To many people – particularly those who aren’t necessarily familiar with comic books – Superman is the pinnacle of super-powered beings. “He’s unbeatable”, “he can’t be killed” and “Superman is the most powerful character ever” are just some of the things you might hear from those uneducated on the art of comics.
This couldn’t be more wrong. Superman is well down the comic book pecking order when it comes to placing characters into a tiered hierarchy – in fact, all things considered, he’s about midway down it.
Seriously. When you envisage that there are cosmic beings who embody the universe itself and godlike, omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient beings with control over entire universal concepts, Superman is like a bug to them – and it doesn’t even take characters anywhere close to that level to defeat him (and this is perfectly quantifiable given his proven feats and the feats of the beings who can defeat him – he has, of course, been beaten several times in his own DC comics!).
So, without getting into the truly cosmic or godly characters (the gods, the essential forces of the universe, the characters who represent entire life concepts etc), here are five Marvel characters that could defeat Superman (note that this article will consider a straight-up fight only, with no prep time or extenuating circumstances and both characters going all-out to defeat the other).
Dormammu may be an extradimensional being, but he is by no means a god. A member of the demonic Faltine species, he has simply honed his magical abilities to insane levels – and if there’s one thing – other than Kryptonite – that can defeat Superman, it’s magic.
By default, the Faltine species generate an energy known as the Flames of the Faltine, which has been used to end entire worlds.
Regarding taking down Superman, consider Dormammu’s durability to begin with. He has taken a full-on beating from the Defenders (Hulk, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange and Ghost Rider) and, while they thought they had defeated him, he simply rose, mocked their power and told them that they had only seen one-tenth of what he was capable of. With that in mind, Superman simply couldn’t hurt him physically.
And Superman may be quick, but Dormammu can cast city-wide spells like the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, which would engulf the Man of Steel and bind him in powerful mystical restraints that he couldn’t escape from.
As standard, he can summon powerful demons and mystical beings (such as the Mindless Ones) at will and could essentially utilise an army against Superman. He has hundreds of other spells at his disposal, but it would literally take all day to describe them!
Beings he has flat-out overpowered include hosts of the cosmic Phoenix Force, he has rivalled Odin directly in terms of power and he has even caused trouble to the likes of the cosmic entity Eternity itself. Superman wouldn’t stand a chance.
Sentry is essentially everything Superman is and more. He possesses insane levels of superhuman strength, durability and speed, as well as a whole host of esoteric powers and abilities that make him more versatile in his offence and much harder to kill.
Regarding his strength, he has done things like lifted a Celestial (a massive humanoid cosmic being), he has torn Ares in half (Ares being a demigod-like being on the level of Thor and Hercules), he has torn through the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak (something Hulk can’t do) and he has stopped a swing of Terrax’s axe, casually, with one hand (Terrax’s axe blows have cracked planets in two), which is also an insane durability feat. He is every bit as strong as Superman.
Durability-wise – in addition to the aforementioned Terrax feat – he has taken multiple blows from an angry World War Hulk (which, honestly, was a poorly-written Sentry, as he should be destroying someone like Hulk with his esoteric abilities) and was merely bloodied by a punch from Blue Marvel, who has destroyed moons with similar blows. He is every bit as durable as Superman.
However, if indeed Sentry was destroyed by Superman, the fact is he would come back. He has died several times only to return immediately – most impressively when the Molecule Man (someone who could easily beat Superman) tore him apart at a molecular level. Sentry simply reformed and did exactly the same back to him using his transmutation powers. He could essentially rip up Superman molecule by molecule (there’s also the chance that Sentry being sufficiently angered could bring out The Void – and Superman wouldn’t want that).
Sentry’s most impressive feat is arguably when he was in the microverse (a universe where everything is shrunk to atom-size). Such was the power-level of an energy flare he created, it could be seen from the normal universe – that’s an insane level of power and it destroyed planets while he was in there.
He also possesses telepathy and, while that’s not his most impressive power (he did cause the whole world to forget him, however), he could still get into Superman’s head.
The Silver Surfer
The Silver Surfer is often seen as being around the same level as Superman – or even as being someone who Superman can beat – but the fact is he is considerably more powerful than the Kryptonian.
The Surfer might not have the same physical strength as the Man of Steel, but that’s where his disadvantages stop and, given the other ways in which he trumps the DC hero, it shouldn’t even be considered a disadvantage.
