Skip to main content

Superman is Earth's greatest hero - and sometimes its greatest jerk

(Image credit: DC)

In the continuity of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Superman is a dictator who conquered Earth after doing some of the worst stuff imaginable (more on that later). But he's also been a pretty crummy guy in the mainstream DCU as well - including everything from abusing his kids, burning down peoples' houses, and even killing his own wife.

With the comic continuity of Injustice returning in a new DC Digital First series from writer Tom Taylor who wrote the original Injustice comic book series, we're looking back at 10 times Superman was a super jerk.

Aquaman vs. Jimmy Olsen

(Image credit: DC)

Once upon a time, cub reporter Jimmy Olsen was dispatched to cover the launch of a submarine called the Mako. Little did Jimmy know that the Mako was the next target of a creepy ship collector known as Captain Bane. While Jimmy is investigating, Bane triggers a trap that sinks the Mako, potentially sealing Jimmy's fate. As Olsen flees the Mako, smartly exiting the only thing keeping him alive underwater, he signals Superman with his watch.

When Aquaman arrives instead, Olsen is overjoyed, as anyone would be who had expected the Man of Steel and gotten the guy who talks to fish. Aquaman does the trick, however, cleverly using eels and pufferfish to save not only the crew but the entire submarine. Of course, this enrages Captain Bane, who sends a whale to swallow Olsen. Once inside the whale, Jimmy finds a magic stone that caused the whale to spit him out and granted him all of Aquaman's powers. Who knew it was that easy to become the worst Super Friend?

So Jimmy does the noble thing and starts saving lives at sea, drawing the notice of not only Aquaman, but the erstwhile Superman — who finally clues into Jimmy's plight, and arrives just in time to bully Aquaman into having a contest with Jimmy to test their powers by making fun of Aquaman's missing wife Mera. Pitting them against each other, Superman says whoever can survive the longest without water is the "winner."

Jimmy barely wins the contest by licking the moisture off of Superman's boot, which Superman kindly doesn't count as cheating because he is such a stand-up guy. In the end, it turns out Captain Bane is a shapeshifter who has organized the entire ruse just to kill Aquaman and has been impersonating Superman the entire time.

The real Superman shows up to save the day, proving that he's really a nice guy - but tell that to Jimmy and Aquaman who were forced to lick the sweat off their best friend's foot just to stay alive while Superman waited exactly as long as possible to save them.

Superman: clean energy enthusiast

(Image credit: DC)

When Superman hears that the stockholders of a new oil well are being scammed, he sets out to see justice done against the con men who are stealing money from the poor stockholders. So rather than simply investigating the claims against the con men and contacting the proper authorities — for where would the challenge be in that for the Man of Steel? — Superman puts in motion a complex and destructive plot to not only destroy the oil well but to make sure nobody winds up happy at all.

Disguising himself as a businessman, Superman purchases the remaining stock from the con men, taking a controlling interest in the faulty well. He then drills until he actually strikes oil, using the now functioning well to blackmail the con men into giving him a cool million dollars.

Skipping the part of the plan where he makes restitution to the swindled shareholders, Superman simply kidnaps the con men and forces them to watch him destroy the now functioning well because nothing says truth and justice like denying both of those things to the original victims of a crime and then punishing not only the perpetrators but anyone unfortunate enough to live anywhere near the burning oil well in the most destructive and unhelpful way possible.

Superman: deadbeat dad

(Image credit: DC)

In the much-maligned Bryan Singer's much-maligned film Superman Returns, Superman finally comes back to Earth after a sojourn in space (where he had been seeking the wreckage of Krypton) to find his beloved Lois Lane in the arms of a new man friend — and burdened with the care of her precocious young son, who was born just after Superman ditched out on pretty much everything worth caring about in his life.

Thankfully having matured since the days where he simply might have imprisoned Lois and taken over her boyfriend's identity or had a robot pull her hair or something, Superman does the mature thing and keeps his distance — never mind that any other idiot could tell that there was some kind of connection between Superman, Lois, and the boy who was born just about nine months after Superman hit it and quit it with poor Lois.

When Superman is gravely injured while fighting a rock like someone's drunk uncle, Lois visits him in the hospital, finally revealing to him that yes, the young boy who has Kryptonian powers is, in fact, the son of the only other Kryptonian — Superman, in case you, like Kal-El himself, couldn't deduce that. Unable to pass up the opportunity to completely mishandle a complex social situation, Superman wakes up from his coma and finally beats that rock before silently flying into his son's window and hovering over his bed as he sleeps, only to once again fly off into space, waiting patiently for his next chance to thoroughly scar and abandon the family he has always craved.

