Comic books are a fascinating form of storytelling. Through the decades they have developed from brief comedy panels into fully fledged forms of literature that can sometimes hold more depth than "normal" books. They can delve into other universes and explore the vast realms of alternate realities. And with superhero comic books, we can sometimes get some truly fascinating different versions of the most iconic characters that can sometimes become just as popular as the original iteration.
Be it through their costume design, their origins, a radically different personality or a combination of all three, alternative versions of superheroes can be incredibly insightful. It gives different writers and artists a chance to write their specific idea of what that character could do given a different situation. Just as an example, if Lex Luthor discovered the Lantern instead of Hal, he could have formed his own Green Lantern Marine Corps like he does in Red Son. Sometimes, the most heroic characters can be warped and twisted in another reality, and we all know that seeing how devastating a tyrannical version of Superman could be like. And isn’t that darkly entertaining? Here are 15 evil alternate versions of superheroes that are more powerful than the original.
She might be called Superwoman, but this is not Kara Zor-El. This is actually the Earth-3 equivalent of Wonder Woman. She’s from Themyscira, and has a ruthless streak that makes her a formidable opponent. Forget the Lasso of Truth, Superwoman has the Lasso of Submission. It makes a person reveal their deepest secrets, the ones they’re most ashamed of.
But one of the most interesting things about her, is her alter-ego. She goes by the name Lois Lane. Which is even more fitting when you realize that she’s in a relationship with the Earth-3 version of Supes; Ultraman. She’s the villainous combination of Wonder Woman and Lois, which definitely causes a headache for our Man of Steel. She’s part of the Crime Syndicate, and she’s one villain you don’t want to cross.
14 THE BATMAN WHO LAUGHS
Dark Nights: Metal has already introduced us to a whole host of evil versions of Batman, but this one is the most terrifying. This is the Batman that finally broke in his fight against The Joker, and murdered him. But when he did so, a toxin was released from The Joker’s heart, turning Bruce INTO THE JOKER. Scary thought right? It only gets worse.
Once he partners with the demon Barbatos, The Batman Who Laughs recruits all of these different Batmen (and Batwoman) from various places in the Dark Multiverse into his own personal fighting force. He even has several pet demonic Robins, who have a call and response speech pattern of “Crow” and “Bar”, throwing back to Jason Todd’s torture by the Joker. The Batman Who Laughs is currently causing mayhem in the DC Universe, and he is a horrifying vision of Bruce Wayne.
13 RED SON SUPERMAN
Written by Mark Millar, Red Son is one of the most famous alternative takes on the DC Universe purely for its ingenuity. The premise is simple, instead of crashing in Kansas -- Superman lands in the Soviet Union. Whilst the Superman of the main continuity just defends the world, the Red Son version helps push the Soviet Union into wealth and prosperity.
Because of the change in location, everything is different in this timeline. For example, Lex Luthor becomes President of America and mounts a state sanctioned attack on Supes. Superman easily manages to defeat the combined forces of Lex’s Green Lantern Marine Corps, the Amazonians and other metahumans. A somewhat successful ruler of a nation, combat efficient and also inadvertently brings about world peace for millions of years. Beat that, Kal-El.
12 OLD MAN BANNER
Mark Millar sure does like his alternate universes. This one takes place on Earth-807128, focusing on Old Man Logan. In a world where Wolverine murdered the X-Men after being brainwashed and an army of villains overthrew the Avengers -- Logan struggles to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The place where he lives is ruled by the Hulk and his children. You know, the ones his cousin She-Hulk gave birth to…
But when his family are killed by the Hulk’s children, Logan kills them all and hunts down Bruce Banner. He finds an ageing Bruce, who seems to have super strength even when not in Hulk form, savagely beating Logan before transforming into a truly monstrous version of the Hulk. He even manages to chew Wolverine into pieces. If it wasn’t for his healing factor, that would’ve been the end of Old Man Logan.
11 PHOENIX FORCE CYCLOPS
The Phoenix Force has proved quite troublesome for the X-Men over the years and the cosmic entity reared its fiery head once again during Avengers vs. X-Men. The main conflict stemmed from the return of the Phoenix Force but once it arrived, it started to imbue several mutants with its powers, one of those being Cyclops.
Alongside four other Phoenix Avatars (Colossus, Magik, Emma Frost and Namor) Scott Summers began reshaping the world. Declaring world peace, replenishing food and water for the entire population. But after the other four lost their pieces of the Phoenix, Cyclops became the host for the full force. He became the Dark Phoenix and ended up murdering Professor X. This version of Scott is infinitely more powerful and although he lost it at the end of AvX, he did get the Phoenix Force back in Secret Wars.
No, we haven’t got forgotten Nite Owl’s name. This is a separate character from Earth-3, Batman’s counterpart in the Crime Syndicate. He became Owlman after his own Butler (also Alfred Pennyworth) murdered his family. The villain was shown in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths where he slowly learns of the multiverse, but he actually becomes far more powerful after “Darkseid War” during The New 52.
He’s killed by a flashing blue light (probably Doctor Manhattan) after Metron taught him how to use the Mobius Chair to learn every piece of knowledge in the universe. But even without the Mobius Chair, Owlman is more powerful due to his willingness to kill and maim others. Plus, he has an enhanced mental state, but it’s not clear how far this goes.
9 POWER RING
The Crime Syndicate give us plenty of alternate versions of popular DC heroes, and Power Ring is the opposite of Green Lantern. Like the other members of the Crime Syndicate, he comes from Earth-3. He was given his ring by the Volthoom, and for those not familiar with Volthoom, he was the very first Lantern who helped forge the first ring.
