This Superman Universe Guide is all about not just the classic hero but the comic book world built around him. His strengths and weaknesses, his friends and enemies, and the legacy Superman has brought to DC.
I have a unique history with the Man of Steel. When I was a kid, I saw the Christopher Reeve movies a dozen times and loved them. A big Richard Pryor fan, my favorite as a youth even became one of the least liked Superman films: Superman 3.
Then I finally saw Michael Keaton’s Batman, and my world changed. Until then, I had only ever read Archie comics; we weren’t a wealthy family, so I read the comics my mom enjoyed. Now, I love Archie. Jughead cracked me up. Veronica is probably the reason for all my bad relationship choices. Still, I relished any comic that was DC or Marvel because of how ‘cool’ they were in comparison.
I would do extra chores and help out down the hall(of the apartment complex), cleaning, and I would offer to rake yards, whatever I could do to get me a Marvel or DC comic. I mainly grabbed up X-Men, Batman, or Spider-Man issues. Seemingly abandoning my Superman love.
My Uncle had seen enough. In 1995, he dropped a box of over 60 comics at my feet. They were about what happened after the death of Superman.
I read every single one of them. I had been watching The Adventures of Lois and Clark with that same Uncle, and he had constantly heard me complain about how ‘overpowered’ Superman was. Even if I enjoyed the show, the box was his proof Superman comics could be good.
Fast forward to the last decade, and I’m reading every graphic novel from the Injustice series. I recently picked up my own copy of the beautifully written Kingdom Come.
While I always complain about overpowered heroes, my love for Superman is evident in my actions and reading choices.
I find it only fitting to grab this chance and share with you the things that keep me tied to the Superman Universe.
Bottom Line Up Front
I’m going to touch on the most important characters and moments in the Superman Comics, but as it spans nearly a century, some may get left out. Don’t fear.
Everything in this article will be enough for you to learn and speak about the Man of Steel with reasonable confidence. Also, links and summaries to story arcs that you may find more interesting than others.
Superman is an alien. His name is Kal-El. Except he is also not an alien, and his name is Clark Kent. Here is how that works.
As a baby in an alien spacecraft, Kal-El crashed into the Farm of Johnathon and Martha Kent. Two farmers with no children of their own, located in a city in DC called “Smallville.” It was maybe the luckiest landing possible. They didn’t turn him in, didn’t treat him differently, and didn’t run in fear.
They hid the ship, adopted him, and made him a legal citizen of the USA under the name Clark Kent. They proceeded to raise him as their own son and are still considered some of the best parents in comicdom.
Smallville had its own television series of the same name(the first 3 seasons I really enjoyed!). Still, most of what happens there is not comic cannon.
What is, is that Clark had his first girlfriend/crush there, Lana Lang. He learned the importance of hiding his powers while struggling with what damage he could do by happenstance. Luckily in the comics, this was easy to achieve because he lived on a farm where he had plenty of room to practice control on some hefty machinery.
He grew into a boy scout who wanted to change the world as a hero. A man who fought for the truth as a reporter.
Future villains and more will use Smallville and its dearness to Superman as a weapon. Quite often, that will be their biggest mistake. It’s not easy to make Clark angry, and none have found his anger to be anything less than godlike.
Good Comic Arc to learn more on Smallville: Superman: Secret Origin
After leaving Smallville, Superman went to Metropolis to take his very human job as a reporter. Clark Kent was actually quite the nerd. His superpowers came with a pretty quick-moving brain. Yet, that processing speed didn’t make him very slick at speaking with the ladies.
He fell in love with and worked alongside Lois Lane at his first job at the Daily Planet. It is the romance that carries through films and each iteration of his comic book arcs. Often it is even in standalone Universes.
Check out when Lois learns his secret identity in this very well-written and important comic: Action Comics #484. She doesn’t hate him for keeping the secret. No, she figures it out, helps him(he was suffering from amnesia) gain his memories, and then even agrees to have a Kryptonian wedding.
