Created in 1938 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman was the first example of the modern superhero was we now know them. Super-strength and speed, enhanced senses, and the ability to fly were Superman’s gifts, bestowed to him as an alien living under a red sun far from his home planet of Krypton. He was the hero who started it all.
However, he is also the hero who has been around the longest. After nearly eighty years, there’s almost no risk that Superman hasn’t faced, no villain he hasn’t (at least eventually) defeated, no alternate dimension or distant planet or remote corner of the timeline he hasn’t visited. In his travels, he has seen some of the best and worst the comic book universe has to offer.
He is usually positive, a shining beacon of hope for anyone in despair. However, there are those occasions when even the Man of Steel can’t help but be depressed and broken down. We expect brooding from Batman and maybe even Wolverine, but not from Superman.
Here are the 15 Worst Things That Have Ever Happened To Superman.
15 He Died Defeating Doomsday
Death is about as bad as it gets for anyone (although, admittedly, superheroes seem to fare better after death than most). He was the first comics superhero, so it was only a matter of time before DC figured out that they could create an enormous publicity event by killing him off.
Boy, did it work. In 1993, DC Comics sent Doomsday, a mysterious and seemingly indestructible villain, to wreak havoc on the world. Doomsday caused mayhem all over the country, eventually working his way to Metropolis, where Superman faced off with him.
In issue number 75 of Superman, the two titans battled in a melee for the ages before both of them succumbed to their wounds. Just before dying, he falls into the arms of his love, Lois Lane.
Luckily for Superman fans, a plan for resurrection was already in place, and Superman would learn that his “death” was just part of his Kryptonion biology. However, in his absence, all was not well…
14 While Dead, He Was Replaced By Four Weirdos
While Superman was dead, DC Comics needed to figure out something to fill the pages of Action Comics, Superman: The Man of Steel, Adventures of Superman, and Superman, all of which previously starred their now-deceased hero. So how did DC honor his memory? By replacing him with four weirdos.
The four new versions of Superman were variations on Superman slogans: The Man of Steel, The Man of Tomorrow, The Metropolis Kid, and The Last Son of Krypton.
There was a powerless steelworker who created a super-suit in Superman’s honor, a cyborg superman, a young clone of Superman (who doesn’t like being called Superboy), and a visor-wearing lethal alien version of Superman.
Only Steel and Superboy ended up being actual heroes, with the cyborg and the alien becoming dangerous villains that the recently resurrected Superman had to defeat upon his return.
Even in “death,” Superman still felt responsible for the protection of Metropolis, and he came back from the dead to remind the city (and readers) what a real Superman can do.
13 His Home Planet Exploded, Killing His Family And Race
While the destruction of Krypton might be the most-well-known aspect of Superman’s origin, the ramifications of it are more devastating than the average reader takes into consideration.
First of all, when young Kal-El was shot into space in a capsule, he was too young to remember what happened. As a result, he never knew or remembered his family. Losing a family is a tragedy, but never knowing them is somewhat worse.
Secondly, aside from a handful of other Kryptonians who dodged the explosion, Superman has believed for most of his life that he is the last member of his race who is still alive. Unlike any orphan or adopted child in the world, his entire world is gone. Though he loves his new world, nothing could ever fill the void of his lost homeworld.
The death of everyone close to him is what has made him the most noble, self-sacrificing hero in comics history, so the world benefited from his loss, but what a loss it was.
12 Batman Beat The Bejesus Out Of Him
Though there have been more powerful heroes introduced in the eighty years since Superman was first created, there is no doubt that Superman is one of the most powerful. That’s why it’s so humiliating when Superman is defeated by a lesser-powered hero, and there is no one with less powers than Batman.
What Batman does have, however, is ingenuity, a strategic mind, and more kryptonite than any other single human being owns, short of Lex Luthor himself.
In 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns, Batman makes use of all of those things. Taking advantage of Superman’s weakened state due to his being caught in a nuclear explosion, Batman attacks him using exoskeleton armor.
Superman is able to break Batman’s armor, but after Batman has elderly Green Arrow shoot kryptonite at him, he is severely weakened. Batman physically dominates Superman, telling him to always remember that Batman beat him.
Pinned to the ground, with Batman’s hand around his throat, Superman is spared when Batman has a heart attack. He lives on to remember his humiliation.
11 He Killed Imperiex And Braniac
Since the beginning of Superman’s tenure as a hero, he has held true to one unbreakable tenet: to never kill. It is a tenet he has had to (or chosen to) break on very few occasions, and when he does it, it does irreparable emotional damage to Superman for having to resort to it.
One such occasion was when Braniac combined with Imperiex to become one of the strongest and deadliest beings in existence.
