If you are reading this, I am engaged in celebration of my favorite comic hero, the Metropolis Marvel, Superman! Tomorrow’s the eightieth anniversary of the first printing of Action Comics #1, which debuted Superman’s first appearance on April 18, 1938.
DC Comics is having a celebration of Action #1,000, officially one of the longest running, continuing titles in comic history with a return to the strongman-esque, red-briefs-on-the-outside, classic costume best associated with Superman. Action #1,000 will come with a host of variant covers and has had a wide array of artists showing their craft with depicting the essence of Superman for this anniversary.
DC will also be having the famed Brian Michael Bendis taking over the storytelling reigns on Action Comics and leading the way into the Rebirth Era of the DC Universe. Bendis promises to take good care of the Big Blue Boy Scout but also indicates there will be real change ahead.
DC is preparing what it considers a seismic shift in their Multiverse with the recent Metal storyline having left a hole in the Source Wall! This may mean DC is serious about making significant, lasting changes in their Universe. The Source Wall is the Wellspring of Creativity in the epic scale aspects of the DC Multiverse and as such could allow writers the creative opportunity to experiment with new ideas and new creations.
Today’s Answer-Man Exclusive:
We’re going to ponder how many interesting versions of the Man of Steel exist across the comic/manga Megaverse?
While Superman is the grandfather/godfather of four color superheroes coming into existence, his role as the iconic hero of his Universe has spawned multiple copies in nearly every comic Universe of any note. He doesn’t always exist but when he does, you will recognize him, no matter what he’s wearing. Everyone on this list is capable of going some rounds with Superman and a few even manage to eclipse his already amazing, and often overpowered superhuman profile.
DC has always been a superhero necromantic funfest where DC would buy a comic company and add their heroes to the DC Multiverse sticking them on a parallel Earth separated from their mainstream heroes, at first. If you ever wondered where the DC Multiverse idea really caught on was when DC realized they could keep parallel worlds separated and populate them with heroes of former comic companies.
Earth-One was the mainstream Silver Age heroes, the Golden Age heroes lived on Earth-Two, The Fawcett Heroes (The Captain Marvel Family) on Earth-S, Charleston Heroes lived on Earth-Four. Thus every one of these companies would have their own emulation of the big Kahuna superhero you knew you wanted to fight and compete with Superman. The very best heroes from those early eras are often still among DC’s lineup today, including:
J’onn J’onzz (Pre-Crisis, Silver Age): a.k.a. The Martian Manhunter; He didn’t just share a power set, he shared an origin as the last survivor of his race, having nearly same powers (plus a few extra) during the Silver Age.
The Martian Manhunter was one of the founding members of the original Justice League and was effectively a stand-in for the Man of Steel, since Superman appeared in two of his own books and it was thought he would only make ‘guest’ appearances in the Justice League of America.
The Modern Age Martian Manhunter has a slightly altered origin, as a weapon created to subjugate the Earth (think Son Goku) for the White Martians. He still has all of the superpowers of Superman, plus shape shifting, phasing, the ability to split his consciousness, and Omega-level psychic abilities. He is depicted as being one of the most powerful metahumans on Earth.
Sodam Yat (Pre-Crisis, Daxamites): Take a Green Lantern’s powerful omni-tool, the Green Power of the Emotional spectrum, then add to this, the powers of a Daxamite (a genetic cousin of the Kryptonians) and you have Sodam Yat, one of the most powerful beings roaming the DC Universe. All the power of a Kryptonian and all the flexibility of a Green Lantern ring. Oh my.
Sodam Yat despite his capacity, met his match against the fury of Superboy-Prime, a parallel Universe version of Superman whose powers were the equal of the Silver Age Superman, arguably the most powerful version of the Man of Steel ever created in canon. Superboy-Prime fought the entire DC comic Universe to a standstill and Sodam Yot did his best to contain Superboy-Prime but never truly had a chance.
Captain Marvel/Shazam: Acquired from Fawcett Comics, World’s Mightiest Mortal, equal in overall power level to Superman during the Silver Age.
