Superman is arguably the world’s greatest superhero.
The man stands for truth and justice. He’s a hero who’s always trying to always do what’s right. Thus, because he is such a leader amongst men, he leads the world’s greatest superhero team: the Justice League. Say what you will about any Marvel equivalent, but it’s hard to beat a team that has Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Man of Steel himself.
With the release of Justice League, these heroes will be banded together by a common cause of crime fighting, all led by our boy in blue.
Except, wait, he’s not even in the posters for the film. Also, he died in the last film! So how can he lead?
Hold up, how many times has Superman actually left the Justice League?
Turns out, way more than you think. Superman is seen as the face of the League, but he often isn’t around. Sometimes he quit, or was out of commission or occasionally he even dies (don’t worry, he always comes back.) We even found a few examples of him betraying the spirit of the Justice League, which feels like an abandonment all in itself.
And so, we present to you, 17 Times Superman Totally Abandoned The Justice League.
17. Refuses to join – JLA: Year One
In the late ’80s, DC worked hard to streamline every universe in its convoluted multi-verse into one simple story. A big portion of this was reworking the origin story for The Justice League of America, including the fact that Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman were not part of the original team, since they were just getting started as superheroes at this time.
Ten years later, more details would be revealed in JLA: Year One. Here we learned that Superman actually was approached to be a founding member, but rejected the offer, saying his responsibilities were already too great to join. This created some serious animosity between Super and the other heroes, which only dissipated when he finally became a member of the team later on. Also, of course, he was still given founder status into the JLA, because he’s Superman. What are you going to do?
16. Goes crazy when Lois dies – Injustice: Gods Among Us
Similar to the “Justice Lords” episode above, this fantastic video game set up another example where Superman is pushed too far, abandoning the protective nature of the Justice League and turning it into something darker.
After Joker destroys Metropolis and tricks him into killing poor Lois Lane, Superman goes, well, bananas. He kills The Joker and sets himself up as supreme leader of the world. Basically, it’s hard to say no to an unstoppable monster man, so the rest of the JLA falls in line.
Then of course, they find our Earth…
This was all basically a setup to have some of the greatest heroes fight each other in a pretty spectacular video game, but the point remains: Superman has so much responsibility riding on his shoulders and it doesn’t take a lot to have it crush him and the JLA along with it.
15. Works for Ronald Reagan – The Dark Knight Returns
A classic in comic book lore, Frank Miller’s fantastic The Dark Knight Returns has The Man of Steel forced into brutal government work and pits him against one-time ally, the Batman.
Bruce Wayne, at 55, comes out of retirement to stop the crime that has taken over his beloved Gotham. Superman, working for President Regan, is being forced into fighting literally explosive situations around the world in hopes of stopping World War III. However, when Batman does a better job keeping citizens safe than the government, Superman is sent to arrest the vigilante. Things do not go well.
As you may have seen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there’s an epic fight, with a weakened Superman and an exoskeletoned Batman. Sadder though is seeing Superman’s extreme patriotism turned on him, making him nothing more than a government flunky. Come on big man, you’re better than that!
14. Kills Lex Luthor – Justice League
In a parallel universe, Lex Luthor is President, kills The Flash, and brings the world to the brink of destruction. Superman flies into The Oval Office to stop him, where he’s taunted by Luthor, saying the only way for Superman to really finish this battle is to use deadly force, and he never will, since he’s too much of a hero.
“I did love being a hero, but if this is where it leads, I’m done with it,” Superman says, turning to face his greatest foe, his eyes glowing red…
It’s at this moment that Superman gives up everything that he’s always stood for, murdering Luthor, and taking control of the world. He leads by force, a dictator who does what he wants to keep everyone in line. And when the Justice Lords (as they’re brutally known), find our world, they come to do the same here.
13. Loses his powers and goes into hiding – Super Friends Shorts
Let’s travel back to the cartoon that started it all: the adorable, campy, and truly fun Super Friends! In this edition of the Super Friend Shorts (which are only about seven minutes a pop), the evil Zy-Kree has broken out of the Phantom Zone. This General Zod ripoff (he even has the same red and black bodysuit and little goatee) has turned the sun red, making Superman powerless.
What does our hero do? Run away to hide in The Fortress of Solitude, of course. Luckily, Green Lantern and Aquaman are up for the job, stopping the villain and save the day.
