Superman is arguably the most recognizable superhero of all-time. He’s graced thousands of front covers and headlined numerous titles and storylines in his impressive 80-year history. We’ve had various live action adaptations of the hero, most recently with Henry Cavill and Tyler Hoechlin stepping into the iconic blue suit and flowing red cape. He fights for truth, justice and the American way. Whilst he might be a refugee from a dying alien world, Superman strives to be the icon to lead humanity in a greater direction. But what if he wasn’t?
What would happen if he crash landed in a completely different location or timeline instead of Kansas with Ma and Pa Kent? What if you combine Superman’s backstory with another iconic hero? It’s these questions that many comic book writers and artists have toyed with for years in alternate Earths and Elseworlds stories. Giving an alternative take on one of the world’s most popular characters can be hugely fascinating. Some of these versions are devilish, pure evil and downright destructive. There’s a certain level of poetic irony that the world’s greatest hero can also be its greatest villain. Here are 15 alternate versions of Superman that are much darker than him.
Let’s face it, one of the most popular tropes when doing an alternative hero, is to imagine what they’d be like as a Nazi. Because they are the epitome of evil, they’re the worst thing that a hero could be. There’s no real coming back from that. Instead of landing in Kansas, Superman/Kal-L as he was known/Overman landed in Nazi Germany and Hitler used the rocket’s technology to win the war.
Scientists created two beings that could rival Overman, one of which became Overgirl and the two became quite close. The other became a monster. Overman wore a high collared costume with a single bolt of lightning instead of where an ‘S’ should be on his chest. There’s no redemption for this version of the Man of Steel.
14 KINGDOM COME
Alex Ross’ storyline sees a future where the Justice League have stood down, and Superman has gone into self-exile after a new superhero, Magog, has shown the world a brutal new method of superheroics: murder. But this darker version of Superman is the closest to his usual self than any other on his list. He still holds all the ideals and values that Clark usually does, but when pushed to the limit, Superman uses extreme violence as a lesson.
Towards the end of the book, Captain Marvel sacrifices himself to stop a nuclear bomb, and although there are survivors -- they number in the few and many metahumans are killed in the process. Enraged at the loss of life, Superman flies to the U.N. and brings the building crashing down upon those inside, as revenge for the nuclear bomb.
Etrigan the Demon is sent to Earth-13 after his world, Kamelot was about to be destroyed. When he gets there, he joins the League of Shadows in their fight against evil. But if the League are fighting something evil, that’s when you know it’s bad. He winds up fighting a horde of vampires that had originally overrun his home planet.
His suit is a combination of Etrigan’s usual monstrous appearance and outfit, with a fiery ‘S’ emblem on his chest. He’s given the name Superdemon, because maybe Etrigan is a common name on Kamelot and he didn’t want to be discovered. But when he and the rest of Earth 13’s League of Shadows faced off against the demons, Superdemon was forced to battle the Vampire Ultraman. No we’re not joking -- this is real.
12 THE ERADICATOR
In the time after Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday, a number of would-be Supermen arose to take up the mantle (read “Reign of the Supermen”). The Eradicator was originally a Kryptonian weapon and has frequently been a supervillain as well as a superhero at times. But during his time masquerading as the Man of Steel, he dished out his own brand of brutal justice.
Seeing criminals as less than human, he isn’t afraid of inflicting extreme pain upon those who are committing crimes. Depending on the severity of their crimes, he’ll even kill if them if he deems it necessary. But that’s one thing the Eradicator clearly forgot when embodying the hero, Superman doesn’t kill. He might use extreme force at times, but he should always preserve life if he has the opportunity to do so.
11 SUPERMAN: KAL
Batman might have been reimagined in the Victorian era with Gotham By Gaslight, but Superman has a medieval twist during Superman: Kal. With the Kryptonian pod crash landing in the medieval era, Superman is raised simply as ‘Kal’, and works as a blacksmith because of his superhuman strength.
Baron Luthor has a suit of armor made from the wreckage of the kryptonian ship, and then attempted to forcefully take ‘Loisse’ to bed with him, killing her in the process. This led Kal to lead a violent revolt against the Baron, and murdered the medieval version of Luthor by stabbing him with a sword that would later become Excalibur. Imagine Superman in Game of Thrones, and that’s basically this story. Kal actually died at the end after being stabbed by Kryptonite. Ouch.
10 SUPERMAN: SPEEDING BULLETS
What if you take two of the world’s finest heroes and combined them together? Take one alien refugee’s backstory and combine it with the tragic tale of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and we have Superman: Speeding Bullets. Thomas and Martha Wayne adopt the young Kryptonian and call him Bruce, as a child he watches his new parents get gunned down in the alley. he unleashes his heat vision, burning Joe Chill to a crisp.
He does the same to a group of intruders in his house years later, even brutally assaulting them with his strength. He then deciding to take up crime-fighting when a new criminal emerges. Because it’s not just the heroes that are combined, but the villains too. When Lex Luthor is on the run, he has an accident involving an inferno and many chemicals becoming the Joker. ‘Batman’ manages to stop him and save a kidnapped Lois Lane.
It seems only logical that at least one alternative version of Superman would be General Zod himself. And this is twisted, even for him. He was sentenced to the Phantom Zone as a child for releasing a horrific virus that killed many people. But during the Second World War, the Americans experimented with technology that pulled Zod out of the Phantom Zone, and he pretended to be a good person.
