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Alternate versions of Superman
Supermen (Multiverse).png
Variations of Superman throughout DC Comics' publications' parallel universes and alternate timelines. Interior artwork from Superman vol. 1, #708 (April 2011 DC Comics)
Art by Eddy Barrows
PublisherDC Comics
First appearanceAction Comics #1 (April 1938)
Created byJoe Shuster
Jerry Siegel
CharactersSuperman (Kal-El)
Superman (Kal-L)
Superman (Earth-22)
Superboy-Prime
Ultraman
Hank Henshaw
The Eradicator
Superman (Kal Kent)
Bizarro
Negative Superman
Superman - Calvin Ellis (KalEl)
Superman - (Val Zod
See alsoSuperman 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.

In mainstream comic continuity

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.

Pre-Crisis 1938-1986

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.

Golden Age 1938-1950s

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.[1][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[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] Stories taking place in the 1970s and 1980s featuring this version of Superman are usually labelled Earth-Two stories.

Silver Age 1950s-1971

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,[7] 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).[8] Luthor meets Superboy in Smallville when they are teens; the two are briefly friends before they become mortal enemies, years before they become adults.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11] 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.[11] This depiction of the superhero resonated with the readers as indicated in the way some observers saw their own lived experiences in his stories.[12]

Bronze Age 1971-1986

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.

Other Pre-Crisis versions

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.[15] Earth-149 saw Lex Luthor succeed in killing Superman.:[16] 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.[17][unreliable source?]

Post-Crisis: 1986-present

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.[18] 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),[19] 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.[20][21]

Alternative universe depictions

Main articles: Multiverse (DC Comics) § Original multiverse, and Multiverse (DC Comics) § The 52

The Kingdom Come Superman. Art by Alex Ross
The Kingdom Come Superman. Art by Alex Ross
The Red Son Superman. Art by Dave Johnson.
The Red Son Superman. Art by Dave Johnson.
  • Following Flashpoint, in the New 52 DC Multiverse, the Earth-31 Superman is a member of the Flying Fox pirate crew on a post-apocalyptic waterworld. The Flying Fox crew is led by a version of Batman named Leatherwing.[31]
  • The post-Flashpoint Earth-40 has no such individual resident; it is a pulp fiction world dominated by villains, and an "opposite" world for Earth-20.[34]
  • 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.

Other characters known as Superman

Bizarros

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.

Other alternative depictions

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.

Film and television

See also: Superman in popular culture

References

Some of this section's listed sources may not be reliable. Please help this article by looking for better, more reliable sources. Unreliable citations may be challenged or deleted. (March 2016) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
  1. ^ "Kal-L (Character)". Comic Vine. 2013-12-04. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  2. ^ Action Comics #484 (1978)
  3. ^ Infinite Crisis #2 (2006)
  4. ^ Infinite Crisis #7
  5. ^ "Who's Who in the Superman Comics". Superman Homepage. 2016-02-23. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  6. ^ Justice League of America vol. 1 #74, 1969
  7. ^ See, for example,The New Adventures of Superboy #1 (1980) and #12 (1980)
  8. ^ Superboy (vol. 1) #171, January 1971
  9. ^ Adventure Comics #271 (1960)
  10. ^ Bevin, Phillip (2019). Superman and Comic Book Brand Continuity. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780815368595.
  11. ^ a b Booker, Keith (2014). Comics through Time: A History of Icons, Idols, and Ideas [four volumes]. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 805. ISBN 9780313397509.
  12. ^ Brod, Harry (2012). Superman Is Jewish?: How Comic Book Superheroes Came to Serve Truth, Justice, and the Jewish-American Way. New York: Free Press. pp. xix. ISBN 9781416595304.
  13. ^ McAvennie, Michael; Dolan, Hannah, ed. (2010). "1970s". DC Comics Year By Year A Visual Chronicle. Dorling Kindersley. p. 144. ISBN 978-0-7566-6742-9. New editor Julius Schwartz, new scripter Denny O'Neil, and regular artist Curt Swan removed kryptonite, the Man of Steel's greatest weakness, from the face of the Earth.
  14. ^ Action Comics vol. #1 #544-546 (June–August 1983) and Superman #385-386 (July–August 1983)
  15. ^ Superboy vol. 1 #95 (1962)
  16. ^ Superman vol. 1 #149 (1961)
  17. ^ Posted by Ray "!!" Tomczak (2013-02-25). "Gutter Talk: Superman 2001". Guttertalkcomicsblog.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2016-03-05.
  18. ^ Man of Steel #1 (1986)
  19. ^ See, for example, Action Comics #850 (2007)
  20. ^ Shiach, Kieran (24 March 2017). "Everything Changed Forever! What You Missed If You Didn't Read 'Superman Reborn'". Comics Alliance. Retrieved 12 April 2017.
  21. ^ Action Comics #976 (2017)
  22. ^ a b Final Crisis: Secret Files
  23. ^ Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #1-2
  24. ^ Tangent Comics: The Superman #1
  25. ^ a b The Multiversity: Mastermen #1 (February 2015)
  26. ^ The Multiversity: The Just #1 (August 2014)
  27. ^ Animal Man #23-24
  28. ^ Lyons, Beverley. "Exclusive: Comics writer Grant Morrison turns Barack Obama into Superman" Archived 2011-01-21 at the Wayback Machine, Daily Record (Scotland), January 29, 2009. Retrieved March 10, 2010.
  29. ^ Action Comics #9
  30. ^ Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew 14-15 (1983)
  31. ^ a b c d e The Multiversity Guidebook(January 2015)
  32. ^ "CBR News: THE COMMENTARY TRACK: "Countdown: Arena" #4 w/ Keith Champagne". Comic Book Resources. 2007-12-28. Retrieved 2010-09-16.
  33. ^ Thill, Scott (December 13, 2014). ""Grant Morrison's "multiversity": His new comics universe doesn't include a single straight white male"". Salon.com. Retrieved December 31, 2014.
  34. ^ The Multiversity: Society of Super Heroes #1 (July 2014)
  35. ^ Superman (vol. 2) #8 (1987) and Action Comics #591 (1987)
  36. ^ First appearance in Adventures of Superman #500 (1993)
  37. ^ DC One Million
  38. ^ The Man of Steel #5
  39. ^ Superman: Arkham, Superman: Emperor Joker, 2001
  40. ^ Wizard Magazine
  41. ^ All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #4, 2006
  42. ^ Unlimited Access #4 (March 1998)
  43. ^ Flashpoint: Project Superman #1 (June 2011)
  44. ^ Flashpoint: Project Superman #2 (July 2011)
  45. ^ Flashpoint #3 (July 2011)
  46. ^ Flashpoint: Project Superman #3 (August 2011)
  47. ^ Flashpoint #5 (August 2011)
  48. ^ Nightwing: The New Order(2017)