Saturday, May 25, 2013

Top 10 Most Powerful Pre-Crisis Superman Foes

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?

- Jim

6 comments:

Luke said...

Metallo has always been a personal favorite of mine, although I'll admit to not being familiar with his pre-Crisis power levels and maybe he's not that great in that era. Still though, the premise of the character is pretty compelling when handled well, and there's a variety of ways to handle his powers that would all look amazing on the big screen.

Heck, in terms of sheer power, Mr Mxyzptlk is fantastic, and it's practically criminal that he's never been used in a movie. At this point, a guy in a derby hat from another dimension who can manipulate reality isn't even absurd for the genre of superhero movies. He easily allows for the introduction some of the fan-favorite villains that have been difficult to use in modern stories, like Bizarro and Titano. "Mxy did it"... that explanation and some cool SFX is really all you need.

JimShelley said...

Luke - Metallo was actually on my first draft of this list, but I bumped him in favor a few of the more obscure guys here (Karb-Brak, Oriental War Demon, etc...)

Like you, I wasn't sure how powerful the Pre-Crisis version was either.

MattComix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MattComix said...

The lameness of Superman's rogues gallery has always been overestimated. But in addition to this though there is also the basic problem of assuming that every Superman story needs to be a punch em up with a villain.

A good run of Superman stories should in addition to super-villain showdowns have him in situations where the drama lies in his figuring out how to best apply his powers to a given situation. Or having him battle the machinations of a villain rather than the villain himself. Also breaking things up with having ground level stories that are generated by his work as a reporter and he has to bide his time before going into action as Superman at just the right the moment.


In a weird way for me the Bronze Age Superman is almost more defined by Garcia Lopez on DC Comics Presents and Gil Kane's run on Action because that's most of what I saw during my formative years. That and the Donner films of course. It was later that I read more Elliot Maggin stories and also started to appreciate Curt Swan more.

I've always had a fondness for the robotic version of Brainiac that was in the early 80's comics and the SuperPowers line. I also liked the animated series take on himThe fact that it's 2013 and Brainiac has yet to be realized on screen is ridiculous.

My preferred Luthor is the evil CEO
but the kid in me still digs that powerarmor suit.

General Zod is overplayed. I like him (at least the Terrance Stamp version) but as far as movie going audiences are concerned Superman only ever fights people with the same powers or a bald dude holding a rock.

I also enjoy Parasite, Livewire, Rampage, Metallo, Silver Banshee, The Eradicator, Mongul, Maxima, Mxyzptlk, Bizzaro, Atomic Skull, Conduit, and the animated series version of Toyman. (Honestly the Prankster and the Puzzler are lamer than Toyman.)

I like Doomsday purely in terms of Superman vs. a monster, but having him just come from nowhere and kill Superman is one of the many problems with the Death/Return storyline.

..and even though Darkseid and his crew were not ever designed to be Superman villains I still enjoy them in that context. I guess I enjoy Darkseid both as the villain of New Gods AND as a DCU villain who will target Superman because he knows what an inspiration he is to both the people and the heroes of Earth.

That is perhaps unfair to New Gods as something unto itself and because of this I would totally understand if Darkseid realized on screen in New Gods rather than in a Superman or Justice League movie.

JimShelley said...

@MattComix - that reply almost was a separate article in itself (which is pretty awesome!)

I agree with your statement that a good Superman story usually has him dealing with a problem that is not a direct physical threat. I think that's part of the reason his Rogue's gallery has so few heavy hitters and is made up more of bolt throwers. Since the idea of Superman is he's the mightiest character, having him defeat supposedly more mighty villains month after month doesn't really work.

That why I sort of prefer Jimmy Olsen stories featuring Superman over actual Superman stories. The dilemmas in the plots are more interesting.

Like you,I prefer 89's robotic Braniac. I just like the design more. Same with purple and green Luthor (power armor or no) the purple and green always made him look more like a real supervillain.

Not sure how I feel about Darkseid - over the years, it feels like he's been trotted out for events but he loses his menace every time they dust him off and bring him out again.

MattComix said...

@Jim Thanks! Obviously, Superman is a subject that gets me going.

You can have Superman vs. villain stuff, you just can't lean back on it. Some superheroes very much lend themselves to that or are even specifically designed for it from the ground up.

I think you can get good stories out of Superman regardless of power levels though something in the post-Crisis or animated series range is the most reasonable. But other writers have gotten mileage out of readily embracing his power levels.

When you have thesewriters say he's too powerful or too difficult or even too good(as in not angsty or "badass" enough) frankly I think they are far too quick to blame the character for their own short comings. DC's been blaming the character for their mistakes for years.

But again the trick is not to become too dependent on the big brawl. I love action and I like Superman cutting loose on a baddie as much as the next guy whether he's tearing through a horde of robots or slugging it out with an alien despot. However at the end of the day he's Superman, not a WWE Superstar.

In the case of Hollywood movies I admit Superman is overdo for a good fight. Meanwhile, Star Trek could stand to crank it back. In the latest movie Scotty says "I thought we were explorers."

So did I Scotty. So did I.

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