Superman is one of the most iconic comic book characters of all-time. Created by high school students Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933, the Man of Steel’s story has evolved and become more complex over the years. But the basics are that his real name is Kal-El and he was sent to Earth by his parents before his home planet of Krypton was destroyed. He was found by a childless couple in Kansas, who raised him as Clark Kent. As an adult, he would embrace his God-like abilities and devoted his life to helping humanity while maintaining a secret identity.
Despite his near-invincible status, Superman has been “killed” off numerous times in his long history (just like most comic book characters, to be honest). Naturally, the hero of Metropolis never stays completely dead for very long, no matter how brutal or tragic his death. After all, you can’t keep selling comics and making movies if you kill off the main character for good. That being said, here are 10 times that DC Comics had Superman die — at least for a little while.
10. Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
We’ll start with the recent (and maybe the most obvious) example of Superman kicking the bucket, in the 2016 movie Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Directed by Zack Snyder, the film itself was met with mixed reactions for his long run time and transparent ending (spoiler alert: Batman and Superman are actually on the same side!) Then, in a piece of weird writing, it turns out that the real villain of the movie is some monster created by Lex Luthor’s mad scientisting, which everyone assumes is Doomsday (we think?).
Anwway, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman all team up to battle this thing, only to discover that it’s only weakness is Kryptonite. While Batman and Wonder Woman distract him, Superman stabs Doomsday with a krytponite spear only to end up stabbed through the chest himself by one of the bad guy’s bones. They have a funeral for him and everything. And since we’re nowhere to be found in the trailers for the upcoming Justice League movie, we’re totally sure that he will stay dead this time *wink wink*.
9. DC Universe vs. The Masters of the Universe #2
Apparently Superman and He-Man exist in the same universe? Who knew? Okay, so this miniseries isn’t exactly Superman cannon, but DC Universe vs. The Masters of the Universe was a fun cross-over comic that pitted characters from both franchises against each other. In just the second issue of this six-part miniseries, He-Man stabs Superman in the chest with the Power Sword, which apparently has enough magical power to penetrate the bullet proof skin of the Son of Krypton.
As the world reels from the death of Superman (as per usual), Batman eventually uncovers that the whole thing was a ploy, and the real Superman is actually imprisoned. That means the “Superman” that died was nothing more than an exceptionally well-done copy. His death lasted all of about three issues in this one.
8. Superman: Red Son
During the Cold War, Superman was sometimes depicted as working for the United States government in preventing a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. It basically turned him into a national hero (if he wasn’t one already). However, in 2003 comic book writer Mark Millar thought it would be an interesting take to tell the story of what the world would be like is Kal-El had randomly landed on Russian soil, instead of a farm in Kansas.
Obviously this series is an “alternate reality” version of events, where Jimmy Olsen is a CIA agent instead of a newspaper photographer and Lex Luthor is a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs instead of the CEO of Lexcorp. Like most American talks of fiction though, eventually the Soviet Union loses. Luthor teams up with Batman and Brainiac to eliminate the Red Son, sending the Russian Superman into space in an exploding rocket. Roughly 1,000 years later (don’t ask), Superman reappears at Luthor’s funeral, proving once again that he never really stays dead.
7. Infinite Crisis #7
This one gets a little complicated, so bear with us. Infinite Crisis (2006) was a comic series explored the DC multiverse — that is, the theory that there are infinite dimensions where every imaginable possibility exists. One of those dimensions was Earth-Two, where an alternate version of Superman existed, named Kal-L (no, that’s not a typo).
To make a long story short, Lois Lane gets sick and dies. Kal-L ends up blaming Kal-El (Superman from Earth-One), and the two Supermen have a mighty battle until Wonder Woman breaks it up. Later, Kal-L and Kal-El team up to fight Superboy-Prime, who is trying to destroy the universe. The universe gets saved (naturally), but Kal-L ends up beaten to death at the hands of Superboy-Prime.
