Superman is seen the world over as the representative of truth, justice, and the American way.
So why, to put it bluntly, are so many incarnations of Superman such jerks lately?
We recognize that readers enjoy stories with the threat of nasty, invading aliens. But in recent stories of the DCU, there appears to be something particularly fascinating to the publisher about characters who mirror the heroic Man of Steel, but aren't nice.
The easy examples right now are the ultra-evil Ultraman of Earth 3, who's ruling over villains in Forever Evil, and Wraith, the powerful alien who's been performing horrific missions for the government in Superman Unchained.
But we at Newsarama have noticed that even Superman himself has been portrayed as a bit of a jerk lately, in various incarnations. Don't know what we mean?
So in the spirit of good comic book fun— and recognizing that even the worst of the jerks we listed below have room for hope (after all, everyone ended up liking Damian Wayne, the once-brattiest jerk of the Bat-family)...
…we applied the Newsarama Jerk-O-Meter to the Super-family. With apologies to the researchers at MIT for borrowing the title (seriously, there's an app for that), we rated some of the current Supermen, Superboys (and Supergirl) on just how much of a jerk they are.
Superman Pre-New 52
Before we get into the current Supermen, let's just take a second to review what we came from — besides, we can use this guy as our "control group," right?
Prior to the New 52 reboot, Superman's personality had evolved quite a bit from his Golden Age days (when he was willing to maim and kill). By the mid to late 2000's, he was known by fans as the Big Blue Boy Scout, due to his kindness, compassion and unwillingness to harm even the vilest creatures.
Of course, that kind of commitment to compassion can backfire. Ideally, Superman would be zero jerk. But even the most die-hard Superman fans have to admit that the hero came across as something of a jerk when, after deciding to reconnect by walking across America (instead of flying), he renounced his U.S. citizenship (in Action Comics #900 in 2011).
As a result, we can't even give the kinder, gentler Superman a perfect score.
Jerk Score: 1 out of 10.
As with DC's Batman Beyond digital title, the Superman Beyond and Justice League Beyond titles both portray the type of Superman that readers got to know in the animated TV universe. In these future-set stories, Superman was introduced as a hero who felt a little out of place, nostalgic for the people of Metropolis who are all gone from his life now. But as the stories have evolved, he's been fitting in fine — he even recently took on a different secret identity ("Kal Kent," a name reminiscent of the Grant Morrison character), as well getting to know a new lady in his life, a firefighter named Rita.
It's almost impossible to find much fault with this guy, although he's so nice that he's sometimes been annoyingly unable to truly punish the bad guys (which has resulted in some people being hurt). He also inadvertently hurt Aquagirl a few issues back...
But let's face it, the Superman of the digital comic future is just an all-around nice guy. The Jerk-O-Meter's gauge barely makes a move.
Jerk Score: .0001 out of 10.
Superman New 52 Main Earth
When DC rebooted its universe a couple years ago, it portrayed the brand new Superman as a social crusader — a young, brash hero who sported jeans and a T-shirt. The hero came across as a little bit arrogant and impetuous, but it seemed to fit with his combination of inexperience and enthusiasm for fighting against injustice.
Nowadays, Superman is not only in full costume, but he's five years older and wiser than in the jeans days. Yet some of the "brashness" in his personality remains. Whether it's because writers are still trying to make him modern and viable, or whether it's the (in-story) result of losing the good example of his parents so early, some comics. Sure, he's not as much of a hot-head as he was in his younger days, but he's far from being the farm-influenced "boy scout" readers may have previously known.
Still, Superman in the New 52 gave up his chance to save his adopted parents to save others. And as long as that compassionate part of him is alive and kicking inside the big blue costume, we're thinking the jerk meter on New 52 Supes should stay pretty low.
Jerk Score: 2 out of 10.
Superboy (New 52 Kon)
It's difficult to rate Kon as anything but a saint these days, because according to Superman #25, the hero died because he was sacrificing himself to save Argo City.
But the truth is that the Kon-El introduced immediately after the reboot was far from being self-sacrificing. One of his first acts was to battle against the Teen Titans, and he was used as a weapon by the anti-metahuman organization called N.O.W.H.E.R.E. And even after he joined the Teen Titans, he often had biting reactions that made Superman's "brash" era look pale in comparison.
