity. This was a “new” hero (later revealed to be Booster Gold in disguise) who had appeared in Metropolis. Clark Kent’s editor Perry White chews Clark out because he failed to get the scoop on this new hero first, and even fires Clark. In response, Clark hops out of a nearby window. Perry thinks it is a suicide attempt, but Clark was actually counting on Supernova to catch him. When this happens, Clark asks for an interview in a cute inversion of how Lois Lane previously secured interviews with the Man of Steel.
Based on this interview, Clark gets his job back and, when his powers return a year later, gets his cape back, too.
14 The Earth
Whether Batman or Superman would win in a fight is always a contentious issue among fans. Even though this conflict was the basis for an entire movie, the fierce debate continues. Much of that debate draws on the Dark Knight Returns comic, in which Batman temporarily beats Superman. However, Superman is in a very weakened state, and he would have already been dead if not for the most unpredictable savior: the Earth itself!
In this comic, Superman was a servant of the American government; one of the last sanctioned superheroes. When tensions with the USSR result in the launch of a special nuclear missile, Superman goes to detonate it from a safe distance, taking the full brunt of the blast. This severely hurts him while also blotting out the sun, keeping him from recharging. He would have died but is surprisingly able to absorb the solar energy from the plant life around him. He credits this as the Earth honoring his service and protection of the planet for all these years.
Speaking of Dark Knight Returns, that comic had a somewhat disappointing follow-up, The Dark Knight Strikes Again. This comic gave some context for why Superman was so willing to be a lapdog of the American government. As it turns out, Superman is being kept in check because Lex Luthor and Brainiac have the shrunken Bottle City of Kandor and simply threaten to eradicate the final remnants of Kryptonian life anytime Superman tries to disobey.
Batman and his team are eventually able to rescue Superman from this life of servitude. A major part of this plan is getting a shrunk-down Atom inside Kandor, where he is able to restore the Superman-like powers of the tiny population. They are able to eliminate the threat of Brainiac while Batman helps end the threat of Luthor.
It doesn’t take long for Superman to return the favor by saving Batman from his cave’s self-destruct sequence, which Batman activated to help kill a murderous and psychotic Dick Grayson.
12 Lois Lane
Superman Returns was a beautifully flawed movie. Conceived as a sequel to the original Richard Donner films, the movie’s plot continued Lex Luthor’s fascination with utilizing land as the key to gaining power and influence. Luthor attempts to create a new, Kryptonite-infused continent, and Superman has no powers when he is on its surface. This leads to a tonally bizarre scene in which Luthor straight up shanks Superman with Kryptonite and leaves him to die.
In a fun inversion of their usual routine, Lois Lane is able to save Superman. With the help of her fiancée, Lois gets Superman to safety and removes the Kryptonite from his body. Once the sun heals him back up, Superman decides to work smarter and not harder, lifting the growing Kryptonite continent up through a shield of soil before tossing it into space. Interestingly, this was the same move many critics wanted to pull on the movie itself!
11 Jimmy Olsen
Arguably, the best distilled Superman experience was Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman. The short series focused on a basic conceit: what would Superman do when he finds out he is dying? Along the way, Superman gets infected by some black Kryptonite and becomes out of control and violent. He ultimately gets saved by the most unexpected source: Jimmy Olsen!
How, exactly, does scrawny Jimmy Olsen stop Superman? He ends up taking an experimental compound from P.R.O.J.E.C.T. Labs and turning into a Doomsday-like monster! He is able to defeat Superman before he can do any permanent damage, essentially saving him from himself and allowing him to return to normal. It’s an entertaining moment in a great series, and it’s refreshing to see Jimmy Olsen finally earning that whole “Superman’s best friend” title.
10 Vandal Savage
Normally, Vandal Savage is an outright villain. He has tormented the Justice League as a team as well as Bruce Wayne in the Return of Bruce Wayne comic. And over on the CW, he was the memorable antagonist for the first season of Legends of Tomorrow. However, in the Justice League Unlimited episode “The Hereafter, Part II”, he serves as the very unexpected savior of Superman!
