Whenever a discussion about who could beat Superman comes up, people always bring up the toughest characters around with the most super powers, and even then there is a lot of debate to be had. When you're known as perhaps the most powerful superhero in comics, people aren't expecting you to go down easy. And yet Superman definitely has come out on the losing end of more than a few encounters - some of which were against opponents who don't even have superpowers.
This isn't meant to say any of these characters should be considered stronger than Superman, or that all these encounters are canon. Obviously under normal circumstances most of these people wouldn't stand a chance. But it's still fun to look at some of the people who triumphed over Superman using some ingenuity instead of raw power.
If you think you need superpowers to stand a chance, here are 15 Non-Powered People Who Beat Superman.
You had to know just from the title of this article that Batman would have a place on it. And why wouldn't he? Of all the characters we are going to mention, none have had a higher success rate against Clark than Bruce. Of course Superman also got a few wins against the Dark Knight, but what has left a more lasting impression among fans are the times when Bruce defied the odds to emerge triumphant.
We don't have to go back very far to find an occasion where Batman was victorious. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice showed movie goers how it could be done. Sure, it took some heavy duty armor for Batman, and ample usage of Kryptonite to debilitate Clark, but it was still a tough fight. At the end Clark still laid at the mercy of Batman with a Kryptonite spear pointed at his throat.
14 LEX LUTHOR
If Batman was the one hero you knew we would be mentioning, then Lex Luthor has to be the one villain that you knew would show up for sure. Lex has beaten Clark in a variety of ways over their long history, often thanks to endangering people Clark cares about, or using new technology to incapacitate the Man of Steel. Obviously the most well-known way to take out Superman is Kryptonite, and Lex has made ample use of that too.
Even going all the way back to the '30s, Lex has used Superman's greatest weakness to leave him for dead. Lex even used curing cancer as a ruse to earn Clark's trust, as seen in Superman # 149. When Superman came by to check out what he thought might be a redeemed foe, he was captured by Lex.
Lex used so much Kryptonite on his rival this time that he actually killed Superman; obviously it was non-canon, but it was still impressive.
13 WHITNEY FORDMAN
This name might not ring a bell, but that's because there is truly nothing extraordinary about Whitney. He's not a hero or a villain in any way. He was simply an ordinary high school jock, which might make this Clark's most humiliating defeat. In the first episode of Smallville, Whitney was getting jealous when his girlfriend seemed to be taking an interest in Clark, so Whitney decided to get some payback by targeting Clark for the school's hazing ritual.
The jocks would choose some poor kid to take out into the cornfield and string him up like a scarecrow in his underwear. People who aren't Smallville fans might wonder why Clark didn't just fight back, but he didn't really have much of a choice. Whitney's girlfriend had given him her necklace made of a meteorite, and he decided to put it around Clark's neck prior to the hazing. And as we all know, space rocks can have a really debilitating effect on Kryptonians. So Clark was left totally helpless against an ordinary jock.
12 MUHAMMAD ALI
Superman has had a lot of unusual crossovers through the years, so an encounter with Muhammad Ali honestly isn't that weird comparatively (especially when you figure Superman has crossed over with the Nesquik Bunny). But at first glance even a star boxer like Ali shouldn't stand a chance against Superman. Things get a bit more even, though, when it turns out this is actually a bout arranged by the two for their fans, and part of the terms was Clark had to give up his powers to make it a fair fight.
In a straight up boxing fight between two powerless men, suddenly Ali doesn't sound like such a longshot. And he shouldn't, because Ali actually won the match quite handily. There's no shame in that, though. We're talking one of the best boxers to ever set foot in a ring, while Superman isn't even known best for his hand-to-hand combat.
Besides, the two of them later teamed up to take down a bunch of space aliens, so Clark still had a victory in the end.
This one is certainly debatable. In the Injustice games we have some of the biggest names in DC (plus some guest characters) all fighting each other. The first logical question anyone had was, how could characters like Catwoman possibly compete in a fighting game against people like Superman and stand the slightest chance? To give any character an excuse for being able to beat anyone else, the explanation of the super pills were given.
