How do you kill Superman? We’re asking for a friend. You see, Kal-El has such a sterling reputation that most people think he’s invulnerable. Though they call him the Man of Steel for a reason, that title is most definitely an overstatement. Cranking up the heat on his history and hypothetical match-ups will make the Man of Steel melt.
You see, Superman has been beaten up, beaten down, and outright killed several times before. Far from invincible, he’s vulnerable to people, places, and things. His friends have the capacity to end him, his own family has the ability to destroy him, and even the slightest shift in atmosphere can leave him exposed to potentially fatal attacks. Big trees fall hard. We don’t wish ill against him, but we do seek to set the record straight: Superman has more than a few chinks in his armor.
Here are 15 Things That Could Kill Superman.
The Death of Superman was a watershed moment in comics history. Sure, Marvel Comics' original Captain Marvel had been killed off by fairly natural means, having died of cancer in a hospital bed surrounded by his comrades in arms. That one might've stung, but Doomsday’s beatdown of Superman shocked the DC world to its core. The Man of Steel had his share of setbacks over the years, having taken a few hits here and there, but he was the reigning champ of the superhero world. Superman losing a fight is one thing, but getting flat-out killed by Doomsday is another. Superman simply isn’t supposed to die. When Lois Lane cradled his broken body in the final pages of that fateful 1993 DC Comics issue, however, the impossible had finally become real.
This plot proved so devastating to readers that Zack Snyder adapted it for the big screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The fight between Doomsday and Kal-El is so visceral on the page that it’s little wonder it was moved to the DCEU.
14 Red Sun Radiation
In many respects, Superman is like a living, breathing battery. If time on the beach gives the average man vitamin D, an hour in the sun gives Supes illimitable power. Time under our fiery and yellow sun is the source of Superman’s power, but if he loses access to its potent rays, he quickly becomes vulnerable.
For Superman, time beneath a red sun is the only thing worse than the deprivation of yellow rays. For a Kryptonian such as Kal-El, red suns have the capacity to stunt his superhero potential, zapping his yellow sun reserves and weakening him a substantial degree. Though red sunlight was the native source of energy surrounding the planet Krypton, it has a deleterious effect for Superman, who has spent his entire life absorbing yellow rays on Earth following the destruction of his home planet. Should an enemy seek to destroy the Man of Steel, the battle would best begin beneath the depleting power of a red sun.
13 Mind Control
There’s a reason Batman has a backup supply of Kryptonite. The Dark Knight knows full well that a little mind control goes a long way for Superman. After all, the Man of Steel is a flying, bullet-proof, one-man army. Clark Kent may be a genuinely congenial guy, but if his brain gets commandeered by a third party (see: Martian Manhunter, Eclipso, Maxwell Lord, and others), that’s like having the nuclear launch codes uploaded to Facebook.
It’s happened before, and it will happen again. Superman has a low-tolerance mental firewall, and more than a few villains have hacked his Kryptonian database and turned him into a drone. Though it has yet to result in the Man of Steel committing seppuku, mind control has put Superman in some truly precarious positions. Indeed, someone like Martian Manhunter (whom Kal-El himself deemed “the most powerful being on Earth”) could simply subvert Supes’ mind and set him on a path of self-destruction if he wanted to.
From the comics to the animated movies to the big screen, Batman has maintained a distinguished career of beating up his significant other, Superman. Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a patently polemical comic, but there’s no avoiding the truth: Batman pulverized his red-caped opponent. Though TDKR is the most famous example of their pugilism, Batman literally killed the Man of Steel in another issue, the 1991 Superman annual. In this alternate reality, the Dark Knight wore a kryptonian ring and bludgeoned Kal-El to death with it.
Superman has most definitely returned the favor, of course, but in assessing their decades-long dance betwixt friendship and rivalry, Batman has a better track record. He also has the raw goods that have contributed to his success on the battlefield: the wealth, the wits, and the tactical precision that has made fools of the best fighters in Gotham and beyond. As for their most recent big screen meetup, there’s little doubt that the Dark Knight could’ve annihilated Kal-El during their showdown in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. If only their mothers didn't come between them. (More on that later.)
11 A Lois Lane Breakup
Just as he derives his powers from yellow sun radiation, Superman boosts his confidence via the affection of Lois Lane. When she’s endangered, absent, or emotionally unavailable, Supes can get depressed. To be his best self, the Man of Steel needs all cylinders firing at full capacity. Though most of their comics relationship has been fairly stable, Superman hit a new low in the 1969 issue of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Apparently "girlfriend" was still a two-part word in the 1960s, and also a harbinger of doom for Superman, who would soon get friend-zoned by his former lady love.
