In an era in which the Man of Steel’s most notable portrayals feature him feuding with Batman and snapping necks, no one is going to earn any originality points for saying that Superman is a jerk. What may come as a surprise to more casual Clark Kent fans, however, is the fact that Supes has been an occasional bully for much of his published history - going all the way back to the Action Comics issues of the '30s.
And it’s not just Bruce Wayne on the wrong end of Superman’s antagonism. When Kal-El gets in a belligerent mood, anyone and everyone are fair game - including Jimmy Olsen, Wonder Woman, and even his beloved Lois Lane. Sometimes, Superman is satiated by a well-planned prank - but sometimes his inimical itch can only be scratched by acts that border on outright sadism. So much for truth, justice, and the American way!
The Injustice: Gods Among Us storyline - both in video game and comic book form - pits Batman as a resistance leader against Superman’s own fascistic regime. The tale features myriad acts of malice by the Man of Steel, many of which are perpetuated against Bruce Wayne, but one committed in Injustice #10 really makes it personal.
Tired of the Dark Knight’s attempts to prevent his rise to power, Superman retaliates by signing up for the DC Universe’s equivalent of Twitter - and then outing Batman’s secret identity to the public. The post is instantly shared millions of times, and Wayne is forced underground to continue his rebellion against the guy who put him on blast.
Many of Superman’s Silver Age adventures are silly by nature, but the events of Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #30 really capture the era’s ability to make Superman look like a super-jerk. The issue features Superman, not Clark Kent, adopting the orphaned Jimmy Olsen and making their father/son dynamic official - only to quickly transform into a nightmare of a dad.
Superman yells at Jimmy for no reason, burns his Father’s Day gift, and even goes as far as to cancel the adoption. Olsen is understandably traumatized by the whole thing, but he’s relieved to discover that Supes only treated him poorly because of a prophecy warning that Superman would ruin his own son. Superman reasons that the only way to save Jimmy is to disown him completely - though it remains unclear why the mental torment was necessary.
In the end, it turns out that the prophecy was actually referring to a miniature “sun” in the Fortress of Solitude.
Any number of issues of the Silver Age series Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane could qualify for a list of problematic comics, as if the title wasn’t enough of a giveaway. Each and every entry in the saga features Lane doing her best to either suss out Superman’s identity or get him to marry her, while the Man of Steel delights in convincing her that she is insane.
The series sees Superman imprison Lois, spank her, and turn her into an overweight person to teach her humility. Anytime the intrepid reporter comes close to figuring out Clark Kent’s secret life, he uses his superpowers to gaslight her into thinking that she’s losing her mind - and that’s when he isn’t outright teasing her with obvious double entendres.
Lex Luthor has manipulated the Man of Steel on numerous occasions, but it’s difficult to blame the mega-rich megalomaniac for Superman’s actions in “Clash,” an episode of Justice League Unlimited. That tale features Luthor constructing a series of low-income housing units out of the supposed goodness of his heart, but Kal-El isn’t buying it.
When Superman insists on investigating the homes, he discovers a mysterious electronic device buried deep under them and decides to wipe it out. The idealistic Shazam, who had just endorsed Luthor for president, arrives to stop him and the two duke it out, ultimately resulting in the destruction of the units. It is only then that Luthor reveals that the device was just a decoy meant to draw Superman’s attention and prompt him toward destruction.
It's a real wake-up call for the Man of Tomorrow, but that doesn’t do much for all the folks who lost their homes due to his hubris.