He doesn’t just meet Lois Lane and get a job(he needs the money, the Kents are not rich). He meets probably the best friend Clark has ever had, Jimmy Olsen.
Jimmy Olsen has been a friend to Clark Kent and Superman for nearly the entire century he’s been a character in the universe. The kid has shared Superman’s power briefly, become a hero, and always has Superman’s back.
Metropolis is home to many businesses and one of the most successful crime lords and infamous men in fiction. Lex Luthor.
In Metropolis, we learn the original version of Superman does his best to stay within the law when he acts as a good Samaritan, more so than a vigilante like Batman. Simply knowing someone is a villain, as he does with Luthor, doesn’t grant him the ability to turn them over to the cops.
Superman becomes beloved and accepted by the people of Metropolis and the world and is not treated as most other superheroes are often in comics. Often, he is shown working alongside the police or government. He seems to react to crime and national disasters and never goes out of his way to break laws simply to fight villainy.
Yet, it is in Metropolis he encounters his most dangerous villains. Not just the mighty kind, but like Luthor, the type that attacks his sensibilities. His codes and his purpose. Writers take the bold move now and then to explore deeper questions with Clark Kent.
It’s when 3 villains attack Earth, who are also Kryptonian that he is put to perhaps his ultimate, personal test. The resulting battle ends with him initially feeling the only way to stop them is to kill them. This wrecks him, however, and he exiles himself as Clark struggles with who he is and what he stands for.
For me, this is the best introspective into the character and mind of someone who has to live with the power that Clark does. It also defines why Superman needs Earth just as much as the Earth needs him.
Graphic Novel in question: Superman: Exile
Jor-El and Lara were Superman’s biological parents. They sent their son in a safe pod before the destruction of their planet. This is what Clark learns through memory crystals left behind for him on the ship he landed on Earth in.
Krypton is a big part of the Superman Universe, as much as Metropolis or Smallville. Superman’s cousin eventually arrives as another survivor, Kara-Zor El, Supergirl.
As the years go on, we learn much about Krypton from the comics. How Clark’s parents were scientists up there and that there are still remnants around it. How it was super advanced but a victim of its own hubris.
A good read for this is an older one, and it also gives some fun stories of how writers in his early stage saw Clark as a boy. The actual title of the comic is More Fun Comics #101. While there are other takes on what Krypton could or couldn’t be, it is clear that it is gone.
Evil things that linger from it slip around now and then, like your General Zod and your Doomsday. While it may not be a place in DC anymore, it is one of the most important in the Superman Universe to have been. Without it, there is no Superman.
Shards of the destroyed planet Krypton usually come as green kryptonite rocks and weaken Superman, sapping his power from him. They are often used to attempt and kill him. They do come in other colors, of course.
- Red Kryptonite: Quite random, seemingly transmoprhic effects on the Kryptonian. Usually bad.
- Blue Kryptonite: Used against Bizarro as Green Kryptonite is against Superman. Also cures the effects of Red Kryptonite.
- Silver Kryptonite: Has similar effects to Kryptonians as Cannabis. It is considered magical by a particular community within the DC Universe.
There are other one-shot versions of kryptonite or types of it made for standalone stories or TV purposes. Still, the main ones you will come across reading in canon are red, green, or blue. Yellow, if you spot it, is fake kryptonite.
Hidden Trivia: Superman is also weak to magic and, in a crossover event, was once killed by He-Man! (temporarily after being brainwashed to fight them). He-Man pierced through him with his magic sword, and that was it.
The Phantom Zone
This unique prison, where Lego Superman keeps his villains and Lego Batman releases them from…Ehm…is a real place in comics. It’s where Krypton used to send their prisoners. It is a place of infinite holding and space. Those imprisoned reside in a ghost-like state of existence seemingly forever.
A pretty terrible freaking prison idea, though. In comics where people keep getting resurrected, I suppose it’s fair play. Clark does learn of the Phantom Zone and does use it scarcely.
It is from the Phantom Zone that General Zod comes, a great prisoner of old Krypton who becomes one of Superman’s most notorious enemies.