For starters, the Surfer is considerably faster than Superman. People sometimes argue that Surfer’s quickness is merely related to his board’s travel speed, but he has proven to be able to think, move and react within nano-seconds and indeed move at several times the speed of light (Superman is generally known to max out at light speed), meaning Superman wouldn’t even be able to react to the Surfer’s attacks before they hit him.
What puts the Surfer beyond Superman’s ability to defeat is his durability and his esoteric powers. His durability is such that he can take punches from characters as strong as the Hulk and She-Hulk without flinching (when She-Hulk punched him in the face, he described it as a “young woman sort of bumping into him”) and survive the rigours of being in deep space, hyperspace, black holes and stars with ease.
He can also manipulate, create and absorb energy and radiation of all kinds, which would be key to beating Superman. He could absorb the solar radiation from Superman’s body, rendering him useless, or he could create Kryptonite radiation to weaken the Man of Steel. In the comic books, he has absorbed Uni-Lord’s power and subsequently destroyed a solar system with it.
His use of the Power Cosmic also gives him transmutation abilities (turning Superman’s head into a lump of Kryptonite, anyone?) and a number of other abilities like time travel, phasing through solid objects, illusion casting and portal generation. He’s just too much for Superman to handle.
Gladiator – and let’s point out right away that this isn’t referring to the lame Daredevil villain of the same name – is a member of the Strontian species, the Sh’iar Empire and the former leader of the Imperial Guard.
In terms of his powers and abilities, he boasts almost exactly the same selection as Superman – but the difference is that his are on a more impressive scale.
Take his superhuman strength, for example – Gladiator regularly lifts large buildings and ships and so forth, but he has also used his physical strength alone to shatter whole planets.
In terms of his physical durability, he has flown through stars unscathed and oblivious to the “raging nuclear inferno” that engulfed him (including through one star that was one hundred million miles wide) and he has withstood explosions with forces equivalent to a supernova.
Speed-wise, his flight speed has been measured at warp-speed or “one hundred times the speed of light”, he has grabbed super-fast opponents (Image Comics’ Supreme, for instance) and flown them into space before they even knew anything had happened and he has blitzed Thor at such speed that the Asgardian didn’t know what had hit him and couldn’t retaliate.
Other powers he has that mirror Superman’s include his freeze breath and his heat vision. His heat vision in particular is superior, as it has been described as “hotter than a star”.
In conclusion, Superman is essentially Gladiator-lite. The only factor that might work against Gladiator is that his power fluctuates with his confidence. However, assuming he isn’t depressed and down at the time of the fight, he would destroy Superman in straight-up physical combat and, if his mindset was particularly positive at the time, there could be no telling what the limits of his physical abilities were.
It’s fair to say that the Mad Titan known as Thanos would stomp a mud-hole in Superman with consummate ease.
The villain could quite easily prepare a plot to defeat the Man of Steel effortlessly, or he could wield an item of power like the Infinity Gauntlet to blink him out of existence, but the fact is he doesn’t need either of those scenarios – his baseline power is more than enough to destroy the Kryptonian hero.
The only area in which Thanos is inferior to Superman is travel speed. That being said, his reflexes are such that he can block and dodge attacks from a speeding Silver Surfer – and we’ve already discussed how fast he is – so he would have no problem anticipating and reacting to an attack from Superman.
But the fact is Superman couldn’t hurt Thanos anyway – his durability is far too impressive. The Mad Titan has completely shrugged off an all-out assault from the Silver Surfer (on the rare occasion that the Herald of Galactus did manage to land a hit on him) and essentially laughed it off. Bearing in mind the Silver Surfer has destroyed planets, Superman wouldn’t scratch Thanos with his best shot.
In terms of physical strength, Thanos’ dwarfs Superman’s. He is able to casually take on Hulk, Thing, Hercules and the Thor at the same time and manhandle them – cockily remarking on their lack of collective strength.
Even with all of that in mind, it is his esoteric abilities that truly put him out of Superman’s league. For starters, he has telepathy at a level that allows him to hold off mind attacks from the likes of Moondragon, he can teleport, he can fire powerful energy blasts, he has the ability to manipulate various types of energy and he can transmute matter – meaning he could turn Superman into a teapot if he wanted.
What do you think? Are you satisfied that Superman isn’t unbeatable? Which other characters from Marvel could beat him? Have your say below.