Just finished watching Superman vs. The Elite and at the end Superman does the following:

burned out the part of Manchester Black's brain that gave him his powers and strip the powers of the remaining members of The Elite.

So the basic premise of the story is that it is wrong to kill, because you end up turning into what you are fighting against. But the counter argument presented to that point is that these super criminals are just going to escape and wreck havoc again.

My question is, isn't what Superman does to The Elite a very good compromise? Why lock up super villains when you can just take away their powers and put them in regular jail? Also, is removing powers something that Superman has done before or was it just invented for this movie?

  • 3
    Man... I was totally expecting a different topic when I saw the title. :-P
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jan 14, 2015 at 13:36

4 Answers 4


Short Answer:

Yes, Superman does permanently remove the powers from the Elite in the movie, "Superman vs. The Elite."

  • No, he normally does not remove powers from metahumans in the normal DC Universe. Nor did he remove the powers of the Elite (other than Manchester Black) in the original story from which this movie was derived, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way."

  • Certain previous continuities have shown him removing powers from very dangerous villains such as the Phantom Zone villains, Zod, Ursa, and Non as in Superman and Superman II, or as he does against the Phantom Zone villains of the Pocket Universe.


We have to address this story in two parts. The Elite initially appeared in a comic called "What is so Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?" written by Joe Kelly in Action Comics #775. The Elite are also an analogue of a more violent superhero team which often used lethal methods called the Authority. DC currently owns the Wildstorm Universe which originally published the Authority and recently during their reboot, they folded the Authority universe into the DC Universe.

The Authority

The Authority: A superteam which decides to take over the world to make it safer. If they resemble the Justice League to you, its not in your mind.

When "Superman vs. the Elite" was made, several issues were discussed which changed the movie from the original story and one of the major changes was Superman stripping the Elite of their powers permanently. He does this at his Fortress of Solitude as an insurance against the Elite using their powers again as they did in the movie, killing and holding the entire world hostage.

The Elite as they appeared in the comics

The Elite: The Hat, Manchester Black, Coldcast and Menagerie as they appeared in the comics.

In Action Comics #775, Manchester Black was the only one who lost his powers. And the loss of his powers was a temporary one. The rest of the Elite did not lose their powers, they were only neutralized using technology. Superman faked using lethal force against them, while he stunned and confused them.

  • Coldcast eventually becomes a hero.
  • Menagerie joined with an alien weapons cache, was lobotomized and placed in a coma.
  • Hat eventually retired from the Elite.
  • Manchester Black eventually commits suicide after harassing Superman and revealing his secret identity to all of his villains. After see Superman soldier on without ever breaking and becoming evil, Black realizes 'he' had become the villain and erases all of Superman's rogues gallery's memories and takes his own life.

Imprisoning villains and removing their powers

Superman has, historically, rarely removed anyone's metahuman abilities unless they acquired those powers through the use of technology. Then he will remove that technology while they are imprisoned.

Stryker's Island Penitentiary is a prison facility outside of Metropolis for metahumans whose powers cannot be removed. The prison specializes in creating means of neutralizing metahuman abilities. The prison also hold criminals who derive their powers from technology in a separate wing of the prison. For those whose powers cannot be controlled, they are often kept unconscious. As to the question of rights, it is often never addressed in the comics.

Superman has removed the powers from the Phantom Zone villains in previous continuities and in the movies because their powers made them such a deadly threat to the world at large.

Superman #22

Post-Crisis Superman slew the Phantom Zone villains of the Pocket Universe after they destroyed all life on Earth of that Universe. He used Gold Kryptonite to remove their powers and the Green Kryptonite of that pocket universe to kill them. He was unaffected by that dimension's Kryptonite.

