We're less than one week away from getting our hands on issue #1000 of ACTION COMICS. Let’s think about that for a minute. One thousand. One followed by three zeroes. That’s a whole lot of comics. And as you might expect, with that many issues and eighty years of history, our good friend Superman has no shortage of stories to look back on. Sure, some of them are exciting, dramatic, high flying…even romantic. I’d even go so far as to say that most of them are.
But some of them?
Ooooh, boy… Let's just say that with a long life comes plenty of opportunities for things to get weird. And nobody does weird quite like Superman. This is a guy who has a whole planet of villains with the word “bizarre” in their name, after all. For all that we say Superman is all about small towns and wholesome values and apple pie and all that, the dude knows how to get freaky.
So, with that in mind (particularly the apple pie…remind me not to write listicles at lunchtime), let's take a look at some of the silliest, some of the most out-there, most utterly bonkers Superman stories ever told.
Introducing Super-Menace! – SUPERMAN #137
In this very special (and very ’60s) issue of Superman, we learn that Kal-El was actually not the only Kryptonian infant sent to Earth in an escape pod. Turns out he was actually one of two, the other being a...replica made by some sort of...alien...craft...
Listen, just go with it, okay? There were two babies hurtling through space is the point here.
So, our little Kal crash lands in Smallville, like normal, and the other Kal crash lands conveniently right by the hideout of infamous husband and wife gangsters, "Wolf" and Bonnie Derek.
You can probably see where this is going.
The gangsters raise the second Kal-El into a Super-Brat who then grows up to be a domino mask wearing Super-Menace, the mightiest villain in the whole universe!
This entire issue was later written off as an "Imaginary Story," which was the Silver Age go-to for retconning things when they got too out of hand. So tragically, Super-Menace no longer exists anywhere, but in our hearts.
Red vs. Blue – SUPERMAN #162
If you've been reading Superman comics for a while, you might actually be familiar with this story. Back in 1998, Superman was "split" into two different versions of himself, the more famous of the two colloquially known as "Electric Blue" because he was...well, electric blue and had energy powers.
It was the ’90s, okay? Don't think too hard about it.
But what you might not know is that good ol' Electric Blue Supes was actually a call back to a much older story from 1963. In this timeless classic that almost no one remembers, Superman finds himself with just too many high-priority things on his to-do list, so he invents a machine with different forms of Kryptonite that will, ideally, increase his intelligence and inspire him to start knocking the more challenging goals out one by one.
Now, to me, it would seem like someone who can invent a machine like that was already pretty darn intelligent, and that maybe, in a totally different story, Superman would realize that and discover that he doesn’t need the machine after all. He just needs the patent for it along with some investment capital, and he could make billions cranking out intelligence machines. That would be more than enough to hire an entire staff to help him with those goals he wants to achieve.
But no, this isn’t that story. Instead, Superman’s machine splits the Man of Steel into two identical clones—one dressed all in red, the other dressed all in blue—who name themselves...you guessed it, Superman-Red and Superman-Blue. Together, they solve the world's problems, resolve a love triangle (Red marries Lois, Blue marries Lana Lang) and otherwise seem to have pretty great and conflict-free lives.
Of course, it all wound up being another out-of-continuity "Imaginary Story," so none of that actually came to pass. But hey, at least we've still got the ’90s version to look back on fondly, along with my alternate, completely unused machine story, which you all saw here first (just in case that Bendis guy tries stealing it ;) )!
Burning the Bat-Witch – WORLD’S FINEST #186
In 1969, both Superman and Batman starred in a truly crazypants time travel story that landed them both stuck back in time during the American Revolution. Now, this was before Back to the Future, so you should realize that casually time traveling to major moments in history was both a totally normal and perfectly safe thing to do. And I should know. I write about DC’s Legends of Tomorrow each week, so I’m pretty much a time travel expert.
Of course, the time travel isn’t all that went down. On top of being accused of being British spies (Superman's red cape left him mistaken for a Red Coat, obviously) and trying to convince the locals that they were actually just actors ("The S stands for Shakespeare!"), Superman and Batman eventually started turning on one another, because of course they did.
This left Superman himself stirring up some truly insidious drama about Batman being a witch and a demon and leaving him precariously close to burning at the stake.
With friends like these…
Clark and Barda (Almost) Get Caught on Tape – ACTION COMICS #593
We bet this one is mega awkward at Justice League holiday parties. During an encounter with the appropriately named Sleez, a villain from Apokolips who—you guessed it—had the power to force people to do some pretty sleazy things, Superman very nearly joined the hallowed Hollywood ranks of sex tape celebrities.
Trapped by Sleez, Supes and Big Barda were manipulated into getting uncomfortably cozy with one another while Sleez manned a very, very ’80s video camera, intent on filming the whole thing to use as a weapon against the Justice League. Thankfully, Mister Miracle was able to get there in time to break Sleez’s mind control and help Superman and Big Barda defeat the stubby little troll before any costumes were removed and things crossed any line that a good publicity manager couldn’t take care of.
Still, even with the narrow miss, Sleez goes on record for being one of Superman's skeeviest villains. I mean, the guy managed to get too creepy for Darkseid. How twisted and gross do you have to be to do that?