Similar powers, but lacking the super senses and energy projection powers. However, in terms of sheer power, the Golden Age stories of Captain Marvel made him easily as powerful as Superman, including one story where he pushes a neutron star!
In the Modern Era versions of the character he has been dubbed Shazam. Batson is now the Wizard, having access to all of his previous abilities and the magic of the Council of Wizards who used to inhabit the Rock of Eternity. Now he has access to spell magic and divine power. He may even be stronger than Modern Age Superman.
(Pre-Crisis, Silver Age) A humanoid alien (during the Silver Age, they all were) whose powers equaled Pre-Crisis Superman! Yes, this guy arrived first as a challenger to Superman and later as an ally. Vartox was the only superhero on his world and he and Superman would think of each other as contemporaries.
Vartox held his own easily against Superman and if he were honestly revived at the same power-level he would be terrifying. He has been seen in the modern era but his powers are nowhere near his Silver Age characterization.
I suspect it was his lack of fashion sense that did him in. Thigh-high boots on a man during that period, just never quite made the grade. Think Sean Connery in Zardoz.(Don’t look this up. Do not Google this. Don’t click on this link! You were warned!)
Captain Atom (Pre-Crisis, Silver Age): Acquired from Charlton Comics, the atomic age hero, Captain Atom was the most powerful hero of his universe. The result of atomic experiments in which he was atomized (sorta the same way Doctor Manhattan was created — which kind of makes Manhattan a homage to Captain Atom…)
Captain Atom gained the power of flight, superhuman strength, near invulnerability and the power to project bolts of radioactive energy. In this case, its not a perfect fit but since he was the most powerful hero of his universe and many of his powers make him a contender capable of holding his own against Superman, we acknowledge his pedigree. Captain Atom is the rare version of this hero who was a military experiment and still owes allegiance to the government.
Apollo (from Wildstorm): Formerly a U.S. soldier, Apollo was a member of a secret experimental academy team created by the insane former Stormwatch Weatherman, Henry Bendix. Bendix’s extensive alterations made Apollo almost a Sun God, with flight, superhuman strength and invulnerability, and heat vision. However, he needs frequent exposure to full sunlight to recharge his powers and his health. The character is almost a complete and direct riff on Superman except for the alien origin.
He was, later, part of an acquisition of Wildstorm by DC Comics. Apollo’s powers are almost a direct riff on Superman’s and he has a partner, Midnighter, who resembles Batman in his fighting style and visual aesthetic. When I first discovered Apollo, it was his visual appearance in Millar’s, Authority, which cemented him as a successful Superman-analog to me.
Captain Comet (Pre-Crisis, Silver Age): Was born in 1931, to a farming couple in the Midwest; called a metahuman mutant, possibly one of the first heroes ever born with their powers, he was considered what a Human might be like if our species evolved superior mental and physical capacities; a product of genetic evolution 100,000 years ahead of his time. First appearing in 1951, Comet was 12 years ahead of the birth of the X-men who are the most famous mutants in comicdom. His powers were activated (or at least heralded) by a passing comet.
Born with vast psychic abilities, he had a genius IQ, perfect memory, telepathic and mental domination powers. He was also a powerful telekinetic, capable of moving tons with a thought. He could create mental barriers of force and even project his mind into distant places as a form of clairvoyance. Captain Comet was a hero from the Atomic Age, a science-hero whose powers (and farm boy origin) make him similar to another Man of Tomorrow.
Thor Odinson (Silver Age): One of Marvel’s biggest guns, Thor Odinson is the hero other heroes hope to live up to. A magnificent warrior, a physical titan, there are few on Asgard or on Earth capable of stopping a warrior born of two realms.
As befitting a guardian of the World Tree and her associated ten realms, Thor Odinson’s prodigious strength allows him to engage the mightiest of enemies barehanded. Rounding out Thor’s powers is his great weapon, Mjolnir. Using Mjolnir, Thor is capable of flight. His short-hafted war-hammer, can crack open a mountain range, slay a giant or destroy a skyscraper in a single blow.
