|Alternate versions of Superman|
|First appearance||Action Comics #1 (April 1938)|
|Created by||Joe Shuster|
Superman (Kal Kent)
Superman - Calvin Ellis (KalEl)
Superman - (Val Zod
|See also||Superman in other media|
The character of Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and has been continually published in a variety of DC Comics book titles since its premiere in 1938. There have been several versions of Superman over the years, both as the main hero in the stories as well as several alternative versions.
Originally, there was only one Superman. However, beginning in the late 1940s, demand for comics shifted from superheroes as war, horror, science fiction and romance comics became more popular. Most of the DC Comics superhero titles were cancelled or began featuring the more popular genres. Superman, along with Batman and Wonder Woman, continued to be published. To explain how Superman could have been active as a young man in the 1930s when later stories show Superman still youthful in the 1960s, DC Comics developed a multiverse, the existence of several realities. The original Golden Age Superman was retconned to Earth-Two, while the then-currently published hero was assigned to Earth-One.
In addition to these main two "official" variations of the standard Superman character, a number of characters have assumed the title of Superman in many variant stories set in both primary and alternative continuity. Following the storyline of The Death of Superman and during the subsequent Reign of the Supermen storyline, a number of characters claimed the mantle. In addition, Bizarro, for instance, is an imperfect duplicate of Superman. Other members of Superman's family of characters have borne the Super- prefix, including Supergirl, Krypto the Superdog and, in some instances, Superwoman.
Superman was first published in 1938. In 1986, DC Comics published Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-issue series designed to clean up and establish a new continuity for DC, affecting not only Superman, but all of the DC Comics characters. The versions of Superman from this time period are traditionally divided into three main periods.
Main article: Superman (Earth-Two)
The first version of Superman began being published by DC Comics in 1938 appearing in Action Comics #1. To explain discrepancies in the aging of Superman across several decades, his earliest stories were retroactively portrayed as having taken place on an alternative world called Earth-Two.[unreliable source?] These stories take place from 1938 until the late 1950s, although the exact dividing line is unclear and some stories happened identically to both the Golden Age and Silver Age Supermen. The Golden Age Superman started his career leaping tall buildings rather than flying, had heat from his x-ray vision and not heat vision as the Earth-One hero did. In addition, he had a very limited ability to change his facial features to resemble other men of similar height and build that the other Superman lacked. The Golden Age Superman (Kal-L) is the first primary superhero of Earth-Two, who began his career as an adult and emerges just before World War II. He is a member of the Justice Society and, during World War II, the All-Star Squadron. As Clark Kent, he works for the Daily Star as a reporter and eventually becomes Editor-in-Chief. Clark eventually marries Lois Lane and settles down with her for several decades, and when Kal-L's long-lost cousin Power Girl arrives on Earth, they become her surrogate parents. Kal-L is erased from Earth's history after the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, but survives and enters a "paradise" dimension, where he remains until the events of Infinite Crisis. Shortly after his wife passes away, Kal-L dies at the conclusion of Infinite Crisis while battling Superboy-Prime. His main two foes are the Ultra-Humanite and the red-haired Lex Luthor. In addition, his "S" symbol on his chest is generally drawn in a less distinctive manner. While the Golden Age Superman is generally viewed as weaker than his Earth-One counterpart, he did battle the Earth-One Superman to a standstill in Justice League of America #74. Stories taking place in the 1970s and 1980s featuring this version of Superman are usually labelled Earth-Two stories.
Main article: Superman (Earth-One)
The more significant differences between the Golden Age version (later equated with Kal-L of Earth-Two) and Silver Age version (Kal-El of Earth-One) of Superman includes the Silver Age Kal-El begins his public, costumed career as Superboy at the age of eight, more than a decade before nearly all other Earth-One heroes. Superboy only finds super-powered peers in the 30th-century Legion of Super-Heroes, though he also meets as a teenager Earth-One's only other major superpowered hero, "Aquaboy" (the teenaged Aquaman). Luthor meets Superboy in Smallville when they are teens; the two are briefly friends before they become mortal enemies, years before they become adults. As an adult, Clark Kent works at the Daily Planet and Superman is a founding member of the Justice League of America The Silver Age Superman also has greatly enhanced powers compared to Kal-L. His main villain is the bald Lex Luthor.
