Superman’s 20 Most Un-Super Moments


No superhero's perfect. Certainly not Superman.

From his origins in 1939 to Zack Snyder's "Man of Steel," opening Friday, the invulnerable one has been stung plenty of times. By bad luck. By bad writing. By bad stunt casting. By bad tie-in marketing.

Here's a look back at some of the mighty Superman's lowest, cheesiest, and, well, most awkward moments:

1. The (Not-So) Last Son of Krypton: So, yes, as the story has been oft-told, Kal-El is the sole survivor of his blown-to-bits home planet — provided you don't count his cousin (Supergirl), his dog (Krypto), his monkey (Beppo), his world's capital city (Kandor) and anything or anyone else who might've stowed away in a rocket ship supposedly built for one.


2. The Legion of Super-Pets: We are not making this up — but the team behind Adventure Comics No. 293 did. And while Superman (or, rather, Superboy) was not a member of the animal organization, his stupid dog started the group, his stupid monkey was a member, and, for bad measure, the two of them admitted a stupid horse (Comet) and a stupid cat (Streaky).

Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage

3. That Long-Haired Nicolas Cage Superman Picture: The much-circulated and much-ridiculed "lost" costume-test shot from Tim Burton's aborted "Superman Lives" probably isn't real, but like it or not, and if the Man of Steel has any taste left after the Legion of the Super-Pets , he doesn't, it's now part of the character's lore. (At least the more recently surfaced "lost" Cage-Superman images are more respectable.)

4. Superman Imitation Pasteurized Process Cheese Spread: The crusader for truth, justice and the American way may hate cigarettes, but in the 1960s, he was totally down with fake food.

5. Bizarro Madness: If you never read a Bizarro Superman tale, and there were a lot of them, dating back to the character's 1958 introduction, then the "Seinfeld" episode, "The Bizarro Jerry," explained it all for you. As Jerry tells Elaine, Bizarro Superman is "Superman's exact opposite...Up is down. Down is up. He says 'hello' when he leaves, 'goodbye' when he arrives." He left out the parts about Bizarro-Lois, Bizarro-Krypto, and all Bizarros' inability to use proper English syntax--probably because where Bizarro Superman is concerned more detail only make Bizarro Superman sound more ridiculous.

Superman as newscaster
Superman as newscaster

6. Clark Kent's Newscaster Stint: Clearly, if you're trying to maintain a private life, if not a secret identity, then being on TV every night, as Clark-Superman was after being bumped up to anchor of the WGBS-TV news in the 1970s, is a really good idea. Clearly.

7. The Public Shaming of Superman by Superman's Father: By 1975, writer Jerry Siegel, who with artist Joe Schuster created Krypton's finest, was more than over their never-ending battles with the corporate suits. Upon learning that Warner Bros. had purchased the movie rights to his baby for millions while he and Schuster didn't even have pensions, Glen Weldon's "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography" recounts Siegel issued a 10-page manifesto in which he declared, "I, Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, put a curse on the Superman movie!"

8. The "Hair" on E.G. Marshall's Head in "Superman II": Look, Mr. and Mrs. Filmmaker, if you wanted your president to have lush 'n' wavy Ronald Reagan locks, then why didn't hire an actor with lush 'n' wavy Ronald Reagan locks, instead of one who'd been noticeably bald for years?

9. Superman Springs a "Slow Leak" During Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Float Debut: "It was a little bit embarrassing," the event's Bill Chaisson said of the 1980 incident that left the bulletproof hero with a "limp wrist," as the Associated Press put it.

10. The First "Flying" Scene in "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace": Yes, the whole movie's an embarrassment, but you can't know for sure how great of an embarrassment until you witness rear-screen-projection work at its worst.

11. World's Un-Finest: Superman and Batman (and sometimes Robin), yes. Superman and Spider-Man, OK. Superman and Muhammad Ali, acceptable (gimmicky premise, but an excuse for fun cover art). Superman and Predator, the Terminator, Hulk and Thor, OK, OK, we get it--he's got loads of famous friends. Superman and Pat Boone, whatever. But Superman and Richard Pryor? No, no and no wonder Superman gets good and plastered and knocks over the bowl of bar peanuts in "Superman III."

12. "Superman Returns" (But Isn't Exactly Reborn): After all the almost-was movies, coulda-been revivals and Jon Peters spiders, the hero returned to the big screen after a nearly 20-year absence in a big, well-meaning Bryan Singer film that was, well, kinda meh. A promised sequel never happened, and the franchise was in need of yet another reboot. (Enter "Man of Steel.")

Brandon Routh
Brandon Routh

13. Brandon Routh Looks "Too Wimpy": This story (about a makeup job supposedly gone bad at a press conference for "Superman Returns") originated in a London tab, so, as they say, consider the source, but just like the Cage photos, it doesn't go away.

14. The Problem With Phone Booths: Once upon a time, phone booths were as luxurious as Manhattan studio apartments — and Superman enjoyed using them as change rooms. Then, they started getting smaller. And smaller. And smaller. By 1978's "Superman: The Movie," the poor Superman can only take a futile, fleeting glance at one before ripping off his Clark Kent uniform sans privacy.

15. Superman's Bed Sheets: What exactly was the thread count on that shiny-as-a-disco-ball bachelor-pad set as seen in "Superman II"?

16. The Desperate Years: In the space of less than one decade during the comics industry's decidedly non-Golden Age, Superman's keepers pulled out all the publicity stops — killing him off, bringing him back to life and, at last, marrying him off to Lois Lane, not in the name of true love, mind you, but in the name of "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman," the Teri Hatcher-Dean Cain TV show that likewise was featuring a ceremony.

17. When Tie-In Merchandise Goes Bad Makes No Sense: From Sabotage Times, comes this unearthed retro-toy gem: a Superman motorcycle with a sidecar specifically designated for Wonder Woman. To give you some background, Superman can fly, and Wonder Woman can pilot a plane. He does not need a motorcycle; she does not a ride.

18. Superman Adult-Contemporary's Playlist: What is it about the all-powerful hero that inspires the likes of the falsetto-voiced Five for Fighting mid-tempo number, "Superman (It's Not Easy)?" Not sure, but Iron Man's going to stick with Black Sabbath, thankyouverymuch.

19. Superman's Underpants: It took him more than 70 years, but, in "Man of Steel," Jor-El's boy finally learns that undergarments are for wearing under — not over — your clothes. About time.

20. The Flying Lings: When "It's a Bird… It's a Plane… It's Superman" played (briefly) on Broadway in 1966, it had it all: a book by a pair of red-hot writers (who would one day pen "Bonnie and Clyde" and "Superman: The Movie"), whiz-bang songs by the team behind "Bye Bye Birdie" (and one day "Annie") — and a subplot involving an acrobatic team "believed to be Oriental," per the original cast album. Though the Flying Lings, as the high-flyers were formally known, weren't necessarily troublesome back in the unenlightened day, the characters have since proved troublesome. Revivals have recast the Lings as mobsters and French Cirque du Soleil types. A more recent do-over brought back the Lings, but,'s Michael Dale reported, "in an interpretation that I doubt anyone would find objectionable."