The Man of Steel often seems untouchable. He’s bulletproof, super-strong, super-durable, and essentially invulnerable. He’s so incredibly overpowered that comic writers have struggled to provide him with enemies capable of posing any kind of challenge to the Kryptonian hero. Thankfully, he does have one weakness: Kryptonite. Long used in comics to weaken Superman and give his enemies a chance, it’s a great way of making him a little more human and creating epic superhero battles. It’s not the only thing to hurt Clark Kent, however. The alien hero is also vulnerable to magic, he's on a level playing field with other Kryptonians, and he struggles to stand up to some of the most powerful beings in the DC universe in terms of sheer strength.
Superman has also been hurt pretty darn badly in his long comic book history, even killed (a surprising number of times for an invulnerable hero!). He’s been beaten, poisoned, skeletonized, split apart on a molecular level, had his throat slit, and even been taken down by a squirrel with a green lantern ring. Read on for more of the fifteen most brutal injuries that Supes has suffered in the world of DC comics.
15 Caught In An Atomic Explosion
One of Superman’s best-known enemies, General Zod, is capable of doing some serious damage to the big blue boy scout because he’s also Kryptonian. A military man from Kal-El’s own planet, Zod has the same powers and abilities on Earth that Superman does, leaving him and Supes on an even playing field. This has led to some epic battles over the years, in live-action as well as in comics, as Zod beats Superman to a pulp on more than one occasion. (Supes has also won his share of bouts, of course.)
In Superman/Wonder Woman, Superman and General Zod got into a particularly brutal battle (alongside Wonder Woman and Faora), when Zod is supercharged by Apollo. He then dumped Superman and Wonder Woman in a reactor core, and in order to get themselves out and defeat Zod, they set off an atomic explosion, almost completely destroying them both.
14 Faceful Of Kryptonite Shards
Kryptonite, Superman’s major weakness, features pretty heavily in his most painful injuries - unsurprisingly. Livewire, on the other hand, may raise some eyebrows for her ability to inflict one of his most brutal injuries. A former shock-jock turned supervillain, Livewire uses electricity to take down her enemies, and is usually no match for Superman. However, in Superman/Batman, she managed to explode a piece of Kryptonite with her powers, blasting shards of it into Superman’s face, eye, and chest. The blow knocked him down, and he had to be rushed to the Fortress of Solitude, where Alfred picked out the shards and left him to heal from the blood poisoning that was the result of the blast.
The hero was down for days, and even then he wore an eyepatch for a few panels after returning to action. Not bad for a supervillain that the Flash refers to as 'second tier’ in this issue!
13 Beaten Up By Alfred Pennyworth
Most comic fans know Alfred Pennyworth as the loyal, staid, butler at Wayne Manor. He’s extremely capable in a fight, and even better at patching Batman up after his battles, but he’s not usually known for taking down superheroes himself. In Injustice: Gods Among Us, however, Alfred gets supercharged enough to take down Superman all by his lonesome - starting by headbutting him in the face and breaking his super-nose.
In this storyline, of course, Superman has gone all evil dictator on everyone after Lois Lane’s death, and he's coming after Batman and the remaining members of the Justice League that won't join up with him. He manages to get to the Batcave and kick the bejeezus out of the Caped Crusader (breaking his back), but is stopped from killing him when the trusty butler steps in. Alfred, having taken a pill that grants the user superpowers, is strong enough to beat the living daylights out of the Man of Steel and leave him bleeding on the floor.
12 Cut To Ribbons By Magic Teeth
The Justice League may be the best known team in DC comics, but their lesser-known counterparts the Justice League Dark deserve some serious respect, too. The JLD were brought together to face supernatural, magical, and occult threats - things that the original recipe Justice League aren’t quite equipped to deal with. Superman, in particular, has essentially no defenses against magical attacks, and it’s caused him quite a bit of trouble over the years.
One of the more painful injuries that he’s suffered as the result of magic, however, came in Justice League Dark #1, when the Justice League had to face Enchantress, and failed to beat her. Superman (along with Wonder Woman and Cyborg) are suddenly surrounded with stinky, magic teeth that whirl around them and, according to Diana, “cut him to ribbons”. He recovers, obviously, and passes the problem onto the JLD, but it’s definitely one of the more disgusting ways that Superman has been hurt!
