Superman is one of the oldest and most iconic characters in comic books, and that means he's come up against some seriously tough foes in his time.
But who are the best Superman villains?
While the Man of Steel might be the strongest, bravest, and most compassionate superhero in the world, he's also had to take on the most maniacal, diabolical, and cleverest adversaries across the infinite Earths. Sometimes he barely manages to scrape out a win, while some of his enemies have even managed to beat him.
From Lex Luthor to Darkseid, we're looking at the villains who've provided Superman with his toughest challenges, as well as his most entertaining.
Who will come out on top in this head-to-head of Superman's rogues gallery? Time to find out who we think the best Superman villains are.
Everyone knows that Superman's one weakness is Kryptonite, an element derived from the debris of his home planet of Krypton that becomes deadly under Earth's yellow sun. But what happens when you take that Kryptonite, and bond it irrevocably to someone who despises the man of steel?
While he has had several different origins, the basic idea remains the same: John Corben, who is either a con-man or a soldier, depending on in which era he's appearing, is either mortally injured or volunteers for an experiment, resulting in mad scientists bonding his body with robotic pieces which are powered by a heart of Kryptonite — giving him strength that rivals Superman's, and empowering him with the iconic hero's greatest weakness.
While he's most often appeared as a small-time (in comparison) threat, or as another villain's henchman, Metallo has the chops to really go head to head with Superman. After all, what good is incredible strength if you can't even get close to your enemy?
Another character with several varying but closely related origins and identities depending on the time period, Parasite began life as either Raymond Jensen, or in modern incarnations, Rudy Jones, a low-level worker in a laboratory. Thinking that a container hidden in one of the labs, in fact, contained valuables, he opened it, exposing himself to strange, radioactive material and becoming the twisted, vampiric Parasite.
Parasite feeds on energy to live. Originally, this need was only satisfied by the life energy of others, leaving common mortals dead at his touch. But against someone like Superman, Parasite's deadly touch allows him to sap the powers and memories of his victims, making him more deadly every time they come in contact. He also retains knowledge gained from these encounters, so unlike many of Superman's foes (at least before he unmasked), Parasite is actually usually aware of his secret identity.
Parasite is a formidable foe, and his early origin, in which he had a wife and family who he could no longer touch, added an element of pathos necessary for the best villains.
Mongul was originally the despotic ruler of a brutal alien world — an occupation not uncommon to enemies of Superman — until the citizens rebelled, exiling him into space. He traveled around, attempting to conquer other worlds, until he came across Warworld, an artificial planet that he ruled without question, forcing its inhabitants to do battle in gladiatorial combat. After attempts to turn Earth into another Warworld, Superman and a veritable army of other heroes invaded the planet, deposing Mongul and saving the Earth.
The first Mongul had incredible strength, rivaling even that of Superman, but more than that he was cunning and ruthless, often using trickery and treachery to assault his enemies. His most famous and diabolical act was the destruction of Coast City, home of the Green Lantern Hal Jordan, as part of another scheme to conquer Earth — which resulted in Hal Jordan's eventual fall from grace, as well as Mongul's imprisonment in an intergalactic prison.
Though Mongul I was eventually killed by the demon Neron, his son, Mongul II quickly rose to power as an enemy of the Green Lanterns, and a member of the Sinestro Corps, their sworn enemies, even rising to lead the Corps after the defeat of its founder, Sinestro. However, Sinestro eventually regained control of his army and imprisoned Mongul II — though he later returned with a new Warworld.
Mongul's sister, Mongal, will appear in 2021's The Suicide Squad film.
7. Mr. Mxyzptlk
That's Mr. Mxyzptlk to you!
Mxyzptlk is an imp from the 5th Dimension who has used his chaotic, reality-warping powers to bedevil and bewilder Superman since very early in the character's 75-year history. One of Superman's oldest super-powered foes, the all-powerful Mxyzptlk could originally only be defeated if Superman could trick him into saying his own name backward — Kltpzyxm — or, later, by Superman meeting a bizarre or seemingly impossible set of conditions that Mxyzptlk himself determined.
The versions of Mxyzptlk — or Mxyztplk, in some versions — are almost too numerous to list, as he's appeared in almost every incarnation of Superman's history, one of the few villains Superman has faced who use magic — the only thing besides Kryptonite that can reliably affect Superman — against him.
Though these stories have occasionally been funny, such as when Superman visited the 5th Dimension, scuttling Mxyzptlk's attempt at running for mayor by plaguing him with the same mischief that Mxyzptlk employed against Superman, they have also been downright deadly, such as when he gave a portion of his power to the Joker, who inadvertently managed to seize all of Mxyzptlk's power, conquering and altering the world in the process.
Who better to challenge Superman than his own dark reflection? Like most of Superman's long-running enemies, Zod has had several iterations throughout the years, all bonded by the common thread that Zod is a Kryptonian war criminal, trapped in the extra-dimensional space, the Phantom Zone, by Kryptonian authorities. When he is released, often alongside several other Kryptonian lackeys, he wreaks havoc with his newfound powers, which are identical to Superman's.
Though he appeared infrequently in the years after 'Crisis on Infinite Earths', a major event that re-wrote DC history and eliminated the existence of all Kryptonians, these were usually non-Kryptonian versions of the character, or they came from an alternate reality. It wasn't until much later that the true Zod, the one who had been the General of all Krypton's military forces before executing a coup, returned from the Phantom Zone.
In the years that followed, Zod became one of Superman's primary nemeses, even becoming his commanding officer when Superman, as Kal-El, his true Kryptonian identity, joined the military of the newly reborn New Krypton, before returning to Earth when Zod again attempted to make war on Earth.
