Superman is the big bang moment of superheroes. Virtually every stock trope we associate with superheroes owes at least an inkling of influence to Kal-El, even if it’s a reaction against him. He is The Beatles of comic book heroes.
Superman’s mythology is so ingrained in the cultural lexicon at this point that it’s taken on a near biblical level of import. The last survivor of a doomed planet sent to Earth to serve as its champion is the ultimate immigrant story, embodying the highest ideals of both his home world and his adopted planet of Earth.
Through multiple films, cartoons, and TV shows, even the most casual comic book fan likely thinks they have a pretty good handle on Clark Kent. But there are a lot of things people assume about Superman that simply aren’t true - either blatant falsehoods or remnants of the character that were long ago jettisoned as he’s been updated for more modern storytelling.
There are a few bedrock aspects of the character that can never be altered, but in many ways he’s a deceptively malleable character, evolving along with the rest of the comic book world in subtle but significant ways.
These are the 15 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Superman.
15 He’s the last survivor of Krypton
It’s the first thing most people know about Superman: on the doomed alien planet Krypton, genius scientist Jor-El sends his infant son to Earth, where he’ll grow up to become Earth’s greatest hero and the last son of Krypton.
But Superman is almost never the actual sole survivor of Krypton’s destruction. He’s generally joined by his cousin, Kara Zor-El, who has a suspiciously similar backstory to Superman, as well as Kryptonian villains like General Zod and his followers, who were trapped in the Phantom Zone when Krypton exploded.
In one of the more delightful holdovers from the innocent Silver Age, Superman’s dog, Krypto, is also a survivor of the planet. Krypto is probably the last dog of Krypton, but if his owner is anything to go by, there’s no guarantee of that either.
14 He never kills
More than any other superhero, Superman is held up as a paragon of virtue. He doesn’t suffer from any of the dark vices or stock character flaws that many of his fellow heroes do, which is one of the reasons he’s often (incorrectly) dismissed as boring and obsolete. For many people, the thought of Superman killing someone is unthinkable; the equivalent of Batman mowing down mobsters with a machine gun.
And yet Superman has killed before. Man of Steel drew considerable criticism for the climactic moment where Superman kills Zod in order to save a helpless family, but Superman has actually killed Zod in several different iterations - including a memorable ‘80s story where Superman executes Zod and his followers with Kryptonite.
Superman’s never going to like killing, but he’s shown a willingness to do what’s necessary in extreme situations.
13 He dislikes Batman
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice went a long way toward cementing the notion of DC’s two biggest icons enjoying a deeply antagonistic relationship. Even if they weren’t being manipulated into conflict by Lex Luthor, they’d have largely incompatible worldviews and would likely resent each other anyway.
However, that's simply not the case in the vast, vast majority of stories featuring the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel. They’re founding members of the Justice League, and have teamed up on countless occasions. It’s true that the heroes take decidedly different approaches to crime fighting, but the pair have a surprising amount in common, and think of each other not only as allies, but as close friends. And not just because their mothers have the same name, either.
12 Kryptonite is his only weakness
There’s no more terrifying image to Superman than that glowing green rock; a remnant of his obliterated home world that is ironically toxic to him, sapping him of his strength and, if exposed to it long enough, killing him. Kryptonite is often held up as the only way to stop Superman for both nefarious reasons by the likes of Lex Luthor, and ostensibly noble ones by Batman.
Kryptonite isn’t the only way to stop Superman, however. He’s also vulnerable to beings powered by magic, which is why someone like Black Adam can hang with him in a fight. He’s also not immune to blunt force from incredibly powerful beings like Doomsday and Darkseid. Superman is almost unthinkably powerful, but he’s far from unbeatable, even if you can’t find a chunk of Kryptonite.
