Superman is the world’s first comic superhero, and many would argue he’s the best hero in the genre to this day. In disguise he’s the adorably nerdy Clark Kent, but any whiff of trouble and he becomes the all-powerful Man of Tomorrow, ready to drop everything to save humankind.
In his fictional universe though, he’s not so universally loved. The Man of Steel has plenty of enemies - because he’s not human, because he loves humans, because he’s just too awesome, and for every other reason imaginable.
Most of the time, being the hero and all, Supes comes out on top when facing his adversaries, but not always. He’s been defeated on countless occasions, and even killed a few times, but nothing can keep Big Blue down for long.
They keep trying, though, and you can’t argue it isn’t entertaining when they do. Digging deeper than the infamous Doomsday defeat, here are 16 Supervillains You Didn’t Know Defeated Superman.
Mongul was the ruler of his own alien race before being exiled into outer space during a revolution. He eventually became the leader of Warworld, before being murdered by Neron. His son and daughter (the new Mongul and Mongal) followed in his footsteps.
Always a worthy opponent for Supes, there’s been a few instances where the alien warlord has defeated the Man of Steel. One of these instances came about during the "Key That Unlocked Chaos" arc of DC Presents in 1980. During his first appearance no less, Mongul gives the unsuspecting Superman the fight of his life, before disappearing with the key to technological battle-station, Warworld. Superman doesn’t even have chance to fight back.
Later, the "For the Man Who Has Everything" storyline (1985), by comic book legend Alan Moore, sees Mongul showing Supes who’s boss yet again. This time Mongul grows a parasitic plant that takes over Superman’s mind and fools him into thinking that Krypton never exploded and he was living a normal family life on the planet. Once Superman comes to, he and Mongul engage in a fight, and it’s only when Robin comes to Supes’ rescue that he emerges victorious.
15 The Joker
This supervillain needs no introduction. Anyone, even if they’ve never picked a comic up in their lives, is familiar with the Joker. But most people know the Clown Prince of Crime as the arch nemesis of the Dark Knight, not the Man of Steel. In a wonderful nerd-rage inducing irony, Joker has never actually defeated his one true hate, but has beaten Superman several times.
In "Emperor Joker" (2000), Superman finds himself in a nightmarish reality, and as an Arkham inmate. In this world created by the Joker - using Mr. Mxyzptlk’s powers - Supes and his Justice League are the villains, and the "real" JLA is led by Bizarro. Superman fights the Joker’s JLA, escapes Arkham, but finds himself re-captured each and every time.
The Joker gets the better of Superman in the Injustice: Gods Among Us storyline too, again messing with his head. This time he tricks Supes into killing the love of his life, Lois Lane, before the Killer Clown nukes Metropolis.
William Matthews is the survivor of the nuclear disaster in Kansas, caused by the Parasite shattering Captain Atom during a fight with the JLA. He saw Superman as a savior, and even built a church in Supes’ honour. Superman visited Matthews to tell him he isn’t really a god or perfect, as Matthews believed. The Quintessence (Shazam, and co.) gave William a portion of their power, which drove him insane and caused him to blame Superman for his misfortunes. This was the birth of Gog.
Gog took defeating Superman to the next level. "During The Kingdom" (1999), Gog not only whooped the Man of Steel, but murdered him in cold blood. And if that was no mean feat, Gog then travelled back in time day by day, killing Superman again and again. He even tried to kill Supes on the day Wonder Woman was to have his baby, and went as far as stealing the child.
Unrequited love was the cause of Dominus (AKA Tuoni) going from peaceful alien priest to murderous supervillain. He fell in love with fellow devotee, Ahti, but she didn't reciprocate the feelings. Tuoni fought Ahti (now Kismet) and ended up incinerated. Kismet showed him mercy and put him in the Kryptonian limbo, Phantom Zone. There he was discovered by Kem-L, who builds him a body, creating Dominus.
In another occurrence of the Man of Steel being overpowered mentally, from "Superman: King of the World" (1999), Kal El fights Dominus, and comes off victorious with ease. After he claims the villain has escaped and needs to be found, Superman’s friends and acquaintances become suspicious. It gets so bad Lois Lane teams up with Lex Luthor, which is when they make the discovery that Superman is locked away. Dominus had switched appearances with him, so in actuality it was Dominus who beat Superman.
Kenny Braverman was Clark Kent’s childhood friend, and rival when it came to school sports and a date for their high school prom. While Clark was in college, Kenny volunteered to be experimented on by the CIA. This experimentation carried on, and he was given a powered-up suit of armor. Kenny tried to kill Clark twice, through his special operations corporation, Pipeline. The CIA dropped him for being unstable.
In the "Death of Clark Kent" (1997), Conduit attacks Clark Kent’s friends and family, not aware he is the Man of Steel. He attacks everyone from Jimmy Olsen to the Kent family, surrounding the Kent farm. The pair go into battle, as Clark thinks Conduit has killed Lois Lane and his family. After Superman tries to hide from his foe, Conduit finds him, killing his harboror, and kidnapping the Last Son of Krypton.
