From the very beginning in 1938, the legend of Superman has been about the Kryptonian Kal-El who traveled from the doomed planet Krypton to Earth. Raised as Clark Kent, while here, he decided to use powers granted him under a yellow sun to fight evil. That’s the usual story, but there have been different people who’ve put on the cape.
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In some stories, it’s been a different Kryptonian who called himself Superman. In others, it’s someone entirely different who took on the name. In some, there’s only one alternate Superman, and in others there’s an imposter who tried to pass himself off as the Man of Steel. There have new people named Superman in alternate realities, and even in the main DC universe. CBR is here to run down 15 times Superman was played by someone else.
15. METAL SUPERMAN
2008’s “Final Crisis” was a huge crossover dealing with the fallout from the death of Darkseid, from his soul possessing a human to a massive black hole threatening to destroy all of creation. Darkseid took control of Detective Turpin and used him to release the Anti-Life Equation and enslave Earth. In order to fight him, Superman summoned alternate versions of himself from across the multiverse to save the Earth and the universe.
In “Final Crisis” #7 by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, Duncan Rouleau, another Superman was introduced, and he was metal. In the alternate reality known as Earth-44, a human scientist named Doc Tornado created a group of robots to save the world, all mechanical versions of the Justice League. All the robots have analogues in the Metal League, including the robot Superman. He was strictly a background character, but here’s hoping he’ll have a bigger role in the future.
14. SUNSHINE SUPERMAN
In 1990’s “Animal Man” #23, the DC universe faced a threat unlike any it had faced before. The Psycho-Pirate had begun releasing characters who had been forgotten or killed during the 1985 “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” Some of them were existing characters, but others were new creations from Grant Morrison and Chaz Truog. A notable addition was the Love Syndicate of Dreamworld, a trio of superheroes from the 1960s and 1970s named Speed Freak (Flash), Magic Lantern (Green Lantern) and Sunshine Superman.
Of course, Sunshine Superman was a reference to the song by Donovan, but he was also a pretty awesome variation on the Man of Steel. With his huge black afro and ’70s slang, Sunshine Superman didn’t die off when the rest of the characters faded away. Sunshine Superman has made cameos as recently as Final Crisis along with other versions of Superman. He’s groovy and he fights jive super-turkeys.
For decades, Stan Lee has been known as the father of the Marvel Universe, thanks to his role in the creation of classics like Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. In 2001, DC Comics released a bold experiment by letting Lee reimagine its own superheroes in a series called “Just Imagine.” One of the characters he redesigned was Superman (with artist John Buscema), and it was a pretty different take on the Man of Steel.
In Lee’s version, Superman was an alien named Salden, a law enforcement official on his home world who set himself apart by refusing genetic enhancement to fight crime. When his love was murdered by an escaped convict named Gorrok, Salden chased him across space to Earth, where he discovered the low gravity gave him superpowers. From there, he took on the name Clark Kent and worked with Lois Lane to become Superman, and fought Gorrok to save his adopted homeworld.
What if McDonald’s had created Superman? That’s sort of the premise of 2012’s “Action Comics” #9 (written by Grant Morrison, penciled by Gene Ha), which showed an alternate reality where Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen used a machine that could make sound into solid matter, bringing their thoughts to life, and used it to create what they hoped would be their planet’s savior and messiah: Superman. When they brought their machine to a company called Overcorp, their new Superman was commercialized to become what the people wanted, which turned out to be a dark and brutal anti-hero who eventually came to be known as Superdoom.
When Superdoom had done his damage in his own reality, he began traveling to alternate realities to kill other versions of Superman. When Superdoom came to the new Earth of the New 52, Superman teamed up with hyper-evolved beings known as the Wanderers, as well as the collective will of the people of Metropolis to defeat Superdoom, once and for all.
11. MARTIAN MANHUNTER
2000 introduced an Elseworlds tale called “JSA: The Liberty Files” by Dan Jolley and Tony Harris where Batman, Hourman and Doctor Mid-Nite were revamped as the Bat, the Clock and the Owl, government agents fighting in World War II. The three of them are sent to find out the secret behind a German weapon known only as Ubermensch (“Superman” in German). They discover that the Nazis have found a powerful alien and plan to use him to take over the world, starting in Egypt.
The Ubermensch turned out to be the alien Martian Manhunter, who has super-speed, strength and flight, along with telekinesis and telepathy. The Bat discovered that the Ubermensch had absorbed the thoughts of Adolf Hitler, warping his worldview. Instead of just fighting him, the Bat touched the Ubermensch, making him see the real world and end his terror. With the Manhunter by his side, World War II ended quickly. If only the real war had been that easy.
