Superman is one of the most noble superheroes in the comic book world today. Since his creation back in the 1930s, Superman’s catchphrase has been that he fights for “truth, justice and the American Way,” and he’s been a symbol of all that’s good in the world. In fact, he’s such a great guy that we can’t help but wonder what would happen if he fought for evil instead.
Superman has incredible power, including heat vision, super-strength capable of moving mountains, and heat vision that can burn through anything, which is why we’re glad he’s on our side, but what if he wasn’t? What if Superman turned to the dark? What if he used his unstoppable power for evil? Would he enslave humanity or destroy the world? On that dark note, here are 15 of the darkest incarnations of Superman we’ve ever seen.
15. JUSTICE LORDS SUPERMAN
The first dark version of Superman we’re looking at is Justice Lord Superman, a member of an evil, alternate-universe Justice League. The team, known as the Justice Lords, first appeared on the animated “Justice League” TV show in the 2003 episode “A Better World.” They came from an alternate reality where the execution of the Flash by President Lex Luthor enraged Superman into killing him. From there, the Justice Lords seized control of the world’s governments and imposed tyrannical rule on their Earth.
In the two-part episode, the Justice Lords traveled to the world of the Justice League, where they imprisoned the League and began their own brand of crime-fighting. Justice Lord Superman’s first act in the new world was to use his heat vision to lobotomize Doomsday, followed by immediate steps to take over the world’s governments. His incredible powers would have let him succeed if it weren’t for the regular Superman, who managed to defeat the Justice Lord before it was too late. The worst part is that Justice Lord Superman truly thought he was doing the right thing.
14. EVIL SUPERMAN (SUPERMAN III)
The 1983 movie “Superman III” had a lot of problems, but it did have the first movie version of an evil Superman. Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) was a computer genius instructed by his boss to make synthetic kryptonite, but screwed up royally when his computer found kryptonite had an unknown element. Inspired by a box of cigarettes, Gorman substituted tar with the missing element and produced a form of kryptonite that didn’t kill Superman, but instead split him into a de-powered, mild mannered Clark Kent and a super-powered evil Superman.
With his personality twisted by the kryptonite, Superman immediately began using his powers to mess things up. He traveled around the world, defacing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, blowing out the Olympic torch, getting drunk and basically being the exact opposite of a hero. This version of Superman was dark in the sense that he did bad things, but was overall pretty campy, acting more like a jerk than a true supervillain. He still manages to get on the list, though, because Christopher Reeve did a great job.
13. DARK KNIGHT SUPERMAN
“The Dark Knight Returns” is a 1986 classic mini-series that showed an alternate future where Batman had gone into retirement, but returned a decade later when new threats terrorized Gotham City. In “Dark Knight,” Superman has become an ally of a brutal U.S. government opposed by Batman, and is ordered to arrest the Dark Knight. The story culminated in an epic battle between Superman and an armor-clad Batman.
The Superman of “Dark Knight” wasn’t necessarily evil, because he remained committed to freedom and American ideals that have been corrupted. With his secret identity of Clark Kent publicly known, Superman was forced to fight for the government to do some good in the world. Instead, Superman is stuck fighting Soviet-backed forces in Latin America in a prelude to World War III and even Batman instead of fighting crime in the streets of Metropolis. Rather than being evil per se, he’s a misguided and frustrated hero who finds himself trapped in global affairs.
12. SMALLVILLE’S KAL-EL
On the TV series “Smallville,” Clark Kent had a rocky relationship with his father, Jor-El, and that’s putting it mildly. He didn’t know his Kryptonian heritage until later in the series, and discovered Jor-El wanted him to conquer Earth instead of protect it. In season three, to save his adoptive father, Clark allowed himself to be reprogrammed into Kal-El, his Kryptonian persona. In the fourth season premiere, Kal-El was focused only on his “destiny” as ruler of Earth at the cost of his humanity.
For those who had come to know and love Clark throughout “Smallville,” his Kal-El persona was terrifying, completely empty of emotion and love for humans, including his adopted parents whom he barely remembered. He even threatened to kill Jonathan and Martha Kent when they tried to stand in his way. Kal-El had new powers and used them ruthlessly, fighting with Clark for control of his future as a Superman who would help or would dominate humanity.
11. RED SON SUPERMAN
What if Superman fought for the Soviet Union instead of the United States? That was the premise of “Superman: Red Son,” an Elseworlds mini-series published in 2003. In “Red Son,” Superman’s ship crash-landed in a collective farm in Soviet Ukraine instead of Kansas. Instead of being raised to fight for “truth, justice and the American way,” the Soviet Superman fought for Stalin and the Communist Party. He became a weapon of propaganda for the Soviet Union, upsetting the balance of power in the Cold War.