Superman vs. all the cars

(Image credit: DC)

In a prime example of the bizarre and flighty moral code of Superman's early days, Superman becomes enraged when his good friend is killed in a car accident. Rather than striking at the root of the problem and ensuring stronger driving standards, rallying for better driver's education, or empowering the police to more strictly enforce traffic laws, Superman goes right off the deep end and goes on the radio, declaring that all dangerous and homicidal drivers are now in his purview and subject to his unique and baffling brand of elaborate, overwrought 'justice.'

To kick off his noble war, Superman visits an impound lot and begins demolishing all the cars in sight, irrespective of how or why they got there. With the taste of motor oil now hot on his fists, Superman embarks on an erratic escalation of his mission, bypassing the reckless and homicidal drivers he hates so much entirely and simply focusing on destroying car lots and car factories, crippling the local economy and probably killing at least as many people as the cars he so despises in the process.

With his hatred finally sated and his muscles twitching with righteous indignation, Superman finally does what he should have done in the first place, and rallies the mayor of Metropolis to crack down on traffic violations — by kidnapping him.

Terrified, the mayor agrees to Superman's demands, and the story ends with Clark Kent receiving a parking ticket thanks to the policies Superman demanded. Mercifully, Clark decides that, for once, human laws apply to him and spares the ticketing officer's puny mortal life.

Superman a.k.a. Tommy Burke

(Image credit: DC)

Bear in mind as you read this list that Superman has the power to do basically anything he wants. He can solve any problem, is immune to almost all forms of harm, has the power to stop any crime, and the credibility to appear in the right, regardless of his position.

So when he makes choices like deciding that the only way to stop some corrupt athletes from rigging a football game is to drug and kidnap a member of the opposing team and take his place, you kind of wonder whether some circuits got crossed during that trip from Krypton, or if he's really just that malicious and bored with actually solving problems instead of needlessly and almost effortlessly complicating them.

After stealing the identity of poor football player Tommy Burke and using some kind of unknown drugs to paralyze him while he has his fun borrowing his face and name, Superman makes his way to Burke's football practice where he nearly kills a fellow teammate in the locker room and proceeds to use his incredible powers to become the kind of reckless and destructive football player that the real Tommy Burke could only dream of being. With his position as star player secure — and the rest of his team nearly dead at his hand - Superman allows the thugs working to fix the game to kidnap the real Burke, deciding that since they're kind enough to "take him off my hands," he'll just leave well enough alone and win that big football game everyone's talking about.

Finally, after the game is over, Superman ditches Burke's identity and starts cooking up his next harebrained scheme to ruin everyone's lives and save the day.

This ain't Superman XXX

(Image credit: DC)

This problematic tale of betrayal and assault isn't as ugly for Superman as the cover implies - or at least not in the way the cover implies.

Yeah, Superman and Big Barda (the wife of Supes' pal Scott Free/Mister Miracle) hooked up - but it was under the mind control of Darkseid's bizarre, porno-obsessed minion Sleez, who reasoned the steamiest content he could generate for his boss would be this disgusting display of coercive assault.

Superman's more of a victim in this tale, as are Barda and Scott, all of whom suffer terrible indignities at the hands of Sleez, who kills himself to avoid the consequences of his actions once his mind control is broken.

Superman (Prime) kills basically everyone

(Image credit: DC)

The '80s were a complicated time for comic books. Not only were readers maturing, they expected the comic books they were reading to mature right along with them. Further, an ever-expanding mythology and a web of separate but interconnected realities were making the DC Universe more complicated and hard to follow than almost any of the publisher's competition. This heralded the need for a change to the structure and intent of DC's line, and Superman was one of the most complicated and thinly spread characters of all.

During the course of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the event that DC designed to streamline its continuity, myriad alternate realities were destroyed and collapsed to form one core continuity. Among those worlds was Earth Prime, a reality with the distinction of being one of the most unnecessary and impressively misguided alternate realities of all. Earth Prime was essentially the real, non-comic book, mundane world, where no one had powers and people read Superman comic books.

When young Clark Kent, coincidentally named after his favorite hero Superman, reaches maturity, he discovers that, woops, Earth Prime ain't so different after all, and that he is Superman. When Earth Prime is swept into the Crisis, Superboy Prime joins several other iterations of the Man of Steel in defeating the Anti-Monitor and saving the new reality, after which he and several of his friends, a job well done, are shunted off to a "Paradise Dimension" where loose threads never dangle, and there is no meta-plot.