Mjolnir’s thrown speed is incredible, able to take a trip to the sun and back in a matter of minutes. The hammer is also capable of opening wormholes between worlds and different dimensions as well. Mjolnir’s enchantments via Odin allow Thor a number of energy manipulating and energy generation feats even in excess of his storm-summoning abilities.
While not a direct analog, He and Superman do share a visual resemblance, the red and blue costumes, the red capes, the alien protector/defender shtick; Thor was definitely designed to be the Marvel Universe’s first answer to the noble protector, defender of the Earth, flying brick that is Superman. First appearing in 1962, he would help found Marvel’s mightiest hero team, the Avengers. Based in magic (or super-science depending on who you ask), Thor loves Midgard and would die to protect it.
Hyperion (Silver Age): Was a member of the Squadron Sinister, a supervillain team, created as a villainous parody of the Justice League; the Squadron was something for the Avengers to beat up until smarter, more creative writers experimented with them and made them something more than lame copies. There have been seven different versions of Hyperion, two of them heroes, several of them villains and at least one has been a zombie…
Hyperion’s powers are effectively Superman’s in every way that matters. Yet the character is different enough to be enjoyed by readers and some of his arcs have been epic. His latest recreation promises to be excellent. King Hyperion was also a riff on Superman-Prime (not the Golden Superman, One Million but the crazed Superboy-Prime who ran roughshod over the DC Universe in a story that should have never happened. Yes, I’m bitter.)
Sentry (Robert Reynolds): Middle aged, overweight Bob Reynolds remembers that he is the Sentry, a superhero whose “power of one million exploding suns” derives from a special serum.
Realizing that his archenemy the Void is returning, Reynolds seeks out several prominent Marvel characters to warn them and to discover why no one remembers the Sentry.
The Sentry is one of Marvel’s most powerful heroes. So powerful, writing for him has become a burden at times and the character is given psychological limitations to keep him from running amok or defusing every story with his incredible god-like might. He has fought the Hulk and Thor to a standstill; his power: unquestioned. His mental status: To Be Determined. The Sentry is Superman unchained, he is as powerful as he believes himself to be. However, his only real fans are people who enjoy watching him fight the Hulk or people who want him to be the most powerful caped hero in the Marvel Universe. Sadly, to me, he just never held my interest. He is one of the worst representations of Superman; unfocused, schizophrenic, and powerful without purpose.
Superior: In association with Icon, Marvel Comics released the Superman analog, Superior, a hero whose powers were magically-derived from a demonic source — a feature making him as much an analog of Captain Marvel as Superman…
Simon Pooni, an angry, bitter 12-year-old boy suffering from multiple sclerosis, idolizes superheroes, particularly Superior, a Superman-analog. An alien monkey named Ormon appears at Simon’s bedside, informing the boy that of all the people on Earth, he has been granted the honor of being bestowed a single magic wish. Simon is then transformed into Superior.
Gladiator (Kallark): A straight riff on the Superman of the 1970’s, Gladiator’s powers were vast and nearly incomprehensible. Gladiator’s Superman influences were immediately recognizable in the company he kept; a collection of metahumans who resembled the DC Universe’s Legion of Superheroes with Gladiator playing the lead role of Superboy…
Gladiator was as powerful as his confidence in his powers, and they could be disrupted if his concentration was broken. Reed Richards defined his powers as a form of telekinetic super-field, which allowed Gladiator to rip the Baxter building out of the ground without falling apart under shearing stresses (the same way Superman manages to carry things without them tearing apart under their own weight.) These suppositions will later become a similar set of powers for the 1990’s version of Superboy who utilized a power set dubbed ‘tactile telekinesis’ and how the powers were described resembled the same description of Gladiator’s powers.