11 Lois Lane is his only major romantic interest
Clark Kent and Lois Lane have become such an iconic romantic pairing that they’ve become a sort of shorthand for endgame romances – “she’s the Lois to his Clark.” The characters were even allowed to evolve past their status quo in the ‘90s, when Clark revealed his identity to Lois and they got married. They’re likely the most healthy, functional romantic pairing in all of comic books.
But Superman has indulged in other relationships. Lana Lang was his high school sweetheart – perhaps best immortalized in the teen drama Smallville. And during DC’s line-wide reboot of their comics, a younger Superman shared a fiery romance with Wonder Woman, echoing their relationship in the acclaimed Elseworlds story Kingdom Come, where the pair became romantically involved after Lois Lane’s death at the hands of the Joker.
10 He’s as fast as The Flash
One of the most storied tropes of the DC Universe is the occasional foot race between Superman and the Flash. They’re almost always low stakes, good natured events designed primarily to settle – and provoke – schoolyard arguments about who’s the fastest hero. This year’s Justice League film even featured a sweet nod to the friendly rivalry, which generally either ends in a tie or with a level of ambiguity to keep the argument going.
But the Flash is faster. This was pretty definitively settled in The Flash: Rebirth, when Superman was attempting to keep pace with the newly revived Barry Allen, and Barry made a surprising confession: he kept the previous races close for the sake of charity. The he left Superman in the dust.
Superman is certainly the champ in many categories of superhuman strength, but he’s no match for the Scarlet Speedster on foot.
9 Lex is his only good villain
One of the most often repeated knocks against Superman is his relatively weak rogues gallery. “Shouldn’t Superman have villains as good as Batman and Spider-Man?” the argument goes. Most will acknowledge Lex Luthor was an A-list baddie, but for many that’s where the list ends.
That’s simply not fair. Superman has some great villains beyond Luthor. Zod has been well established by the films as a malevolent reminder of the deeply flawed society Superman left behind. Brainiac is one of the most unsettling alien conquerors in all of comics. Mister Mxyzptlk provides the opportunity for light hearted, yet still credibly menacing tales. Toy Man, Parasite, Bizarro, and Cyborg Superman are all worthy adversaries.
Superman may not have the best villains of all time, but they’re far from the worst.
8 He’s the most powerful DC hero
It’s become something of an accepted fact that Superman is the most powerful DC superhero; maybe the most powerful comic book hero period. How could anyone possibly take on a being of such immense and diverse abilities, with so few weaknesses?
However, the case can be made that Superman isn’t even the strongest member of the Justice League. Green Lantern’s power is limited only by his willpower and imagination, and there have been plenty of moments where he’s shown power levels that meet and even surpass those of Superman.
Superman would also have trouble taking on supernatural heroes like Shazam and the Spectre, who draw on an entirely different sort of power than Superman’s brute force. Superman is incredibly powerful, but there are still a handful of heroes who could give him a run for his money.
7 He’s always happy and optimistic
If one image encapsulates the way most people think about the Superman, it’s likely the closing shot of the first Superman movie, with Christopher Reeve soaring over the Earth and grinning directly at the camera as John Williams’ iconic theme blares. It’s a pure, uncomplicated portrait of a hero who can overcome anything with a wink and an earnest one-liner.
Man of Steel took quite a bit of criticism for its portrayal of Clark Kent as a deeply troubled man who struggled to find his place in the world, with many people claiming this sort of brooding belonged to Batman, not Superman.
But that’s an oversimplification of the character that requires the viewer to ignore decades of comics that showcase a version of Clark grappling with personal trials and the burden of being Earth’s greatest protector. It’s a modern, three-dimensional portrayal that still stays true to Superman’s core beliefs.
6 He can breathe in space
The list of Superman’s abilities is so long it’s easy to lose track of all of them. It doesn’t help that they seem to wax and wane depending on what the most recent DC reboot did to his backstory, either depowering him to make him more relatable, or playing up the more godlike aspects inherent in the character by giving him essentially limitless abilities.