The Braniac/Imperiex being intends to take over the entire universe, and Earth’s heroes are the only things that stand in their way. Using their combined powers, the heroes give Superman the ability to shove Braniac/Imperiex through a temporal portal.
Superman shoves them all the way back to the beginning of everything, literally stranding them at the moment of the Big Bang. Though the death was not by his hand directly, he knew exactly what would happen to them: immediate and permanent destruction. Superman lives with that knowledge for the rest of his hero career.
10 He Fell In Love With A Mermaid
Superman’s loyalty is one of his endearing and enduring traits, which is why he doesn’t have a very long list of love interests. His heart was stolen by Lana Lang early in his life, but his true love is Lois Lane, fellow reporter at The Daily Planet, and he has had an on and off flirtation and relationship with her for most of his comic book existence.
However, they weren’t the only ones. There was a time when Kent attended Metropolis University, and he was smitten with a wheelchair-bound girl named Lori Lemaris. He even proposed marriage to her, but she said they couldn’t be together.
Curious about her rejection of him (and her need for a strict nightly curfew), Kent investigates to discover that she is a mermaid from Atlantis who sits in a wheelchair and covers herself with a blanket to cover her tail.
She knew of Kent’s secret hero identity, and kept it secret. After a romantic underwater kiss, they parted. It would never have worked because of… you know, the fish parts.
9 He Was Adapted Into An Embarrassing Musical
If there’s one thing that is synonymous with Superman, it is big, splashy musicals. No? That’s not true?
Well, someone seemed to think so in 1966, when It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman premiered on Broadway. Starring Superman, Lois Lane, and villains like a Nobel Prize-losing scientist and a newspaper columnist named Max Mencken, the musical never caught on with audiences and closed after only four months.
Shockingly, the show was fairly well-reviewed, and it even received three Tony award nominations. The writers went on to script the 1978 Superman film.
However, the show didn't end there. It rose from the dead nearly a decade later, airing as a musical TV special in 1975. Though it had big names of the time like Lesley Ann Warren and MASH’s Loretta Swit, the show apparently didn’t date well, and it was not critically beloved when it aired.
Bad reviews were not the show’s kryptonite, however. The show lived on, eventually being performed in a revised version in 2010, with a new script by Riverdale writer/creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
8 He Was Forced Into Making A Sex Tape By The Villain Sleez
Writer John Byrne completely revitalized the world of Superman when he took over the scripting of the comic in 1986. He made some positive changes, removing the cheesier aspects from older times, doing away with the Fortress of Solitude, keeping Jonathan and Martha Kent alive, and making Clark himself more proactive and outgoing.
However… he made some strange decisions, too, including creating a villain named Sleez. He is an alien pervert from the planet Apokolips who was stranded on Earth when the people on his planet got tired of him.
In order to save up money to build an army, he mentally influenced heroine Big Barda and Superman to act in an adult film that Sleez would sell. The shoot was broken up just in time by Barda’s husband, Mister Miracle.
Sleez was not the most popular character, and was later seemingly killed in an explosion while kidnapping children from an amusement park. Mister Miracle, Big Barda, and Superman also probably felt awkward for a while.
7 He Got A Silly Electricity-Powered Makeover
In the decades since Superman first appeared in comics, there have been many imitators and other heroes who have “borrowed” (or, less kindly, ripped off) the set of powers that Superman possesses.
Flight, super-strength, laser eyes, speed, etc.-- the slate has become so commonplace that there are superheroes that possess many of these in addition to other powers above and beyond them.
DC Comics decided in 1998 to reinvigorate the Superman mythology by changing up his powers and abilities. In Superman #122, Superman developed energy-based abilities after being unable to absorb solar power.
He changed to a blue and white costume that helped him contain the energy, got some swirly new hair in his electric form, and he could shoot electricity bolts and use tractor beams.
He could also turn off his powers, which meant his alter ego Clark Kent was a regular human susceptible to pain and injury. The new Superman was not well-received, and he was hastily written out by merging him with a Red Superman that turned him back to normal.
6 He Watched Krypto Die Saving His Life
As the motto goes, "a man’s best friend is his dog." For Superman, that was often true. Sitting with Krypto the Super Dog in the otherwise empty Fortress of Solitude, Superman was always appreciative of his super-powered canine companion.
The loss of a pet is always hard, but no one’s story is more tragic than Superman’s. In Alan Moore’s “final” Superman story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, Superman suffers some punishing blows, including the exposure of his secret identity to the public and the loss of loved ones. Though none hurt harder than Krypto.
When Kryptonite Man is attacking Superman, Krypto comes to save the day by biting out the villain’s throat. This does destroy Kryptonite Man, but as Krypto has the same susceptibility to kryptonite as Superman, Krypto dies in front of him.