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    This is why I love stackexchange. Such a great answer. So yeah, my suspicions were correct. Not every superpower can be taken away. The movie made stripping powers like a throwaway thing that Superman can do to anyone he deems a big threat.
    – rlorenzo
    Commented Jan 12, 2013 at 19:30
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    To be honest, previous versions of Superman had both the technology and intellectual ability to suppress the metagene in humans. Why he didn't was because it was not Superman's way to impose his morality on other people by taking their powers. He wanted people to have a choice in how to use their powers. It is exactly what made the Authority and the Elite the terrible threat they were. They were perfectly willing to do whatever they thought was right to set the world "right." Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 2:34
  • Well, he wouldn't be imposing his morality if the world's governments and justice system went through the process and had that as an option. It just seems that taking away a super villain's powers is never seen as an alternative. It appears that the only two options to the people's eyes in the movie/comics are "imprison them and wait for them to break out" or "kill them". Or maybe taking away powers can be akin to mutilating someone. Like castrating sex offenders. Might be a reason why Superman might not want to have power stripping as an easy option.
    – rlorenzo
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 8:29
  • Superman #22 and Action Comics #775 are both parts of the same continuity. While there was at least one potentially universe-altering event between the two stories (Zero Hour), to the best of my knowledge that did not change what Superman did in the pocket universe. Certain the Matrix version of Supergirl, who came from that same storyline, was still active post-Zero Hour. And, in fact, the Superman currently active since the Rebirth quasi-reboot is the same Superman involved in both of those stories.
    – RDFozz
    Commented Oct 29, 2018 at 17:52

My question is, isn't what Superman does to The Elite a very good compromise?

What compromise? Everything Superman does is consistent with his values. Manchester Black is the only one who is actually maimed and even his loss of power is temporary, albeit not necessarily the intention of Superman.

Why lock up super villains when you can just take away their powers and put them in regular jail?

Superman believes in the modern American Way (because until, surprisingly recently, mutilation was still acceptable human punishment in the U.S.) where the maiming and mutilation of another is abhorrent as a means of punishment, much less merely prospective utilitarian convenience. In other words, you are proposing that irrespective of the criminal's human rights, because it would be more convenient or easier to permanently mutilate them than it would be to attempt to secure them in facilities for super villains (that you have) it is justifiable!

Certainly, we could extend that logic to normal prisoners! If we lop off the limbs of prisoners, then it would be easier to secure their stay. Obviously, the prisoner's human rights trump the State's convenience. The prisoner is entitled to the integrity of their person and to reenter society upon completion of their sentence.

Whether a power is intrinsic to a person or not and analogous to a limb, will be debatable and need to be evaluated on a case by case basis, but it is something that needs to be approached with gravity and solemnity. Removal of a power an individual has had for their entire life could be tantamount to blinding someone or castrating them. Punishments that no longer have a place in the American Way. That isn't to say you provide unrestricted access to said abilities. A prisoner doesn't have the freedom to see whatever they like or to have sex without a State approved conjugal visit. Likewise, it is reasonable that a super villain's powers would be restrained during their stay.

Simply put, mutilation may be easy but most times it is not right.

Also, is removing powers something that Superman has done before or was it just invented for this movie?

Well covered by other answers, Superman has indeed removed powers before, generally with significant gravity attached to the event.


No one so far has mentioned the intrinsic morality assumed in most (but not all!) of the major superhero titles and narratives.

For much of their post-WWII history, mainstream superhero comic books have held to the belief that no human being (or sentient being) is completely beyond hope of redemption and rehabilitation. Most of the major superheroes have dedicated their lives not merely to stopping crime or villainy but more importantly to helping those in need and to helping bad people become good people. They are not looking for excuses to slay the dragon but instead driven to inspire good in everyone, even in criminals and dragons, and to act as role models to their best of their abilities. Not "smite the sinner!" but "Go forth and sin no more." And the metaphysics characteristic to most superhero worlds means that inspiring good in just one villain could have a palpable effect on the world.

All of us can think up the exceptions, of course, such as Marvel's The Punisher and sometimes Wolverine or DC's The Spectre and certain Vertigo titles.

However, this faith in redemption and rehabilitation is why The Batman continues to hand The Joker over to psychiatrists (as well as many other Bat-villains) rather than killing them; it's why Superman still tries to inspire nobility in Lex Luthor, and why most imaginary stories about a dead Lex Luthor includes Superman's mourning that he was never able to inspire Lex to live up to his potential greatness. Spider-Man responded to the first death of Green Goblin with regret for a death rather than satisfaction in the seeming death of the man who killed Gwen Stacey. Captain America felt a moment of pity for The Red Skull when he found out his tragic origin -- something which outraged The Red Skull, who had wanted to provoke outraged hatred not grim pity from the Captain. Green Lantern would hand Sinestro over to the Oans rather than kill him, and they in return would imprison Sinestro rather than execute him. Professor X always tried to rescue bigots and demogogues from mutant extremists rather than let them kill them blood for blood. For most of their comic book history, both Thor and Wonder Woman have tried to avoid killing any of their mortal foes (monsters are another matter), though both of them avoided second thoughts when the moment came when they felt they had no choice but to kill.

