Listening to a podcast this week, I heard someone mention that only reason General Zod is going to appear in the Man of Steel movie is because Superman has a weak rogues gallery. While I will admit, there are some clunkers in his rogues gallery (Toyman?), if one looks back at some of the foes he faced during Pre-Crisis continuity, then the list powerful foes is longer than most people think. Here is my top ten favorites (in no order whatsoever.)
Dev Em - First Appearance: Adventure Comics 287
Powers: Super strength, invulnerability, flight
Dev Em was a Kryptonian juvenile delinquent who happened to escape the destruction of Krypton and ends up on Earth. While he begins his story as a foe of Superboy, he would later reform and join the Legion of Superheroes showing up from time to time in those stories. I first saw him when he showed up in the Great Darkness Saga.
Galactic Golem - First Appearance: Superman 248
Powers: Energy absorbtion, super strength and invulnerability
Created by Lex Luthor from collected pieces of galactic matter to destroy Superman. After its first battle with Superman (wherein Luthor helps to dispatch the creature) it shows up again a few issues later and really lays the smack down on Superman. The internet suggests the golem made an appearance in JLA vs Avengers mini-series. While I don't remember that, I can totally see Kurt Busiek adding the golem to the story.
Vartox - First Appearance: Superman 281
Powers: invulnerability, superhuman strength and senses, telekinesis, telepathy, energy projection, astral projection, ability to transfer these powers to others
Inspired by the Sean Connery movie Zardoz, Vartox was the Hyper-Powered hero on the planet Valeron who comes to Earth seeking justice for the death of his wife. While his vendetta initially puts him at odds with Superman, Vartox would return several times later in the series as an ally.
Karb Brak - First Appearance: Action Comics 460
Powers: Super strength, invulnerability (?), flight
An alien from the Andromeda galaxy, Karb had to leave his home planet due to having an allergy to everyone on his home world. Unfortunately, Superman's Kryptonian biology is enough to cause Karb's allergy to flair up which results in a battle between the two of them which ran its course through 4 issues. Karb-Brak was eventually cured by Vartox.
Hercules, Atlas and Samson - Multiple appearances during the Silver Age
Powers: Super strength, invulnerability
A common story idea in the Silver Age was to have Superman face off against some strong man from history. Grant Morrison pays homage to this conceit by having Hercules and Atlas show up in All-Star Superman. Of these three, Hercules seems to have had the most appearances.
Faora - First Appearance: Action Comics 471
Powers: Superhuman strength, speed, stamina and invulnerability, freezing breath, super hearing, multiple extrasensory and vision powers, longevity, flight, and regeneration
Faora's background suggests there is more to her story than is revealed in her Bronze Age appearances. A Kryptonian sentenced to the Phantom Zone for the crime of killing 23 men at a secret concentration camp, She is also a master of the Kryptonian martial art of Horo-Kanu. In her first battle against Superman, she has the ability to use mental lightning, but doesn't have this power in later battles.
Mongul - First Appearance: DC Comics Presents 27
Powers: Superhuman strength and durability, energy Projection
Created by Len Wein and Jim Starlin, Mongul is an interplanetary space tyrant with devastating powers and abilities. In their first confrontation, Superman ignores the advice of the Martian Manhunter to not face Mongul alone, and gets soundly defeated as a result.
Black Zero - First Appearance: Superman 205
Powers: Advanced Tactile-telekinesis that provided flight, invulnerability, and superhuman strength. Superhuman hearing and heat vision.
A space saboteur on a secret mission to destroy Krypton, Black Zero discovers that Jor-El's prediction of destruction was wrong because the internal pressures in the planet had subsided. To this end, Black Zero causes the pressures to build back up causing the destruction of Krypton. Later, Black Zero comes to Earth where he faces off against Superman. This character would return in name only in Post Crisis continuity.
Captain Thunder - First Appearance: Superman 276
Powers: Super-strength, speed, stamina, invulnerability, flight, wisdom, control over and emission of magic lightning
Created by Elliot S! Maggin and Curt Swan after DC's obtaining the rights to the Fawcett characters, this Captain Marvel doppleganger was actually a young boy named Willie Fawcett who obtained his powers from an Indian Shaman:
Little known fact: Twomorrows Publishing's Back Issue #30 revealed that another Bronze Age appearance which was drawn but never published.
Oriental War Demon - First Appearance: Superman 241
Powers: Magically tougher than Superman and has a 9 foot Katanna.
Appearing at the end of the classic Sand Superman Saga, an entity from Quarrm possesses a statue of an Oriental War Demon in Chinatown and proceeds to beat Superman up so badly he has to recover in a hospital. While this creature never returns after his initial appearance, his size, alien appearance and distinctive battle armor have always made him a personal favorite.
I actually bought this issue off a spinner rack, and it *may* have been the first Superman comic I ever bought (the timing works) which considering some of the more dynamic scenes of violence in the book, was quite the introduction to the Superman comics. (And to the best of my reckoning, that level of action was rarely scene again in this book.)
So, that's my Top Ten.
Is there a favorite Superman foe you would add to the list?