As is typical in comics, Krypto came and went in many other versions throughout the years, including teaming up with Superboy, his brave sacrifice will never be forgotten by Superman or comics readers.
5 Everyone Keeps Destroying His Fortress Of Solitude
Every so often, even the world’s greatest and most powerful superhero needs a little private time. In a perfect world, he would have an immense fortress in an isolated place where only he could access it.
This that’s exactly what he got. As an icy, seemingly inhospitable locale, it is actually a godsend for Superman, a place he can go to get away from the villains and the pressures of everyday superhero life.
So, why is everyone always taking away his man cave? In the Man of Steel movie, a battle between Superman and Zod left the Fortress in shambles, and he abandoned his space fortress for reasons unknown (maybe a white Martian infestation?) and adopted the arctic fortress.
He even had an underwater Fortress of Solitude, out in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean. However, after it was discovered by divers, he abandoned it, and it became a tourist attraction for Atlanteans. Perhaps John Byrne defined the best fortress: Clark Kent, the identity that allowed Superman to leave superheroics behind. Nobody has destroyed that one yet.
4 DC Comics Erased His Relationship With Lois Lane
Superman has friends like Batman and the rest of the Justice League, as well as has family like Supergirl. However, his strongest relationship has always been the one he forged through danger and romance with intrepid reporter Lois Lane.
After many years of flirtation and a love triangle between Lois, Clark, and Superman, he finally revealed his secret, and they eventually tied the knot. It was a true love story.
Then, the powers that be ripped them apart. No, not Lex Luthor or some other villain who traveled through time and arranged for them to never meet. It was the creators at DC Comics who decided in 2011, when they were rebooting their continuity with The New 52, that Clark Kent and Lois Lane had never been together.
They weren’t divorced, separated, or even on-again-off-again lovers. Their entire relationship had just been negated, and they were simply work colleagues. Poor Superman lost his most important relationship, and he wasn’t even allowed to know about it.
3 He Was Almost Played By Nicolas Cage
In the history of cinematic and television Superman, there have been some impressive names on the list: Christopher Reeve, Henry Cavill, Brandon Routh, George Reeves, Dean Cain, Channing Tatum, Tim Daly. It’s an impressive list of square jaws that filled the role, but the one that almost happened could have been a huge disaster.
Lifelong comic book fan Nicolas Cage had wanted to play a big-screen superhero for years, and it looked like his opportunity had arrived with Tim Burton’s vision for Superman Lives, a relaunch of the franchise that would take it from its earnest and dated roots. The film fell apart for numerous reasons, but the few images of Cage in a prototype costume are concerning.
The long, scraggly hair, the gaunt face, the bulging eyes, all of it stood in stark contrast to the image of Superman. His performance was bound to be over-the-top, so audiences were lucky the movie didn’t happen and that Cage moved on to Ghost Rider. Superman dodged a speeding bullet.
2 He Killed Zod (More Than Once)
Superman’s oath not to kill is so strong that, when he is forced to kill, it devastates him. It must come as some kind of perverse joy for Zod, one of Superman’s arch nemeses, to know that Superman has had to suffer through the pain of having to destroy him more than once.
Though most viewers remember Man of Steel as the first time Superman killed Zod on-screen, but he actually did it much earlier.
Technically, when Christopher Reeve’s Superman threw Zod into a bottomless pit in Superman II, it was Zod's death. He did it again in Man of Steel, breaking Zod’s neck to stop him from killing more innocent people. But there was another time he had to kill Zod.
Discovering a pocket dimension where Zod is still alive and wreaking havoc on the entire alternate universe, Superman stops him with gold kryptonite that takes away his powers. Fearing Zod could regain his powers and attack Superman’s home dimension, he exposes Zod to green kryptonite, killing him. It was the death that made Superman swear off killing forever.
1 He Accidentally Killed Pregnant Lois Lane
In the alternate universe world of the Injustice storyline, things have not gone well for anyone, but Superman’s fate is particularly dark and disturbing. Joker uses a fear toxin on Superman, and it makes him believe that Lois Lane is Doomsday. He does exactly what a hero should do to such a terrible villain, jettisoning him into space.
The fear toxin wears off, and he sees that it is Lois Lane, dead in the void of deep space, along with their unborn child. Joker also linked a nuclear weapon back in Metropolis to Lois’ heartbeat, and when her heart stops, the bomb explodes and destroys Metropolis.
This brings Superman to a desperate, dark, destructive point, and he does the unthinkable: he punches his arm right through Joker’s chest, killing him instantly.
Thankfully, this was not canon for DC, but rather a dark, dystopian alternate much like the depressing Marvel series Ruins. The fact remains, though, Superman holding Lois’ dead body in the ruins of Metropolis is as heartbreaking as it gets.
Can you think of any other horrible things that have happened to Superman? Tell us about them in the comments.