Admittedly, not every hero uses the same tactics to try to provoke rehabilitation and redemption. Superman and Captain America have both tried to inspire it with sheer nobility and compassion, whereas The Batman has followed more the "Scared Straight" path of frightening amateur criminals into choosing another path for their lives, and Spider-Man has tried reason and simple human decency. A number of times, the X-Men titles have criticized human nature by pointing out how often people have chosen fear and petty bigotry over Professor Xavier's reason and ideals.

It is not uncommon to have a quick one page scene within which a major hero runs into a petty criminal who had been inspired to reform and discovers that the person has remained reformed.

The one problem with all this is that, in serial storytelling that centers on crimefighting and good versus evil, rehabilitated and redeemed criminals usually disappear, so no one remembers them, while the ones who remain criminal and/or evil continue to reappear and gain reader recognition. Those few who try to become heroes suffer from the fact that there are only so many titles out there, so they either disappear or end up returning to their villainy -- or they disappear but a new villain takes their powers and villain name so that the company can maintain its copyright or trademark control over that name.

Superman does not mutilate, murder, or rob others of their civil rights -- including their 2nd Amendment rights to have superpowers -- for the same reason that most (not all!) superheroes avoid this: because he embodies and lives in a world in which the greatest drive for a hero is not to destroy evil but to turn evil to good.


Wellllll.... to be honest, there was a version of Superman that would strip others of their abilities, their freedoms, their very minds if he saw fit; this was the Justice Lords Superman:

enter image description here

Originally, this version of Supes had one (one and a half, maybe?) appearances in the 2000s Justice League cartoon, as an alternate reality version of "our" DCAU Superman. He was in line with that Supes... right up until he did, well...see for yourself:

That's right: not only did this version of the hero take a human life, but that life belonged to the then Leader of the Free world. Granted, that leader was Lex Luthor, who so happened to personally kill that reality's Flash, but still... Superman "all life is precious" of the house of El just straight murdered President Lex and quipped about it! And both Batman and Wonder Woman basically gave him NO OPPOSITION!

This was basically an extreme reaction to evil, brought about by the Flash's death. It lead to the JL basically forming a totalitarian regime where no crime or villainy is tolerated, and they had every government on earth on lock:

enter image description here

Now, to be fair, in the Cartoon they were more portrayed as "Well intentioned Extremists" who simply went to great lengths to prevent loss of life. Those lengths, though, included everything from censoring the media, instituting martial law and invading a whole other dimension....

to locking up "our" heroes to affect change...

To keeping supervillians everything from sedated to mind controlled in lockup areas:

From these clips you can see, their Superman especially, ain't no joke. He leaves his super strong robot duplicates to guard the nuthouses (whom themselves will not "tolerate violence or a bad attitude" while _crushing people's faces into walls!), is willing to kill "our" Lex... dude straight lobotomized Doomsday in their first encounter, where as "our" Supes [in the comics and the show] was willing to draw that fight out and not use deadly force unless absolutely necessary!

Yeah...Justice Lord Superman gots no time, no chill, and absolute zero FTG.

Ironically, how did our JL manage to stop these equally powerful "heroes"? Why, by having Lex Luthor build a Power Disruptor that works by "disrupting exotic energies" and taking away their powers:

One would think this would be the end of it...buuuuuut, as it was continued in the comics, it was revealed this nullifier could only strip them of their abilities temporarily; in less than a year, Anti-Supes was back in his own dimension, and this time more pissed off and willing to do whatever it took! He reformed his old team best as he could, Basically him and Lady Wonder Woman) took out their Batman (who had become their conscience) and basically went "Injustice" on them, to a degree:

enter image description here

Dude all but took out Batman Beyond, and his Justice League on his own!

enter image description here

The story gets very convoluted, with the Batman Beyond older version of "our" Superman, plus another WW from a different dimension, her having a kid with Lord Superman, and... yeah, it's nuts. But from that comic, he just got more ruthless, taking his "Well Intentioned Extremist" from the cartoon, dialing up to 11 and going straight "Megalomaniac Iron Fist Ruler" who would still be willing to kill...but had to abide by the new Wonder Woman ruling "alongside" him for peace. So, in that world, they would also strip metahumans of their powers, change their personalities, or at least keep them under heavy sedation.

enter image description here

These methods were actually addressed in the comic, and it was a whole, interesting moral discussion, but it wasn't really the focal point of the story.

I only pointed it out to show that this has happened before in a few differing cases.

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