In 2003’s the two-issue miniseries “JSA: The Unholy Three” was published and brought a whole new Superman to life. Written by Dan Jolley and illustrated by Tony Harris, “Unholy” was a sequel to “JSA: Liberty Files” where the Bat and the Clock were reactivated to find KGB agents chasing the Trigger, a secret device that will detonate the world’s nuclear reactors. The two are aided by Clark Kent, a new agent who turns into the next Super-Man. The second JSA Super-Man is a Kryptonian, but the twist is that he’s Zod, not Kal-El.
In this version, Zod was a psychopathic child on Krypton who released a deadly virus for the fun of it. As punishment for his crimes, Zod was banished to the Phantom Zone where he remained until he was released by Earth scientists. It took the combined forces of the JSA, plus an enhanced Bat to stop him by launching him into the atmosphere, strapped to a Chernobyl reactor.
9. HARVEY DENT
Harvey Dent is known to Gotham City as a former district attorney scarred with acid who became the villain Two-Face. In another reality, he became Superman. First appearing in 1998’s “Tangent Comics: The Superman” #1 by Mark Millar and Jackson Guice, Harvey Dent was a police officer who was injured in a fall, but experiments on him as a baby caused his mind to expand with new psychic powers. Harvey Dent became known as “the SuperMan” and fought supervillains until his wife died. In his own world, Dent became more cold and distant while his powers grew until he became a dictator.
Having created a new totalitarian state, Dent went to the DC mainstream universe to try to impose his will there. Fortunately, he was stopped by the real Superman, but the story took its toll. Tangent SuperMan proved that it’s more than just power that makes Superman great; it’s also his will and his honor.
8. CAPTAIN ADAM
What do you get when you cross Superman with Captain Atom? You get Dr. Manhattan from “Watchmen,” but you also get Captain Allen Adam, who made his debut in 2008’s “Final Crisis: Superman Beyond” #1 (Grant Morrison and Doug Mahnke). In the story, Captain Adam was caught in the explosion of an experimental uranium engine, which destroyed his body but not his mind. He reconstructed himself with “quantum senses,” but was afraid of his new powers and took drugs to dampen his senses. When the drugs wore off, the Quantum Superman was unleashed.
Adam’s powers gave him the ability to view the past, present and future all at once. His senses can make trillions of calculations every second, making him much smarter than anyone, possibly omnipotent. He also had the power to copy himself, and use telekinesis to fly and move objects on a molecular level. With his powers, Adam became distant, unable to feel emotions, not what we want from a super-powered being.
7. KAL KENT
First appearing in 1998’s “JLA” #23 as part of the DC One Million crossover event, Kal Kent was created by Grant Morrison and Val Semeiks as the distant descendant of Superman. When the modern-day Justice League was pulled into the 853rd Century, they discovered the Superman they knew (known as Superman-Prime) had retreated into the Sun for centuries, leaving new generations to take up the mantle. The one the League met was Kal Kent.
Kal Kent has the usual assortment of powers that Superman had, including super-strength, speed, flight and heat vision. Since there weren’t that many Kryptonians to go around, Superman’s bloodline also includes some alien and interdimensional DNA that gave him telepathy, extrasensory perception, and a mind capable of handling billions of scenarios at once. He was capable of moving whole solar systems, could shrug off Kryptonite, and could live without the light of a yellow sun for days. He was definitely an upgrade, but still bowed to Superman-Prime.
2014’s “Earth 2” #19 (Tom Taylor, Nicola Scott, Robson Rocha) introduced Val-Zod, a man who took on the name Superman, but in a very different way than Kal-El. Orphaned when his parents were killed by the tyrannical Kryptonian government, Val-Zod was taken in and raised by Jor-El and Kara until he was launched in a capsule to survive the planet’s destruction. However, when he landed on Earth-2, Val-Zod was kept hidden for years in a base under Arkham until he was released to save the planet.
His experiences left Val-Zod with a real hatred of violence, but also a fear of open spaces, which isn’t good for someone who can fly. When he overcame his phobia, Val-Zod became a new Superman with compassion and a desire to fight evil with his mind instead of his fists. He’s a new hope, someone dedicated to peace in ways even our Superman isn’t.