Superman had created a medicine to give himself a super army, but it fell into the hands of all the heroes as well. Every character in Injustice is on super pills which gives them enhanced strength and durability; essentially an excuse for making Injustice a fair fighting game. The question is, can you really call something a superpower when every character in the game has it?
At that point we'd say it's just an ordinary ability. So in the arcade mode for Injustice when Catwoman faces Superman at the end of her journey, you could say she is simply able to defeat him on a level playing field rather than through any superpowered advantage. And when she triumphs, she and Batman stand alone as Gotham's greatest protectors.
10 RA’S AL GHUL
Though Ra's al Ghul is known for using his Lazarus Pits to extend his lifespan beyond normal, that doesn't give him any extra combat powers, so he's essentially an ordinary man all things considered. And yet he has proven one of Batman's most enduring foes because Ra's has an intellect that can match Bruce's. And if there was any doubt of that, the Tower of Babel storyline cleared up any misconceptions.
Batman is known for having contingency plans against his opponents, but in this story, it's revealed he even prepared countermeasures against his allies in the Justice League in case they ever fought. Ra's learned of these plans and wound up utilizing them himself, letting Batman's legwork lead to the Justice League being taken out of commission.
Debilitating even just Wonder Woman or the Flash would have been impressive, but Ra's took out the whole league. Even Superman couldn't resist, getting sidelined thanks to some Red Kryptonite that Batman had invented for subduing his friend if need be.
9 IRON MAN
Much like Batman, Marvel's Iron Man is just a really rich guy who has taken it upon himself to fight crime. Lots of characters between Marvel and DC are compared for their similarities, so it's pretty fitting that they have squared off against each other at various points. Of particular note is when the entire Justice League went up against the entire Avengers. While there were no definitive victors in the encounter, there were some cool moments.
Superman and Thor had a moment to clash one on one, and Clark actually overpowered the god and briefly wielded Mjolnir. It was a neat scene, but Clark didn't have long to enjoy it. The other Avengers were so outraged at Thor being taken out that they all jumped Superman at once. Yeah, Iron Man was just one of several heroes in on the beat down, but you know someone like Tony would have no problem bragging that he was part of an attack that defeated Superman.
8 DAMIAN WAYNE
In the storyline of the Injustice games, Damian Wayne winds up taking over the mantle of Nightwing. Just like everyone else in the game, he was making use of the super pills to have a new normal where he could stand a chance against Superman. It's not like Damian could suddenly fly or use heat vision. He was the same guy as always, except his life bar in the game didn’t deplete any faster than anyone else’s. And that was enough for him to be able to defeat Superman.
Unfortunately for all of you Damian Wayne fans out there who might have been hoping for this to be Damian's big chance to be a hero, he merely replaced Superman as the top tyrant. Damian's victory went to his head, and eventually his new attitude caught the attention of Sinestro. A Yellow Lantern ring came to Damian, offering him true superpowers.
7 THE GOVERNMENT
In the story of Flashpoint we see how even the government is capable of subduing Clark.
In stories like the Man of Steel movie we are shown a Superman who winds up being raised by the Kent family, and when he finally unveils his powers to the whole world he is capable of defending himself. So while the government isn't powerless against Superman, they aren't likely to pose a problem for him for long.
However, Flashpoint shows us what could have happened if a young Superman had landed right in Metropolis and been found by the government instead of the Kents. The result is the government captures him and keeps him depowered for years by locking him underground, away from the sun that would restore him to full strength. It takes the other Justice League members to finally break him out and free Clark from being a tool for the government.
6 GREEN ARROW
Though Oliver is undeniably an agile and acrobatic guy, there is not much that sets him apart from a normal man except for his ability as a marksman. It's a skill, but certainly not anything supernatural. Yet using just those tools that anyone could utilize, Green Arrow has managed to take out the Man of Steel. Though admittedly Oliver did not do it on his own.
Lots of people think of The Dark Knight Returns as the story where Batman beats Superman, but you can't overlook Green Arrow's role in the victory. Without Oliver's Kryptonite arrow and a shot that few men could make, Clark would never have been debilitated long enough for Bruce to gain the upper hand. Oliver kept Bruce in the fight and played a pivotal role in ensuring Bruce's plan would work.
When you talk about The Dark Knight Returns the Green Arrow definitely deserves a mention alongside Batman as being someone who defeated Superman.
