What Is Superman’s Toy Situation?

A month or two ago I was at Walmart. Since that is something that happens most often when I am looking for a gift for my niblings, I spent a lot of time in the toy section. And, in spite of myself, the same thing happens every time I am in a toy section at a store like that: I wonder why Superman is so underrepresented.

I know I shouldn’t be bothered too much. The Superman of my mind wouldn’t want to be too represented in overpriced merchandise sold by corrupt corporations. But I also see such toys as a way to open the minds of children to the ideas that I wish were being delivered by Superman media.

Still, it doesn’t bother me that much until I see something like this:

It’s not a great picture because I just snapped it with my phone while looking for other things, but what that is is that that is Batman-branded playset featuring Batman, Superman, and Lex Luthor and named “Wayne Tower Mayhem”. I don’t know if this is referencing some specific story, and don’t get me wrong the whole thing looks like crap, but it still bugs me. We’ve got two figures for two Superman characters and a tall building theme. There are plenty of tall buildings this could have been as a Superman-branded toy. Coulda been the Daily Planet or the LexCorp building just for starts. But no, instead some toy making people said that this is Batman’s house and Batman has two jerks from Metropolis show up and ruin his night, the playset.

I get that Batman is popular and probably moves toys, but honestly I bet he’s got characters enough of his own who should be fighting on that rooftop.

There is, I have to assume, no line of Superman toys coming out. I’ve heard claims that Batman is easier to make toys of because Batman has all kinds of cool toys like batarangs and the Batmobile, but once you have a Superman toy you have everything you can get from Superman. I don’t agree with that. First of all, you’ve got all the supporting cast members and villains that could be turned into figures. Sure, people could argue that a lot of them aren’t very toyetic, but if I were in charge, I’d be trying to improve them as characters, so I could work on that too. And there’s no reason Superman and friends can’t have a bunch of cool gizmos. It’s a sci-fi franchise! Make stuff up!

Now, I don’t know anything about modern toys, but if I take this line from the Wikipedia page for TMNT toys as correct, “The premiere series included the four Turtles, Splinter, April, Shredder, Rocksteady, Bebop, and a Foot Soldier. Vehicles included the Cheapskate, Turtle Trooper, Turtle Blimp, and Foot Knucklehead” there were ten figures and four vehicles in the first line of Ninja Turtles toys. Well, I can replicate that for Superman, surely. And all the weird transformations and stuff!


  1. Superman: Obviously you need to have him. We’d need to start the run off with a pretty basic Superman figure. Accessories? How about a Phantom Zone Projector? We could make it look cool and light up or something.
  2. Lois Lane: Famously the toys in the era I grew up in would avoid the lady figures because they wouldn’t sell as well, but I’m not going without Lois.
  3. Jimmy Olsen: I figure there’s a couple ways to go with it. You could do a thing about his transforming, where he has different heads and hands and can be like a werewolf or whatever. Or maybe you do a camera thing where the camera flashes? Or it could be a viewfinder thing?
  4. Steel: He’s got a cool look and a big hammer. You need to have him.
  5. Lex Luthor: For a toy we’re probably want a Luthor in some sort of power armour, even though I think the suits look cooler. He could definitely have kryptonite as an accessory.
  6. General Zod: The other big one of Superman’s foes, we stick him in the first set.
  7. Toyman: He’s had several designs, so we’d have to figure out which would be best, but I think he’s an obvious fit for a line of figures.
  8. Metallo: Cool robot design and maybe he can open up to see his kryptonite heart? That’s something. Some glow in the dark might be cool.
  9. Bloodsport: Tons of guns are his accessories and that’s what toys were in my day.
  10. Bizarro: You get to basically reuse the Superman design with minor differences, so that’s good.

None of that is revelatory. Apart from maybe Bloodsport I assume they’ve all had toys before (and even Bloodsport probably has now that he was in that movie). I kinda wanted to delve into more obscure territory, so maybe I should’ve done this thought experiment as the second wave of toys instead. Ah well, I’m too tired to start anew right now, so let’s let that happen some other time. We still have to deal with:

  1. Supermobile: The classic Supermobile design, but I say we make it so it can transform into a “normal” car.
  2. Bizarromobile: We take the Supermobile design and make it all weird. And it transforms into a weird car. I’m in.
  3. Lexcopter: A LexCorp-branded helicopter that probably can shoot missiles.
  4. Teddy Mech: A teddy-bear-themed mech that a figure can ride in, designed for Toyman.