John Henry Irons made his debut in 1993’s “The Adventures of Superman” #500 by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove. In the aftermath of the death of Superman following his fight with Doomsday, several men rose up to take the hero’s place, and Irons was one of them. A former weapons engineer, Irons quit to become a construction worker rather than allow his technology to be used to kill innocent people. After being saved by Superman from a fall, Irons was inspired to make an armored suit to fight as the Man of Steel.
One of the first African-American incarnations of Superman, Irons also stood out as a great combo of brains and brawn. He’s strong even without the suit, but as Steel, he’s a force of nature. Each of the “Reign of the Supermen” who appeared following the real deal’s death embodied an aspect of him. With Steel, that was the Man of Steel’s spirit and selflessness. He’s also humble, clarifying to Lois Lane that he was never claiming to be the same Superman who had died. Steel went on to get his own series and later joined the Justice League, proving he was more than just a black Superman.
The Eradicator made its first appearance in 1989’s “Action Comics Annual” #2 (Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Roger Stern, Mike Mignola and Curt Swan) as a mysterious weapon created and reprogrammed to preserve the culture of Krypton by destroying all others. Superman got the Eradicator while forced into combat on Warworld, and when he took it to Earth, it created his Fortress of Solitude and tried to turn Superman into the ultimate Kryptonian. Superman thought he had defeated it, but it returned after his death.
One of the four Supermen to rise up after Kal-El was apparently killed, the new Eradicator had a body cloned from Superman with all of his memories and powers, except for the ability to absorb solar radiation. The so-called Last Son of Krypton ended up keeping Superman’s body imprisoned as a power source until Superman was able to escape, and eventually became a hero of his own, sacrificing itself to save Earth. The Eradicator has returned in the DC Rebirth continuity, once again trying to bring back Krypton at the expense of Earth.
3. HANK HENSHAW
The man who came to be known as the Cyborg Superman started out as a joke in 1990s “Adventures of Superman” #466, created by Dan Jurgens. The story was a thinly-veiled parody of the Fantastic Four, where four astronauts are caught in a radiation experiment that caused them to mutate. One of them, Hank Henshaw, collapsed in decay, but managed to transfer his consciousness into the mainframe of LexCorp. Now a disembodied entity capable of controlling machines, he moved his consciousness into the birthing matrix of Superman and left Earth.
In 1992’s “Death of Superman” arc, Henshaw returned as a Kryptonian cyborg claiming to be the real Superman, but secretly working to destroy Superman’s reputation. He tried to use a nuclear bomb to blow up Metropolis, and even once managed to take over most of Darkseid’s Apokalips, but each time was beaten. He was a major figure in the Sinestro Corps War, becoming more powerful than ever as a Yellow Lantern. In the New 52 reboot, Henshaw became a completely different and more helpful character, while the Cyborg Superman was revealed to have been Zor-El, Supergirl’s father, who had been transformed into a cyborg by Brainiac.
2. CALVIN ELLIS
When African-American President Barack Obama took office, it was a sea change in politics and pop culture. He inspired many things, including our next entry. Calvin Ellis, an African-American U.S. president in an alternate universe, also happened to be his world’s Superman. First seen in 299’s “Final Crisis” #7, Ellis (whose Kryptonian name is Kalel) was a genius from the dark-skinned Vathlo Island of Krypton who came to Earth and held a much harder job than Clark Kent’s profession of working at the Daily Planet.
He fought injustice in the Oval Office, but when the threat became too big, Ellis would transform into his world’s Superman. Along with a Justice League made up of minorities, Ellis battled a white Lex Luthor who insisted he wasn’t a racist. Kalel is clearly inspired by Obama, but also stands on his own as an optimistic and more diverse version of the Man of Steel.
1. BRUCE WAYNE
Here’s another riddle. What if Batman had the powers of Superman? J.M. DeMatteis and Eduardo Barreto answered that question with “Superman: Speeding Bullets,” an Elseworlds tale that imagined a world where Kal-El’s spaceship was found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, who named him Bruce Wayne and adopted him as their son. Just like the regular Bruce Wayne, the death of the Waynes in a mugging led him to pursue a life of crime-fighting. However, Wayne had an easier time than the regular Batman, because he could fly, had super-strength and heat vision.
Wayne adopted the identity of Batman, and used his powers (especially heat vision) to destroy criminals. “Speeding Bullets” was about how his brutal tactics clashed with his ideals of justice, with Lois Lane desperately trying to convince him of a better way. In the end, he left his Batman persona behind to become the real Superman of this alternate universe.
Which was your favorite version of Superman other than Clark Kent? Let us know in the comments!