Over 20 years since its release, "Reign of the Supermen" continues to be an interesting comic book experiment on both a narrative and a sociological level. For long-time readers of The Man of Steel’s adventures, it was a chance to see their favorite hero fulfill his messianic destiny as the sacrificial lamb of Krypton. In a battle with an alien known as Doomsday, the Man of Steel would pass away and was eventually reborn in biblical-like fashion. Fans also got to glimpse a world without Superman; one bereft of hope and susceptible to the darker impulses of its own fallible psyche. In addition to leaving a major hole in the fabric of the DC Universe, Superman’s demise also left a gaping (albeit hypothetical) moral chasm in the real world. What does the world do without Superman? How does it move forward? Can he ever be replaced?
Those questions were eventually answered in the form of four disparate heroes, each claiming to be the resurrected Big Blue Boy Scout: The Eradicator, Superboy, Steel and Cyborg Superman. While not the heroes that humanity needed, these four clay-footed figures were the ones it deserved: vulnerable, selfish, self-interested beings who sought power and personal redemption above serving the interests of the masses. But for all their faults, could any of them have truly replaced the one true Superman? CBR has compiled a list breaking down why each character possessed the qualities necessary to supplant the original Man of Tomorrow and don the mantle of the iconic "S".
20 THE ERADICATOR: ABSOLUTE JUSTICE
The title of the 1993 arc is a play on legendary Supes’ creators Seigel and Shuster’s original but very different take on Superman’s origin. Featured in the 1933 short story “Reign of The Superman”, Kal-El started out as more supervillain than superpowered redeemer -- a conception that is perhaps most closely aligned with The Eradicator.
Unlike Superman, The Eradicator has little time for the pithy emotional responses that Clark allows to impinge his quest for peace on earth. As a result, The Eradicator’s capacity for delivering justice (even if it means smashing skulls first and asking questions later) is far superior to Kal-El’s. As The Eradicator knows, if you want to make a world peace omelet, you have to be willing to break some eggs.
19 SUPERBOY: IS A NEWER, SHINIER MODEL
Described by Reign of the Supermen screenwriter Jim Krieg as “Superman if he’d been raised by the Kardashians,” this iteration of Superboy is the farthest in personality from the familiar flannel-wearing Clark Kent. Also known as “The Metropolis Kid” and “The Boy of Steel”, Superboy is brash, rash, impulsive and ego-driven. He also happens to possess most of Superman’s abilities, thanks to being made from some of his DNA.
Because of this, Superboy is like a newer, shiner model. Sure he may be annoying as hell, but he’s also got the potential to be as great as (if not better than, thanks to Lex’s brain power) the original.
18 CYBORG SUPERMAN: HIS SECRET IDENTITY IS COOLER
Not to be confused with Victor Stone, Cyborg Superman’s real name is Hank Henshaw. Hensaw, a crew member aboard the fated Excalibur space shuttle, experienced the loss of his crew, wife, and his corporeal form after a Fantastic Four-like accident in space involving a solar flare. Saved by Superman, a struggling Hensaw was then able to transfer his consciousness into LexCorp’s mainframe, before eventually building himself a new robo-body.
Blaming Superman for the accident, Hensaw became driven to destroy Superman’s public image by adopting his identity shortly after his demise at the hands of Doomsday. When compared to mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent, Cyborg Superman all but does laps around Kal-El’s pithy civilian I.D. Also, points for the first/last name alliteration.
17 STEEL: SOLVES THE “SUPERMAN” PROBLEM
For years, comic book publishers and movie studios alike have been trying to crack one of the toughest challenges with Superman: making him vulnerable. Yes, the most powerful being in the DC universe is invulnerable- -- and that’s a major problem. If your hero has nothing to lose, what is the point of rooting for him? What are the stakes?
There is an ironic thread that runs to the heart of this quagmire, being that Superman’s only fault is that he’s faultless, but that also makes him completely unidentifiable. John Henry Irons (aka Steel) solves this problem, because, unlike Kal-El, he is actually a flesh and blood human who is just as vulnerable as the rest of humanity.
16 THE ERADICATOR: KRYPTON FIRST
For all the faults 2013’s Man of Steel movie, it got one thing right: General Zod’s character. The movie saw an aggrieved Zod break the shackles of his space/time prison in the hopes of reconstituting the geo-planetary make-up of his destroyed planet upon the foundations of a planet earth laid to waste.
With such a grand yet grounded motivation (all he wants is Krypton to live again), it was no wonder Shannon’s character was one of the few villains whose side you could actually [sort of] root for. The Eradicator is equally as passionate about the preservation of its home world -- something Superman seems to have little to no interest in. Eradicator may not be the last son of Krypton, but it is its most devout.