11 Taken Down By Darkseid
Another major villain of the DC universe, Darkseid and Superman have tangled more than once, and each has been victorious at different times. In Death of the New Gods, however, it was the Lord of Apokolips who destroyed the Man of Steel. Darkseid’s major weapon against Superman (other than his sheer power and strength) is his ability to shoot devastating ‘Omega beams’ at him, which have destroyed other members of the Kryptonian super-family in the past. In this story arc, however, an uber-powerful Darkseid decided not to kill Superman with his Omega beams (although he absolutely could have, and even thinks for a moment about the ways that he could kill Superman). Instead, he decides to imprison him with the Source for all time - a plan that would have worked, if Orion hadn’t swung by and saved the day.
Superman regains consciousness, realizes that he is hopelessly outmatched in this battle of Gods, and gets the heck out of there.
10 Killed By Kryptonite Poisoning
Superman can certainly take a hit and keep on comin’, but he’s not actually immortal. The Man of Steel has actually died a surprising number of times, including quite recently in The Final Days of Superman. This death wasn’t the result of a single battle with a superpowered foe, however. Instead, Clark Kent learned that his impending death is the result of the cumulative effects of several different and brutal injuries. His time in the fire pits of Apokolips, his battle with Rao, and the effect of a vast amount of Kryptonite exposure have poisoned the hero, and he doesn’t have much time left.
This story arc sees the end of Superman (well, one version of him) ahead of DC’s Rebirth, although a replacement Supes was already waiting to take over. In the end, the Man of Tomorrow turns green from the kryptonite in his system, before his body is consumed from the inside, and he dies surrounded by his friends from the Justice League.
9 Drained Of Energy Fighting An Alien Armada
Our hero very nearly met yet another end in Superman Unchained, a story that pits him against the super-powered Wraith, another alien who is working for the US government. Superman takes more than one beating in this story, as Wraith is more powerful than he is, and even tells Supes that one day, he will kill him.
In the end, however, he nearly meets his end willingly, taking an injectable solar reactor into space to face an armada of alien ships. His intention is to inject the serum, turning himself into a massive solar bomb and wiping out the armada to save Earth. In the end, it is Wraith who sacrifices himself instead, but Supes doesn’t escape unscathed. Instead, he is drained almost entirely while fighting, turning into a skeletal version of himself before being pushed away by Wraith to escape the blast radius created by Wraith’s death. As near to death as he comes, he quickly heals thanks to that trusty yellow sun of ours and returns to Earth.
8 Brain Shut Down By A Squirrel
Most of Superman’s most powerful foes are physically intimidating - muscle-bound Kryptonians, Gods, vast monsters capable of taking him down with sheer strength. However, he’s been taken down by some little guys, too. In Injustice: Gods Among Us Year 2, a squirrel managed to knock the Man of Steel out of action completely...by getting into his brain.
In a battle with a squad of Green Lanterns, C’hip, a being that resembles a cartoon squirrel, is able to shut down Superman’s brain almost entirely by using his lantern powers to create constructs so small that they can get into Supes’ head and stop his synapses from firing. He uses this ability to knock the Man of Tomorrow out of the sky (where he was fighting another, larger, Lantern), and keeps the hero flat on his back and unable to move. Ch’p would have been able to keep Superman under his control as long as necessary, if it weren’t for Sinestro swooping down and killing him.
7 Split Apart On A Molecular Level
Ghost Soldier may only appear in a few issues, but he does an impressive job of inflicting serious injuries on Superman before his time in comics comes to an end. The Ghost Solider is a man who is capable of manipulating his own body (and things that he touches) on a molecular level, phasing in and out of existence and through anything he wishes. When he went toe-to-toe with Superman, this meant that the Kyrptonian hero’s punches would go straight through him, as would almost anything else Supes could throw at him.
At one point, Ghost Solider was able to get close enough to use his knives on Superman, cutting him apart at the molecular level. It could have been the end of the Man of Steel, if he didn’t have one power capable of stopping Ghost Solider - he froze him with his breath. This works to freeze Ghost Soldier’s molecules, incapacitating him and allowing Supes to heal.
6 Throat Slit By Wonder Woman’s Tiara
Wonder Woman is usually on the same side as Superman, and the two have even been romantically linked in the DC universe - but when she has gone up against him, the Amazon is certainly a foe worthy of the Man of Steel.