Still, Kon overcame his origin as a living weapon to be a helpful part of the Teen Titans, and he not only ended up befriending Supergirl and Superman, but he helped them save the universe against the evils of H'El.
Jerk Score: 3 out of 10
Supergirl (New 52 Kara Zor-El)
When Supergirl arrived on Earth, she was immediately attacked by a group of American soldiers, then soon found herself kidnapped and tortured by a messed up dude named Simon Tycho.
So it's easy to excuse some of the tantrums she threw in those first few weeks on Earth — one of which included throwing Superman through the Great Wall of China. And she gets extra points for always having the attitude that the innocents on Earth should be protected, which is worth admiring in an alien who who could take over the world if she wanted.
That said, Supergirl chose the wrong side for most of the "H'El on Earth" event, and she saddled Superboy with the name Kon-El (which means "abomination" in Kryptonian), revealing that she was more than a little bigoted toward clones.
Despite all these mistakes, we're really wanting to give the kid a break, since she's new here. But her recent acquisition of a Power Ring from the Red Lanterns has her channeling the power of Hate. The Jerk-O-Meter is confused, but has fallen temporarily (we hope) on the mid-level range.
Jerk Score: 4 out of 10.
Superboy (Jon Lane Kent)
Jon Kent is the alternate-timeline child of Lois Lane and Clark Kent, so he's got crazy strong powers, but serous health problems. (Guess that's one answer to the "what if" question so many fans have asked.)
But he was kidnapped as a child and brainwashed to be a killer of metahumans. In the future (of his timeline, that is), he killed off most metahumans. And now he's back in the main DCU Earth, disguised as Con and ready to kill more metahumans.
That said, we have to remember that Jon doesn't know any better. Because Harvest stole him so young, he knows nothing else but what he was taught by his guardian. So we'll cut him a little break in the hopes that the tiny part of him that isn't a jerk might shine through soon.
Jerk Score: 9 out of 10.
Superman (Justice League 3000)
In the year 3000, the members of the Justice League are actually genetically manufactured beings who were never given the upbringing we know so well — in other words, Superman has superpowers, but was never raised by the Kents.
As a result, this overconfident, pompous Superman is what series co-writer Keith Giffen calls a "douchebag." He's constantly fighting with Batman, doesn't shy from killing, and recently called one of the League's missions "beneath a hero of my stature."
That said, the guy is at least calling himself a "hero," and that's more than we can say for some of the other Supermen on this list.
Jerk Score: 7 out of 10.
Superman (Injustice) - In this comic, which is a prequel to the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game, we've seen the evolution of Superman into a jerk. Or rather, into the "High Councilor" who, in the video game, rules over the world with an iron, or rather Man of Steel, fist.
The comic, which is on "Year Two," has already turned Superman into a pretty bad jerk, despite his insistence that he's trying to do the right thing. So far in the comic, he's already killed Green Arrow and broken Batman's back, as he begins the journey toward controlling the world and forcing the people of the world to follow his rules.
But because we know just how bad things are going to get when the comic finally catches up to the video game, we'll pull back on this score because we have proof that there is no hope, and he can become even more of a jerk in the future.
Jerk Score: 8 out of 10.
Superman/Brutaal (Earth 2)
It doesn't get much worse than this guy. Calling himself by the name "Brutaal" now, this Superman still has all of his powers (and then some), but he uses them as a servant of Darkseid as he takes over Earth 2.
Brutaal has not only killed and defeated scores of humans and heroes, but he even murdered his own commanding officer, Steppenwolf. And in the latest issues of Earth 2, he scoured the globe for all things good and decent, destroying anything with religious significance so Darkseid would be recognized as the one, true god. He also cut off the Atom's arm and beat him across the face with it.
What a jerk.
Despite all these wrongs, we have to remember that this version of Superman has been programmed by Darkseid to do these things. And inside that "brutal" exterior still beats the heart of the man who married Lois Lane and saved the world multiple times. Right? Right? We can't lose all hope for an ounce of un-jerkiness under this brutal man of steel.
Jerk Score: 9.9 out of 10.