Superman Villains: Behold the Terra-Man!

Terra-Man is a pretty minor villain from the Superman franchise, having had his heyday in the 70s, but he deserves more. Classic Terra-Man is like this: Tobias Manning was the son of an outlaw in the wild west. When that outlaw died, Toby was abducted by an outlaw alien. Raised in space, Tobias made a name for himself as a notorious criminal across the galaxy armed with powerful alien technology and a western theme. At some point in the 80s or 90s, I guess the writers forgot how awesome the idea of a Wild West Outlaw From Space is, so they reintroduced Terra-Man as an eco-terrorist. Maybe there’s a case to be made for adding an eco-terrorist to Superman’s villain cast, but not at the expense of the cool Wild West Outlaw From Space! Luckily, there have been a few minor cameos of Terra-Man in more recent years that tend toward the Wild West version, so I think things are in the process of correcting.

I admit that there’s not really a shortage of Opposite Supermans in the villain cast. You’ve got your Bizarros and your Kryptonian criminals and your Nuclear Men and so on, but at least Terra-Man comes at it from a different angle. Clark is an alien who came from space and gained powers he uses to help humanity, Toby is a human who went to space and gained powers that he uses selfishly. It’s a perfect contrast. To top it off you could use his to represent a kind of old-school masculinity that Clark doesn’t. All while riding a flying horse!

I don’t have much more to say today. If we say that Terra-Man is currently a C-List Superman villain, I see no reason why he couldn’t be an A-Lister. He just needs the exposure.

The State of Superman’s Villains

I admit that, even though I want Superman to be about more than just confrontations with supervillains, I’m jealous of the superhero franchises with better rogues galleries.

Sure, Superman’s got some big name villains. Lex Luthor is pretty much known to even the common folk as an classic example of an arch-nemesis. Brainiac has had an impact on the culture at large, though I’m confident that not everyone who calls someone a “brainiac” realizes they’re invoking a Superman villain (and a similar situation exists with Bizarro, if we’re counting him as a villain). General Zod probably just juts into the public consciousness, coming second only to Luthor for villains in the Superman movies. Any Superman villains beyond that point, I’d say, are not known to the public. That’s not to say that there aren’t some more good ones, just that Average Joe Aversageson will not be familiar with them.

When I look at other heroes, especially Batman and Spider-Man, I see casts of villains that are much more esteemed. And I’m jealous. Superman deserves that.

Why does Batman have better villains than Superman? I credit one specific reason: The 60s Batman show with Adam West. Even if there was a reaction against the campiness of that show, it managed to bring an awful lot of Batman’s villains into the public consciousness, which cycled back into the comics by making writers explore those famous villains and really flesh them out. Compare that with the 50s Adventures of Superman show, which brought none of Superman’s villains to the screen. 90% of the antagonists on that show were generic mobsters and got no characterization at all that would make them memorable. There were no repeating villains either. Even when they’d reuse an actor to play a villain, they’d be playing some new generic mobster, instead of the one they’d played before. This show, which had many things I enjoyed, and which ran in syndication for an eternity, did zero work towards introducing Superman’s villains to the world. And that is why Superman’s villains aren’t up to snuff today. I have spoken.

And so, in addition to discussing Superman’s supporting cast, I will be taking frequent looks at his villains and discussing how to make them work. One simple rule is that I will only work with existing villains. I don’t think creating new Superman villains is necessary, and it only further dilutes the existing ones, especially when writers make the mistake of trying to inflate the importance of the new villains. That’s a thing that, even to this very day, is still working against my goals.

Anyway, tune in next week for discussion of a villain, same Pat-Time, same Pat-Website.