The Silver Age Superman was typically characterized as being more grounded in reality than previous depictions, in that he was portrayed with a realistic appearance and embedded within logical and rationalistic narratives. While these were still based on the science fiction of his earlier iterations, Superman was portrayed in storylines that sought to uncover the mysteries of the world through observation and the use of evidence, including the concept of limits and the consequences of human action. This definition is attributed to Curt Swan, who was the principal artist of Superman comics from 1955 to 1985. Swan's extensive work on the character, which was responsible for much of the public perception of the superhero, emphasized anatomical realism, embedding in the character a sense of Norman Rockwellesque Americana. This depiction of the superhero resonated with the readers as indicated in the way some observers saw their own lived experiences in his stories.
In 1971, Dennis O'Neil and Julius Schwartz set out to simplify Superman's overelaborate framework. They streamlined the Superman mythos by downsizing his abilities and reducing his power levels. This version only lasted a few issues. DC attempted more of a soft reboot in the 45th Anniversary issue of Action Comics. Lex Luthor and Brainiac were updated and modernized to make them more visibly dangerous for Superman. The Silver/Bronze Age (Earth-One) Superman was given a send-off in the Alan Moore-penned "imaginary story" Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (1986). Colloquially known as "The Last Superman Story", it was a literal conclusive ending to Superman's story as a character. The story was originally conceived by senior editor Julius Schwartz, who designed a triumphant goodbye for the flagship hero in his final two Superman issues (prior to the John Byrne The Man of Steel relaunch) - Superman (vol. 1) #423 and Action Comics (vol. 1) #583 (1986). Both comics were illustrated by the long-tenured, mainstay Superman artist Curt Swan.
Before Crisis, the Multiverse was also used to explain an "evil" version of Superman from Earth-Three as well as other versions that officially existed. Earth-95 had Jor-El rescue his entire family. Earth-149 saw Lex Luthor succeed in killing Superman.: Earth-Prime was designated as the "real" world, even though Superboy-Prime is from that universe. This version of Clark Kent is from a world without other superpowered beings, where he grows to adolescence reading about the DC superheroes in comic books. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths, he gains powers like those of the Silver Age Superboy and helps to defeat the Anti-Monitor. However, his own world is lost and Superboy-Prime himself is confined to Limbo.
In addition to official versions, other stories listed as "What Ifs" or imaginary stories which were not originally an official part of DC continuity. One example, Superman Red/Superman Blue was the subject of several story lines. The Silver Age version of the tale was an "imaginary story" in which Superman splits into two beings, one which marries Lois Lane, and the other marries Lana Lang, and both are happy. Both retained their powers, with one having all red removed from his costume and the other having all blue removed. In Superman #300, a story imagines what would have happened if Superman had landed in the middle of the Cold War, with both the U.S. and the USSR trying to capture the capsule as it is landing. Kent is a reporter for a worldwide news service, and takes the name Skyboy.[unreliable source?]
The Multiverse system was discarded in the aftermath of Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series (1986) by rebooting all of DC's various stories and continuities into one timeline taking place on a single Earth (later described as New Earth). A more modern adaptation of the mainstream "Earth-One" Superman debuted in John Byrne's The Man of Steel miniseries in 1986. The post-Crisis Superman was the Superman from 1986 to 2011. Superman's backstory was heavily revised and many Silver Age elements, such as his career as Superboy, were removed. Significant changes included a reimagining of all Kryptonians being genetically bound to Krypton, making it fatal for them to leave the planet. Jor-El devises a serum to counter this, which he administers to baby Kal-El. DC used this plot device to make Superman Krypton's sole survivor until this was retconned in the mid 2000s to introduce the post-Crisis Kara Zor-El. Krypton was also reimagined as an emotionless and sterile society where all their babies were grown in a birthing matrix as Kryptonians found sexual reproduction to be barbaric. Clark never becomes Superboy, with his powers manifesting gradually as he matures in age. His power level is also toned down to where he is no longer able to travel through time with his super speed, is not strong enough to push planets out of orbit like his Silver Age incarnation, and will be at least disorientated if not outright hurt if forced to confront a nuclear explosion. Clark also spends some years traveling the globe trying to find himself after leaving Smallville and before settling in Metropolis, performing various low-key rescues before a crashing plane forces him to make a more public debut. Other differences include Lex Luthor as a business mogul with secret criminal dealings rather than a supergenius scientist who is a known crook to the public; both of his parents alive and well in the present; only green kryptonite existing (until the mid 2000s) and Superman thinking of himself as Clark Kent first, with "Superman" being a persona he adopts to preserve his privacy. Nuances in the characters mythos were later defined in various Superman origin stories, such as Superman: Birthright, where Mark Waid retooled Superman's origin in 2003. The trend continued after Infinite Crisis; when Superman's backstory was retooled once again by Geoff Johns, with Superman: Secret Origin in 2009.