And I didn’t even get into playsets. Anyway, the fact I didn’t have to get into the obscure stuff I wanted proves how easy it should be. It’s clear that the reason I don’t see more Superman stuff in stores is simply because companies don’t want it there. What a shame.

If I revisit this, I’m sure I’ll get weirder with it.

Superman and Luthor = Frenemies?

I’ve said a lot of things about a lot of Superman villains on this little site of mine, but I don’t think I’ve said much about his most iconic villain: Lex Luthor. I think the concept of Lex Luthor as a nemesis has reached the world at large. I’m sure I could think of some little ways to improve on Luthor’s usage as a Superman foe, but honestly, once they expanded his mad scientist role to include all the evil capitalists that Clark fought in his early days, they got what I needed from him. Maybe I’m less concerned with him being the “smartest human on Earth” (I think such superlatives are a poison to the superhero genre) and I know I like him to be a little bit goofier than many readers, but in general I think we’re getting good Luthor most of the time.

But one thing that I’ve found controversial even among Superman fans is whether or not Clark Kent and Lex Luthor should be friends who tragically became enemies? I always preferred when they weren’t.

It’s one of my least favourite things when creators think superheroes have to have personal connections to their enemies for the sake of drama. And Superman especially! Superman shouldn’t need personal connections to a problem to want to solve that problem. And anyway, Superman has too many enemies with personal connections anyway! Brainiac is a space-faring baddie who once captured a city right off of Superman’s homeworld! This time it’s personal! General Zod (and most of the Phantom Zone criminals as well) is actually from Superman’s homeworld and maybe even knew Superman’s father! This time it’s personal! It’s a crutch and I don’t care for it.

It also bugs me that Superman just happens to grow up with the kid who goes on to be one of the richest and smartest businessmen in the world? It strains credibility and makes Clark less of the everyman they wanted him to be when they made him a smalltown boy.

But it’s surprisingly popular considering how rarely it’s actually been the status quo. It came about during the Silver Age, and I am acutely aware that Silver Age concepts seem to grow back any time they are removed. A lot of the time I’m in favour of the Silver Age concepts coming back. It was also the case in the live action Superboy television show, but compared to the various movies and show’s where it hasn’t been the case, that show can’t compare. The comics did away with it in the 80s reboot, but it has swung in and out with different revisions of continuity. Of course, the biggest reason for the popularity of this setup today is the show Smallville, which was about young Clark and Lex. That show did run for a decade, so it’s got a generation of Superman fans who like the friends setup.

And I don’t know. I don’t like it, but at this point I’m kind of just accepting it. I don’t know if either of the currently-running Superman shows have Clark and Lex as former friends or not, but if they do, I’ll just accept it.

Here’s what I think we need to do to make it acceptable for Lex and Clark to have been friends: We need Superman to have other nemeses who are as important as Lex but are not This Time It’s Personals. If I accept Brainiac and Zod as being slightly personal, let’s get at least three more who have no personal connection to Clark or Superman before they met as foes. As I’ve said, the Terra-Man is a good criminal inversion of some Superman tropes, so let’s put him on the list. But also, let’s finally give the Ultra-Humanite a chance to shine. I’m sure I’ll do a post about them sometime, but yeah, they were Superman’s big foe before Luthor came alone, so let’s get that back.

Or, of course, there’s always Tal-Var.

The Tal-Var Venn Diagram

In a recent post on Twitter, I posted a venn diagram saying that Tal-Var should be considered one of Superman’s biggest foes alongside the likes of Lex Luthor, General Zod, and Brainiac.

The joke here is that I’d chosen an obscure villain who had appeared in a single issue of Jimmy Olsen’s comic and tried to elevate him to iconic with specious reasoning. Nothing in there actual comments on the quality of any of the villains, it just says stuff about them. If I wanted to declare a fourth-most important villain to Superman, I’d put the work into making the Ultra-Humanite the one. (It has even been pointed out by a friend that if you take the diagram I’ve made and replace Tal-Var’s name with Mr. Mxyzptlk’s almost all of it still applies, though I’d not call him a “villain” traditionally.)

So that diagram is just me being stupidly obscure for what could almost be called a joke, but just barely. But it did occur to me that over here on the ol’ Book of PDR I try to regularly put together my “Superman Thoughts” so why waste the thing on a Twitter post? I do have actual ideas for how I’d use Tal-Var.