6. Action Comics #387
Way back in 1970, Lex Luthor was already cooking up new ways to finish off his arch-nemesis. In Action Comics #387, Superman has been sent a million years into the future. To pass the time, he decided to completely rehabilitate and successfully populate a dead planet. Luthor, knowing that he would be long dead by the year 1,001,970, developed a autonomous robot whose sole purpose is to track down Superman anywhere (and any time) he ends up.
The drone is on the verge of killing the grey-haired and wrinkled elderly Superman, when the Master Healer intervenes and somehow Kal-El is sent back to the very moment he originally left 1970 — like he had never left in the first place.
5. Superman #52
If you’re having a hard time keeping all these different comic series (and Superman deaths), you’re not alone. Like most comic book characters, Superman has been rebooted, re-imagined, sent to alternate universes, or completely reset. In 2016, DC wanted to bring back the Superman from before Flashpoint, but the current Superman was the New 52 version.
That led to Superman dying in Superman #52, a result of Kryptonite poisoning following a brutal battle with Denny Swan, the Energy Superman. Then, the pre-Flashpoint Superman decided he was going to carry on Superman’s legacy in that dimension, and it was like Superman never left at all. Even though he totally died.
4. Superman #188
We have to go way back to 1966 for this Superman death, in a time where superheroes simply didn’t die. Like, never. Superman is basically invincible, but we do that he can be weakened (and maybe killed?) by Kryptonite. It’s also something this his enemies usually discover, as various plots to get rid of Superman once and for all have involved the mysterious alien rock.
In Superman #188, a villain named Zuniel trains to become a deadly Superman assassin. In order to do that, they train against a Superman android that mimics all of the real powers of the Man of Steel. Zuniel becomes to first trainee to kill the Superman android. He was then given the chance to travel to Earth to battle the real thing, and managed to kill Superman with Kryptonite radio waves. It was the first time Superman had ever died in the comics. Luckily, the android Superman (who was like the real thing in every way, remember) heroically sacrificed himself in order to save the one true Man in Blue.
3. Superman #75
In 1992, DC Comics wanted to provide a story with real shock value. This wasn’t a fake-out death or a near-death-experience. In Superman #75, the Man of Steel engages Doomsday in a massive battle that destroys huge sections of Metropolis. The battle is fierce that the foes end up killing each other at the end. The panels are brutal, showing a bloody Superman costume and the distraught faces of the citizens who had come to count on Superman for protection.
The Death of Superman attracted mainstream media attention, as even the New York Times wrote a piece about what his death meant to the pop culture landscape of America. And they kept him dead for a long time (in comic terms, at least). Superman was eventually resurrected within a year, but he came back with upgraded powers.
2. Justice League of America #145
At one point, the entire Justice League was being hunted down. In 1977, one comic story arc included a villain named Count Crystal being granted immense powers by the demon Azgore, on the condition that the count use his powers to defeat the Justice League once and for all. If he failed, Azgore would harvest his soul as punishment.
Amazingly, Count Crystal was successful in defeating the entire Justice League lineup at the time (Super-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Black Canary, Phantom Stranger, Red Tornado, and Hawkman). Then things get a bit weird. Azgore tries to consume the spirit of Superman, but fails (maybe it was too super?). Furious, he kills Count Crystal for what he assumed was some sort of double-cross. After than, Phantom Stranger was able to return the Justice League spirits back to their bodies, and Superman was no longer dead.
1. The Kingdom #1
Mark Waid and Alex Ross teamed up in the late 90s to create a comic series called Kingdom Come, where all the existing heroes had grown old and were no longer relevant (or even alive). In 1999, a follow-up series called The Kingdom hit the shelves and it features not just one Superman death, but a whole bunch of them.
In the first episode, a group of incredibly powerful beings called the Quintessence gives a character named William Matthews incredible powers. Matthews, assuming the much cooler name of Gog, can now absorb some of the powers of anyone he defeats. Naturally, he sought out Superman and managed to kill him, making him even stronger. Then, just for some overkill, Gog travels through time and kill Superman again. And again. And again and again, getting more powerful every time.