The single-Earth continuity retained the dichotomy of a good and evil Superman by introducing an alternative version of Superman's Earth-Three double, Ultraman in the Antimatter Universe surviving the Crisis, as presented in JLA: Earth 2. Alternative Supermen were also depicted using literary devices such as time travel and "Hypertime". The subsequent sequel to Crisis, titled Infinite Crisis, would see a brief return of the Golden Age Superman, Kal-L as well as the teenage Superman of a world without heroes, who survived the original Crisis. The modern take on the Superman Blue/Red was a controversial storyline in which Superman develops energy-based powers while losing his original powers, and acquires a corresponding new costume. He eventually splits into two versions of the energy-Superman, known as Superman Red and Superman Blue, before the two Supermen manage to find a way to work together and merge back into one entity.
Due to the events of Infinite Crisis, as revealed in the subsequent weekly series 52, a new multiverse consisting of 52 alternative Earths was created, with most worlds featuring new alternative depictions of Superman. This backstory was kept intact for over a decade until it was revised in Superman: Birthright (2003) by Mark Waid, and then further modified following the events of Infinite Crisis (2006), with the essence of the changes being elaborated on in the subsequent "Superman: Secret Origin" six-issue story arc written by Geoff Johns (debuted September 2009). Many of the Silver Age elements of Superman's biography (such as his meeting Lex Luthor at a younger age and his teenage membership as Superboy in the Legion of Super-Heroes) that were removed in The Man of Steel were restored in these continuity changes. Nonetheless, many of the elements added in the Man of Steel revamp remain in place. This version finally returns in the Convergence (2015) crossover where he and Lois have a son named Jon. Later the three of them travel back in time to the original Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985) in order to avert the collapse of the original Multiverse.
Another fresh incarnation of Superman was introduced in September 2011 in the wake of DC's Flashpoint event and as part of The New 52 publishing relaunch, and was retired in 2016 following the restoration of the post-Crisis Superman. The New 52 Superman's backstory is detailed in the first story arc of the second volume of Action Comics (2011–2012). This latest incarnation of Superman incorporates elements of nearly every previous version, and starts off as a reporter for the Daily Star (later changing to the Daily Planet). He and Lois are friends but not lovers, his parents are dead, and it is not until adulthood that he emerges as Superman. Later, after joining the Justice League, he starts a relationship with Wonder Woman. During the Truth storyline his secret identity is revealed to the world and he largely loses his powers after using a new power he calls a 'Solar Flare'. He struggles with vulnerability for the first time while fighting crime in an improvised way, while also dealing with not being taken as seriously, problems in his relationship with Wonder Woman that eventually cause him to end it, and regaining his powers. However, a combination of different trials, such as exposing himself to kryptonite to purge himself of the radiation inhibiting his powers and absorbing energy from the fire pits of Apokolips, compromise his health. After undergoing tests at the Fortress, Superman confirms that he is dying, eventually turning to dust after saving lives one last time. After this Superman's death, the Post-Crisis Superman- trapped in this reality after the events of the Convergence storyline- takes both his place as the current Superman and his place in the current Justice League, and, with the DC Rebirth initiative (the publisher's attempt to set right unpopular character changes) this Superman is told that there is more to the story of his replacing New 52 Superman than he realizes. At the conclusion of the "Superman Reborn" storyline, the histories of the pre-Flashpoint and New 52 Superman and Lois Lane are merged, effectively writing over the New 52 era as if it never happened and creating another soft reboot for characters in the Superman franchise.
In the Silver Age of Comic Books, Earth-1 was home to the mainstream version of Superman known by most readers of DC Comics. Following DC's Flashpoint event, The New 52 Earth-1 is the setting of the Earth One graphic novel series, where Superman is one of a handful of heroes just starting out in modernized retellings of classic origin stories.
Following 52 (2006), a nearly identical Earth-2 is created with only subtle differences like the Justice Society and Infinity, Inc. combining into the Justice Society Infinity, Green Lantern Alan Scott being dead and Superman being missing for years. Following Flashpoint (2011), the Earth-2 concept is revised again. After Kal-El is killed in an invasion of Earth by Darkseid, a new Kryptonian who resembles a blue eyed black man emerges as Superman, Val-Zod, a pacifist who reconsiders his beliefs in order to defeat an evil clone of Kal-El. Val-Zod is the son of the deceased Zod who, along with Power Girl are both adopted by Jor-El and Lara.
