Superman was the first comic book superhero, smashing onto the scene in 1938 in the pages of ‘Action Comics’ (which was recently relaunched with a new issue #1). With near-unparallelled super strength, invulnerability, the ability to fly faster than the speed of sound, freeze breath and heat vision, it’s hard to find rogues to give him a real challenge. Very hard. Batman has all of his foes, most of which are suffering from one mental disorder or another, that are icons and recognizable to civilians outside of comic book readers. Even The Flash and Spider-Man seem to have more colorful, unique foes. Whereas Superman, possibly the most powerful hero in his pantheon has repeatedly matched whits with… The Toy Man, The Prankster and Terra Man (alien cowboy on a winged horse… yes, really. That’s the back of his Stetson on the lower right hand corner of the cover to the left). It’s always confused me as to why so many of his enemies are overweight, middle aged (to be generous) white dudes with no super powers and cheesy gimmicks. But they don’t all match that description! So allow me to introduce my picks for Superman’s Top Foes.
John Corben was a petty crook, whose brain was transplanted into a robotic body, powered by a chunk of Kryptonite. Originally, Metallo looked like an ordinary man, until he ripped off his shirt to expose the Kryptonite chamber in his chest. Over the years, he has evolved, stealing technology from Lexcorp to make himself more and more powerful, not to mention larger and larger. Metallo now looks like a hulking mecha! But Kryptonite or no, Metallo remains a common thug at heart and is always bested by the Man of Steel.
9. Mister Mxyzptlk
That’s pronounced “Mix-Yez-Pittle-Ick,” not “Mix-El-Plick” or any other mangling you may have heard. And while he is more of a nuisance than a true threat, Mxyzptlk manipulates the one thing (other than Kryptonite) against which Superman is helpless, magic! Mxy is an imp from the 5th Dimension who travels to our dimension to befuddle Superman. The only way to get him back to his home dimension is to get him to say his name backwards. (Although in some stories there are other rules; for example, in one tale, the condition was that Superman had to get Mxy to paint his face blue.) Mxy isn’t malicious, he just likes playing pranks. And while not a lethal threat, he was popular enough to inspire two copycats, Batman’s thwart Bat-Mite and Aquaman’s impish prankster Qwsp (who, unlike Mxyzptlk, did turn out to be bad news in Grant Morrison’s ‘JLA’ run).
There have been several Parasites over the years. The first was Maxwell Jenson, a low level worker at a scientific research center, who though the company was storing money in its large bio hazard containers, opened one only to be bombarded by cosmic waste energy. (What an idiot!) His skin turned purple and he became a power parasite, draining the life force out of anyone he touched. Naturally, he was drawn to the greatest living power source there was, Superman. But Superman’s energy was too much for him and he overloaded and dissolved. (He, like most comic book characters, eventually recovered.) He was later replaced by Rudy Jones, who was manipulated into becoming the Parasite by Darkseid. His origin was essentially the same. Like Jenson, Jones had to drain others’ life forces to live. Over the years, he has evolved into a larger, more monstrous form.
Wait, WHAT?! Batman’s not a villain! True, but I said Top Foes not Villains, and these two throw down all the time! Usually there’s mind control involved, but nevertheless, they’ve fought more times than I can recall. Fans seem obsessed with this match up and remarkably, most fans seem to think Batman, who has no super powers could actually beat the god-like Man of Steel! Batman is a cunning master strategist, who actually did come up with fail safes to take down all of his Justice League cohorts, should they go rogue, but in a surprise attack, Batman would be a bloody pulp before he could reach his utility belt. The pair’s most famous battle is probably the climax of ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ where they battle in Crime Alley and Batman defeats Superman thanks to a Kryptonite arrow, furnished by Oliver Queen, the former Green Arrow.
Originally, Bizarro was a nemesis for Superboy, when Professor Dalton attempted to clone the Boy of Steel. Instead, he created a backwards-thinking imperfect duplicate that eventually self-destructed. Years later, Lex Luthor then modified the device and created a new adult Bizarro. That version was also destroyed. The most recent Bizarro was magically created by The Joker, who had acquired the magical abilities of Mxyzptlk. Going beyond being the opposite of Superman, this Bizarro is so off-kilter and erratic, even other villains are nervous around him. As a member of the Secret Society of Super Villains, he helps massacre The Freedom Fighters, beating The Human Bomb to death and commenting Frankenstein-like that he likes the “pretty lights” the Bomb’s powers generate.
Over the years, Bizarro has been both villainous and comedic, depending on the writer. In the 50s and 60s, he even had his own strips within the Superman comics, which depicted him living on Bizarro World (or “Htrae”) married to Bizarro Lois Lane and raising a son, Bizarro Junior. Readers, mostly kids at the time, enjoyed their comedic backwards exploits on a world where everything was the opposite of the way it was in the real world.
To put it bluntly, he killed Superman! In one of the biggest events in comics in the 90s, this newly created monster plowed through the Justice League of America and came to blows with the Man of Steel in an epic clash that nearly destroyed all of Metropolis. Ultimately the match was a draw as both combatants perished! (Or did they?)