It’s only because Conduit overloads his armored suit and kills himself in an explosion that Superman wins the overall fight.
Another case of an exiled emperor, Helspont became too powerful for his Daemonite people to bear, so they kicked him off his home planet. When his prison, the Eye, was blown up by Harry Tanner, Helspont’s cell crashed to Earth, which is where he met Superman. He tried to win Superman over by kidnapping and trying to convince Supes he would end up like him: betrayed by his people because he was too powerful.
Helspont has put Supes in his place several times, most notably in Superman Annual #1 (2012), when the Man of Tomorrow is abducted and hunted for sport by aliens. Helspont blasts Big Blue into space, and knocks him unconscious. Superman literally doesn’t know what planet he’s on when he comes to, and quickly figures out the Daemonite has given him a concussion.
His initial accident has varied over the years-- he’s been a journalist/murderer and a petty con-man-- but in every Metallo origin story, John Corben was fatally injured before being saved by Professor Emmet Vale. Vale rebuilt Corben a body made from his high-tech robotics, and powered it with Kryptonite so he could kill Superman. Now going by the name Metallo, he thanked his creator by snapping his neck.
In Batman/Superman #1: The World’s Finest (2003), Metallo attacks Star Labs. He shoots Supes with a Kryptonite bullet twice in this issue. The second time, at a cemetery where Metallo has been digging up coffins looking for his own human remains, Supes falls into an open grave. Batman seemingly saves the day by blowing Metallo up. While the Caped Crusader tries to extract the bullet from Superman, Metallo buries them both alive.
Only a pretty epic supervillain can take down the two biggest heroes in one go.
Created by the Gods of Olympus purely to rival Superman, Zha-Vam is an artificial being made of clay and endowed with the powers of the gods. He was then sent to the future to defeat the Last Son of Krypton, becoming the leader of the United Crime Syndicate.
Action Comics #352 (1967) sees the Man of Tomorrow put to the test in a very bizarre way. Zha-Vam is toying with Supes, wearing a belt with different buttons that give him different powers. For some reason he’s making Superman press the buttons, then attacking him with whatever powers he’s granted. Lois has to help Big Blue when one button gives Zha-Vam Medusa hair and he turns to solid stone. The next button gives Zha-Vam Morpheus’ powers and he puts Supes to sleep.
As if that doesn’t all sound ridiculous enough, Superman’s big idea to defeat the clay adversary is to stab him in his Achilles Heel with a paralysis drug. This doesn’t work because - wait for it - Zha-Vam has Kryptonite feet! Obviously.
Titano has been around since the Silver Age of comics. He started out as just your average chimp, but ended up being DC Comic’s take on King Kong. For some reason, for the New 52 Titano was made smaller than he had ever been, and albino.
Back in Superman #127 (1959), Lois Lane befriended a chimp named Toto after seeing him at a charity show. She later discovered the chimp was to be sent into space, and offered to cover the story for the local TV network. While Toto was in space he was affected by high levels of Uranium and Kryptonite radiation when two meteors collided. Back on Earth, the chimp seemed unaffected at first but soon grew to a massive size.
Toto spots Lois in the crowd and picks her up, leading Supes to believe his girl is in danger. The Man of Steel goes to Lois’ rescue but is sent flying by Titano’s shocking new power: Kryptonite vision.
7 Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor is well known as the arch nemesis of Superman, but what isn’t so well-known is just how many times Lex has defeated the Man of Steel. Luthor, first appearing in 1940, is a wealthy, power-mad businessman, and owner of LexCorp. He sees Superman as a threat to humanity, and constantly tries to rid the world of him, mostly failing, but sometimes he succeeds.
One of the earliest face-offs between Luthor and Superman, Superman #149 (1961) saw Luthor not just drop the Man of Steel, but kill him. The incarcerated Luthor fools Supes into trusting him by curing cancer - which for a supervillain is a pretty heroic thing to do - to the point that Superman speaks on Luthor’s behalf at his parole hearing.
Unfortunately for the Man of Tomorrow, this was all a ruse and Luthor lures him into his lab, traps him inside, and gives him a fatal amount of Kryptonite.
J’onn J’onzz (AKA Martian Manhunter) felt like he’d let the team down when the Justice League are trapped and killed in Obsidian Age Atlantis. This was all because of his fear of fire. So, to overcome that fear he recruits former villain Scorch to help him, offering his telepathy to help her fight her psychological problems, in exchange. This works, but he breaks the genetic blocks placed by the Guardians, creating his villainous alter ego.
In "JLA: Trial By Fire" (2003), J’onzz’ evil persona, Fernus, reveals itself. He lures the Justice League into a room by kicking Superman’s butt and phasing him into a table. He even comes close to killing the entire Justice League, but they escape to the Fortress of Solitude after Major Disaster intervenes.
Always one step ahead, Fernus knew the League would try to contact White Lanterns for help, so, while he was incapacitating the Man of Steel, he stole the Fortress access codes and instructions on how to operate the Phantom Zone Projector from Supes’ mind, outsmarting not just Superman, but the whole Justice League.