The deal is that he is an otherdimensional baddie who likes to come to our dimension and be a jerk. Okay, working with that, I say posit that Tal-Var’s natural form might be some strange unknowable dark god kinda thing and that the Kryptonian-looking shell is merely adopted for coming to this realm and fighting the likes of Superman. Then I’d go a little more controversial: I’d keep Tal-Var as a Jimmy Olsen villain, rather than moving him directly into Superman’s gallery. That’s right, I think Jimmy Olsen should have his own villains. Superman can still fight them and stuff, but let Jimmy have some fun for a change.

Brainiac, the Space Genius Jerk

Brainiac is one of Superman’s biggest villains, but he’s one I’ve not invested a lot of thought into. For a long time I had no good idea of how to really have Brainiac as a contrast for Superman, but that turned out to be obvious: Brainiac is really smart sci-fi jerk who thinks that being smart gives him permission to do whatever he wants and therefore he acts like a sci-fi jerk. That’s actually a really good villain for Superman and I don’t deny it.

Sometimes I suspect the creators aren’t quite sure what to do with Brainiac either. When he was retooled from just being an alien jerk to being a alien jerk computer, I feel like that was an improvement (and it was pretty much done for legal reasons anyway). But one change to the character I absolutely do not like is one I have seen praised on the Internet. In the 90s Superman cartoon (and on Smallville as well, I think) Brainiac is a computer program that originates on Superman’s homeworld of Krypton.

So there’s now probably a whole generation for whom that is the version of Brainiac they’d first think of, and still more from other generations who like the idea. Well, I don’t care for it. Here’s some reasons why:

Superman Doesn’t Need A Personal Connection To Fight A Supervillain

One of the primary reasons that superhero writers like to tie a villain to the hero’s origin is because it makes things “Personal” for the hero, heightening the dramatic stakes. Anyone who has paid attention to my rantings and ravings about the superhero genre for the last few decades will know that I hate when stories think superheroes, especially Superman, need to have “personal stakes” to oppose supervillains. In fact, if every villain a superhero fights is a personal grudge match, that isn’t being a superhero, that’s just having fights about your own stuff all the time. There’s a place for that kind of story, sure, but I don’t think that place is in Superman comics. I’ve argued many times that Superman should just do superheroing because it is the right thing to do.

Anyway, since the inception of the character of Brainiac has had connection to the Superman’s history: Brainiac once captured a whole city from the planet Krypton and still has it in a bottle! That’s certain to get Superman’s attention. But it isn’t personal, it’s just what Brainiac does. Brainiac has captured hundreds of cities from planets all over space and Krypton was just one of them, nothing special to Brainiac, no matter how special it is to Clark. I think Brainiac being cold and aloof and disinterested makes for a better alien computer jerk than if he’s specifically invested in Superman.

(And, as an aside, we’ve already got all the Phantom Zone criminals as Krypton-related villains for Superman if we need those.)

We Have Eradicator For That Now Anyway

The idea of a Kryptonian computer program that goes bad and becomes and enemy of Superman was already someone else’s shtick when they gave it to Brainiac. The Eradicator is a Kryptonian device that has gone on to gain a humanoid form and appear as a villain or ally to Superman when a story needs it. Eradicator may not yet be an especially engaging character, but he has a prominent role in the comics from the Death of Superman era, so he will continue to be a recurring presence in Superman stories from now on. Maybe he’s not iconic, but he shows up and that’s half the work toward becoming a classic character.

So if we give the Kryptonian computer role to Brainiac, we’re going to have a redundancy when Eradicator comes along. We don’t need two of ’em.

It Makes Outer Space Feel Smaller

If Brainiac joins the Phantom Zoners and Eradicator as being villains from Krypton then it really starts to seem like ALL of the villains are from Krypton. Space is vast! If everything that happens in it revolves around one dead planet, we’re really underutilizing what space has to offer. But if we let Brainiac have planet Colu, we have a whole other world we get to play with. Coluan culture can become a source of story ideas. You can introduce other Coluan characters or locations on the planet to visit.

I’m not a particular fan of the Legion of Superheroes, but that series gave us Brainiac-5, a Coluan descendant of the supervillain who is a hero. Brainiac-5 is a popular character and he’d make less sense if Colu is out of the picture.