Years later, after decades spent watching the universe he worked to save change and evolve time and time again, Superboy Prime gets so mad that he starts punching the walls of the Paradise Dimension, altering reality with his adolescent tantrums.

You know, classic Superman stuff.

When he and his companions finally break loose of the prison in which they willingly adjourned themselves, Superboy Prime goes on a rampage, joining the Anti-Monitor in un-altering reality, restoring the needlessly complex pre-Crisis status quo, and pretty much ruining everything for everyone again.

In the process, Superboy Prime managed to kill a whole bunch of people, including Kon-El, the clone of his alternate reality self, effectively completing the craziest time-loop scenario outside of the whole Cable/Cyclops debacle, and solidifying his place as one of the most obnoxious villains of a whole era of DC.

Super-gentrification

(Image credit: DC)

In the early days of his career, Superman was kind of a big picture guy. He was all about righting social ills, like crime and poverty. One day, while contemplating all of this as he dangled some young criminals high in the air over their low-income neighborhood, he had the sudden realization that most of the crime he had to deal with originated in these types of slums.

So, figuring out he could kill a whole bunch of birds with one really terrible stone, Superman decided to just be done with the whole thing and burn down the poorest neighborhoods of Metropolis. And that's pretty much exactly what he did. Charitably, he allowed the people to leave their homes before demolishing the area, but only just.

Of course, the housing developments were replaced with "much nicer housing," which the poor residents of the area most likely couldn't afford.

Superman's son, Jimmy Olsen

(Image credit: DC)

After being told by a psychic that he would kill his own son, Superman comes up with a really good plan to make sure that would never happen. Instead of going the obvious, non-super route and just not having a son, he decides that the best way to stop himself from killing his own son would be to adopt a son and then alienate him from his life before getting the chance to kill him.

And what better son could a Superman have than Jimmy Olsen? Since simply being Superman's "pal" is no longer enough for young mister Olsen, he decides to take their relationship to the next level and accept Superman's offer to be his dad (no mention of where Jimmy's actual father is, naturally).

Since Jimmy is just totally thrilled with this arrangement, he sets about doing all kinds of cool stuff that a creepy adult son might do for his creepier more adult father. Meanwhile, Superman sets in motion his plan to be the biggest jerk possible — and if you're Superman, that's a pretty big jerk — criticizing and destroying every gift or kind deed that Jimmy showers on him until Jimmy has no choice but to divest himself from Superman's parentage via legal means, finally freeing himself of the tyranny of the world's most purposefully awful abusive father.

Of course, Superman eventually explains that adopting, abusing, and disowning Jimmy was the only way to save the son that he didn't have and who didn't exist in the first place but not before giving Jimmy the parting gift of crippling PTSD.

R.I.P. Lois Lane

(Image credit: DC)

The comic book tie-in for the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us is a spectacular example of Superman being duped into doing the worst imaginable misdeeds — which result in a world where Superman is not the greatest hero, but the greatest villain and global dictator.

Superman is overjoyed to learn that his wife, Lois Lane, has become pregnant with his child. He's less overjoyed to learn that Lois Lane, a driven career woman with a prominent role in journalism, has no plans to slow down just because she's carrying Superman's baby, despite his wishes that she remains safe. (As if Superman wouldn't be capable of protecting someone who is outside of his apartment.)

So Lois gets a tip that a corrupt senator is making a shady deal down at the docks, and since she is an ace reporter, she doesn't bother calling the cops or telling anyone where she's gonna be, bringing only Jimmy Olsen for back up. But the whole deal is obviously a setup, and Jimmy is promptly murdered by the Joker, who also kidnaps Lois, implanting the trigger to a nuclear device in her heart.

Woops, guess Superman actually can't protect her outside of his apartment.

When he finally, hours later, figures out that something's wrong and Lois is missing, the Man of Steel enlists the JLA to help him track the Joker to his submarine, where the Joker doses Superman with gas just as Superman realizes that Doomsday is aboard the submarine. Grabbing Doomsday and setting him loose in orbit, Superman suddenly realizes that he's not fighting Doomsday at all, but instead has just flown Lois unprotected out of the Earth's atmosphere, only to discover that the cold vacuum of space is Lois's one weakness.

As Lois's heart stops in Superman's arms, the trigger to Joker's bomb activates, destroying Metropolis in a nuclear blast. And so, Superman does the worst thing he ever did, killing his own wife and unborn child and destroying his home city in the process.

To be honest, this is just the start of what he does in that world, including brutally killing Green Arrow, and even worse, B'dg the lovable woodland creature Green Lantern – and, oh yeah, conquering the world.

Newsarama staff writer who learned to read from comic books and hasn’t shut up about them since.