Why do Phantom Zone prisoners generally hate Superman? Bad blood, as it were. For it was Superman’s biological father who created and helped with this method of imprisonment to begin with. So, when Krypton blew up, they used their ghost-like minds to find survivors.
How unhappy were they to find only the guy who put them into such suffering was the one whose son made it out alive? Pretty damn unhappy.
The Fortress of Solitude
In the farthest north Superman erects his Fortress of Solitude. A giant icy castle that he constantly upgrades with alien technology and ingenuity. It’s in the fortress we see him be more Kal-El than anywhere.
He touches base with his past routes, learning and studying about Krypton, his biological parents, and the vastness of space. We see his intellect shine here—his research on aliens and visually shown during the animated series in the late 90s early 2000s. We even see his conservation efforts.
Entire environments are made for animals from other worlds that may have died otherwise. Fauna and plants are kept in good care. In the fortress, we see all the things he might do with his powers if he wasn’t needed to play hero so often.
We see a scientist. For me, humanizing the character by having him continue the work of parents he never got to know except through messages left to their surviving child is good writing. It is often used as a plot convenience, but when done right, we are shown how much more comfortable he feels in this space. It’s some of my favorite writing in the Superman saga.
DC compiled many tidbits over the years in this outstanding graphic novel I used for reference: Superman: Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude.
While Apokolips could be argued to be part of The New Gods or The Justice League, not specific to Superman, it would be an ‘injustice’ not to put it here.
Superman’s life and struggles often return to Apokolips. Whether he is being kidnapped and turned into a soldier of Apokolips or simply getting attacked, Superman is tied to Apokolips.
As their Lord Darkseid seeks the Anti-Life Equation, Earth has come into their eyes. It’s good food and annoying that they haven’t been able to conquer it. Yet, they know Superman as the mightiest hero standing between them and destroying it.
Superman and Darkseid have fought countless times through the years. As long as Apokilips remains and fear and death are palpable upon its surface, they will fight again.
The main rival of Superman. Sometimes written as a friend of Clark Kent turned enemy, Lex Luthor hates not having all the cards in his favor. He creates trouble after trouble nearly kills Clark on a few occasions, and ruins his life more than once.
The fact Superman even exists, being so much more powerful than him, was enough to set Luthor off the deep end.
The wife, the love, the reporter. Lois isn’t some sidepiece. She is strong and tenacious. Often referred to in DC as the best reporter in the world, Lois gets plenty of time to shine. She won’t shy away from dangerous stories or putting herself in harm’s way.
She was like this before Superman came into her life. Still, it helps now that he is because her better sensibilities put this everyday human in the middle of one dangerous situation after another.
The photographer at the Daily Planet had a pretty good run in his series, “Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.” While he has an excellent reputation as a sidekick, he has been portrayed as a hero in the Supergirl series on TV. He has also taken up the title of Mr. Action and Flamebird in the comics.
See also: Best Superman Costume Ideas
He runs the Daily Planet. He is a good boss for the most part and takes Clark on as a reporter hoping his good habits might keep Lois’s recklessness in check. They don’t, really, but it was good intentions. He’s like the opposite of Jay Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man world.
Brainiac is one of the most powerful beings in the Universe, and his hatred for Superman is perhaps the only thing that rivals his strength. Brainiac attempts to collect entire worlds or populations for their own search for endless knowledge.
This being, originally from the planet Colu, has a sick idea that knowledge is more important if he is the only one who possesses it.
Superboy AKA Connor Kent
Though different, Superboy was still from his first iteration, a clone made in the absence of Superman. The original Superboy was a young Clark Kent, but the proper Superboy title would eventually go to the clone. This clone’s current canon backstory was that he is made from both Superman and Lex Luthor genes.
He’s had a viral run and become a vital Teen Titans and Young Justice member. He is currently getting an excellent portrayal by a young actor in the Titans television show. That show is rated for a mature audience, fair warning.
Superboy AKA Johnathon Kent
Although this is another Superboy, this one is important. Named after his grandfather, this is Clark and Lois’s son, Jon. He is the current Superboy in the comics and seems to have more or less all his dad’s skills but is being explored as a character.