It was later revealed that Doomsday has a Kryptonian origin as a creature used to help tame ancient Krypton, a much more savage environment from the super advanced world Jor-El and Lara inhabited. These creatures were designed so that every time one of them died, it would be reinvented and programmed to overcome whatever had killed it the previous time, becoming more and more powerful.
Cyborg Superman, Hank Henshaw, took Doomsday’s body and strapped it to an asteroid and hurled it into space. But it was then revealed that Doomsday was alive! After Superman was revived, he realizes that he could not kill Doomsday again, since he had evolved to survive what killed him before. So he sent him to the end of time. But since then, Doomsday has been cloned and recreated a number of times to battle an array of heroes. But these clones are never as powerful as the real thing. After all… he killed Superman!
Developed on the planet Colu, cold, calculating robot Brainiac roamed the universe, amassing information and power. He also had a hobby; he collected cities from inhabited planets, shrank them down and displayed them in tiny bottles! He eventually ran afoul of Superman on Earth and the two became fast enemies. Eventually, Superman discovered that among the shrunken cities in Brainiac’s possession was Kandor, a city from pre-destruction Krypton. Superman took the bottled city, but didn’t know how to return it to its normal size, so he stored it safely in the Fortress of Solitude and would routinely visit the beings within.
Brainiac was later reinvented, possessing mentalist Milton Fine, gaining telepathic powers as well as his computer abilities. Brainiac created quite a legacy, with clones and duplicates galore! His descendant, Brainiac 5 serves in the Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century. And various Brainiacs have surfaced to plague Superman and the other heroes of Earth only to meet various destructive fates, only to be replaced by alternate incarnations of the robotic fiend!
Ruler of the hellish planet Apokalipse, Darkseid is truly a god, with nearly unlimited powers. In fact, he may actually be the most powerful being on this list! Nearly unstoppable, Darkseid is driven to locate the Anti-Life Equation, with which he will subjugate all will power, making him the ruler of everyone everywhere! He is opposed by the heroic gods of New Genesis, which includes he birth son Orion and his adoptive son Mister Miracle (Scott Free). The Earth appears to be the hidden location of the Anti-Life Equation, so these gods’ struggle has spilled over onto our world.
Superman has risen to stop him on numerous occasions, but Darkseid is the ruler of an entire planet’s population, all raised to serve his will. The heroes of Earth have had to band together to stand against him, most recently in ‘Final Crisis’ where he very nearly conquered the entire planet. He is currently being reinvented in the pages of ‘Justice League.’
2. General Zod
Dru-Zod has been reinvented a few times, but the purest form of the character is that he was in charge of Krypton’s military, then went renegade and was sentenced to imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. He vows revenge on his sentencer, Jor-El and eventually is freed, usually along with a few other Kryptonian criminals likewise imprisoned and they travel to Earth to murder Jor-El’s son, Kal-El a.k.a. Superman, as well as to imprison the Earth and create a new Kryptonian colony. His co-horts vary from tale to tale, but his most famous allies were created for the movie ‘Superman II,’ the hulking, yet simple-minded Non and female Ursa. In the most recent comics, Zod and Ursa had a son, whom they abused from birth and used as a pawn to escape the Phantom Zone and conquer the Earth. But this son, Lor-Zod, turned on his parents and was instrumental in their defeat.
Zod is a favorite super foe, because he is one of the few villains that provides a real physical threat to the Man of Steel. With most of his other foes, he engages more in a battle of whits. With Zod, he has to cut lose and just throw punches against a foe who has all of his powers and more military training. Fans were ecstatic when he was revealed to be the villain in ‘The Man of Steel.’ Finally, we could get a Superman that really had to get down and dirty on the big screen!
1. Lex Luthor
Luthor, like most long-running comic book characters, has worn many hats– super villain, mad scientist, industrialist, corporate raider, President of the United States, xenophobe, even victim– but one thing is consistent: he HATES Superman. In his earliest appearances, a red-headed Luthor was a scientist who used his futuristic devices to commit crimes and battle Superman. His baldness occurred when an artist mistakenly referenced bald mad scientist The Ultra-Humanite for a story, but from that point on, Luthor was the smooth scalped villain we all know and love.
He was radically re-envisioned in the 1978 film ‘Superman’ as a real estate mogul, which served as inspiration when the character was redesigned after ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’ as a wealthy business man with a dark side. His beef with Superman at this point is that he is an alien and his natural super abilities diminish regular humans’ hard-earned accomplishments. He’s also pretty jealous that he is no longer the biggest name in Metropolis.
At times, Luthor has been an out-and-out super villain, wearing a suit of battle armor in order to pose a greater physical threat to the Last Son of Krypton, but Luthor’s most dangerous asset is his cruel, clever and super intelligent mind. Luthor doesn’t just want to defeat Superman, he wants to destroy and humiliate him. He wants the world to turn against him. And the thing is… at times, it actually seems like he might succeed.
So, those are my picks! What do you think?