DC Comics is the house that Superman built. While he may not be the center of the DCU, his open-hearted optimism is a central point; a beacon of light in an ostensibly darker comics universe. In order to be that beacon, Supes would have to have some truly great villains to test his morality and belief system—and he (mostly) does. While not as colorful as Batman’s, the Man of Steel’s rogues are usually less insane. Rather, they’re also across the board, sci-fi horror creations. Creatures from outer space; killer robots; omnipotent imps from the fifth dimension; alien gods and their children; mad scientists and products of said mad scientists are par for the course in Superman titles. While Batman’s criminals tend to be literally insane, describing Superman’s villains makes you sound insane.
Considering that Superman’s powers make him practically a god, it makes sense that his villains are (usually) more powerful than he is. It’s the perfect example of go big or go home. However, there’s also the fact that, yes, some of the villains are really quite awful. Not in a villainous way—in a quality way. And yes, we added them too. We just had to it. Not only to be fair but also because some are just too funny not to use.
“Kneel before ____.”
As leader of the Kryptonian army, he was once a beloved member of their society—to the point of being a folk hero. Unfortunately, this character’s tendencies towards fascism led to a failed coup d'etat. The high council, led by Superman’s father Jor-El, sentenced him and his two closest followers to the Phantom Zone. Eventually, they would escape, and though Krypton was long dead, they would set their sights on Earth as a way of getting revenge on Jor-El by killing his son and taking over the world.
This villainess has powers similar to Black Canary
Though primarily known as a Supergirl villain now, this character started out as a Superman rogue. She has a tragic upbringing—being cursed as a young child into a ghostly entity—she is a major threat to the Man of Steel because her many powers—including a death stare and sound manipulation—are magically derived, which Supes is weak against. This would demand that he defeat her with his smarts rather than his fists. When in combat, her Death Wail can kill, send someone into a coma or drive them insane. It can also destroy structures and buildings with ease.
His life is about action figures and gadgets
This character would be more suited as a Batman villain. Hell, Action Comics 865 even makes a case for it, casting him in a particularly damaged and insane frame of mind. Depending on which version of the character you’re dealing with, he is either an adult or senior citizen; either way, he has a fixation on children, as well as killing the wealthy industrialist who he blames for the death of his family. Often, his beliefs are contrary to reality, believing everything he does is part of a game.
This childhood friend of Clark Kent’s eventually became his worst enemy
Growing up, Clark had everything. His neighbor, a boy his age, didn’t. This character’s mother walked out, and his father was an abusive bully. Clark was good at academics and sports. He was always a runner-up. This festered, years later, when he found out Clark Kent was Superman. Using advanced technology he stole from the government, this character lost himself in machinery to become Superman’s physical superior. This is one of Supes’ most personal enemies; rather than just targeting Clark himself, this villain also targeted (and nearly succeeded in killing) Lois and Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Thanos is a ripoff of this evil god
This character was created by Jack Kirby as the main villain in his New Gods saga. Not content with reigning over his own planet, this ultimate villain seeks the Anti-Life Equation. If found, he could use it to enslave the minds of every living entity in the universe, making them a reflection of himself, and, therefore, getting rid of all chaos by removing choice and free will. If every villain is the hero in their own story, then this character is the poster child of this. His desire to end chaos is commendable, but his actions and his final goals are of total and utter oppression.
He is the combination of the two finest heroes in the world
Professor Ivo created this Cronenbergian nightmare who was attempting to duplicate the Justice League’s powers (or when lightning hit the Superman museum, depending on the continuity). Either way, this character is loaded with all of Superman’s powers and Batman’s abilities. Also, unfortunately, he believes he is both Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, creating a major psychological problem. He kidnapped Tim Drake and Lois Lane in an attempt to live out both alter ego’s lives but was foiled because, well, look at him. He’s hard to miss.
This genetic disaster loves to speak in opposites
Lex Luthor is great at almost everything. Except cloning. He got it right with Conner Kent but failed every other time. The result always ended up as this thing, who, you guessed it, is Superman’s opposite. He’s dumb, ugly and dangerous but utterly tragic. He means well. He does attempt to do the right thing but is often fooled into committing crimes by the ingenious Lex Luthor or Ra’s al Ghul (though sometimes he’s just distracted by shiny objects). Given his less than stellar intelligence, he’s often used as muscle to keep Superman and the Justice League busy while his current employers go about committing greater crimes.