You might be more familiar with Hal Jordan as one of the most heroic Green Lanterns, but after his hometown of Coast City was destroyed in the "Reign of the Supermen" story arc, things went awry for Hal. He was stopped by the Guardians of the Universe when he tried to bring people back from the dead using his Green Lantern ring. A confrontation between Hal and the Guardians resulted in him killing many of the Green Lanterns and Guardians, stealing their powers in the process. This was the start of the villain he became: Parallax.
In the "Zero Hour: Crisis in Time" crossover story, Parallax attempted to destroy and rebuild the universe and timestream, so he could save his hometown from destruction and stop himself going insane. A slew of heroes managed to stop him, but not before he could knock the Man of Steel out cold. Parallax stands over Supes, seemingly victorious, about to recreate the universe when he is taken out by the other heroes.
Before the Guardians of the Universe were known as such, they existed as a race of blue-skinned near immortals on the planet Maltus. One of these beings, Krona, caused an explosion on the races new home planet, Oa, creating the Multiverse and causing a civil war. The evil Oans moved to the Qward dimension, and it was here that Anti-Monitor was born, from an excess of energy taking form on one of the planet’s moons.
In "Crisis on Infinite Earths" (1985), Anti-Monitor is a major part in the Multiversal catastrophe that destroyed many parallel universes, and recreated a single positive matter universe and an antimatter universe at the dawn of time. During this storyline, a battle breaks out between the villain and Superman of Earth-One and Superman of Earth-Two, as well as some other heroes.
Here, Superman of Earth-Two and Superboy-Prime fight Anti-Monitor and throw him into a floating rock. Anti-Monitor puts up a tremendous fight, squeezing the life out of Earth-Two Supes and Superboy-Prime. Darkseid, of all murderous alien lords, has to jump in and save the Super duo from certain doom.
3 Ra's al Ghul
Ra’s al Ghul is more commonly associated with the Dark Knight, but as an epic supervillain, he has been known to wreak havoc all over the DC Universe. He’s the leader of the League of Assassins, and even becomes Bruce Wayne’s father-in-law at one point in the complicated DC timeline. Ra’s and Bruce have a mutual respect for each other’s intelligence, even if Bruce isn’t a fan of Ra’s’ need to eliminate the human race.
Superman, on the other hand, probably has zero respect for Ra’s al Ghul after what he did to him in the "JLA: Tower of Babel" story arc (2000). Ra’s steals Batman’s secret files on the Justice League, using the weaknesses listed in them to defeat all of Batman’s allies - including Superman.
Not only does Ra’s use Batman’s files to take down Superman, but he uses the Red Kryptonite the Dark Knight created - in case he ever needed to incapacitate Big Blue - to torture him. His skin is made transparent from the Kryptonite, causing him intense pain and overloading his solar absorption so much that his super senses are overwhelmed.
Dr. Peter Silverstone’s attempt to save the United Broadcasting Company (UBC) Television Network turned dark epically fast, as he created a super suit and hypnotized UBC President Samuel Tanner and Tanner's nephew, comedian Les Vegas to wear it. When they weren’t good enough for him, he used charged ions to animate the suit. That still didn’t fulfill his needs, so he wore the suit himself and used a powerful stone to give himself the powers of flight, energy blasts, and superhuman strength.
During an arc of Superman Family (1981), Superman and Supergirl come face to face to face with the new villain, Blackrock. You can’t beat Bronze Age comics for cheesiness, and this book has more cheese than Chuck E. During the fight between Supes and Blackrock, our hero calls out the villain’s name before getting knocked out with one punch. A descriptive box states the obvious: "It was then that Superman sank into unconsciousness..." Blackrock also knocks Supergirl unconscious too, proving his immense power over the Super cousins.
1 Harley Quinn
Some will probably argue that Harley Quinn isn’t a supervillain, but considering her massive spike in popularity thanks to the Suicide Squad movie, and the success of her very own comic series, she absolutely deserves a spot in this list. Also, she’s the only entry representing the villainous ladies of the comic book world.
In a Harley-fied sequel/reboot of the Superman vs Muhammad Ali story from the 70s, Harley’s Little Black Book #5 sees Harls replacing the Heavyweight Champion in a fight to save the world from evil aliens.
A representative of the Scrubb race decides that Harley and Supes must fight to be crowned Earth’s Champion, before fighting Scrubb’s champion to find an overall Universal winner.
Practicing at the Fortress of Solitude, with a red sun Supes has created to make the fight fairer, Harley floors the Man of Steel with one punch. Harley finishes the day with a pizza party.
Later, during the televised fight for the sake of humanity, Harley beats Supes again, to the point that he can’t stand up unaided. She even takes out the Scrubb champion, Hun’ka, giving her the title of Champion of the Universe and saving the world, while Supes has a snack.
There’s been plenty more occasions of the Man of Steel getting taken down over the years. What’s your favorite Superman take-down? Let us know in the comments!