Most fans, however, know Zod from his appearances in the films Superman II and Man of Steel.
Many villains have given Superman a run for his money. Some have even defeated him, bested him, outwitted him, or conquered him. But only Doomsday has actually killed Superman.
In The Death and Return of Superman, still one of the best-selling collected stories of all time, Doomsday, a genetically engineered Kryptonian weapon, cuts a path of destruction across the Earth, culminating in a life-or-death showdown against Superman in Metropolis which ended, unfortunately, in death.
Of course, we all know that Superman returned, but at the time Doomsday quite literally beat him to death, such an event was basically unheard of, at least with a company's flagship character. Doomsday was also a relatively new villain, making this truly one of the first event stories.
Over the years, he's been seen time and time again, each instance with diminishing returns. After all, once you've killed Superman, there's nowhere to go but down. Still, he remains one of Superman's most powerful and deadly foes.
Doomsday actually made it to the big screen in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in which he once again killed Superman. That scene will reportedly be revisited in Zack Snyder's Justice League.
Darkseid is the unquestioned master of Apokolips, a far-flung planet populated with godlike beings of immense evil. Apokolips shares its solar system with New Genesis, a planet of similar, but more benevolent beings. As ruler of Apokolips, Darkseid spends his time menacing the citizens of New Genesis, and the rest of the universe, in his hunt for the all-powerful 'Anti-Life Equation,' which will give him the power to rule the universe.
Created as the primary nemesis in Jack Kirby's 'Fourth World' cycle, Darkseid initially began fighting the Man of Steel because Superman, via his pal Jimmy Olsen, was the person that connected the Fourth World to the rest of the DC Universe. Over time, especially after Kirby's tenure at DC ended, Darkseid and the other New Gods, as they were called, began appearing more and more outside of their own corner of continuity, with Darkseid becoming a prime threat for Superman and the rest of the DCU.
Darkseid has appeared as the main villain in several Superman stories, as well as many stories involving the Justice League in various media. He is even the main villain of the Justice League's 'New 52' relaunch, a run that culminated with 'The Darkseid War.'
With power levels possibly even far above Superman's, including almost incalculable strength and an enigmatic power known as the 'Omega Effect,' Darkseid is one of Superman's most powerful and recognizable foes.
He'll appear as one of the villains of Zack Snyder's Justice League.
Bizarro am not dangerous! Bizarro am funny and nice!
For anyone not in the know, Bizarro, who is a twisted clone of Superman, speaks in opposites. In fact, everything about Bizarro, and the planet he created using the same 'duplicating ray' that created him, Bizarro World, is the opposite of Superman's world.
That includes the fact that this world also has a Bizarro Justice League populated by the slowest man alive, and a guy with a power ring that gets stronger the more afraid he gets.
Bizarro may sound a little silly, but the truth is, his misguided attempts at what he considers 'heroism' often result in bad times for Superman, as Bizarro is often found rampaging across Earth and other worlds making trouble. There is some discrepancy in his portrayals; the original version was often seen as twisted, but stunningly intelligent, often creating strange devices and inventions, while the clone version was more mindless and brutal.
An alien intelligence with a cold, calculating mind, a nearly indestructible, always repairable body, and an unrivaled thirst for knowledge and power. This is Brainiac, an artificial intelligence created by the Computer Tyrants of Colu, an alien world where logic and knowledge are paramount to everything else.
Fearing the power they had instilled in Brainiac, who was designed to conquer alien worlds, they made him only as smart as their smartest members. But he quickly developed a stronger intelligence and struck out on his own, coming into conflict with Superman again and again.
Brainiac is perhaps most notorious for shrinking the Kryptonian city of Kandor and storing it in a bottle on his ship along with cities from many other worlds. Kandor was, therefore, one of the only remaining vestiges of Kryptonian society. After a conflict in which the true Brainiac (it was revealed that the other incarnations Superman had faced over the years were merely emissaries or duplicates) came to Earth, Superman finally rescued Kandor, restoring it to full size and leading to it becoming New Krypton, a satellite planet in orbit around the Earth.
Of course, that didn't last, thanks to the machinations of Brainiac and Lex Luthor, who has often been shown to ally with the mad computer intelligence in their mutual pursuit of conquest and power.
1. Lex Luthor
Lex Luthor isn't just Superman's greatest enemy, he's one of the greatest enemies of the entire DCU. Still, with Luthor, it all comes back to Superman. Over the years, Luthor has fluctuated between corrupt businessman, to mad scientist, to all-out, megalomaniacal, world-conquering supervillain - he was even once elected president and, later found a position as part of the Justice League.
Up until recently, his motivation is almost always the same: take down Superman, prove that Luthor is the best and that all others, including the Man of Steel, are beneath him. After all, no one is as brutally intelligent, as calculatingly cunning, and as devastatingly dashing as Luthor. Therefore, doesn't Luthor deserve the world at his feet?
Whatever the incarnation of Lex Luthor, there's a perfect dichotomy between Luthor and Superman. Superman represents an outside force, achieving things that humanity could never dream to accomplish, all for the good of his adopted world. Luthor is humanity's greatest potential, too selfish and arrogant to use his gifts to better anyone but himself. There's a subtle, but brilliant dynamic between the two viewpoints that makes Superman seem all the stronger, and Luthor seem all the more malevolent.
No Superman villain is as well known, as well-loved, or as well-traveled as Lex Luthor. Often seen as the de facto leader of all of the DCU's supervillains, he's been portrayed as such in too many incarnations to name, much like Superman is most often seen as the leader of DC's pantheon of heroes.