There are several versions of the evil Superman analogue, which begins with Ultraman, who as originally introduced is Superman's evil analogue from Earth-Three. After the Multiverse concept was retired, Ultraman was introduced as an alien from Qward with powers similar to the original; this version made only one appearance. DC later attempted the "evil universe" trope again with the Antimatter Universe in JLA: Earth 2 (2000), introducing an Ultraman who is Lt. Clark Kent, a human astronaut who is experimented on during a deep space mission. He is a member of the Crime Syndicate of Amerika. Following DC's series 52, the maxiseries Countdown introduced a new "Golden Age" Ultraman from the new Earth-3, a member of the Crime Society of America. This Ultraman and his team are analogues for the elder Superman and the Justice Society Infinity of the new Earth-2. Following The New 52 reboot, DC revised Earth-3 again with Forever Evil (2013–14), making Ultraman of Earth-3 Superman from Earth-0's evil counterpart and a Kryptonian once again.
The Superman of Post-Crisis Earth-4 is Captain Allen Adam, the Quantum Superman, and one of the most powerful beings in all of the 52 Earths. An amalgamation of Captain Atom (a Charlton Comics superhero based on Superman and later acquired by DC) and Dr. Manhattan of the Watchmen maxiseries (a pastiche of Captain Atom), Air Force Captain Allen Adam gained his quantum abilities when he was disintegrated in a blast caused by an experimental U-235 engine. The U-235 particles fused with his body, and his disembodied consciousness built an enhanced copy of his former body, but he keeps his "quantum senses" at a managed level by using drugs. He is one of the Supermen from throughout the Multiverse who are recruited by Monitrix Zillo Valla in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, and allows the drugs in his system to wear off in order to reach a grander state of being, fusing the consciousness of Ultraman and Superman together in order to operate the Superman Robot in the Monitor world and fight Mandrakk, the Dark Monitor. This version of Captain Atom is revisited in The Multiversity: Pax Americana (2015), which details his origin in more depth.
Earth-8 is a Marvel Comics pastiche world, home to villains Lord Havok and the Extremists, who are opposed by Avengers pastiche characters the Meta Militia (a modernization of the Champions of Angor). When visited during Countdown, a German Superman called "Herr Superman", who serves in Monarch's army, is seen, but it is not certain what world he is from. In The New 52, Earth-8 is home to a Superman analogue named Hyperious who is a pastiche of Marvel's own Superman pastiche Hyperion. He is a member of an Avengers pastiche team named the Retaliators. Hyperious' current whereabouts are unknown.
The Superman from DC's Tangent Comics imprint is a radically different character from the traditional Superman. Due to an experiment conducted on an entire town by a government black ops group called Nightwing, Harvey Dent was the lone infant survivor of a failed super-human program that killed hundreds. After growing to adulthood, and falling from the world's tallest building in an attempt to save a suicidal man, his dormant powers activate and he develops advanced physical and psychic abilities. Evolving millions of years past normal humans, he eventually becomes a "modern-day superhero". He is illustrated as a tall, bald, African American man wearing a blue robe, and carrying a staff. This version of Superman has become the most powerful person on Earth. After attempting to give his wife the same powers as his, through what he thought was a safe version of the experiment, which resulted in her apparent death, Superman instead married that reality's version of Power Girl and decided to protect the entire world by conquering it, as seen in Tangent: Superman's Reign. This Earth is numbered Earth-9 in the DC Multiverse.
Earth-10, which is under the control of the Nazi Party, depicts an alternative Superman, usually known as Overman, who supports the Nazis' policy of genetic purity. He is a member of the JL-Axis, a Nazi-themed Justice League. Two conflicting artistic renditions of this Superman have been shown. One is a stereotypical blond Aryan with a Nazi swastika replacing the S-shield, while the other is a black-haired twin of the standard Superman with an "S" resembling one from the Schutzstaffel emblem; the latter is portrayed in Superman: Beyond as guilt-ridden. The first blond-haired Superman, along with most of the JL-Axis was likely killed when they were fighting the Monitors on Earth-51 and that entire universe was destroyed by Superman-Prime and Monarch. The second, called Overman, is Karl Kant, a.k.a. Kal-L, whose rocket from Krypton crashed in a field in Czechoslovakia in 1938. Nazi scientists retro engineered technology found in the rocket to win the war, and later unleashed Overman to defeat the USA forces in the 1950s. Overman leads the New Reichsmen, his world's Justice League, consisting of Brunhilde, Leatherwing, Blitzen, the Martian Manhunter, Underwaterman, while fighting Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters. He is still mourning the death of his "cousin" Overgirl, from injuries sustained during her crossing of the Multiverse's interstitial Bleed medium. He has growing doubts about his past use as enabler of the Nazi victory, especially after his discovery of an expanded Nazi Holocaust in North America during the fifties and sixties. He is apparently immortal. Although he attempts to halt the fall of the Eagles Ayrie due to Freedom Fighters sabotage, he is unable to prevent its impact in Metropolis and the death of millions. Distraught over Metropolis' destruction, added with his guilt over the millions of deaths that his regime was responsible for, Overman flees Earth for years which causes the Nazis to create a cyborg replacement to take Overman's place.
