In honor of the Last Son of Krypton’s 75 birthday, I have decided to give a nod to the beings who helped make him the worldwide icon he is today. They are often overlooked in the overall scheme of things, but without them to shape and define his character, would we even remember Superman the way we do today? In their own inimical styles each has contributed to the legend just as well as the Kents who raised him and Jor-El and Lara who gave him life. I present to you my top ten rogues gallery of Superman’s Greatest Villains. A group so scary, even seeing them together on a page is enough to give a Superman fan pause. Names to conjure by: Lex Luthor, Darkseid, Zod, Brainiac, Doomsday, Mxyzptlk, Metallo, Parasite, Imperiex, Mongul. You’ll remember why the Man of Steel sleeps with one eye open…
Superman’s Greatest Villains
1. Lex Luthor - He is the quintessential Superman villain. As intelligent as Superman is strong, as immoral as Superman is moral, a man with god-like aspirations versus a god with a desire for a kinship with humanity. There is no greater rivalry, no greater challenger, no more monsterous enemy than Lex Luthor, a man who carries within him the best that humanity has to offer, and fails to use it to further the goals of anyone but himself. A genius, arguably the smartest human being alive, his schemes defeat Superman because he uses strategems which rely on Superman’s innate goodness and chivalry turning them against him. Luthor has been known to employ technology, flunkies and even the occasional super-suit when he wants to get personal. Mostly he prefers to leave the heavy lifting to others and out-think his opponents. If you think a man in a business suit isn’t dangerous, it’s only because that’s what he wants you to think.
Birthday wishes from Lex Luthor: “I would wish you a happy birthday Superman, but what’s the point? Until I kill you, you are liable to be immortal so what does one more year mean to you? I considered a gift but what do you get the man who has no use for anything? So I leave you this pleasant thought. I will find a way to destroy you. I have dedicated more than one life to this task, my commitment should not be in doubt. Get that microphone out of my face…”
2. Darkseid - One of the most powerful foes Superman has ever faced. In terms of raw physical power, Darkseid has, in certain incarnations of the Man of Steel, been far more powerful than Superman. Nearly completely invulnerable to all forms of harm, strength equal to or even greater than Superman’s, and armed with the Omega Force, a weapon capable of hitting a target across dimensional barriers, Darkseid is the complete ruler of his world, Apokalips. Hailing from a higher and older segment of reality, Darkseid’s people have millenia more experience, technology and ability than most sentients from our Universe. Only Superman’s efforts, again and again, against Darkseid, prevented a lasting incursion from the Fourth World. Truth be told, I would say Superman has never actually defeated Darkseid in a fair fight. But I did enjoy watching Kal-el lay the smackdown in the last episode of the Justice League Unlimited against Darkseid. It’s rare you see Supes going all out, and totally worth it too.
Birthday wishes from Darkseid: “Kal-El, our last skirmish over your young cousin was the most satisfying confrontation we have ever had. I trust the bruises were slow to heal. You almost released yourself against me. Stop holding back, Kryptonian. I will be back for your world, Kal-El. And unless you release your true power, collateral damage be damned, there will be nothing you can do to stop me.”
3. General Zod and the Phantom Zone villains - Fearsome and ruthless enemies from a Krypton long dead. Their ambitions thwarted, they were imprisoned in realm of reality where they could neither be seen or heard, forever immaterial but able to see and hunger for a world they were no longer a part of; a cruel prison, indeed. Once released and bathed in the light of a yellow sun, their powers could finally match their ambitions. They were the physical equal of Superman with a cruel streak he could never match. Recent iterations have painted them of a different, less monsterous cloth, but the older versions of these characters earned their place in Superman’s most villainous rogues gallery.
Birthday wishes from General Zod: “Kneel before Zod.”
4. Brainiac - No matter what iteration of the being, Brainiac should be counted among the most dangerous of Superman’s enemies because of his complete dispassion with which he seeks his goals. Logical, cold, calculating and easily the most intelligent by far of all of Superman’s enemies, Brainiac’s resources are nearly infinite, his technology almost beyond belief, his relentlessness unending. Brainiac has nearly achieved his goal of the destruction of Superman but a flaw in his logic or his arrogance has always led to his defeat. But if I were betting on a villain who could achieve the goal of destroying Superman permanently, I would bet on Brainac.
Birthday wishes from Brainiac: “Enjoy your last birthday Kryptonian. When next we meet, it will be no logic puzzle that defeats my intellect. There will be no random confluence of events which will come down in your favor. I have been gathering the resources of a world while I have been away. I calculate our next meeting will be your last with a 100% chance of my success. Savor your remaining days. I am coming.”
5. Doomsday - One of the few beings who can say (if he was big on conversation) he killed Superman in a straight up physical confrontation using brute force. He literally beat Superman to death, with his fists. Nuff said. Created by mad scientists, on a planet of Kryptonian mad scientists, this creature was developed and produced with one intent, to create an unstoppable superweapon, even by Krytonian standards. Equipped with an adaptable genetic structure, the creature evolves with every confrontation, so however you killed it last time will mean nothing the next time you meet. This creature beat the entire Justice League to a pulp and fought Superman to a match which ended in both of their apparent deaths. Yes, they both eventually got better. If you aren’t Superman, you never want to meet Doomsday, anywhere. And even if you are, you better have a new trick up your sleeve, that last one won’t work here.