Although we never see it, The Outsider explains that on Earth-3 Power Ring was so powerful that he had murdered many immortals. He also partnered with Deathstorm during “Forever Evil” to unleash all the prisoners in Belle Reve. Power Ring might not be as powerful as other members of the Crime Syndicate, but his backing from Volthoom and his villainous nature outbalances Hal Jordan on several occasions.
8 IRON MANIAC
What would happen if Tony Stark became Doctor Doom? Well, that’s essentially what Iron Maniac is. He mainly appears during the Marvel Team-Up series, and is often mistaken for Doom himself due to the shape of his faceplate. In reality, he comes from Earth-5012 where the Avengers are dead.
And although he’s similar to Tony Stark from the 616 continuity, he’s also incredibly bitter after being banished from his own reality by Reed Richards. During his appearances in Marvel Team-Up, he managed to defeat the Fantastic Four, the New Avengers, Spider-Man and Wolverine all whilst constantly upgrading his armor and capabilities. It seems that alternate versions of Tony are frequently more formidable than the usual version. We’re not fans of his purple and silver armor though, stick to red and gold Tony.
Whilst Cyborg is a robotically enhanced man, the benefit he has is the human personality in control of the powerful weapons and software inside his body. It’s what keeps him on the straight and narrow, but it’s also his weakness. When keeping watch over the Metahumans, some underlying software inside Cyborg began to aggressively hunt for more and more information about these would-be heroes and villains. Slowly it took on the personalities of hackers and even the components of internet viruses to craft a separate identity, Grid.
It joined the Crime Syndicate, causing havoc for Cyborg after stealing some of his old armor and prosthesis, becoming a physical threat as well as a digital one. Whilst Grid isn’t the best known member of the Syndicate, he’s one of the deadliest because he isn’t restrained by human emotions.
6 THE MAKER
Everyone knows that Reed Richards is one of the most intelligent minds in the Marvel Universe. But the Ultimate version of Reed is truly a force to be reckoned with due to his heightened abilities. This is partly down to being able to expand his own brain, therefore increasing his IQ and higher functions.
But because his brain has been elevated to another level, he doesn’t even need to sleep, nor does he require any oxygen. This is a Reed Richards with next to no empathy for the human race, and is purely driven by his pursuit of greatness. His role in the Secret Wars series sees a version of the Maker placed in every single reality, meaning that he can flick between dimensions at will.
5 FLASHPOINT WONDER WOMAN
One of the best DC stories from the last ten years is easily "Flashpoint". The Flash travels back in time, stop his mother’s death, and the current timeline is in tatters -- everything is different. Like a war between Atlantis and Themyscira that Wonder Woman is waging. Her vicious fight against Aquaman stems from a failed affair between the two that ends in Diana murdering Mera.
We all knew that Wonder Woman was incredibly powerful, but take away her sense of right and wrong, she becomes an even more formidable force of fury. She’s got an entire army at her disposal, and isn’t afraid to murder her way across the world. If this timeline had stuck, it would’ve been entirely possible that she could’ve wound up ruling Earth. That’s the level of power she possessed during "Flashpoint".
4 ZOMBIE SPIDER-MAN
We don’t really need to justify why Zombie Spider-Man is more evil than regular Peter Parker right -- a semi-sentient flesh eating wall-crawler is a little self-explanatory. He eats the living, and is driven by pure hunger. When he breaks his leg, he tears it from his body simply because it was slowing him down, and when the Zombies made their way to Earth-91126, he even tore off his own skin. These zombies are ruthless.
But the really powerful part of Zombie Spider-Man (and many others) comes once they killed Galactus. They ate him and were able to use some of the Power Cosmic. This enabled Spidey to kill Venom and undead Eddie Brock whilst they were fighting over food. Cosmically powerful Zombies? No thanks.
Probably the most intimidating member of the Crime Syndicate of America from Earth-3 is Ultraman. No, not the manga character. This is the Earth-3 version of the Man of Steel himself. He holds many similar powers to the usual version of Superman, but he has one extreme advantage. Everyone in the world is familiar with Kryptonite, Superman’s one physical weakness.
But for Ultraman, Kryptonite actually makes him stronger. He is able to use it as a drug empowering the villain before or during a fight to gain an advantage. The Boy Scout that we all know and love is has the moral and tactical high ground, whereas Ultraman simply murders his opponents as soon as possible. He’s also noticeably affected when finding out that his wife Superwoman is having an affair with Owlman, so she’s definitely a weakness.
Stryfe is one of the many reasons we hate clones. He caused so much pain and anguish for Cable across various timelines that it hurts. He was cloned after Cable had been inflicted with the techno-organic virus, so that if he died there could be something of a Summers bloodline to continue with. Instead, he grew bitter and evil. Eventually, he grew up to become a military leader and a terrorist.
He manages to defeat Apocalypse himself, as well as infiltrating the X-Men. He’s a master tactician and there’s nothing he won’t do to cause his counterpart pain. He even pretended assaulted Cable’s wife so that Cable’s children were his own. Stryfe is a terrifying villain. At one point, he even has control of the Sentinels themselves, mutant hunting robots. He’s not someone you want to mess with.
1 SECRET EMPIRE CAPTAIN AMERICA
After the sentient form of the Cosmic Cube, Kobik, changed one detail in the history of Captain America it was revealed that he had been a Hydra agent ever since WWII. Many fans voiced their disapproval of this retcon, and although it ended up rectified by the end of the series, it’s still very controversial.
But Hydra Steve now helps control the majority of America aside from a few pockets of resistance from heroes that have awoken in this new reality. It’s a terrifying thought, one of the most recognizable heroes doubling back on all the morals and values instilled in him from his inception. Plus, adding in the vast resources of Hydra in this version of reality means that he has so many tools and villains at his disposal. A Hydra Iron Man suit and a Hydra sanctioned Punisher are just two of the scariest.