You probably don’t recognize this guy’s name, but that’s not because you’re out of the loop on any cool Superman villains. Rajiv was a pretty ordinary terrorist enemy who Superman normally would have been able to swat aside like nothing. But Rajiv had the good fortune to take on Clark during a period when the latter had lost his powers, making him far easier to capture. In Superman: The Man of Steel # 63, Clark was tied up and in need of rescuing. In a role reversal, this time it was Lois Lane saving Clark.
If you’re used to Lois being a helpless reporter who can’t do anything when trouble arises, this issue was quite a change. Lois goes to the terrorist base all by herself and takes on armed guards, blows up their base, frees herself and Clark from capture, and knocks out Rajiv. Not bad for a woman without any powers.
Yeah, aliens is a pretty vague title for this entry, but we’re not really given much more to say about these characters. Superman is an alien, but we know his name and his history and so many other details, but these aliens in Lois Lane #29 literally show up for two panels and don’t have so much as a word of dialogue. Despite that, though, they did succeed in taking out Superman in a plan that required the entire Justice League to rescue him— not to mention requiring Lois Lane to make out with all Superman’s friends.
The explanation for this silly story is Superman has been debilitated by Kryptonite from these aliens, but he’s able to send a message to Lois for help. She’s being monitored, though, so she devises a sneaky way to get some Red Kryptonite to Superman so he can free himself—putting the Red Kryptonite in her lipstick and kissing everyone on the Justice League so it gets passed onto their lips. The League members wipe it off and get the lipstick stained tissues to Superman so he can get free himself from these aliens whose motivation is never revealed.
The last non-powered character from the Injustice games that we have to mention is Barbara Gordon. Despite this story existing with the continuity of Barbara becoming paralyzed and taking on the name of Oracle, Barbara recovered from her injury and resumed being Batgirl. Like everyone else in the game, her standard for normal had become based on the super pills that were basically a justification of why no character’s life meter depleted faster than anyone else’s.
In Batgirl's arcade ending she is seeking vengeance for the murder of her father thanks to Superman and his supporters. Batgirl finally gets her payback when she faces Clark and the player inevitably defeats him in the game’s arcade mode. Though it’s obviously non-canonical (which can be said of the entire game), we do see an ending play out depicting what happens when Batgirl manages to defeat Superman. It became a big return to crime fighting for Barbara, and made Batgirl a name to be respected and feared once again.
2 HARLEY QUINN
Fans might debate whether Harley Quinn actually counts as a powerless character, but beyond rare circumstances, there isn't much evidence that she regularly has super strength, enhanced speed, or anything else extraordinary about her attributes. Besides, you kind of have to throw logic out the window for this encounter since this takes place during the miniseries called Harley's Little Black Book, which featured her unreliable narration of how she bested a bunch of different heroes. Her take down of Superman was particularly funny, though.
Remember everything we said about Clark's fight with Muhammad Ali? Well this is a retelling of that same story... except with Harley filling in for Ali.
Once again this is a boxing match between the two characters, and to make it a fair fight Clark has given up his powers. And while fans might not bat an eye at Muhammad Ali knocking out a depowered Superman, some people were a bit irked to see Harley doing the same thing. She's not exactly packed with muscle or anything, so apparently Clark is even weaker than a skinny clown girl.
Just remember everyone: Harley only knocked him out in her own telling of this story, so take her word for what it's worth.
Obviously the Joker is best known as Batman's nemesis, but he and Superman are no strangers either. The Clown Prince has beaten the Man of Steel on several occasions, but probably his most impressive victory came as the premise for Injustice: Gods Among Us. This isn't another instance of us talking about the player having the chance to control a non-powered character in beating Superman during the arcade mode, though. Joker's plan went off without a hitch in the opening cut scene.
The Joker finally tricks Superman into breaking his rule against killing in a major way, with Clark inadvertently killing Los. The plan also sets off a bomb in Metropolis, killing tons of people. Everything Superman had tried to protect for so long had been destroyed because of him. Superman was so furious he outright killed the Joker, which no doubt would have just delighted the clown more to see how far he made Clark fall.
Which defeat do you think was Superman's most embarrassing loss from an ordinary human? Sound off in the comments!