On Earth-44, the Superman of that world is a robot, a member of the Metal Men, robotic versions of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, and Hawkman, created by Doc Tornado, an amalgamation of the Red Tornado and Will Magnus. Their base of operations separated with their Earth and collided with New Earth during Final Crisis #7, but New Earth's magnetic fields causes them to go berserk and attempt "technocide", destroying most of the mementos in the trophy room before they were shut down by Luthor and Dr. Sivana. He is given the name Gold Superman in The Multiversity Guidebook.
Earth-45 is visited in Grant Morrison's Action Comics run. On this world, Clark Kent is a genius who with Jimmy and Lois intends to invent a robot – Superman – to protect the world. However, the company Overcorp creates a twisted Superman in the form of Superdoom, who rampaged the Multiverse until he was defeated by the Earth-23 Superman.
DC's darker Wildstorm Comics imprint was designated as Earth-50 between 2005 and 2011, but Earth-50 was later merged with Earth-0 at the conclusion of Flashpoint; another Earth-50 then took its place. On the Wildstorm (pre-Flashpoint) Earth-50, Apollo is identified in Final Crisis #7 as a Superman of his world. Apollo was genetically enhanced to be a solar powered super-being. He is a member of the superhero team, the Authority, is openly gay, and is married to his superhero partner Midnighter, an analogue of Batman.
Mister Majestic of the Wildstorm (pre-Flashpoint) Earth-50 is also shown in Final Crisis #7 as a Superman analogue. Majestros is an alien warlord from the planet Khera who crashed his ship on Earth thousands of years ago while at war with the Kherans' longtime enemies, the Daemonites. He and his fellow Kherans protect the Earth until the present day inspiring many of Earth's myths and legends. He is also an off and on member of the superhero team the WildC.A.T.s and Earth-50's most powerful hero. For a time he was thrown into the main DC Universe and filled in for Superman while Kal-El was trapped in Kandor. Majestros is nearly as strong as Superman with advanced longevity and is a born warrior with great intellectual prowess and centuries of experience.
Following Flashpoint and the merger of Earth-0 and the Wildstorm Universe, Earth-50 is home to the evil Justice Lords from the Justice League animated series. On this world, Superman murdered President Lex Luthor in retaliation for his killing of the Flash, Wally West, prompting the Justice League to rebrand as the Justice Lords, the overseers of a brutal authoritarian regime.
The superhero Icon is mentioned in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2 as being an analogue to Superman. Icon is an alien named Arnus from the planet Terminus who crashes his lifepod in the southern United States in 1839, and is found by an African American slave woman. The lifepod alters his DNA to match the male equivalent of hers, but to a highly evolved rate. After more than a century and a half he does not physically age past the age of 40 and has near Superman-level strength and similar powers. He works as a high-class attorney in his secret identity of Augustus Freeman IV, and protects and resides in the city of Dakota. Originally, Icon resided in an alternative reality of unknown designation until his universe was merged with the mainstream DC Universe after the events of Final Crisis.
The first African-American version of Superman depicted was in Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis on Infinite Earths (February 1999), which saw a Kal-El and Kara who were husband and wife, and who had been selected as the last survivors of Krypton through polling selection. This Superman died early in the one-shot, leaving Supergirl to carry on, ultimately sacrificing herself.
The Pocket Universe Superboy was created as an explanation for the existence of the Legion of Super-Heroes after Crisis on Infinite Earths. He is essentially identical to the Silver Age Superboy, the young version of Superman who becomes a Legion member, and he is far more powerful than the post-Crisis Superman. This version of Superboy dies saving Earth of the Pocket Universe in Legion of Super-Heroes #38 (1987), years before he would have become Superman.
Bizarro is the imperfect copy of Superman. There have been many incarnations of the character, varyingly portrayed as evil or as well-meaning but destructive. The Bizarros share many of the strengths and weaknesses of Superman, although there are some minor differences relating to kryptonite coloring and certain Kryptonian powers, for instance the Bizarros have at times been characterized by having heat breath and freeze vision.
Between 1989 and 2004, DC's Elseworlds imprint was used to showcase unofficial alternative universe stories; before 1989, "imaginary stories" served the same purpose. Since 2004, stories outside of the main DC continuity have carried no particular name or imprint. The examples listed below are just a few of the many alternative versions of Superman depicted in these stories.
See also: Superman in popular culture