In “The Bride of Batman,” Lois Lane bails on Clark Kent and falls truly, madly, deeply in love with Bruce Wayne (not knowing he’s the man behind the mask). Standing at the altar, Superman thinks to himself, “Lois doesn’t even know he’s Batman! She’s marrying him for himself!” The humanity! Supes’ mind goes even further into sorrow, thinking, “What a twist! Me, the best man at the wedding of my best friend and the girl I love!” Though it’s revealed that this was simply an “imaginary story,” it’s clear that Lois Lane is Clark Kent’s Achilles heel.
Could Harry Potter beat Superman? That is the question. It’s not only The Boy Who Lived that presents such an existential threat, but really any character capable of using magic to cripple the hulking Kryptonian. It may sound unfair to even bring it up, but magic stops for no man – only those who can respond with spells of their own. Some have hypothesized that of all the superheroes to fall prostrate before the powers of magic, Superman is the most vulnerable.
That’s why Shazam has humbled Superman on multiple occasions. Despite being physically inferior to the Man of Steel, the man formerly known as DC's Captain Marvel merely has to reach into his bag of magic tricks to leave Superman crying uncle. While Shazam has rendered him catatonic once before, the larger effect of magical warfare will strip Superman of his ability to effortlessly access his powers, leaving him vulnerable to counter attacks he would normally sustain without hesitation.
Newsflash! Kryptonite makes Superman defenseless. In what is likely the most universally known fact in superhero lore, the Man of Steel can't cope with the radioactive, green space rock. The existence of kryptonite is so firmly established in the world of comics that new storylines for Superman must be careful not to tread heavily on the trope. Indeed, as comic writers have made green kryptonite harder to come by, other titans were forced to get clever. For example, the Green Lanterns of Earth capitalized on their emerald names and made quasi-kryptonite with their Oanite rings, putting a similarly deadly curse on the Man of Steel.
But it’s not just green kryptonite that makes Superman curl up into the fetal position. Like Baskin Robbins 31, there are many flavors of the radioactive stuff: red, blue, gold, and more. Though some affect him emotionally and others physically, they are all the primary ways to strip Superman of his strength.
8 A Neck-Snap
It’s so obvious, yet it took eighty-odd years for it to find its way into a Superman storyline. Thanks to Man of Steel, Superman showed heroes and villains alike the easiest way to kill a Kryptonian: just snap their necks like Jean-Claude Van Damme. This doesn’t guarantee an unemotional reaction to the kill, however, as evidenced by Superman’s Wilhelm scream after turning a red-eyed Zod into a lifeless corpse. It only shows that a Kryptonian neck is basically assembled the same way as a human’s, and that a misaligned vertebrae or two can lead to a total collapse of physical will.
With this elementary knowledge in mind, only one question must be asked: which characters in the DC universe (and elsewhere) could successfully manhandle Superman’s noggin? Fans of all comics tribes will readily admit that there are a great many characters who could give the Man of Steel the same fate as General Zod.
Who is older, more versed in Kryptonian culture, and possibly even stronger than Superman? Kara Zor-El, Kal’s dear cousin. That’s right, Supergirl presents a clear and present danger to Superman. While she can keep up in the skies and fly as fast as her cousin, Kara absorbs solar radiation more easily than Kal. This isn’t conjecture, or a fanboy comment meant to terrorize Superman fans. No, as it turns out, Batman himself offered his opinion and declared Supergirl to be potentially stronger than her much larger cousin. He understands the Kryptonians operate like battery cells, and he knows Kara is primed for combat. Considering he helped train her in the martial arts, Batman’s opinion is based on fact.
When battling against the Anti-Monitor, Supergirl fought the villain in ways Superman could not. She demonstrated a level of aptitude that made her cousin blush, and as a result, she gave her life so he could live. Though she may never have a reason to fight him, it’s clear Supergirl has the potential to brutalize her cousin.
6 His Conscience
How do you put limitations on a god? Writing for Superman must be a veritable challenge, demanding authors to simultaneously showcase his otherworldly strength while presenting worthy roadblocks to his character. Over the years, a litany of literary shackles have been placed on Supes, like his ability to fly lasting only as long as he can hold his breath.
Despite the many permutations on Superman’s physical capacities, however, one trait has remained strong: his inability to cut loose and fight with abandonment. More often than not, the Man of Steel eschews becoming a berserker for utilizing a much more restrained approach to defense. He hesitates, he hems and haws, and he so often withholds the full wrath of his powers. Superman knows he could obliterate 99% of the known world if he so pleased, but it’s his conscience, his almost fearful view of himself, that makes him live in a constant state of peril. While Superman has incredible technical strength, he seldom taps into his true potential, and he thereby renders himself vulnerable to weaker foes who have nothing to lose.