Soviet Superman was dedicated to his country, just like the American Superman, which made him incredibly dangerous for the wrong reasons, because he was a living weapon that the Soviets used to spread their power throughout the globe. He traveled the world with Wonder Woman, converting other nations to the Communist Party, and even became their new leader. He was a good leader for a bad world.
The original Ultraman was a Kryptonian from an alternate universe whose spaceship encountered kryptonite during his journey to Earth, making him stronger instead of weakening him. It also twisted his mind. When he arrived on Earth, he named himself Ultraman, and assembled a dark version of the Justice League called the Crime Syndicate of America which conquered the world. When Ultraman learned of Superman’s Earth, the Crime Syndicate crossed into their dimension to conquer it.
First appearing in “Justice League of America” #29 (1964) Ultraman had all of Superman’s powers, but without the weakness to kryptonite. He’s ruthless and as hungry for power as Superman was for justice. He ended up in a cycle where he would be caught by Superman, break out, and fight Superman again. After the Crisis on Infinite Earths, Ultraman was recreated in “JLA: Earth 2” as a human astronaut who was killed and reconstructed by aliens with new powers. However, the 2013 New 52 reboot restored him back to being an evil Kryptonian again.
9. THE SUPERMAN (HARVEY DENT, TANGENT COMICS)
In 1997, DC released a new imprint called Tangent, which was intended to be a reimagined version of the DC universe, where the existence of superheroes had political and economic impact. It was sort of like their take on the idea explored in “Watchmen,” where superheroes have changed history and society instead of just existing alongside our world in the regular universe.
In the Tangent universe, Superman was Harvey Dent, an ordinary man who survived an experiment that accelerated his mind to new levels. With new powers of telepathy and telekinesis, Dent took on the persona of The SuperMan, fighting crime and ultimately becoming more cold and remote until he decided to take over the world. With his godlike powers, he easily subdued the world’s governments and imposed a brutal totalitarian state. In 2008, the mini-series “Tangent: Superman’s Reign” brought the SuperMan to the DC mainstream universe, where he tried to impose martial law, but the main-continuity Superman finally stopped him.
8. ERADICATOR SUPERMAN
The Eradicator first appeared in “Action Comics Annual” #2 (1989), created to preserve the culture by an ancient alien race until it was reprogrammed to eradicate all other cultures except Krypton’s. Thousands of years later, the Eradicator was given to Superman while on Warworld and it began its work again on Earth, creating the Fortress of Solitude and trying to manipulate Superman into becoming the ideal Kryptonian. When it failed, the Eradicator created a new body for itself based on Superman.
The Eradicator had all of Superman’s memories (even thought it wasn’t actually the real Superman), but was far more brutal and violent. It didn’t have the power to absorb solar radiation, so it relied on Superman’s body to transfer energy to it. Over the years, it became more compassionate and even fought alongside Superman and sacrificed itself to save Earth, but remained dedicated to preserving Superman and Kryptonian life. In DC’s Rebirth continuity, the Eradicator has returned, and it’s just as dangerous.
In 2000’s Elseworlds tale “JSA: The Liberty Files,” the Justice Society of America were secret government operatives in World War II; the Bat (Batman), the Clock (Hourman) and the Owl (Doctor Mid-Nite) investigating a secret German weapon called Ubermensch (the German word for “Superman”). Hitler’s forces had found the alien and planned to use the Ubermensch to lead a German attack in Egypt.
In reality, Ubermensch was the alien we know as the Martian Manhunter. The Martian Manhunter has enhanced speed, strength and the power of flight, making him a fitting Superman, but with added telekinetic powers. Ubermensch could absorb the thoughts of anyone he touched, but Hitler only allowed contact with him, infecting Ubermensch with his own twisted worldview. Dedicated to the Nazi cause, Ubermensch almost allowed Hitler to conquer the world, but the Bat touched him and was able to give him a new perspective to end World War II.
He came from a world where everything had gone wrong. First seen in “Animal Man” #23 (1990), where the Psycho-Pirate began releasing long lost characters from out of continuity, Overman was the result of a government experiment and other superheroes (based on the Justice League) cloned from his cells soon followed. Overman was driven mad by a sexually transmitted disease and killed everyone in his world, ultimately creating a doomsday bomb to commit suicide and destroy his world.
In “Animal Man,” Overman was just a drooling maniac carrying an oversized bomb. In 2015, Overman was revamped in a sort of Ubermensch as part of the “Multiversity” storyline in “Mastermen,” a present-day world where Overman was taken in by Adolf Hitler to lead the Nazis to victory. In an Overman-controlled world, he was plagued with guilt for his role in the genocides the Nazis carried out. He’s one of the darkest alternate versions of Superman out there without any of the fun of “Red Son.”