For years, Gladiator was a bland Superman-analog with little to distinguish him. With intrepid writing he went from serving as the lead bouncer for the Shi’ar empire, to becoming the leader of the Empire with Lilandra’s death. Heavy hangs the head which wears the crown. Even with his amazing powers, his challenges lie in the governance of a people struggling to hold prominence in an every-changing Universe. Gladiator has never been more interesting.
Blue Marvel: Adam Brasher acquired his powers in a scientific mishap. A certified super-genius, he would master the science of antimatter, dimension travel (discovering his own doorway to the Negative Zone).
He would become a living antimatter reactor with a host of other powers including flight, limitless superhuman strength, near-invulnerability, energy projection, and superhuman senses. His powers were so incredible, he was asked by the government to not go public with his powers for fear of cultural race riots in the sixties (because he was Black).
Living undercover and working as a covert mystery man in the Marvel Universe as one of the Mighty Avengers, he fought the good fight from the shadows. Eventually he would defy that government edict and return to the stage in a battle against the Avengers. Trouncing them completely (including the Sentry), he would go on to save the day, beat the snot out of King Hyperion, and do a bunch of other amazing things before becoming an Avenger and leading a team of troubleshooters called the Ultimates.
Marvelman (Miracleman): is a superhero that appears in comics published by Marvel Comics, created in 1954 by writer-artist Mick Anglo for publisher, L. Miller & Son.
Originally a United Kingdom home-grown substitute for the American character Captain Marvel, the series ran until 1963. He was revived in 1982 in a dark, post-modern deconstructionist series by writer Alan Moore, with later contributions by Neil Gaiman.
Miracleman’s powers and origin included a convoluted backstory, magic words, kid sidekicks, lost memories, alien invaders, a superheroic disaster, and a post-human future. It is one of the best and strangest development of a god-like Superman-like character who alters the future of Humanity as we know it. I am sure when Marvel brings him back to their fold, all of that writing will become Apocrypha, but if you can find any of that old classic Marvelman, do so. It was wonderful work.
One of the darkest scenes in comic history is related in the page of Miracleman, when Kid Miracleman, whose powers are significantly more potent than Miracleman’s, his mentor, it takes the creative use of his powers and his teammate’s to bring a final end to Kid Miracleman’s reign of terror. He has run amok, killing anyone who crosses his path. It takes them two hours to find him. During that time, millions died in as many terrible ways as a man with Superman’s capabilities could think of. I am put in mind of the devastation of Metropolis in Man of Steel, when I think of this particular Miracleman story. Needless to say, London was never rebuilt after this travesty.
Icon: The flagship hero of the Dakota Universe, an alien named Arnus (Augustus Freeman) lands in the slavery era South and takes on the physical characteristics of the woman who finds him. He is taken as the son of a slave.
He hides his powers from Humanity, pretending to be his own descendants, until he is persuaded into using his abilities Raquel Ervin to help during an event where a number of new metahumans are formed due to a chemical accident. Icon is as powerful as Superman, and shares many of the fundamental beats of the character, including being an alien, hiding among humans, and a degree of reluctance to use his powers.
An original character from Milestone Comics, he was created by Dwayne McDuffie and M. D. Bright and first appeared in Icon #1 (May 1993). At the 2008 Comic-Con, DC Comics executive editor Dan DiDio announced that the Milestone Universe and characters would be revived and merged into the DC Universe proper. This was the result of a complex publication/distribution agreement drawn up between the two independent companies. The merger treated the characters as new to the universe, ignoring the Worlds Collide crossover of 1994. Icon, along with Shadow Cabinet, appeared in Justice League of America (vol. 2) #27, written by Dwayne McDuffie.
Mr. Majestic: Another Image Superman-like character, created by Jim Lee. Lee was asked why he based Mr. Majestic so much on Superman, he stated that he was tired of seeing so many comic heroes who possessed great power but were too afraid to use it. Mr. Majestic possesses powers similar to those of Superman, but his personality is entirely different. Majestros has more militant views, as he is a Kherubim warlord.