In this episode, Superman has been zapped into a future where Vandal Savage has taken over the Earth. However, he did so at great cost, killing everyone else on the planet with a gravity-controlling weapon. As the millennia pass, Vandal Savage reflects on what he has done and regrets his actions.
He even builds a time machine, but timey-wimey rules keep him from going back to a time period where he was alive. However, there is no rule keeping him from sending Superman back to the point that he disappeared from. Thus, the reformed Vandal Savage not only saves Superman by sending him back, but saves the Earth by ensuring that Superman stops the younger Vandal Savage from killing everyone on the planet!
9 Green Lantern
There have been many different versions of Superman over the years. This ranges from the USSR Superman in Red Son to the evil Ultraman of the Crime Syndicate of America. One of the more remarkable versions of Superman, though, is the one from Justice League 3000. This comic showed a future where the galaxy was controlled by five god-like beings. In response to this threat, the Justice League was brought back to life via genetic samples and genetic engineering. However, some of the heroes got lost in translation.
For instance, Superman wasn’t quite as strong as he was supposed to be. More importantly, he wasn’t able to fly, and he kept forgetting that fact. And he would do so at the worst possible times, such as when Green Lantern was transporting the rest of the League. Superman tried to fly on his own and immediately started plummeting to the ground. This would have killed this more vulnerable incarnation of Superman if Green Lantern hadn’t managed to catch him!
It’s not every day that Robin gets to save someone like Superman. In fact, it’s a red-letter day if Robin simply remembers to put pants on in the morning. However, there was a memorable comic in which his quick wits helped to save the Man of Steel from the evil alien Mongul - “For the Man Who Has Everything.”
The premise of the story is that Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman are all bringing birthday gifts to Superman at the Fortress of Solitude. However, Superman is being help captive by Mongul, who has placed an alien life form on him called Black Mercy. It basically sucks the life out of its host while making them live out a kind of inner fantasy (in this case, one where Krypton did not blow up and Superman grew up with his biological parents). Batman tries to get it off and it gets stuck on him, which allows Superman to fight Mongul.
However, Mongul gets the upper hand and is about to kill Superman when Robin, using Mongul’s own gauntlets, throws the Black Mercy at Mongul. Thus, Superman is saved just in time to open his presents.
Sometimes, other characters save Superman in a very public way. Other times, though, some characters perform a save so sneaky that you didn’t even know they were ever there. According to director Zack Snyder, this was the case in the Man of Steel movie, in which Aquaman (a character who had not yet been shown onscreen) allegedly saved our favorite alien!
Relatively early in the movie, Clark Kent saves some oil rig workers, but an explosion knocks him, unconscious, into the sea. We see him slowly sinking into the depths, and later (post-flashback), he is on the shore. What happened in-between? We can see whales floating by over Superman while he is in the ocean, and Snyder confirms that those whales, under the control of Aquaman, saved Superman’s life. This all happened off-camera, presumably because the internet wasn’t ready to see Jason Momoa give Henry Cavill mouth-to-mouth!
6 Lex Luthor
Normally, Lex Luthor is the last character you think of when you think of someone saving Superman. After all, Lex is the bad guy unleashing Doomsday in Batman v. Superman to kill Superman, the guy shanking Superman in Superman returns… typically, he is opposed to everything Superman stands for. However, in the Forever Evil comic, Luthor led a group of bad guys who saved the planet, and he capped his unexpected accomplishment by saving Superman’s life!
In this story, Earth has basically been taken over by the Crime Syndicate, and the first thing this group did was incapacitate the Justice League. Lex Luthor, possibly realizing that the Earth is where he keeps his stuff, assembles a new Injustice League of characters like Black Manta, Black Adam, Captain Cold, and a new Bizarro Superman.
Along with heroes like Batman and Catwoman, they defeat the Crime Syndicate, but Superman is still in danger, as the villain Atomica had placed Kryptonite in his brain. Luthor removed the Kryptonite, saved Superman’s life, and ended up becoming a member of the Justice League!