They army raised him as ‘Clark Kent’ and he became their ‘Super-Man’. But when he discovered that the Russians had developed a device that would render his powers useless, he murdered every person that was aware of the project and attempted to destroy it. Fortunately for the rest of the planet, he died in his attempt to do so.
8 CYBORG SUPERMAN
Hank Henshaw’s brain was transferred into a robotic body after an accident in space, he decided to take up the Superman title during “Reign of the Supermen”, claiming to be a rebuilt version of the hero after the fight with Doomsday. But Henshaw had plans to destroy Metropolis with a nuclear missile.
Henshaw is discovered as a fake and fights a whole host of heroes, even the revived Superman himself. He unleashes a devastating wave of kryptonite aimed at Superman, which is blocked by the Eradicator, who redeems himself by saving Clark’s life. Although this ultimately causes his own destruction as the radiation is changed and revives Clark’s powers who quickly disabled Henshaw. It’s clear that nobody likes a fake, but Henshaw never really understands that.
7 BLACK ZERO
Kon-El as he was nicknamed, was actually a clone of Superman in a timeline where Superman hadn’t been resurrected and the clone grew to a similar age that Clark was before he died. He started out as a heroic figure, but quickly turned sour when he realized that people didn’t like him because he clearly wasn’t the Superman they knew and loved.
His subsequent tantrum led to the deaths of many normal citizens, and when various superheroes stepped in to put him down, he murdered them too. He became the face of ‘Clone Rights’ and took the title Black Zero to distinguish himself away from the Superman name. Ultimately he was stopped by many different versions of Superboy from multiple timelines after Metron (one of the New Gods) offered him new worlds to conquer.
6 SUPERMAN: THE DARK SIDE
No, this isn’t a Superman/Star Wars crossover. However, it changes one detail about the Man of Steel’s origin that sets him on an entirely different course. Instead of landing in Kansas, the Kryptonian pod lands on Apokolips, the home of Darkseid. He’s raised as one of the New Gods instead of the champion of humanity.
He dons a black armored, complete with an Apokoliptian helmet and weapon. And instead of the iconic ‘S’ symbol emblazoned on his chest, he has two lightning bolts that look scarily like the SS Nazi symbol. This is a Superman who is completely onboard with Darkseid’s willingness for eternal war, and completely devotes himself to the war against New Genesis. This isn’t just Superman turned bad, this is a wholly evil Kal-El.
5 THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
Whilst most fans have polarizing views on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, one thing they can agree on is that the source material it was influenced by is a definitive classic. The Dark Knight Returns pictures a bleak future in which an aging Batman returns to wage war against a near unstoppable crime wave. But when his methods become too destructive, Superman is sent in to put an end to him.
He’s working for the government in this story, which automatically puts him in shady territory since he can effectively be told who he should fight, regardless of whether he believes in it or not. The fight between the two heroes is brutal, but Batman gains the upper hand. Sorry Clark, but that’s what you get for being a machine of war.
Ultraman is the warped version of Kal-El from Earth-3 who is part of the Crime Syndicate of America, and he is twisted. To begin with, let’s talk about Kryptonite. We all know that Clark is severely affected by it. Kryptonite is so iconic, it’s a pop culture staple. But Ultraman is only made stronger by it when he’s near it. He actually gains a brand new superpower each time he’s exposed. We bet Superman’s jealous of that one.
And although Clark might be vulnerable to magic, Ultraman doesn’t feel any effects whatsoever. It’s mentioned during The New 52 that on his Earth, Ultraman has murdered many magic-based Gods. He does have one major difference from our Clark though, he’s weakened by sunlight. So he’s very much a night owl, ironically.
3 SUPERMAN’S REIGN
The Tangent version of Superman is actually Harvey Dent, let’s get that out of the way now. But he is most certainly evil. And when the New Earth heroes arrive on Earth 9 to put a stop to him, his reign of villainy only becomes worse. He even systematically destroys the White House and Capitol Hill with the help of some villains. Talk about truth, justice and the American way.
He then travels with his group of villains to Russia, and forcefully takes their entire bank of nuclear weapons, readying to use them against the rest of the world. He engages in a battle with the rest of the New Earth heroes and his ex-wife, Lola Dent. Luckily, the New Earth heroes dismantle the weapons and lock him away in an impenetrable prison. Good riddance.
2 RED SON
One of the most iconic alternate stories of all time reimagines Superman’s origin. Instead of crash landing in Kansas, the Man of Steel is raised in the Ukraine. He winds up becoming the ruler of the USSR and his control over the world increases as his country pushes further in all avenues of society and prosperity. But since he is able to monitor the entire world, it’s as if he’s watching every single person.
And if any of his citizens or government step out of line, he has a truly unique way of dealing with them. Superman lobotomizes them and they become slaves dubbed the ‘Superman Robots’. And although he eventually decides to give up his reign, his legacy changes the very course of history, causing an incredibly unique time-loop.
The DC game Injustice: Gods Among Us not only gave us an excellent superhero fighting game, but also an incredible storyline that expanded the horizons of a whole universe of characters. The catalyst for the story sees The Joker drug Superman into thinking that Lois was Doomsday and he flies her into space to kill ‘Doomsday’. Once he realizes what happens, he brutally murders The Joker, setting off a nuclear bomb that blows up Metropolis.
And once Superman begins to realize that he could bring world peace in the form of domination, he quickly goes about taking over the world. And in the sequel, Injustice 2, players are given the choice of two endings, Superman winning against Batman or vice versa. If Superman wins, he brings back the regime, ruling the Earth once again. But he also has Batman under mind control thanks to some Brainiac tech. Damn, Clark.