Mr. Majestic’s abilities are often very inconsistent. His strength and durability vary greatly from appearance to appearance, but the majority of his appearances portray him with powers fairly similar to those of Superman. He possesses great strength, speed, flight, eye-beams, genius level intellect, micro vision, ice breath, ability to survive in space, accelerated healing and is invulnerable to conventional weaponry. Unlike Superman, Majestic has the ability to shoot energy beams from his hands.
Omni-Man is a superhero, supervillain and anti-hero in the Image Comics Universe. Omni-Man is the father of Invincible and a member of the Viltrumite race, a humanoid species of extraterrestrial origin who possess superhuman strength, super speed, virtual immortality, and flight.
You can think of them as Kryptonians without the limitation of having a destroyed planet. Instead, Omni-Man’s people are conquerors. As is customary for male Viltrumites, Omni-Man sports and is proud of his large mustache.
Supreme: Arguably one of the most powerful metahumans in his Universe; he was an overzealous superhuman whose powers dwarfed even Superman’s. He attempts to establish order to his world by simply stamping out ALL CRIME.
Supreme has had multiple origins with one of them written by Alan Moore which restructured and retold Supreme’s origin. Supreme, a being of incredible ability, his writing has fluctuated as much as his power has. Some versions of Supreme are a darker version of the Man of Steel. I can’t say I ever truly enjoyed the character, but he was something different.
Samaritan: the Superman of Astro City, is a straight riff on the Man of Steel, complete with awesome cape, secret identity with glasses while working for a magazine.
A time traveler from the 35th century, the hero travels through time trying to save his future from itself by altering the past. During his time travel he is affected by Empyrean Fire, a mystical energy which gives him his incredible superpowers and turns his hair blue.
Learning to control his powers he hides his identity behind hair bleached white by his powers and a pair of glasses, working at a magazine company as a fact checker while his biotechnology does his day job, this gives him time to sneak around and use his powers all over the world as a metahuman.
However, Samaritan is not a paragon of complete goodness because he was a human being gifted with extraordinary ability by accident. He feels burdened by his power and obligated to use it whenever possible, to make the world better without making changes which stem from him taking over the free will of humanity.
Samaritan is a tragic figure, constantly speeding around the globe saving people from disasters. He reluctantly engages in accepting awards because he realized when he didn’t, people began to resent him and in his heart of hearts, he resented being resented.
Nevertheless, he he takes the time, gathers the awards and hides them in his dimensional “closet” before returning to his work. He has no personal life to speak of and few friends other than the other metas of Astro City.
Samaritan is a good teammate and works hard to get along with the other metas in Astro City. His biggest failing is in not getting to know them better because of how he chooses to operate as a metahuman.
Samaritan is a tragic Superman-analog who has not managed to accept he cannot save everyone and sacrifices every second, in a broken quest to save as many as he can.
Anime and Manga
Saitama (One-Punch Man): Saitama is a citizen of a futuristic world, filled with heroes and monsters. Being a superhero is a way of life, a job even, depending on your powers, or your zeal to work with the public.
Saitama is a registered Rank B hero who has yet to earn City Z’s respect. His apprentice is a Rank S (a rating incorrectly deemed higher than Saitama’s) cyborg who seeks to learn the secret’s of Saitama’s incredible abilities.
Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Saitama’s powers appear to exceed all but the most powerful Rank S metahumans, beings whose powers defy effective classification. He is so strong, fast, durable and powerful, most battles, and I do mean most, end with him throwing a single punch against said foe.
The source of Saitama’s powers remains unknown, even to him. His exercise regimen and diet reveal no secrets, but he is incredibly fast, strong, durable, capable of incredible leaps (from the moon to the Earth for example) and able to punch his way through alien spaceships, sea monsters, and just about anything else that gets in his way.
He is one of my favorite versions of Superman. Incredible powerful, capable of willing himself to be more powerful whenever he really applies himself, but mostly he spends the anime struggling with the ennui of rarely ever being able to use his powers at anything other than their minimum setting without vaporizing his targets.