When Maxwell Lord has Superman under his power, Lord makes him believe that Wonder Woman is Doomsday killing Lois Lane. In the battle that follows, Diana doesn’t want to hurt her longtime friend, but must do so to survive. First, she brings her bracelets down on his ears, shattering his eardrums and knocking out his super hearing. Then, she distracts him long enough to capture Lord with her Lasso of Truth, but needs to keep Superman at bay just a little longer… which she does by whipping off her tiara and tossing it at him, slitting his throat with its edges. After freeing Superman from his mind control, Wonder Woman wraps up the potentially reoccurring issue by breaking Maxwell Lord’s neck, killing him instantly.
5 Beaten To Death By Superboy Prime
During the sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, Infinite Crisis, there were a lot of Supermen flying around for the reader to keep track of. There’s the primary Superman, Kal-El, the Earth-2 Superman, Kal-L, and Superboy Prime - and that super-might comes with some epic battles.
At the end of Infinite Crisis, Superboy Prime decides to create a second big bang, one powerful enough to wipe out all the other superheroes, leaving him as the only hero on Earth (Superboy Prime doesn’t like to share). A whole ensemble of heroes try to stop him, but it comes down to a battle of Kal vs Kal, and Superboy Prime viciously beats Kal-L to death. It’s a pretty impressive beat-down, especially as there are essentially three equally powered Supermen battling it out. Kal-El survives, Superboy Prime is taken down and trapped by the Green Lanterns… and Kal-L dies in the arms of Power Girl.
4 Overloaded With Solar Radiation
In Tower of Babel, it’s revealed that the one man who is capable of taking down the major players in the Justice League is a member of the League himself! Over the years, Batman has developed a way to incapacitate each of his co-heroes if he needs to, and while he is still very much on their side, the villainous Ra’s Al Ghul has got hold of the Dark Knight's intel. Ra’s takes down each of the heroes in turn, and when it comes time to deal with Superman, he does it using Red Kryptonite.
Batman invented this form of Kryptonite specifically to take down the Man of Steel without killing him, but it’s a brutal way to do it. The Red Kryptonite makes Superman’s skin transparent, leading to his body becoming completely overloaded with solar radiation. It uses his natural ability to absorb solar radiation, the thing that grants Supes his powers, against him, leaving him totally incapacitated and in excruciating pain.
3 Stabbed Through The Chest
Superman doesn’t usually have to worry about something as prosaic as a stab wound, given that his eyeballs can stop bullets. However, in the out of canon crossover event DC Universe Vs Masters Of The Universe, the members of the Justice League face off against He-Man, and the blonde hero is able to kill Superman with a sword through the chest.
This is, of course, He-Man’s power sword, which is a magical weapon. And Superman, powerful though he is, is vulnerable to magic. As a result, He-Man is able to impale Superman in a shocking scene that shows just how powerful this hero from another universe really is. Of course, Superman was only fighting him in the first place because he was under Skeletor’s control, and it all turned out to be a ruse, with Supes being fine a few issues further on, but it was still an impressive (and brutal) blow.
2 Brain Flooded With Kryptonite
Kryptonite is back again, to inflict even more brutal injuries on the Man of Steel. This time (in Action Comics #6: Poisoned By Kryptonite), it is revealed that Superman carries his death within his own brain!
It turns out that Nimrod the Hunter had fired a microscopic pellet into his brain many years ago. This pellet is filled with tesseract space, allowing for the Legionnaires to actually enter, and duke it out with super-foes within a tiny space in Superman’s brain. In their battle, however, Kryptonite is exposed, and Superman’s brain is flooded with Kryptonite radiation, knocking him to his knees.
He cannot do anything about it, being unable to remove the pellet where the radiation is coming from, and he nearly succumbs to the poison effects of his biggest weakness. He does figure out a way to survive and even save the day, but only after suffering horrifying agony thanks to Kryptonite poisoning.
1 Death By Doomsday
Probably Superman’s most famous ‘death’ is his destruction at the hands of Doomsday, and it comes at the end of one of the biggest knock-down fights in comic book history. The culmination of the Death of Superman story, their fight takes place over the streets of Metropolis, as Superman attempts to stop Doomsday’s spree of destruction. Their battle ends only when the two have been beating each other for some time, and both are bloodied and bruised. These two titans rush at each other, and each lands a powerful blow to the others’ head. This final, massive, strike is powerful enough to kill both opponents at the same time, leaving Superman to die on the ground in front of the Daily Planet, in the arms of Lois Lane and with Jimmy Olsen capturing the moment for the world to mourn.
Of course, this being the world of comics, not even Doomsday could keep Superman down for long, and he eventually returns to life to fight again another day.
Do you know of any other downright horrific injuries the Man of Steel has suffered? Let us know in the comments.