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Analysis / Superman

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Superman's Rogues Gallery as reflection/foil of the hero
Superman is the modern Ideal Hero. Sure, plenty of people like to screw around with him, and the elseworld stories make Beware the Superman all the more appealing, but in the "modern" sense, Superman is the ideal superhero: wise, strong, compassionate, loving, a balanced life in both superheroing and his normal life, idealistic and able to win fights without resorting to lethal violence. For that reason, his villains usually take one of his ideal traits, and turn them on their head. Not like Batman per-se, but still somewhat similar.

  • Lex Luthor: Superman, despite being an alien, was raised to believe that Humans Are Special, and strives to help humanity however possible with little thought for reward. Batman even calls Clark "One of the most human of us all." He also believes in being accountable for all he does. Meanwhile, Lex is everything Superman at once hates and yet needs. On one hand, he's egotistical, prideful, greedy, manipulates what exists for his own benefit, and hates having anyone talk down to him. On the other, he's super intelligent, and would be exactly the kind of man that would change the world so that it wouldn't need a Superman anymore. He's Humans Are the Real Monsters, but at the same time, embodies so much potential, that Superman is at once frustrated and distasteful towards Luthor.
  • Brainiac: Superman is the benevolent alien who took up with us. Brainiac is -paraphrasing Supergirl- "everything bad about aliens," all rolled into a robotic body with a singular mission to collect pieces of alien life and culture before destroying the rest (bringing to mind the worst aspect of colonialism). Also, as Superman gets his powers from his unique biology, Brainiac contrasts in another way by using technology to fight the Man of Steel.
  • Darkseid: Superman never puts himself above others, at least not in the tyrannical sense. Darkseid on the other hand lords over Apokalips as its Lawful Evil tyrant, and is so manipulative and cruel that Superman actually hates him. He may be passionate about going after Brainiac, but Darkseid is a being Superman actually hates.
    • Mongul falls under a similar category (The first Mongul that is) of being the power without mercy.
    • Also the idea of Superman representing hope and Darkseid being fear - both are ideas that each wants to leave behind whether they are alive or not.
  • Bizarro: (borrowed from fridge brilliance) He's an imperfect, backwards clone of Superman. He's also a metaphor for humanity on the whole. Think of it; Bizarro has all of Superman's powers (if reversed, in some continuities), and is strengthened by the Kryptonite Factor. In the same vein, humanity has surpassed most if not all of its natural boundaries, defying the elements time and again. So given this, why isn't Bizarro the hero? Simple: despite his power, he's not mentally capable of bearing the responsibility that comes with protecting the world. He's every bit as powerful as the Big Blue Boy Scout, but his twisted logic will never let him do the good and right thing despite how badly he wants to. Sounds about right.
  • General Zod: Everything Superman is (you know, as a Kryptonian), only tyrannical instead of benevolent. While Superman has acclimated to Earth's culture and can perfectly synergize the best aspects of his adopted planet and Krypton, Zod waxes nostalgic about his planet's more violent and competitive past. Sporting a militaristic straw-Darwinian philosophy, he uses his tactical genius and yellow-sun powers to prop himself up over others and wants nothing more than to rule a new Krypton with an iron fist. Superman is a citizen who voluntarily uses his powers to help people and ennoble others, Zod is a soldier at heart and sees no point in helping those that are weaker. Both call upon their heritage, but Superman opts for an enlightened perspective instilled in him by Jor-El; Zod longs for the brutality of old Krypton.
  • Mister Mxyzptlk: The Oddball of Superman's Rogue's Gallery, an imp from the fifth dimension who likes to mess around with Superman. However, this is actually perhaps the most hidden of foils, as Mxy is all of Superman's power (metaphorically speaking since elseworld tales have pretty much shown that if he wanted to, Mxy could be more powerful than Superman), but none of the responsibility. He lives for his own amusement and mischief, rather than helping others as Superman does.
    • The Prankster and Toyman can probably fall under a similar category of difference, though they also share traits with Brainiac due to their use of technology to get what they want.
  • The Parasite: Both feed off of strong energy sources. Superman from the sun, and Parasite from anything he can get his hands on. Also, in many stories, Parasite was presented as a good-for-nothing metaphorical parasite before his mutation, in stark contrast to Superman's unending sense of charity.
  • Metallo: Superman's other well-known nickname is the "Man of Tomorrow" for his forward-thinking ideals and his solar-powered biology, contrasting with Metallo — a literal Transhuman powered by kryptonite and is riddled with prejudiced mentalities.
  • Livewire is a loud Shock Jock compared to Clark and Lois's respectable journalists. Her electrical powers parallel Superman's energy absorption, but she uses her powers purely for the fame and attention she gets from being a supervillain, while Superman is a media darling for his good deeds.
  • Vandal Savage: In a sense, both men are immortal, while Savage is physically immortal Superman is metaphorically immortal as in Superman will always be remembered for saving people while Savage remains immortal through killing and eating people.
  • Manchester Black: A British Anarchist who uses his powers according to his own moral compass and believes Might Makes Right compare to Superman - A liberal American who uses his powers according to human morals and laws and believes Right Makes Might.
  • Lobo: While Superman, as mentioned above, is the modern archetypal Ideal Hero, Lobo could be a modern throw-back to the classical "War-Hero," who is brutal, hedonistic, sociopathic, and is Superman's opposite in every meaningful way.