Krypton’s Death Is More Meaningful If It Was Meaningless

And what bugs me most about tying Brainiac to Krypton is that it implies he’s involved in its destruction. I don’t like when the destruction of Superman’s homeworld is actively being caused by any individual or organization. It works best when the planet is doomed by natural causes and the inaction of its people to act. It we say the destruction was actually intentionally caused by Brainiac it is less about the failure of Kryptonians to solve the problem and more about just a supervillain. That’s less good. But I can’t stress enough that I feel that way about ANY villain who destroys Krypton, not just Brainiac.

Anyway, this was more than I intended to type on this topic. I could come up with more, but I think I’ve made my point. You’re welcome to like the idea of Brainiac being from Krypton if you want. You’d just be wrong. There’s no shame in that.

They Missed The Chance To Have A Good Superman Game

I’ve occasionally put thought into how I’d want a Superman video game to be made. I’ve been doing so publicly on this site since at least 2018, when I declared that with today’s technology the best option would be to actually do a Jimmy Olsen game. And, indeed, I still think that a Jimmy game would be an excellent way to go, but this week I read this post about a real undeveloped Superman game, working under the code name Blue Steel. Seeing the admirable effort they put into the project, I think that they could have actually had a decent game on their hands a full decade before I started weighing in.

Impressed though I am with what they show us, there are, as always, nits I can pick. It saddens me at how quickly they became excited about character-based ideas and using investigative journalism as an aspect of gameplay. That would’ve been exactly what I wanted! That could have been the start of something beautiful. But their game, they were told, have to be an action-filled super brawl game. It’s exactly the kind of decision I consider a major problem with the superhero genre, but I can understand. Video games, especially back then, are more limited than other media, so focus on the fighting and maybe we can do the fighting well, right?

But even within the superhuman brawling concept there are things I don’t want here. Mostly, it’s the focus on Darkseid. I’ve beaten this one in repeatedly, but I don’t want Darkseid in my Superman, nor general DC Universe characters like Solomon Grundy. My ideal Superman game would be chock full of Superman characters and not have to rely on other franchises. This can easily be done!

I’ve already discussed the kinds of mook enemies Superman would be able to beat up in a game like this. But what matters here is the bosses and the other superheroes. Blue Steel was intended to have a multiplayer mode in which players would choose their character and have superhuman brawls. It sounds neat. Note that Livewire is prominently featured as an opponent in the game, but is not on the list of playable characters, so I assume the “Brawlers” were intended to be of a certain level and not have powers like hers, which are perhaps too complex to easily put into a game like this.

By my count there are thirteen playable Brawlers listed on the page about Blue Steel that I would choose to excise from the game (most of them Darkseid-related, of course). To prove there are still enough Superman characters to work with, I will now offer up a list of twice that many options for replacements.