This electric villain debuted on Superman: The Animated Series
At an outdoor concert, a radio shock jock (yes, it was the 90s), was struck by lightning. It turned her hair blue, her skin white and gave her electricity-influenced powers (naturally). She can travel through power lines and take over any electronic device. She also gave Superman a few absolutely brutal beatings. Proving so popular with the audience, she was given the Harley Quinn treatment and quickly adapted from the animated series to the comics where she has been utilized as a villain for Supergirl and the Stephanie Brown incarnation of Batgirl.
This villain is best known for redebuting during “Reign of the Supermen”
A living computer virus from Krypton’s past, this character came to believe he was the real Superman, following Clark’s death by Doomsday. After realizing the truth, he did the only logical thing: went on a psychotic rampage. They’re each other’s last connection to Krypton, which makes their enmity sad and complicated. While he was responsible for bringing Superman back to life, his turn as a good guy didn’t last. Most recently, he attempted to kill Clark and Lois’ son; this was not taken well by the boy’s parents. Superman and Lois (in Batman armor) brought this character down to save their son, Jonathan.
This villain looks like the exoskeleton of a Terminator
He’s one of Superman’s longest running villains, debuting in 1959. While his origins have changed numerous times over the years, the basics are still the same. Whether through accident or on purpose, this character’s bones were replaced with metal, and his skin just became useless coating. Powered by a heart of Kryptonite, he has used his increased strength, durability and some nifty tricks with the Kryptonite to make Superman’s life a living hell. In the modern era, his danger level has substantially increased now that his rebooted origins have made him a close family friend of General Sam Lane and the ex-boyfriend of Lois.
The infamous original villain from the Christopher Reeve films
Look, they can’t all be winners. Created by Lex Luthor and his nephew Ducky, this mulleted malcontent attacked Metropolis while dressed like an American Gladiator. With the powers of Superman and a nuclear missile, this villain had super strength; he could fly and irradiated fingernails that he could grow to any length for reasons that, to this day, continue to confound the greatest minds in science. However, this villain’s greatest feat was making it so that it would be twenty years before we saw another Superman movie.
The only villain to ever kill Superman
Despite the fact there’s nothing to the character, he is an iconic Superman villain. A prehistoric Kryptonian monster, he was only given the emotions of rage and hate to work with. Over millennia, he razed world after world before coming to Earth and targeting Superman—instinctively realizing that he was a Kryptonian. Their battle is one of DC’s best, and though the creature survived, Superman didn’t. This villain would show up several more times over the years, though never to the efficacy of his original appearance.
No, he only looks, talks and acts like Constantine
This character isn’t fond of people with “high moral concepts.” Naturally, he hated Superman who encompasses morality and manages to keep said morals even in an ever-changing world. This character led the Elite to ruin Superman’s reputation by doing his job better than he did; they stopped crime by killing criminals. His telekinetic and telepathic powers more than made up for his lack of physical strength. He used those powers to give the Man of Steel a stroke. Supes would eventually win the day by using this villain’s brutal philosophy against him while also showing its lack of efficacy. Regardless, this villain recently found a new way to hurt Superman: by brainwashing his son.
The breakout villain in Man of Steel
Beginning as a minor villain in the early Superman comics, this villain has seen a resurgence in popularity due to her appearance in Man of Steel. Played with icy fatalism by Antje Traue, this character was an efficient killing machine whose zealous loyalty to Krypton along with her sense of superiority made her a an impossible threat for the military and an nearly for Superman as well. Despite not yet having the full range of Kryptonian powers, she outfought and nearly killed the Man of Steel, who eked out a victory by outsmarting the villainess. Since appearing in the film, the character became a prominent fixture in Superman and Supergirl comic titles.
He’s always hungry but never gets full
This character has the potential to be one of the deadliest threats in DC Comics. By touching (or sometimes, even being close enough) to a person or an energy field, he can absorb is energy and use its properties or powers. The only thing keeping him from unimaginable power and glory is that the effects are temporary and that he’s an idiot. Without the ambition to do anything more, this character is led by his appetite, which ends up limiting his potential. His greatest successes are usually when he’s being given orders by someone much smarter than he is.
Oh, come on, this one’s easy. He’s exactly what he looks like.
This guy isn’t what you’d expect from a villain. Sure, at first he was: he pretended to be Superman, then went crazy, and killed seven million people in Coast City. What sets this character apart is, well, you don’t find that many supervillains who are so suicidal. Not suicidal in the incompetent villain way, but in the actually wanting to die way. The problem is, his program and technology are just too resilient. He can't even shut down because his memories play on loop. There’s a sense of irony that the worst punishment for a mass murderer is continued existence, and that completely applies to this Man of Steel pretender.
