Between the debuts of Zack Snyder's Justice League and Superman & Lois, this month is shaping up to be unusually Supermanly. To celebrate, Cracked's on-call Supermanologist Maxwell Yezpitelok will be conducting a week of lectures on the superhero who is a metaphor for absolutely everything. So please: settle in, and mind your Supermanners. Check out part 1 and part 2.
One big reason why Superman's still around after over 80 years is that you can tell all sorts of stories with the character, from action-packed blockbusters to introspective dramas to, yes, some absolute turds. Superman has been the subject of many of the finest tales ever to grace his medium and also of some of the worst trash ever published in comic book form, which is kind of impressive when you think about it. So, to celebrate the Man of Steel's remarkable flexibility, here are the most incomprehensible, misguided, or just flat-out idiotic Superman stories we could find:
Every other sentence in this entry will make you feel like you're having an aneurysm, so strap in. Superman/Wonder Woman: Whom Gods Destroy (1996) is set in an alternate reality in which Lois Lane is an old woman while Superman is still young and lives on the moon, where he spends most of his time working on his tan and failing to work on his novel. Turns out he's been stuck on the same page for 34 years.
Halfway through the first issue, Superman and Lois have to go to Germany so they buy tickets on ReichAir, the airline of the Third Reich -- that's when we find out that, oh yeah, the Nazis won World War II and nuked Metropolis in 1962, killing millions of people, including Catwoman, who was First Lady to President Batman. (Hope you're still with us because we haven't gotten to the crazy part yet.)
So yeah, the Third Reich has existed for over half a century now, and Superman does nothing about it because, well, who do you think he is? Superman or something? Anyway, while in Germany, Lois and Superman run into two groups of Greek gods: the ones running the anti-Nazi resistance, and the ones running the Nazi government itself. The good gods like Lois so much that they give her powers and turn her into Wonder Woman, a process that happens to look like a lesbian porn set-up.
But wait, where's the real Wonder Woman, Princess Diana? Oh, she's a big-time Nazi. Naturally, she and Lois fight for several pages ... and those scenes also happen to look like they were traced from lesbian porn.
Hey, where's Superman during all this? Over here, being half-horse:
Yes, the pro-Nazi gods caught Superman and turned him into a centaur. He also turned evil and started hanging out with some hot centauresses, and we're told that he "takes his pleasures when he pleases." So, uh, he's putting those horse parts to good use, apparently. Luckily, Superman's friend Lana Lang also grew up in Smallville and knows a fair bit about dealing with unruly farm animals, so she jumps on Superman's back and rides him into space until he's tamed.
The goddess Hecate agrees to de-centaurize Superman, so she turns him into ... a powerless blonde teenage girl, as a way to atone for his horsey sins. Teen Girl Superman ends up taking a magical god bullet for Wonder Lois and dies ...
... which turns him back into Adult Male Superman because ... comics. The Nazi gods are ultimately defeated, while the Nazi humans are still in charge of Europe. But don't worry: the comic ends with Superman finishing his novel and a Nazi official shedding a single tear while reading it, which means they'll be good now, probably. Hooray!
In 2000, the Superman comics had a months-long storyline in which Lois Lane appears to be suffering from nagging TV wife syndrome -- as in, she gets increasingly cold and harsh with her husband, despite the fact that he's, like, literally the best person on the planet.
Superman tries all of Lois' favorite romantic gestures: gifts, surprise dinners, a quick vacation to another planet that almost gets her killed, etc., but nothing seems to work. If anything, she gets nastier. Eventually, Lois says she wants a divorce, and Superman falls into a deep depression. Hell, he can't even get out of his pajamas:
It's important to note at this point that, in his inner monologue, Superman specifically rules out this being the work of a supervillain. He's absolutely sure that this is the real Lois Lane he married and not, say, some shape-shifting bad guy who took her place. And of course, it was a shape-shifting bad guy who took her place, something Superman only begins to suspect when "Lois" starts flying and punching him through buildings.
"Lois" was actually the Parasite, a villain with the power to absorb people's energy, who had recently learned to absorb everything else too. This means that Superman slept in the same bed as a psychopathic monster in the shape of his wife (but who didn't even act like his wife) and never noticed, which has some dire implications for their sex life one way or the other. Now, given how cold "she" was acting, it's very possible that Superman never got kinky with Lois/Parasite during those weeks ... but someone else definitely did.
Yep, the Parasite visited Lex Luthor as Lois late one night, and it's made obvious that they engaged in some nasty LL/LL action. Later, when the real Lois comes back, she also visits Lex just to let him know that she absorbed some of the Parasite's memories ... including those. She also points out that Lex banging a superpowered being is especially embarrassing considering that his entire public persona is "I hate superpowered beings."
Like 99% of villains who learn Superman's identity, the Parasite died at the end of that storyline, and like 100% of characters who die in comics, he eventually came back. Fortunately, he either forgot all the private (in more than one sense) information he learned during his "Lois" period, or he's smart enough to pretend he did.
Back in the mid-'70s, DC ran a series of stories about the adventures of Superman and Batman's hypothetical future sons (not with each other), Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. -- basically the same characters as their parents, except they had sideburns and used words like "dude" and "dig." In this particular adventure, Brucie and Clarkie stumble upon a town populated by women only, and at first, they're like, "AOOOGA!" The only problem is that the ladies are rather mean and, get this, don't like being touched by strange men.