5. BLACK ZERO
Introduced in “Superboy” #62 (1999), Black Zero was from an alternate reality where Superman died and his clone grew to maturity to become Superman II (the superhero, not the movie). With the power of tactile-telekinesis, he could create a field around himself that made him invulnerable, allowed him to fly and also moved heavy objects, similar to Superman’s strength. Superman II tried to fight crime, but ended up losing a battle that cost lives, leading to a backlash against human cloning. He decided to rename himself after the pro-cloning organization on Krypton, Black Zero, and fight for clone rights.
Black Zero used Project Cadmus to kill off most of his world’s superheroes and recreated them as clones of the originals, but that wasn’t enough for him. He entered Hypertime (a cross between the timestream and the multiverse during an era where DC Comics only consisted of one universe) to travel to other realities to fight for clone rights as well. Black Zero was a fanatical and ruthless warrior who could only be stopped by the combined strength of numerous Superboys from across Hypertime.
4. DARK SIDE SUPERMAN
Darkseid and Superman have always been enemies, except in 1998’s “Superman: The Dark Side.” The mini-series showed an alternate reality where Kal-El’s rocket was diverted from Earth to Apokolips, where he was raised and controlled by Darkseid. In the beginning, he was forced to wear armor that gives him power through geothermal energy because he didn’t have a yellow sun to power him. The Dark Side Superman helped Darkseid destroy New Genesis, but Highfather transported him to Earth, where he met Lois Lane and learned the error of his ways.
Superman in this story is more a pawn of Darkseid than inherently evil, but much like the others, his actions have horrific consequences. With his direct and indirect help, Darkseid managed to extract the Anti-Life Equation from Superman’s cells and subjugated the world, and expand his reach. With Earth by his side and a yellow sun to power him, Superman was forced to fight Darkseid to end his reign of terror.
3. CYBORG SUPERMAN
In 1992, during the “Death of Superman” arc, four men came forward, claiming to be the reincarnation of Superman. One of them was a version of Superman with Kryptonian cybernetic parts who came to be known as Cyborg Superman. Unfortunately, Cyborg Superman was actually Hank Henshaw, an astronaut exposed to a solar flare that turned him into pure consciousness, and drove him mad in the process. His mind used Superman’s birthing matrix to create a physical clone of Superman to possess.
Driven by a desire to destroy the real Superman’s reputation, Cyborg Superman tried to use a nuclear bomb to destroy Metropolis. He was defeated, but used his power to inhabit machines to return over and over again, once even conquering most of the planet Apokolips. After his ultimate defeat, he was taken in by Sinestro during the Sinestro Corps War, making him more powerful than ever. Since the New 52 era, Cyborg Superman has been revamped as having been the father of Supergirl, Zor-El, who survived Krypton’s destruction only to have been transformed into the villain he is today.
No, we’re not talking about the time Superman got infected by Doomsday. In 2012’s “Action Comics” #9, Superman became one of the most destructive forces in the universe: a franchise. Created in another reality by scientists who invented a machine that turns sound into solid objects, Superman was sold to a corrupt corporation called Overcorp. Their dark and brutal version of Superman was so popular that it ultimately took over the world, but the need for increased commercialization drove the superhero to travel to alternate realities and slaughter all other versions of Superman. It became Superdoom.
Superdoom gained power and changed form based on what people believed of him, a fitting metaphor of how commercialism seemed to affect Superman. In his quest for supremacy, Superdoom slaughtered countless versions of Superman until he came to an alternate Earth where that version of Superman trapped it between realities. Superdoom ultimately travelled to DC’s mainstream Earth, where he fought and was defeated by the New 52 Superman.
1. INJUSTICE SUPERMAN
“Injustice: Gods Among Us” was a 2013 video game about an alternate reality where Superman was driven mad with rage after the Joker destroyed Metropolis and tricked him into killing Lois Lane. Superman killed the Joker and set up a new world order with himself as supreme leader while the rest of the Justice League followed suit. When they crossed over into the mainstream DC universe, the heroes and villains fought to overthrow Superman’s dictatorship.
It was really all just supposed to be an explanation for why Batman would be fighting Wonder Woman, but it gave us a compelling vision of a totalitarian Superman. More than that, the game led to a comic book series that acted as a prequel, showing what led up to it. The comic told the descent of Superman into abandoning freedom to set up a One Earth government. It was a haunting tragedy where Earth’s greatest hero became its greatest enemy.
Which do you think was the darkest vision of Superman? Let us know in the comments!