One thing he usually can’t do is breathe in space, which is a common misconception based on how often he’s portrayed hovering well above Earth’s atmosphere, something he’s done in almost every major movie adaptation. While it might seem like he’s breathing up there, he’s really just holding his breath, which he can do for a very, very long time. He’d probably be a great deep sea diver - along with pretty much every other possible occupation.
5 There’s only one kind of Kryptonite
Most think of Kryptonite as the infamous green rock that can sap Superman of his strength. That is unquestionably the most common and well-known version of the stuff, but it’s far from the only variety. There’s a veritable rainbow of Kryptonite, all with different effects on Superman and any other Kryptonians who come in contact with them.
The second most notable is probably red Kryptonite, which causes odd, erratic behavior (the cure is blue Kryptonite). Gold Kryptonite temporarily removes a Kryptonian’s powers. White Kryptonite is essentially a very strong weed eater, killing any and all plant life. Black Kryptonite splits a Kryptonian into a good and evil version of themselves. Silver Kryptonite results in loosened inhibitions, altered perceptions, and extreme hunger craving. Draw your own conclusions on that one, dear reader.
4 He’s always a newspaper reporter
There’s likely no other superhero so readily associated with a specific job. Clark Kent is almost always portrayed as a dogged reporter for The Daily Planet, where he pines for Lois Lane, commiserates with his best pal Jimmy Olsen, and attempts to navigate the wrath of editor Perry White. He also uses his job as a journalist to find opportunities to help out humanity as Superman. It’s a perfect fit.
But Clark isn’t always a newspaperman. In the ‘80s he was a TV reporter, presumably to give him a more modern, relevant occupation. In a similar move, DC’s 2011 New 52 reboot saw Clark take become a blogger, as online journalism began to overtake print. In Kingdom Come, an older, more bitter Clark has left behind journalism to become a farmer.
3 He was Superboy when he was a teenager
In his earliest iterations, Superboy really was a teenaged Clark Kent who had adventures both in Smallville and in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes. That concept was abandoned in the 1986 post-Crisis reboot of the character, making it so Superman didn’t suit up until adulthood. Nonetheless, DC couldn’t help revisit the idea of a youthful Kryptonian hero.
Superboy would reemerge in 1993, in the wake of Superman’s death. This version took on the name Conner Kent, and was eventually revealed to be a clone of Superman and Lex Luthor.
The current Superboy is Jonathan Samuel Kent, the son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. He often teams up with Damian Wayne, Batman’s son with Talia Al Ghul and the current Robin... The birthday parties must be amazing.
2 He’s the first in continuity DC superhero
Superman is, pretty famously, the first comic book superhero, the template on which many other iconic heroes were based. It’s genuinely amazing how much of that template was present in the debut issue of Action Comics in 1938, and how much of 21st century pop culture evolved from that single issue.
But within the labyrinthine, constantly shifting continuity of DC Comics, Superman is almost never the first known hero in the DC Universe. Plenty of heroes predate him - most notably the Justice Society of America, a World War II era superhero team that served as inspiration for Superman’s Justice League.
Ironically, Superman – along with Batman and Wonder Woman - was actually part of the original JSA, but as time passed he was retconned to be a more modern hero while his JSA compatriots stayed relatively tethered to a past era.
1 Lois Lane doesn’t know Clark Kent is Superman
Arguably the most glaring flaw in Superman’s mythology is the notion that Lois Lane, one of the greatest reporters alive and a Superman obsessive, wouldn’t be able to figure out the guy sitting in the next cubicle is actually the Man of Steel. It makes Lois seem not only silly, but also deeply bad at her job.
Man of Steel solved this problem by having Lois know from the very beginning Clark was an alien, and while the comics haven’t gone quite that far, most modern iterations – the dearly departed New 52 aside - have established that Lois has known for years that Clark is Superman, and treats their romantic relationship as something of a given. That’s a status that decades of storytelling and cultural recognition has earned, and should always be the status quo going forward.
What else do people get wrong about Superman? Let us know in the comments!