The Man of Steel did brief work on an early version of his enemy Nuclear Man in Bob Rozakis and Curt Swan’s Superman IV Movie Special.

Superman is often noted for his stubborn moral compass. As both the Man of Steel and Clark Kent, he has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to truth and justice that continues to inspire the countless heroes who have followed in his footsteps. But despite his best intentions, he sometimes finds himself in situations that push the limits of his ethics. On some occasions, Superman has even committed murder.

In 1987 by Bob Rozakis, Curt Swan, Don Heck and Frank McLaughlin Superman IV: Movie Special, based on the Christopher Reeve movie, Lex Luthor and his clumsy nephew use a lock of Superman’s hair to make a clone. Their goal is to create someone they can control who is strong enough to defeat the Man of Steel. Luthor eventually creates the Nuclear Man, but his first attempt is less successful. The first clone is a strange, nameless creature with super strength and a childlike understanding of the world around him.

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Luthor sends the clone to a popular Metropolis nightclub to test his appetite for destruction. The first version of the Nuclear Man attracts the attention of a woman who takes him abroad. She burns her hands on her skin and screams. Clark Kent, who is at the club for a story he is writing, hears her cry and dons his costume as he walks out the door. Superman sees a damsel in distress and jumps into action without giving anyone a chance to explain the situation. He and his failed clone face off in the alley. The clone shows its strength by hitting Superman with a lamppost, but, as is often the case, the copy is no match for the original.

Superman throws his opponent onto a power pole and “the high-voltage wires burn him up like paper.” At first glance, this degree of brutality seems out of place for the last son of Krypton. While it is certainly not the only time that he has broken his personal rule against killing, it appears that he was not asked to do so. The clone did not beg for mercy or made any attempt to stop the fight, but neither did he instigate it. He did not want to burn the woman with his skin. This was due to a design flaw beyond their control. The Superman impersonation really didn’t taste any better, but the mild-mannered Clark Kent saw fit to run it on electricity without blinking. The clone’s murder is particularly shocking considering the fact that this was his first encounter with Superman. For all the Metropolis hero knows, the unfortunate clone could have been another hero or a Kryptonian refugee, but Superman chose to kill first and ask questions later.

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On the other hand, it is possible that Superman had no intention of killing his opponent. That amount of electricity would definitely destroy a human being, but the proto-nuclear Man had already demonstrated strength far beyond that of a mortal man. Therefore, it may be reasonable to assume that the Man of Steel was simply trying to stop his enemy, not to end his life. Either way, it’s easy to imagine that the situation would be resolved more peacefully if Superman had tried to communicate with his fighter.

After Luthor perfects his cloning process, the Nuclear Man is a far more formidable foe than the first clone, but Superman continues to prevail as he usually does. Superman is the savior of Metropolis and often Earth in general. He’s a beacon of justice, but the way he killed his clone remains a haunting reminder of his capacity for brutality.

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