Son Goku (Saiyans): A member of an alien conqueror species, the Saiyans invaded planets, conquered or destroyed them as proof of their dominance over alien life in their galaxy. When a species might not be worthy of their full might, they sent an infant to that world and let it conquer it instead.
Goku was such an infant.
Landing on Earth, he would have surely defeated everyone on the planet except for losing his memory and being raised by Master Roshi, who trained the boy as his martial apprentice. Born with superhuman strength, instinctive fighting prowess from their animalistic heritage, natural abilities of energy manipulation, the Saiyan physiology only improved with struggle and continued training.
Goku would increase in might, training in various arenas against more powerful foes, Goku would one day become the mightiest fighter in his Universe, achieving levels of power once thought only legendary. Goku would become a Super-Saiyan and with his example, many of his friends and family would as well.
More god than man, Goku goes on to become Champion of the Earth, protecting it from alien threats including other Saiyans. He would go on with the help of Earth’s greatest warriors, the Z Fighters, to challenge threats to the Universe at large.
The Plutonian: Writer, Mark Waid, decided to create an evil version of Superman. But he started him off as a good superhero with an unusual take on his origin, subtle pressures and the slow path to madness because of his damaging childhood as a foster child and emotional immaturity.
The added stress of his metahuman existence drives him to a nervous breakdown and leads him to kill many of the metas of his world and to destroy entire cities during his reign of madness.
The Plutonian is a strange character. I wanted to have sympathy for him but he was problematic because by the time he breaks, right under the noses of some of the smartest and most aware people in the world, his road into perdition is a one way trip with the aphorism “Absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely” being the most appropriate way to describe this comic series.
Worse, his nervous breakdown causes other metas on Earth into their own forms of psychological dysfunction. Having enjoyed the series, in my opinion, it would make a fantastic movie, a deconstruction of the Superman mythos and the superhero genre. One of the best things about it was the explanation of the Plutonian’s powers, something DC Comics has avoided for decades but Waid casually explains without apology. Are the physics annoying and just as problematic as Superman’s? Sure. But said this way, with authority, Waid defined the Plutonian’s capacity, explained them as mental powers, manifested physically, as a form of reality alteration.
Which perfectly explains why Superman can defy the laws of physics and seemingly has whatever powers he needs to have because he thinks he can accomplish whatever goal is set before him. It even explains his vulnerability to magic as just a psychological limitation of not understanding how the powers work, thus he cannot easily defend against it.
If you want to discover a strange and terrifying story of a Superman run amok, Irredeemable is a fantastic bookend for the Superman enthusiast.
A final note:
I know this list is not all-inclusive. I didn’t follow any of DC’s other Supermen such as Overman of Earth 10, Val Zod, the Superman of Earth 2, or the Kingdom Come Superman where the death of Lois Lane caused him to withdraw from the world and led to a problematic future.
All of these are still Superman, and I wanted to look at other takes on the theme of the character. Some are very close to the original like the Martian Manhunter or Samaritan, and others are strange and removed such as Miracleman or Captain Comet.
There are likely many more homages, parodies and subversions of the Man of Steel that I am not thinking of at this very moment. Feel free share any you can think of in the comments. Share your favorite Superman stories as well.
The grandfather of all superheroes has just turned 80. Happy birthday, grand-dad! Jerry and Joe, your kids, they turned out great. Better than you could have ever imagined in your wildest dreams. You wouldn’t believe where they are today: Changing lives, creating dreams, they are darlings of the world from one corner of the globe to the other.
They are serious, humorous, sagacious, emotional, a great many of them are despicable and that’s just great too. Every great hero needs great villains. Gentlemen, your hero is looking pretty good for a guy whose just turned 80.
I am going to make it my mission to stay around long enough to see you turn one hundred. Happy Birthday, Kal-El, son of Jor-El and Lara of Krypton. You were once just an idea of two boys dreaming of a better future. How many boys have you inspired, since then, I wonder?
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.