Still a kid, he is learning his limitations and dealing with school simultaneously. This makes his current comic iteration one of the most relevant of the times.
Kara Zor-El is actually Superman’s older cousin. The family initially sent her to watch over him, but her ship got hit on its course, and she landed on Earth long after him. This odd string of events leads him to become an adult first.
Thus, Superman becomes a lot like a big brother and mentor to Supergirl. Her star has shown brightly throughout her run in DC and the Superman Universe. A movie and a TV series have sprung up in her name.
The War Prisoner from the Phantom Zone. Zod marked an equal to Superman in every way but also someone with more experience. He quickly made Superman’s life turn upside down when he first came out.
However, Clark grew up under our sun and has shown to have more power than other Kryptonians, so he always eventually overcomes him.
The lord of Apokolips and God of Evil. Darkseid wants all life in the Universe to lose Free Will and obey only him. His powers grow as his influence does, but currently, he cannot outfight Superman in most comic threads. His desire to turn Clark Kent and Earth into his minions has made him one of Superman’s most successful foes.
See also: Wonder Woman Characters Guide
The Superdog. For comic book reasons, some fans may hark on this lovable Kryptonian dog with some superpowers. But I love Krypto. He is a loyal, good boy who has been nothing but helpful to any hero he’s shadowed.
You can often find him at the side of Superboy, Connor. A live-action version of the super dog is viewable on the show Titans.
Steel AKA Jon Henry Irons
When the Supermen rose up in the wake of the Death of Superman, my favorite was Steel. He isn’t rich, nor does he have any powers. He is a welder who lives in a rough neighborhood and becomes good friends with Superman. He builds a suit and a badass Hammer, dawns the S on his chest to honor the fallen hero, and fights crime.
He does a pretty good job of it, but you can imagine he doesn’t fare so well against some of Superman’s enemies. Jon is a standup guy, and the writers often do him justice. What? Shaq played him in a movie? Ha, we don’t talk about it.
This one is an odd one. You see, there is, or came into existence, a bizarro world in DC where everything is backward. Bizarro Superman comes from it. Now, while everything is opposite to an extent, he has ALL of Superman’s powers. Yet, his attempts to save people instead have him hurting them.
Needless to say, Bizarro Superman is sometimes a considerable threat to Clark, both morally and physically. “Why are you stopping me from saving them?” “You’re hurting them!” “You’re hurting them!” See, it’s, that’s, bizarre.
The teenage sweetheart from Smallville. Lana Lang had figured out Clark’s secret identity before anyone else but couldn’t prove it. She has similarities to Lois but gets herself into more trouble. You could almost call her a professional at it. She is a consistent character, and she and Clark are still friends in comic canon.
She’s had a brief run as Superwoman, and the Insect Queen was a bit more hers than anyone else’s. Where a suit gave her some Insect Powers, she got a bit of a run as a hero even. The Insect Queen storyline gets pretty weird over the years. It always revolves around Lana, but she no longer holds this persona.
The monster that kills Superman. Is there any other way to introduce someone more powerfully than to kill your greatest hero? Doomsday dies in that same fight and doesn’t do much in comics except when the moment is revisited.
Some terrifying things occur when certain writers bring him back to different Universes. Sometimes in cannon ‘re-awakening’ to hunt Kryptonians. Yet, Doomsday himself becomes iconic for really just the one act.
The fight ended both his and Superman’s lives. Did I mention he was a weapon crafted BY the scientists on planet Krypton? Yeah, way to go, Krypton. Blew up your own world and ended up killing your last son.
This is a literal deity. Mxy is full of tricks and magic and could probably kill the boy in blue whenever he wanted to. His power is ranked equal to the most omnipotent beings of the DC Universe at certain times, but this villain of Superman is unique.
He likes to toy with Clark and almost seems to enjoy being defeated or outdone when Superman overcomes his games or tricks. For whatever reasons, Myx is tied to the hip of the Man of Steel.