15 SUPERBOY: SUPERMAN, WITHOUT THE BAGGAGE
Unlike Superman, Superboy has no attachments to this world. While Superman is busy doing things like upholding a secret identity, protecting Lois, Jimmy and Martha and saving cats from trees, Superboy could have already struck a deal for world peace.
In this way, Superboy emerges as the most primed to take the mantle of Superman; not because he doesn’t feel emotions (and would probably save a cat if it got stuck up a tree), but because he isn’t beholden to the core relationships that only hamper Clark’s ability to help the rest of the world. Plus, after 80 years, this roster of characters perpetually in distress is becoming more than a little stale.
14 CYBORG SUPERMAN: (SUPER) MAN INSIDE THE MACHINE
Similar to Superboy and Eradicator, Cyborg Superman possesses all of Superman’s God-like powers, plus some new ones even his contemporaries can’t match. The combination of Kal-El’S DNA and his own cybernetic make-up make him an insurmountable force to be reckoned with. In addition to this, Cyborg Superman is also basically immortal; able to transcend any physical form he adopts by continuously transferring his consciousness. Technically, even Superman can “die”.
Other credits on his Super C.V. include: earning the country’s seal of approval as the “true” Superman (after saving the leader of the free world), kicking the stuffing out of Darkseid (using the re-animated body of Doomsday) AND getting Mogul to kneel before him and kiss his steely hand.
13 STEEL: PUTS THE “MAN” IN MAN OF STEEL
Try as fans might, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to host a “nature vs. nurture” debate about what Superman would have been like if he would have been raised by people other than Ma and Pa Kent (see Mark Millar’s Red Son for what could have happened). While Superman is known for his scrupulous morals and almost pathological adherence to the rule of law, one thing is certain -- it is his human values that make him a hero.
Steel, on the other hand, is a human being, and understands better than Superman what makes humanity tick. This gives his moral centre stronger footing, while also making him more capable to serve the world.
12 THE ERADICATOR: ENERGY BEAMS FROM ITS HANDS
First making his comic book debut in the pages of 1989’s Action Comics Annual #2, Eradicator may look like a man, but it is actually a sentient, humanoid Kryptonian artifact. This means that in addition to possessing all of the same powers that Superman does, it can also do things that Superman could never dream of.
One of these powers includes the ability to manipulate and project energy beams from its hands. Giving the term “super-slap” a whole new meaning, this ability makes The Eradicator extremely dangerous in hand-to-hand scenarios. If only it weren’t so reliant on those UV-blocking goggles, as the power also extends to The Eradicator's eyes (in addition to heat and X-ray vision).
11 SUPERBOY: IS A BETTER COMPLIMENT TO SUPERGIRL
While on the topic of relevant superheroes, there is one who seems to have emerged as Supes’ perfect small screen successor: Supergirl. With the launch of her own series in 2016, executive producer Greg Berlanti & Co. have crafted a version of Kara Zor-El that makes for compelling, binge-worthy TV.
While the introduction of Tyler Hoechlin’s welcomed (if not derivative) take on Superman/Clark is entertaining, his presence invariably steals the spotlight from his older cousin. The answer? Pair Supergirl with Superboy. Why? Their fighting styles better complement each other, their out of costume rapport is more dynamic, and neither character outshines the other.
10 CYBORG SUPERMAN: SUPERIOR TECHNOLOGICAL CAPABILITIES
Today’s world is one where everyone who owns a smartphone is basically a rudimentary form of humanoid. It is a fact of the 21stcentury that is both pervasive and inescapable… except perhaps if you’re Arthur Curry and living at the bottom of the ocean. With that said, the world needs a hero that can keep up with the times.
Enter Cyborg Superman -- a super being who not only has the power of the strongest hero in the DC Universe, but who can also tap into any technological mainframe known to man. Cyborg Superman’s vast technological abilities outpace Superman’s solar-based ones, and therefore give him the advantage of Kal-El in the relevancy department.
9 STEEL: HAS A CLEAR PURPOSE
Batman witnessed the end of his parents when he was just a boy. Captain America made the ultimate patriotic sacrifice for his country and risked it all to see the world free from the hands of evil. Unlike Superman (who lacks purpose in this department), Steel has such a reason. Like Batman, he too witnessed the demise of his parents, and vowed do something about it.
Granted, he was also saved by Superman during a construction site accident and decided to “do something meaningful with his life”; however, this alone wasn’t enough to spur him to action. The combination of both events gives Steel a “why”; not because he has to be a hero, but because he wants to be.
8 THE ERADICATOR: CYBERNETIC AWARENESS & MIND CONTROL
Another of Eradicator’s extraordinary abilities not on Superman’s list, is its cybernetic awareness and mind control. The first basically allows Eradicator to sense beings and gateways from alternate worlds (which comes in handy for when foes like Mister Mxyzptlk rears his ugly head from the 5thdimension).