In 2015, DC Comics ran a weirder-than-usual event called Convergence. The story involved Brainiac assembling characters from lost timelines and placing them in specialized domes. In The Adventures of Superman, the Man of Steel and Supergirl are trying to use the Phantom Zone as a way to escape their particular dome when Superman is attacked by a large group of criminals that reside in the Zone.
Superman is overcome by these thugs and may well have been killed by them, but Supergirl returns and saves them. Her return is extra-heroic because she has received a vision of her future, including her death at the hands of the Anti-Monitor. She decides it is worth returning to Earth in order to sacrifice herself to save the world, and her cousin Superman in the process!
4 Martian Manhunter
Sometimes, superheroes have the most mundane vulnerabilities. For all of his otherworldly strength and speed, for instance, even Superman has to sleep. And in the Justice League episode “Only a Dream, Part 2”, Superman is being held captive in a nightmare by the villainous Doctor Destiny.
Destiny’s deal is that he can trap people inside terrible nightmares. Superman, for instance, is having a terrible nightmare in which he loses control of his powers and ends up killing those he cares about the most. Fortunately, the Martian Manhunter is able to enter the dreams of Superman and the other League members who were affected and bring them back to reality.
Bonus points go to Batman in this episode, who was ultimately able to keep the increasingly-powerful Doctor Destiny out of his head by repeating nonsense nursery rhymes.
3 The Flash
Love it or hate it, the New 52 gave DC Comics a fresh chance to introduce their various characters to each other. In the first issues of the new Justice League, we got to see the various alpha personalities of the Justice League try to work together as a team to push back the threat of an invading Darkseid. However, the initial conflict with Darkseid may have been even shorter if Flash hadn’t saved Superman!
Darkseid wasted no time firing his Omega Beams. When he first starts doing so, Flash grabs Superman and helps the Man of Steel dodge the beam. This is a big deal because Darkseid’s Omega Beams are supposed to be impossible to dodge. Flash’s impressive feat is short-lived, however: Superman gets zapped later in the same issue and is knocked out with one shot!
Speaking of Darkseid, he made a pretty impressive appearance in DC’s animated universe in the cheekily-titled Superman: The Animated Series episode “Apokolips… Now!” The episode centered on Darkseid and his forces invading Earth (what can we say… the man has a pattern), and things end up looking grim for Superman and the entire planet. In fact, Earth would have ended up as the new Apokolips except for the intervention of Darkseid’s son, Orion.
Orion had appeared earlier in this two-part episode, and then left to go report to New Genesis. He left Superman a communicator, but that thing gets damaged in a later attack. Thus, Superman must take on Darkseid with only the help of local law enforcement. The battle does not go well, and just when it looks like Easrth may fall, Orion returns, along with soldiers from New Genesis.
Orion gets the ultimate “screw you, dad” in on Darkseid by telling him Earth is now protected by the Highfather and the other gods of New Genesis. Thus, Orion canceled Darkseid’s invasion plans forever (or at least until the Justice League movie sequel).
1 Last Son of Krypton
Perhaps the greatest Superman save was when he was brought back from the great beyond. Back in the day, Death of Superman was one of the biggest comics events ever. The world saw Superman die defeating the brainless beast Doomsday, and there was a prolonged story afterwards where Superman’s friends mourned him. Later, a bunch of Superman impersonators showed up, followed by the real Man of Steel coming back (with a neat black suit and awesome '90s hair, no less).
So, what happened? It turned out that soon after his death, one of these new supermen, the so-called “Last Son of Krypton,” took Superman’s body to a regeneration chamber hidden inside the Fortress of Solitude. This wasn’t exactly an act of mercy, though, as the “Last Son of Krypton” was actually the villain named The Eradicator, and he was using Superman as a living battery to power himself. When the regeneration matrix broke open, Superman was weakened, but eventually got his full powers and colorful costume back!
To see who is going to save Superman next, be sure to check out the Justice League movie, premiering on November 17th, 2017!