Darkseid was ripped off by Thanos who was ripped off by this character
If you’re going to be a despot, model yourself after this character. Not only does he command a living weapon-planet called Warworld, but he’s also partially responsible for vaporizing Coast City and once defeated Superman using a plant. Oh, and he’s also incredibly strong and once took over the Sinestro Corps. and renamed it after himself. Anyone who opposed him was killed or had their tongues ripped out. He then adorned himself with several Sinestro rings as trophies and laid waste to everyone in his way. And even his kids think he’s a jerk.
It was just a joke! He was just teasing!
Another Superman rogue who loves to play tricks, this villain was always played for laughs thanks to his character design and over-the-top antics that kept him from being a particularly successful villain. Whenever it was revealed that this character was behind a crime, Superman who merely roll his eyes rather than ready himself for a major battle of brains and brawn. The guy once tried to copyright the entire English language. He’s not exactly Darkseid. In recent years, the character was upgraded to an effective Anonymous-type hacker as a foil for Nightwing.
Just because he has pouches doesn’t mean he was created by Liefeld
Created for the seminal Kingdom Come miniseries, this villain’s name has Biblical connotations and was created to mock the common design mores of the 1990s. Initially an anti-hero, this character was beloved in-universe for killing villains rather than arresting them. Unfortunately, due to his inexperience and bloodlust, he ended up accidentally setting off an atomic explosion which destroyed all of Kansas. Eventually, he does attempt to redeem himself, and the character has proven popular enough that a version of him was brought into the main DCU continuity as part of the Justice Society of America.
A Kryptonian juvenile delinquent
Well, for an advanced society, Krypton sure knew how to turn out a lot of villains. This one was so bad that, despite being a juvenile, he was sentenced to serve prison time in the Phantom Zone. Many of this character’s early appearances had him attempting to kill or otherwise harm the reputation of Clark. Over the years, he would eventually travel into the future and become a sometimes-ally of the Legion of Superheroes, helping them during the Great Darkness Saga. While the character has gone through many changes throughout the years, one common thread seems to be his search for a home. And getting punched in the face.
He’s so smart he needs to tell you about it constantly
Here’s a fun game. Read the stories where this character appears and take a drink every time he mentions having “twelfth level intellect.” See how long you last. Obsessed with logic but containing no morality, he is in a constant search for knowledge. Believing that it truly is power, he often gains the complete history of a world before he stores it and then destroys the planet itself so no one else can know its secrets. As a nearly ageless machine, he has been a part of Krypton’s history and destruction. He also kidnapped the entire Kryptonian city of Kandor and miniaturized it (the trophy room only has so much space).
This warrior queen has jumped back and forth between hero and villain
She is the warrior queen, head of the royal house, and leader of all Almerac. Get used to that because she says this a lot. A fiery soldier who is vicious and mean to everyone around her, she’s used to getting her way. She even left her fiance, Ultraa, because he was (by comparison to her) too weak in every definition of the word. She attempted to court Superman, and when he rebuffed her, she joined the Superman Revenge Squad and attempted to kill him and Lois. Look, we all take rejection in different ways.
For the last time, he’s not Ghost Rider
As per usual, a hapless person was dosed with atomic energy which gave him superpowers. The same day he was attacked by thugs and beaten so badly he had brain damage (it was a rough week, they had just canceled Hannibal too). Though he recovered physically, this character is now living a delusion where he’s the lead in an old movie serial he loved as a kid. Naturally, he thinks Lois is his love interest Zelda Wentworth and Superman is his evil archenemy Doctor Electron. This villain can project energy blasts from his flaming head, which can also cause him to have a seizure. It’s not a great trade-off.
The Godfather of DC Comics villains
He’s been a mad scientist, a businessman, the president of the United States and a charter member of the Hair Club for Men. Having recently saved the Earth from the Crime Syndicate and Darkseid, this character has finally achieved a lifelong goal of his: popularity. He is (relatively) beloved by the public and a member of the Justice League. People are finally listening to him, and though he seems to have softened on the idea of there being a Superman, we all know it’s just a matter of time before the best villain in comic book history returns to his roots to make the Man of Steel’s life a living hell.
All it takes is “kel-tip-zix-um" to get rid of him
A denizen of the fifth dimension, this bizarrely named character is a “loveable” imp who seeks to torment Superman for the fun of it. When you’re a dimension hopping, ageless creature with the ability to warp all reality on a whim. The only problem is that, if he is tricked into saying his name backward, he gets sent back to his hot wife in the fifth dimension (poor him). While usually depicted as a fairly lighthearted nemesis, Alan Moore’s Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? where he was recast as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He fooled Superman in his final adventure and was responsible for the deaths of Jimmy Olsen and Lana Lang.