Birthday greetings from Doomsday: “Die.”
6. Mr. Mxyztptlk - A being so powerful it could erase Superman from reality; with the proverbial snap of its fingers. A creature from a higher reality of existence, Mr. Mxyztptlk comes to Earth to slum it in the third dimension. Superman is little more than an interactive entertainment for the creature. It handicaps the game by telling Superman if he can trick him into saying his name backward, Mr. Mxyztptlk will then retire to the Fifth dimension for 90 days. He is not, technically, dangerous, but since he does not understand how fragile our reality is, he can damage us without even realizing it. During the Silver Age, a visit from Mr. Mxyztptlk was generally a light-hearted romp with Superman proving he could be quite the trickster himself. Never confuse the lightness of the character with the idea he isn’t dangerous. He is as dangerous as any enemy of the Man of Steel. Pray he never decides to forget to play fair…
Birthday greetings from Mxyztptlk: “You know Supes, we haven’t gotten together in quite some time. I know you’ve been missing our antics together. Love the new look by the way, it really was time to put your underwear on the right way. Remember Blue Boy, next time we hang out, the stakes will be a whole lot higher than me going home for three months for R&R. Next time is going to be killer…”
7. Metallo - Imagine Superman’s worst fear, Kryptonite. Give it legs, a rabid hatred of Superman and the physical power to match him blow for blow and you have Metallo. No genius, no incredible technology, just the one thing that saps Superman’s powers and makes him susceptible to being beaten to death as a human in a brightly-colored costume. Once an ordinary con-man, John Corbin was nearly killed in a accident. A morally-challenged robotics scientist places Corbin’s brain into a metallic frame, essentially creating a cyborg. Needing a power source, the body uses the radiation of Kryptonite to give it greater than human strength and durability. Historically, Metallo has killed other Kryptonians and with the help of Lex Luthor was tailored to use various forms of Kryptonite against Superman as well. Personally, I despise Metallo and while I admire Superman’s restraint, I recommend using heat vision to turn him into an immobile glowing brain in a jar. I think the people of Metropolis would understand.
Birthday wishes from Metallo: “I know you don’t consider me a threat these days, but I promise you I have been working on getting a new tailor. My next body is being made by a master of the robotic flesh. Perhaps you remember his name. A Professor Ivo… of Amazo fame. He tells me my new body will not only be powered by Kryptonite, but will be able to emulate it, at will. You won’t even be able to lay a hand on me…”
8. Parasite - A villain you love to hate, the Parasite’s power allowed him to absorb Superman’s superhuman abilities just by touching the Last Son of Krypton. The longer the fight, the more likely the Parasite was to come out on top. There were four Parasites over the years, but the most well known was Rudy Jones. Rudy also starred in Superman, the Animated Series during the 90s. The Parasite, despite his fearsome power was handicapped by his lack of ambition and fairly ordinary intelligence. He was more often a tool than a leader, used and disposed of as soon as possible.
Birthday wishes from the Parasite: “So hungry.” <lost my second sound man this week>
9. Imperiex - A force of nature more than an entity, this creature was set on destroying the entire galaxy. A threat so great the entire planet Earth was enlisted to fight against it. Superman’s power was no match for even an Imperiex Probe until he trained himself to use his powers at their highest output. A robot whose strength, superhuman speed and near-invulnerability equaled Superman’s, Imperiex Probes were the most powerful threat to ever face the human race. Led by Superman, Lex Luthor and a host of heroes, Imperiex was deterred from its plan of galactic conquest. These battles against this unstoppable foe was one of the Man of Steel’s finest hours in the previous Post-Crisis DCU continuum.
Birthday wishes from Imperiex: Imperiex refused to be interviewed on camera, saying something about ruining his brand…
10. Mongul - A physical titan, a potentially powerful intellect, but linked to a shriveled petty soul would adequately describe Mongul. He has the power to destroy Superman, the capability to match him in combat and the ruthlessness to win a conflict between them, and has done so numerous times. This is what makes him a great villain. But Mongul is both lazy and overconfident, he reads his own press releases and believes them. He was the undisputed ruler of Warworld and had long crushed anyone capable of defeating him. Though he never grew physically fat, his metaphoric fat was his undoing. He underestimated Superman and has done so in nearly every encounter.
Birthday wishes from Mongul: “Overconfident, under-developed, under-ambitious? Did you think when I was training you, I did not learn the true limits of your power? I have been training now, Kryptonian. I have acquired new technologies from a half a dozen galaxies far and wide. When next you and I meet, you will learn the limits of your powers, first hand. I won’t even have to warm up the Warworld. I’ll have it taking pictures…”
Yes, there are many others. These were the ones I think cause Superman to consider changing careers more than once and I am certain remind him why he needs to keep a fresh cape handy, just in case. Happy birthday, Superman, you are still the greatest superhero of all time. (And your next movie better have you punching someone in the face. No, seriously. Don’t do that airplane thing again, either.)