Dragon-Centric Wardrobe Malfunctions – SUPERMAN #142
Shockingly, this issue isn't on the list for its secondary story, "Superman Meets Al Capone!", where, uh, Superman meets Al Capone, but for its final tale—"The Flame-Dragon from Krypton!"
The Flame-Dragon is a dragon! Who breathes scorching flames!!
How that makes him different from other dragons is beyond my simple understanding (as is how this guy didn’t end up making a cameo in DARK NIGHTS: METAL). But that fire of his was the source of some trouble for dear old Superman, who accidentally intercepts one of said flames while still wearing his Clark Kent suit and tie.
The fire burns through Clark's street clothes easily as anything, leaving him standing in his Superman suit for all to see, and making it just a little obvious for Lois Lane who her plucky boyfriend actually is.
Luckily, when Lois follows her hunch all the way to Kent Farm, she finds Clark, bandaged from his burns, ready and waiting to convince her that, no, no, everything she'd just experienced was some sort of trick, and really, he'd managed to flag down an ambulance for himself just as Superman arrived to save the day.
He may be good at a lot of things, but lying definitely isn't one of Clark's super powers. And speaking of which, I’d be lying if I said I don’t totally want the Flame-Dragon of Krypton to make a return to the world of Superman comics. And to get in a battle with one of those Joker Dragons in Metal. And for this entire thing to be drawn by Greg Capullo. And inspire a prog rock album called “Dragon Krypt.”
Let’s move on…
Red Kryptonite Ridiculousness – ACTION COMICS #283
The early days of Kryptonite were basically a roulette wheel of ridiculousness. In this story from 1961, Superman is besieged by Red Kryptonite, which has all sorts of absurd affects on him.
And I really, genuinely mean "all sorts." First, Superman is granted the power of "mind over matter," which, in the ’60s, apparently translated into literally granting your own wishes. While trying to figure out what to do about the Red Kryptonite chunks, he wished for the help of Sherlock Holmes—as I'm sure anyone would—and poof! Just like that, the master detective appeared on the scene to lend a hand.
(He later temporarily wishes his parents into existence, but that was decidedly less funny.)
But, while wishing for Sherlock Holmes to be real and not just an amusing Robert Downey, Jr. character may be kind of nutty, it’s nowhere near enough to land this story on our list on its own.
No, that comes much later, when a different chunk of Red Kryptonite causes Superman to breathe fire any time he opens his mouth (just like the Flame-Dragon of Krypton!). But Superman cleverly gets around that problem by using what I think might just be one of the Man of Steel's most underrated powers: Super Ventriloquism.
And no, he doesn’t take his ventriloquism act on the road at the end of all of this because THAT would just be too unbelievable.
Officiant for a Gorilla Wedding – SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN #98
Obviously, Superman's most famous day job is that of a plucky Daily Planet reporter, but he's worn his fair share of temporary hats over the last eighty years as well. Like back in 1966, when poor Jimmy Olsen was wrangled into marrying a gorilla named Bruna and—rather than stopping the ceremony or introducing Bruna to a handsome he-gorilla or something—Clark took on the role of making it all official as the "witch doctor" of the gorilla troop.
To make things even weirder, the logic behind the story was explained by saying Bruna wanted to marry Jimmy because she felt nostalgic and "sentimental" about the movie King Kong. You see, an exploratory band of scientists had been showing the gorillas movies in hopes of...teaching them things, I guess?
I don't know about you, but any time I've gone out into the jungle on a scientific mission, my first order of business has always been setting up a movie theater for the wildlife.
Superman's New Power – SUPERMAN #125
In 1958, after contact with an alien ship of unknown origin (no, really, the ship itself is never explained), Superman is dismayed to find all of his powers except for flight and invulnerability mysteriously replaced with the ability to shoot rainbow beams out of his hands.
And he doesn’t even need to break out the jazz hands for it to work. (Though, in my mind canon, he does them while using it anyhow.)
Luckily, the rainbow beams also inexplicably cause all criminals to surrender. (I mean, wouldn't you if a flying, invulnerable man wearing spandex shot rainbow lasers out of his fingers at you?) But there's another—dare I say weirder—side effect for the whole scenario. Somehow, and your guess is as good as mine on this one, Superman's new powers also cause him to be able to shoot a tiny version of himself out of his hand as well. The tiny Superman—called the Proxy, but darn it, it should have been called the "Superchaun" and come with a pot of gold—has all of normal Superman's regular powers and no rainbow beams.
The Proxy eventually sacrifices itself by deflecting a chunk of Kryptonite away from rainbow-blasting regular Superman, which allows him to regain his normal powers and otherwise totally go back to normal. Well, except for the fact that the entire Justice League now probably gives him a hard time over the day he became Rainbow Man and had to get saved by his weird Leprechaun mini-me.
And there you have it. Now, please don’t take this list the wrong way. We joke and tease because we love, and there’s no one we love here on the DC website more than Superman. The Man of Steel is an inspiration. He reminds us of the very best that we can be. His stories have the ability to move us, thrill us and provoke us into feeling all sorts of emotion. Some of the best comic stories ever told have featured Superman.
…But sadly, only one of them featured the Flame-Dragon of Krypton!
ACTION COMICS #1000 featuring art and stories by Brian Michael Bendis, John Cassaday, Paul Dini, Geoff Johns, Tom King, Jim Lee, Scott Snyder and more is in stores on April 18, 2018.