We’re not going to talk about the extreme cheese of this episode, or the show in general, which is as awful as it is delightful. We’re just going to enjoy the site of Superman (as the narrator says: “Mightiest of The Superfriends), running away with his cape tucked between his legs.
12. Disappears during a battle with Darkseid – Final Crisis
Darkseid is dead and his spirit (and the spirits of the other evil gods) has been reincarnated on Earth. He gathers a legion of evil villains who begin to attack and systematically take over the planet. This would be relatively easy to stop, except Superman is nowhere to be found. During the attack, Lois was injured and Superman leaves for the future to try find a way to save her.
Now, in the end, Superman does save the day when all of time and space are sucked into nothingness and only our hero survives. He actually ends up calling forth Supermen from every dimension, including one based on Baraxk Obama, to fix everything. And they do.
11. In his Dreams – For the Man Who Has Everything
Alan Moore penned this beautiful and sad issue of Superman, “For The Man Who Has Everything”, about a life not led and the regrets that come with it.
It’s Superman’s birthday, and Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman come bearing gifts, only to find their friend in a catatonic state with a plant wrapped around him. Turns out the evil alien Mongul has brought this parasitic present, known as The Black Mercy. The plant puts its victims into a stupor, showing them a dream of their heart’s desire while slowly consuming its victim.
Everyone fights, Superman wakes up, and the plant is placed on Mongul instead, creating balance. However, it’s Superman’s dream which really brings strikes a blow: he lives on Krypton, married and with kids. It’s heartbreaking to see the life he could have had, and the one he’s clearly always wanted.
10. Gets abducted by slave traders – Justice League
War World is a classic location in the DC comics history; a world for, you guessed it, war! A big part was the gladiatorial combat where people are able to watch and bet and enjoy the madness, run by the evil Mongul.
In this episode of the animated series, Superman and Martian Manhunter are abducted by slave traders and sold to Mongul to battle for his amusement. (Man, this guy just can’t keep hands out of Superman’s business.)
Of course, Hawkgirl and Green Lantern come looking for their stolen comrades, save the duo and a whole planet in the process. It’s a nice touch.
Really, what we keep seeing is that when Superman goes rogue or missing, usually there’s a battle involved. Come on DC, the man is more than brawn. Next time, why doesn’t everyone just have a nice sit down over drinks and talk it out.
9. Doctor Light brainwashes him – World’s Finest Comics
We’ve always enjoyed the dual sides of Superman’s personality: the brazen-brash superhero and his mild-mannered Clark Kent alter ego. There have been a bunch of times when either one or both have been mind-controlled, taking them out of the JLA, but we like this issue the best.
In a classic twist, the villainous Doctor Light hypnotizes Clark Kent and makes him believe that Superman is trying to kill him! He’s brought in to find a magic staff that can kill Superman once and for all, and it looks like he succeeds. Only Batman intervenes, Superman is saved and they stop the fiendish Doctor Light, by, of course, following his light trail back to his evil hideout.
8. Fakes his own death – The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians
We’ve already talked about the cheesy, adorableness of The Super Friends cartoon, complete with the epic announcer voice of Ted Knight. However, even this badly but beautifully animated hit dark territory, and in the final episode of the final season (called The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians), Superman chokes to death on Kryptonite (no, seriously) and dies.
“Farewell good friend, you’ll be missed beyond words,” said Adam West as Batman and you know he means it.
This causes Darkseid to come and see for himself, capturing members of the team along the way. Of course, it was all a ruse, and Superman is still alive! Huzzah! Except… they never explain why he faked his own death.
“It’s a long story,” Superman said.
“Oh, I think we have the time,” Batman replied. “I think we have all the time in the world.”
Wrong. The episode finishes here, ending both the season and the series and we never find out more. We’ll just have to assume Superman had his reasons.
7. Travels to the future – Justice League
Remember how great Justice League the animated series was? It brought together the candy-colored beauty of Superman: TAS with the dark storylines of Batman: TAS, with a healthy dose of all your favorite heroes fighting with each other.
“Hereafter” is a fantastic two-part episode. A band of supervillains lets their hate for Superman boil over and try to take him out. The terrible Toyman shoots an experimental laser at The Man of Steel during battle, seeming to vaporize him! Oh no!