The second allows The Eradicator to manipulate its enemies’ thoughts. Superman’s thoughts become the subject of such mind control during a bout with the sentient humanoid, which exposes another of Kal-El’s weaknesses he didn’t know he had. The combination of these two additional abilities give The Eradicator an Orwellian advantage; something that could especially come in handy when fending off evil geniuses like Brainiac and Lex Luthor.
7 SUPERBOY: HALF MAN + HALF GOD = BETTER COMBINATION
What do you get when you cross Lex Luthor’s DNA with Superman’s? The answer is a smarmy, smart-mouthed super god who appears to be perpetually in his late teens. Yes, Superboy is the genetically modified love child of Lex and Clark, and much to the dismay of the former, takes more after the latter.
The upside to this is that, unlike Superman, he is actually a human. Not only is he more willing to save the planet (even if it’s only because his lineage resides there), but he’s also more of a vulnerable character; something that makes for more compelling storytelling.
6 CYBORG SUPERMAN: IS ALSO A GREEN LANTERN
A recent issue of the “Evil’s Might” run of Green Lantern (#53, 2018), saw Cyborg Superman take control of the Green Lantern Corps' Central Power Battery; a cosmic reservoir from which all Green Lanterns receive their power. With the power of both Superman and Hal Jordan, Cyborg Superman is all but unstoppable.
Had the original Superman not been too busy taking Lois Lane on double dates with Batman, he might have thought about obtaining an invitation to join the coolest space cops in the galaxy. While the color scheme might clash, having a Green Lantern Corps ring gives Cyborg Superman an advantage in both fighting skills and brain power (let’s just hope he’s smart enough not to imagine Kryptonite).
5 STEEL: HIS COSTUME IS COOLER
While fashion is largely subjective, the fact that steel is better than spandex leaves little room for debate. While Superman sports a blue leotard, red wrestling trunks and a functionless yellow-coloured utility belt, Steel’s supersuit is one awesome costume, complete with lightweight, bulletproof plating from head to toe.
He also wields a hammer that packs almost as much punch as Thor’s, and an “S” emblem forged from one of the toughest substances on earth. All this and he was even smart enough to craft a mask to hide his secret identity. Yes, Steel may have borrowed the look, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t also majorly improve upon it. Now if only he could figure out how to make a metal cape…
4 THE ERADICATOR: WICKED SMART
Being a veritable walking-talking alien hard drive, The Eradicator all but whips Clark Kent’s trouser-covered behind when it comes to the Kryptonian SATs. What this provides The Eradicator with is the ability to define and defeat rogue Kryptonian foes (looking at you, H’EL) with much more ingenuity than Superman is capable of.
One could even speculate that, had The Eradicator taken the place of Superman in the battle against Doomsday, there would have only been one major causality that day, as we would have been able to predict his arrival, and discover and expose his weaknesses... perhaps without ever throwing a single punch.
3 SUPERBOY: TRUTH AND JUSTICE… HIS WAY
For those who now longer believe that “Truth, Justice and The American Way” is as appealing to a modern audience as it once was in 1938, DC has the solution for you. Enter Superboy; a Kal-El look-alike who plays by his own rules, not the antiquated allegiances of the past. While writer David Goyer had Superman renounce his citizenship in Action Comics#900, it wasn’t enough to make him relevant in a world that still largely thinks of him as a big blue boy scout.
From his too-cool-for-school leather jacket, to his lack of red strongman trunks (the character ditched those well in advance of DC’s 2011 launch of The New 52), Kon-El is a rebel without a cause… and it’s working for him.
2 CYBORG SUPERMAN: SELF-MADE HERO
While Cyborg Superman may appear to be a carbon copy of Superman (points docked for lack of originality), it can be argued that he is actually more super than The Man of Tomorrow. This is due to the fact that -- unlike Kal-El who was born with the powers of a god -- Hank Henshaw turned himself into Superman.
Using his advanced intellect and preternatural scientific capabilities, Henshaw transcended his fallible, mortal form to become as close to the Man of Steel -- even fooling Lois for a time. When contrasted to Clark Kent, who owes everything he has in the superpower department to good genetics, Hank was born with nothing, and ended up becoming (for a time) the greatest hero on earth.
1 STEEL: DIVERSITY HIS STRENGTH
Much controversy has been generated around the casting of non-white actors who play Caucasian comic book heroes, simply because they possess different skin tones than that of their graphic novel counterparts. While the drama is usually short-lived, the toxic fandom that erupts around these situations can unfortunately bedevil otherwise brilliant casting decisions.
Being a person of color himself, Steel allows casting directors to eschew the antiquated fears surrounding needing to preserve Superman’s “whiteness”. Making Steel the new Superman is, quite simply, a win-win scenario; both for those who prefer their version of Kal-El to be as pasty as a bad Nicholas Cage headshot, and for those who want more diverse on-screen representation.