5 The Phantom Zone
Though it was never intended for the son of Jor-El, the Phantom Zone could be the final resting place for Superman. The famed projector may be hidden in the depths of the Fortress of Solitude, but a malicious villain wound simply have to hijack the technology to send the Man of Steel into an inescapable oblivion. Though the Phantom Zone might not outright kill Superman, it would leave him suspended in a galactic prison that renders his existence (and his powers) null and void.
Turning the projector against Superman isn’t the only tactic, of course. Knowing Clark Kent’s proclivity to obey orders, he would simply have to be ordered to enter the Phantom Zone for a crime or misdemeanor. As seen in Superman & Batman: Generations, there is legal precedent for such an occurrence. In this Elseworlds tale, Kal-El kills the Ultra-Humanite and is sentenced to a decade-long imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Despite his best efforts to escape, Superman is only freed when Batman decides he should be allowed to walk for "good behavior."
4 Cyborg Superman
Self-destruction comes from within. For Superman, a man of such placid demeanor is unlikely to implode, but when confronted with a near replica of his powers, he will surely crumble. Enter Cyborg Superman, the daunting name for two supervillains that have threatened to upend the Man of Steel’s hegemony in the Milky Way.
The more recent Cyborg, Zor-El, has all the trappings of Superman plus the ability to shapeshift. He also has heat vision, flying powers, and practically every other arrow in Superman’s quiver. But it’s the first Cyborg Supes, Hank Henshaw, that presents the greatest danger. Possessing the same DNA as Superman, this Cyborg Kryptonian is basically a Kal-El replica. Unfortunately for Mr. Clark Kent, Cyborg Supes is on the board of directors at the Sinestro Corps, so he wields a yellow power ring that can create anything imaginable. Though Hank Henshaw may be able to take down Superman by his own volition, the Yellow Ring essentially guarantees him a bloody victory.
3 Wonder Woman
Diana Prince has brutalized Superman on multiple occasions, and her reputation proceeds her at such great length that even Batman admitted the Man of Steel would struggle to best her in a fight. How close has Wonder Woman come to defeating (and perhaps ending) Superman? Let's count 'em down.
For starters, there are the less impactful but still significant moments of violence that Diana dropped on Clark. In addition to breaking his arm and making him bleed from the eyes, she has sliced him with her enchanted sword, proving that the blade could do far worse than simply cut his skin. Then there’s the ultimate showdown in Wonder Woman #219, where Diana takes Superman to the one-yard line of life. In this issue, the Man of Steel’s mind has been hijacked by Maxwell Lord, a maneuver that convinces Superman that Wonder Woman is actually Doomsday.
He enters rage mode, but even at the height of his powers, Wonder Woman stands tall. She turns his super hearing against him, using her Bracelets of Submission to explode his eardrums. Though she admits she’s holding back against him (knowing Supes is not in a right state of mind), Wonder Woman proceeds to roundhouse kick him to the ground, send flocks of birds to harass his enfeebled body, then uses her tiara to slice open his jugular. Only then does Superman yield to Diana.
Gog is the being who killed Superman not once or twice, but in a seemingly infinite loop of death. It all started after a nuclear holocaust in Kansas that left a young man dismayed. William, as he was known, decided that the event took place because Superman willed it, punishing the citizens of Earth for turning their backs on him. William created a local cult in the Man of Steel’s honor, believing him to be the Messiah until Superman finally told him the truth. As Kal-El revealed, the nuclear incident happened only because he was absent, a simple truth that sent William into despondency. After being imbued with god-like powers from the Quintessence (Zeus, Shazam, and more), William formed into Gog and funneled his newfound strength at destroying the Man of Steel.
He killed Superman and marveled at his accomplishment. Finding that insufficient, Gog rewound the clocks and went back to yesterday to kill Superman again. And again. And again, until he ran out of new ways to suck the life out of Superman.
1 Having A Mother Named Anything Other Than Martha
What’s in a name? For the Man of Steel, it’s the key to survival. In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the much-anticipated superhero showdown nearly culminates with a death blow from the Dark Knight to the Man of Steel. A well-armored Batman stands defiantly above Superman, preparing to jam his kryptonite spear through Kal-El’s skull. After slicing open his cheek (proving that Superman does in fact bleed), Batman lifts the weapon above his head before a single word stops him in his tracks: Martha.
However broken he may be, Superman still thinks about his mother, knowing she’s in the clutches of the maniacal Lex Luthor. Batman stops dead in his tracks, shouting, "Why did you say that name?!" Had Superman uttered literally any other proper noun, that kryptonite would have been lodged firmly into his head. Though many have criticized this moment as a deus ex machina, Martha has long been the name of both Bruce Wayne’s and Clark Kent’s mothers. Superman simply chose to reveal it to the greater public at a very important time.
What else could kill Superman? Let us know in the comments!