Don’t worry, Superman wasn’t killed, just transported to the distant future, where a remorseful Vandal Savage lives in a barren wasteland, regretful for the destruction of the world that he caused years ago during Superman’s absence. Meanwhile back on Earth, the JLA mourn the apparent death of their friend and try out a replacement: the insane intergalactic biker, the main man Lobo!
6. When he doesn’t kill Doomsday – Smallville
Oh Clark, we know, growing up is so hard.
Not quite the hero we know he’ll someday be, young Clark Kent is still figuring out his place in the world (and his superhero name, as he’s still going as the Red-Blue Blur) in Smallville. In the season finale of season eight, he’s unable to kill or banish Doomsday, both in monster or human form. The League steps up to do what he can’t and tries to finish off the monster, only to have it backfire and watch as the man kills poor Jimmy Olsen.
Only too late does Clark realize he should have done more and his horrendous act actually causes the League to fall apart. We do get a much stronger and confident hero in the next season, but at what cost?
5. Enters the spirit world – Justice League of America #145
Never make a deal with the devil, you just know it’s not going to go well.
The evil Count Crystal (although how evil can he really be with a name like that) makes a deal with the demon Azgore for extreme powers. Using these newfound abilities, he enters the JLA and straight up murders Superman, who is the member on monitor duty. Gah!
Have no fear, The Phantom Stranger is here. This mysterious hero gathers a bunch of the JLA members and heads to Rutland, Vermont (no seriously) to enter the spirit world. They eventually save Superman’s from being eaten by Azgore, who in turn, devours Count Crystal after being furious over his denied super meal.
4. When he “dies” – The Death Of Superman
Yes, this is the issue which shows that everyone dies, including Superman.
The monster Doomsday ravages across the land. The JLA try to take him down, but it’s too much for any of them to do. Only The Man of Steel has a chance, and the two indestructible beings fight, destroying cities as they go. In the end, both succumb to their wounds, hero and villain alike.
Readers honestly didn’t know if Superman would return. There was a three-month hiatus on all Superman titles, and then some would-be contenders threw their name in to carry the mantl. Of course the real man eventually returned, complete with sexy new long hair.
3. When he’s killed over and over – The Kingdom #1
You’ve gotten pretty far in this article now, so you may have some mixed feelings about Superman. If so, then let us introduce you to Gog, who feels the same.
Gog was originally William, the only survivor of a battle that went nuclear between Parasite and The Justice League. In the aftermath, he started a church of Superman, only to be told by The Man of Streel that he wasn’t the savior. This drove William mad, and when he was later given superpowers, he used them to kill Superman.
And again. And again and again and again…
Gog repeatedly went back in time, each time killing Superman in a different way and taking more of his power. In the end, the villain was stopped by, yes, once again The Phantom Stranger! Superman really should have this guy on speed dial.
2. When he realizes he’s dying – The Final Days of Superman
When you’re the savior of the world, a man that literally millions depend on, and you find out you’re going to die, what would you do?
This is a question posed in The Final Days of Superman. Our hero discovers that, due to a couple different missions he’s on, he’s dying of kryptonite poisoning and there is no cure. Instead of getting furious, Superman basically skips all the steps of grief and moves right to acceptance, making peace with those closest to him.
At the end of the arc, he actually dies in Wonder Woman’s arms and that’s the end of Superman forever.
Just kidding, that will literally never happen. Instead, he’s replaced by a new Superman from a different universe.
1. Dies – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice
Can you abandon a team before they’re actually formed? We’re going to say, without a doubt, one hundred percent yes.
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the Man of Steel fought the mighty Doomsday monster, and like in “The Death of Superman”, both he and the monster died. And now, he’s missing from all the new promos, posters and advertisements for the upcoming film.
So this means no Superman to help with Batman’s new team, right?
Not a chance.
Even without the subtle hinting at the end of the last film with the dirt rising off the coffin of Clark Kent, there’s a guaranteed no-surprise without a doubt certainty that Superman’s coming back. However, it won’t happen for a while, at least long enough for this JLA to form and then to really need his help and arrive deus ex machina style.
So while he’s on his way, this new JLA remains abandoned for now, sadly down one Superman.
What other times did Superman ditch the Justice League? Let us know in the comments!
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