Again, it's a complete mystery why a woman wouldn't want to be touched by a charming young man like Hip '70s Batman here:
These women are so fanatical about their "no touching" rule that they cause one of their friends to fall to her death by not allowing the men to save her. Bruce Jr. wants to deal with this issue the same way his dad occasionally dealt with his adopted brother: with slapping.
Clark Jr. and Bruce Jr. are thrown in jail along with every other penis-haver who has had the misfortune to pass through this town. But no flimsy female-built jail can hold our heroes, so they sneak out and follow the women as they meet the town's mysterious leader, Big Sister Sybil, who turns out to be a big monolith with an eye on it.
The monolith orders Mayor Doll and Officer Chick to kill all the men, but they refuse, so they're transformed into monsters and die. After a series of mishaps that involve Superman Jr. and Batman Jr. stripping down and trading costumes, they find out the truth about "Sybil": she's actually an alien creature who was kicked out of her planet for being too much of an eyesore, so she decided to manipulate Earth's foolish females into isolating themselves from men, thus becoming ugly and loveless like her.
After Superman Jr. smacks her with her own monolith, Sybil goes back to space, and we're told that she was eventually sentenced to the eternal agony of looking at her own reflection in a mirror prison forever (presumably by the same assholes who exiled her for not meeting their canon of beauty). As for those poor women she conned, it turns out they've all been drinking an uglifying serum for a while, but Batman Jr. points out there's an easy antidote: "a male's touch." Boom-chicka-wow-wow.
Raising a boy who can set things on fire with his eyes sounds like an absolute nightmare, so Superman's adoptive parents lucked out when they got such a total sweetheart ... or did they? This 1959 tale reveals that Superboy was actually an insufferable little brat, and the only way the Kents got him to behave was through some light psychological torture.
It all starts when Pa Kent tells little Clark to chop wood without super-speed, and he gets so angry that he breaks out the "YOU'RE NOT EVEN MY REAL DAD" line.
That's when Superboy's father tries to spank him (a running theme in Superman comics), only to be painfully reminded that, oh right, the kid is invulnerable.
Pa tries spanking him with blunt objects, but they just break on Clark's butt of steel. Then he tries sending Clark to bed without supper, only for the kid to gleefully remind him that he doesn't need to eat real food -- he can subsist entirely on broken glass and scrap metal.
How about taking Clark's radio? Nope, he can just listen to baseball games happening in other cities with his super-hearing (the radio was merely for decoration, it seems). The Kents then try to punish Clark by leaving him home as they go see a movie, but when they come back, he informs them that he saw it anyway with his telescopic vision.
Next, Pa locks Clark inside the house and forbids him from breaking any doors, walls, or windows, but Clark simply drills through the ground to get out. By now, it's clear that Superboy is just toying with these puny humans. He re-confirms that when Pa takes away his allowance, so Clark catches some rare fish probably worth more money than the Kents have ever seen, then sells them for precisely the allowance's amount.
With his sanity rapidly deteriorating, Pa tries a desperate and insane plan: he handcuffs Clark to a stairwell during a dinner party as part of a magic trick and pretends he lost the key, forcing Clark to stay there for hours and miss a "meet Superboy" event. But that was never Clark -- that was a robot duplicate he created just for these occasions.
Later, Clark overhears Ma and Pa arguing about who's to blame for this nightmare child and watches as they both decide to abandon him.
This seems like the inevitable conclusion for this story, really. But, just when Clark starts crying about breaking up the family, the Kents come back and announce they were only messing with him because "it was the only way we could punish our super son!" Bear in mind that in this incarnation, Superboy was sent to Earth as a toddler and remembers losing his biological parents and entire planet via the curse of super-memory, so this is no doubt making him relive that trauma. That's a rather cruel way to make the brat start behaving, but hey, can't argue with the results.
Out of all the storylines in this article, this is the only one so awful that it changed writers partway through and spent half its chapters apologizing for itself. "Grounded" (2010-2011), written by Babylon 5 and Sense8 creator J. Michael Straczynski, is about Superman deciding to cross America on foot to reconnect with regular people -- the kind who would die if they ever attempted that. When a reporter accuses Superman of doing this because he lost his powers, the Man of Steel kindly demonstrates that this is not the case:
Every chapter is about Superman walking through a different American city and dealing with hot button issues in rather ... un-Superman-esque ways. In Philadelphia, he runs into a woman who's about to commit suicide and promises that if she really wants to end up splattered on a sidewalk in front of dozens of strangers, he won't stop her. And, as you know, Superman doesn't lie about anything except pretending to need glasses. It's like JMS saw the genuinely inspiring "Superman prevents a suicide" scene from All-Star Superman and said, "Hmm, how can I do the opposite?"
While visiting Detroit, Superman takes the time to shoot hoops with some guys and deliberately loses to a kid who looks like Urkel.
During the same issue, he discovers a group of alien refugees secretly living in Detroit and threatens to call whatever the intergalactic version of ICE is on them unless they make themselves useful to America because people only deserve to live in dignity and peace if they're good at something.
Later, while passing through Des Moines, Superman forces Lois Lane to kill a story about a chemical plant that's knowingly leaking toxic waste into the environment because people would lose their jobs, which makes him a terrible superhero and reporter ...
... but at least we get some hints that there's something else going on with Superman this time. That's because this is the first issue penned by a new writer working from a one-page document he could only "charitably" call an outline left by Straczynski. From this point on, it's like the story goes out of its way to address moments from previous issues and explain why they were actually jokes or the result of a villain manipulating reality.
In the end, the story did leave a very useful moral: writing for TV and writing for comics are very different talents.
Top Image: DC Comics