  1. STEEL: This one feels like a no-brainer. If you’re going to have Lex Luthor around in his power suit, why not have the superhero with the power suit and cool hammer. And, Bonus, there’s John Henry Irons and Natasha Irons. That’s two more characters and you’d really only have to design the moves for one.
  2. MALA: Okay, the game already has Clark, Kara, Zod, Ursa, and Non. There are easily a dozen more Kryptonians who could be added, but I don’t want to rely on that as a crutch. I have picked Mala to represent this group because I like her and she isn’t necessarily aligned to Zod, so it would offer more nuance in the story.
  3. TOYMAN: Toyman is a classic Superman villain even though many people don’t seem to like him. He’s not often seen as a “powerhouse” kind of villain on the level of the other Brawlers on this list, but y’know, he’s been seen in mechs. Why not just make the mech smaller and come up with a cobbled-together toy-themed power suit? It may not be the direction I’d take the character in stories or television, but for the sake of this game, I’d love it.
  4. MONGUL: He’s a popular Superman enemy and basically brawling is his whole deal. He may not do much for me, but he’s even been in Superman games before, so it’s pretty much a given for him to be there. Bonus: Recent comics have fleshed out his Warworld with a lot more characters who could be brought in as well, though I’m limiting myself to characters who would have been available when Blue Steel was being developed.
  5. MASTER JAILER: An underutilized classic Superman foe, the Master Jailer could easily be given moves that focus on either immobilizing opponents, or grabbing them with a chain and pulling them closer like Scorpion. Bonus: His daughter has taken up the name Snare to do pretty much the same thing, so let’s get her in there too.
  6. CLAWSTER: The big tough mutant who, I have said, is a necessary addition to Superman games could shine in this field. Brawl, Clawster, brawl.
  7. DRAAGA: Draaga, like Mongul, is basically an alien gladiator. I don’t know that he offers anything especially unique, but he’s another prominent Brawler from the franchise who seems like an easy inclusion.
  8. ATOMIC SKULL: The Atomic Skull has one of the best names in comics and we’d be pretty stupid not to let him into the game.
  9. MAXIMA: Alien warrior woman. Perfect for this game. Bonus: There’s more than one technically, if we wanted more than one.
  10. ROCK: He’s a big guy made out of stone who hates Lex Luthor. Works for me.
  11. NEUTRON: An energy based Superman foe who can fight on the level of the Brawlers in this game.
  12. REACTRON: Just another villain who can fight on this level.
  13. RAMPAGE: She’s like the Hulk, but she’s a scientist who Superman knows.
  14. TIMEBOMB: I’ve already said this guy needs to get used more. With the destructible environments of the game, he’d cause a lot of damage.
  15. SILVER BANSHEE: Flies, has sonic and/or magic attacks, cool skull design. Keep it coming.
  16. AMALAK: An alien who hates Kryptonians with a passion and devotes himself to killing them. Decent for the Brawling, but could be a focal point for the story (could even come with an army of alien soldiers).
  17. ANNIHILATOR: Another supervillain I’ve discussed before. He can hold his own against Superman, so he’s clearly able to Brawl on this level. Bonus: Annihilator Jr.
  18. WHIRLICANE: A personal favourite, Whirlicane has the power of both the whirlwind and the hurricane! He may not traditionally be the type to take punches from the likes of Superman, but just say he can cushion himself with a field of wind around him or something. And let him shoot lightning. Easy.
  19. HI-TECH: Another supervillain I have mentioned before, she has a robot body that could easily put her on par with the Brawlers in the game.
  20. METALLO: I get that the Blue Steel designers probably avoided Metallo because they were avoiding using kryptonite and Metallo is a kryptonite-powered cyborg. But he’s also one of Superman’s most recognizable foes who also just happens to be perfect for fights like those this game offers. If you don’t want to bother programming it so some characters are more weak to kryptonite attacks than others, just make sure his chest beam shoots out with enough force and energy that it would clearly hurt anyone.
  21. MR. MCTAVISH: If we’re working in Metallo, we could basically the same powerset to make Mr. McTavish, the kryptonite-powered robot from the ’50s show. This should only be done if you’re willing to have him look like a boxy ’50s robot. If you’re too cowardly to do that, you don’t deserve Mr. McTavish.
  22. TERRA-MAN: Superman awesome space cowboy foe. He’s less of the Brawler type and more a gunslinger, but I’d love for him to be included nonetheless. Within the game, his weapons aren’t really that functionally different than heat vision or whatever. There’s no reason to assume he can’t hold his own in a super-fight. We’ll just assume he left the horse at home.
  23. BLACKROCK: There have actually been a lot of different takes on Blackrock, as it is not an individual but an identity that has been used multiple ways over the years. No matter what, it’s a supervillain design that could be worked into the story and provide another Brawler for the game. If anything, the lack of existing specific lore means it is a more malleable concept to work within the context of the game.
  24. THE GALACTIC GOLEM: It may actually be above the level of the rest of the Brawlers in the game, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s an interesting design and could be used as a final boss or something in the story.
  25. BIZARROS: The real Blue Steel game was going to include the Bizarro Superman, but it’s important to remember that there can be more Bizarros as well. Bizarro Supergirl, Bizarro Steel, Bizarro Clawster. Some would have different powers, but some could really just be palette swaps for other Brawlers.
  26. KRYPTO: Yes, the Super-Dog himself. I recognize that there would probably have to be a few changes to gameplay if you’re playing as a dog, but honestly I can’t see it being that many if the mechanics of the game are just brawling and fighting. A dog can do as well as any humanoid man, surely. Bonus: You could use those same mechanics and include Lex Luthor’s super-powered dog Destructo as well.

So there we go, twenty-six options for playable characters who would be fun to play in a Superman game and I didn’t even have to be exhaustive, let alone dip into the well of the New Gods. Somebody send this list back in time to Blue Steel people, and while you’re there make it so that game didn’t get cancelled, I guess.