Arcs That Define Superman
This story arc in Superman would become the full cannon of the current Superman meta. It is arguably one of the best-written story arcs in DC comics. It’s 12 issues, but they have it combined into a damn nice Graphic Novel.
The writing, for the most part, is what we’ve covered. It’s what I’ve used for a lot of this article start. So I’ll only touch on a moment that I find particularly intriguing to entice you.
While it establishes how the Kents raised him, his early days as a reporter, and even his first days dawning the cape, it also shows that he isn’t ‘super’ clean. It hints at how angry evil can make him.
As he shows up at the hideaway of a gun seller who sold two people that almost shot up a school, he screams at the man about how he just saved a nine-year-old girl. As I press keys to type this, it’s a personally challenging subject to write on, and I imagine it’s just as difficult for many readers. We all wish we could do what Superman does here.
He shoots the gun at the man and stops the bullet right in front of him, so he will forever feel the same pain he helped cause. Then he leaves him tied up in his guns for the police.
Pickup Birthright it’s phenomenal.
This arc is in its title. It is precisely what it claims to be at the time. Following this death, one of the most famous moments in comic history, the Rise of the Supermen, came about. While I talked about those comics, they are far less powerful than his Death. Eventually, they even retcon it and revive Superman when their arcs wrapped up.
The fight between Doomsday and Superman is epic. It’s hard to explain what it’s like. Not believing Superman would ever die first reading must be a ploy. Heroes don’t die, especially in their own comics, right?
When you get to the end pages, you are a speechless kid, young adult, or just an awestruck individual. Yet, to feel all of this arc, I suggest you also read how his death affects the rest of the DC Universe.
Pickup Funeral for a Friend in tandem with the Death of Superman. He wasn’t just mourned. The power scale created by his living meant all other heroes had to step it up.
That’s the title of a comic arc that is also about the death of Superman. Literally, and…it was more the death of Superman before Birthright, perhaps. The Silver Age Superman or whatever one might want to call it.
It’s arguably the tale you should read most. It dives deep into Superman’s emotional issues. His feeling of failure in regards to those he loves. His battle with his moral code, his standing, and why he fights harder to be the way he is even as the world begs him to be different. It’s a relatable Superman but also one that garners empathy.
Many movies and hero stories try to capture the emotion and writing this arc managed in its pages. They haven’t quite managed to the same level this one does. I couldn’t talk about the Superman Universe and not include it.
- Superman: Brainiac. This cannon storyline has Superman trying to rescue the entire World of Kandor from Brainiac’s ship.
- Superman: Kingdom Come. A standalone tale about an aged Superman who had hung up his cape because he could no longer agree with the new way of fighting crime. Only to be forced to pick up his boots and make things right in the wake of a tragedy.
- Superman: Red Son. This standalone tale talks about what the world would be like in DC if Superman was raised in the Soviet Union. It’s far more fun than it has a right to be.
A Few Quick Other Suggestions
Question: Who is Superman’s Greatest Villain?
Answer: Lex Luthor. In this case, I just go back to his oldest rival and the one that has outsmarted and bested him the most time.
Question: Is Superman Immortal?
Answer: No. While he ages slower, he has been shown to age and be killed in combat.
Question: Does Superman have a son?
Answer: Yes. Johnathon Kent is his biological son with Lois Lane.
Question: Is Superman stronger than Batman?
Answer: Yes. This oddly popular question is funny, as Batman has no superhuman strength. He is only shown to win fights with Superman through extreme meticulous planning and the use of Clark’s weaknesses.
You’ve perhaps sat in your own Fortress of Solitude and read through this article. For that, I thank you. I hope you’ve learned much about the Superman Universe, as intended. There are many arcs and things left off this, for a century is a long time. Yet, with the knowledge I’ve chosen, I feel you could pick up a Superman comic today and move right into reading as a knowledgeable fan.
Don’t be fooled by all his powers and the easy argument of “boring.” The pages of Superman comics are anything but boring. They are as far from simple as Krypton is from Earth. They are very much worth the time to read.
Farewell, faithful reader.