Superman is the most recognizable superhero of all time, with a rich, long history in comics, film, and television. He is so entrenched in popular culture, that his symbol, costume, and multiple slogans (“It’s a bird, it’s a plane…” or “Truth, justice, and the American way“) are easily identified even by people who have never picked up comic book in their entire lives. What some might not know, however, is that the DC multiverse contains a nearly endless parade of Supermen, ranging from slight variations, to those that are nearly unrecognizable.
This list aims to highlight some of the craziest versions of the big blue boy scout that have existed over the years, with an emphasis on those that exist in their own corner of the multiverse, rather than transformations that he has undergone. Here are the 15 Most WTF Alternate Versions Of Superman.
15. Red Son Superman
What if Superman… was Russian?!
In Mark Millar’s acclaimed 2003 story Superman: Red Son, a slight difference in the timeframe of his ship’s launch causes an infant Superman to land on a farm in the Ukraine, rather than the American Midwest. Raised to be a “Champion of the Common Worker”, this Superman fights for an entirely different set of ideals than the one we know, though he retains his counterpart’s sense of general decency.
Another common element he shares with the mainstream Superman is a fierce rivalry with Lex Luthor– in this timeline a scientist recruited by the CIA to protect America from the Soviet’s super weapon. Luthor makes several attempts to bring him down, even going so far as to create an imperfect clone of his nemesis. They are eventually revealed to be more similar than they ever thought, with both men playing their part in ushering in a peace that lasts thousands of years.
14. Flashpoint Superman
What if Superman… was raised in captivity?!
In the Flashpoint timeline, which was created when The Flash broke the time stream in an attempt to save his mother’s life, Kal-El’s rocket landed not on farm but in the middle of Metropolis, where it was responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents. As a result, he was immediately placed in the custody of the government, where he was raised in captivity by General Sam Lane. After an incident that occurs once he has been freed, he is placed under lock and key, and referred to only as “Subject 1“.
When he is eventually rescued by a group of heroes, Kal-El is emaciated, terrified, and mute. After exposure to the sunlight, he regains his powers and his humanity, but keeps his scrawny appearance, which really makes us wonder why mainstream Superman looks so buff if he never works out. The Flashpoint Superman goes on to play his part in restoring the timeline, which in turn led to the relaunching of the DC universe as the New 52.
What if Superman… was evil?!
Ultraman is perhaps Superman’s most well-known evil counterpoint, though there have been several versions of him throughout the years. Each version, however, has been a member of the Crime Syndicate, the evil mirror image of the Justice League that resides on Earth 3. Ultraman’s relationship to Kryptonite varies wildly, with one version of him gaining strength every time that he is exposed to it.
The second Ultraman hails from an Anti-matter universe, and gets his strength from a substance known as Anti-Kryptonite. This version of Ultraman was human, not Kryptonian, and got his powers from being experimented on by aliens. This is in stark contrast to the New 52 version of Ultraman, who was sent to Earth 3 from a version of Krypton where everyone is a big ol’ jerk.
What if Superman… was Lex Luthor?!
A one-off character appearing in an Elseworlds stories in the ’70s, the story of Lex-El swaps Luthor and Clark, with bizarre results. Lex-El was still born on Krypton, but escaped with his father, their rocket accidentally killing two bank robbers in the process. Those bank robbers? None other than Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Lex grow up in Smallville, amd was friends with Lana Lang and her adopted brother Clark, who the Langs took in after his no-good parents were killed. Of course, Lex and Clarke once again find themselves on the path to being enemies, this time when Clark kills Lex’s father Jor-El, and embarks on a crime spree.
11. Tangent Superman aka Harvey Dent
What if Superman… was a god?!
In the Tangent Universe, created by Dan Jurgens, Superman is not Clark Kent, but rather Harvey Dent, the childhood survivor of a failed superhuman development program, who is living a normal life, when his powers activate. Driven by something called a “god-force”, his brain begins to evolve at a rapid pace, lending him a large variety of psychic and physical powers, this Superman begins to lose touch with his humanity.
Eventually, having become the most powerful being on his entire planet, Superman decides that the most efficient way to protect everyone is to rule them. Placing himself in power, it takes the combined might of the heroes from not only the Tangent Universe, but also the DC Universe proper, to bring him down. A wildly different version of Superman, Harvey Dent wears a blue cloak and wields a golden staff.
What if Superman… was a Nazi?!
A lot of these alternate Supermen posit that the Kryptonian rocket landed somewhere other than the Midwest, and Overman is no different. His rocket crashed in Czechoslovakia, where it was found by Nazis, who used the advanced technology to win the war. Going by the name of Karl Kant, Overman leads an entire Nazi-themed Justice League known as the New Reichsmen– the sworn enemies of their world’s heroic resistance, Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters.
Superman’s innate decency can occasionally be glimpsed in Overman when he begins to have second thoughts about his part in the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime. Given the opportunity, it’s possible he could eventually break free of their brainwashing, and be something closer to the Superman we all know and love. Not likely… but possible.
9. President Calvin Ellis
What if Superman… was Obama?!
Modeled after former President Barack Obama, Calvin Ellis is not only the President of his world’s America, but also their Superman, which means that he defends truth, justice, and the American way whether he’s on the clock or off. Originating in Final Crisis, Calvin Ellis is similar in character to the regular Superman, and has often joined him in facing multiversal threats, even going so far as to found the Justice Incarnate, which is basically a multiversal Justice League.
In his world, his example has inspired the rise of a large number of African-American heroes. Regardless of one’s thoughts on the 44th President, Calvin Ellis is a shining example for all of those both in his universe and outside of it, standing alongside Clark Kent as a paragon of justice.
What if Superman… was raised by monkeys?!
You can probably guess by now how this starts: rather than landing in the American Midwest, Clark Kent’s ship lands in the jungles of Africa, where he is found and raised by gorillas. His name is literally a combination of “Clark Kent” and “Tarzan,” which the gorillas are incapable of finding as ridiculous as it is.
Karkan originated in an “imaginary story” from the pages of Superboy, but has made a brief reappearance or two since then. Eventually rescued from the jungle by an expedition, Karkan is returned to the city of Metropolis, where he has a hard time fitting in. Apparently deciding to eschew his destiny as the protector of Earth, Karkan returns to Africa to live amongst his gorilla family once more. Nothing against gorillas, but it’s unlikely that they raised him better than the Kents.
7. Captain Carrot and Super-Squirrel
What if Superman… was a rabbit or a squirrel?!
Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew presented readers with a universe full of superheroes that also happened to be adorable, fuzzy animals. The leader of that world’s JLA (which stood for, no joke, “Just’a Lotta Animals“), Captain Carrot is a rabbit named Rodney who gains powers for 24 hours each time he eats something called a Cosmic Carrot.
If that doesn’t sound all that much like Superman to you, the Zoo Crew has you covered: Rodney is romantic rivals with Super-Squirrel, a “Chiptonian” Squirrel with similar powers. Despite having more specific parallels, however, Captain Carrot fills Superman’s place in the JLA, and as his world’s predominant superhero. Also, he’s adorable.
6. Captain Atom/Captain Allen Adam
What if Superman… was Doctor Manhattan?!
A fusion of beloved Watchmen character Doctor Manhattan and Charlton Comics character Captain Atom, Allen Adam may not initially seem like an alternate Superman, but he was abducted alongside all of the other multiversal Supermen in Final Crisis: Superman Beyond, and is the closest thing that his world, which resembles an even more messed up version of the Watchmen universe, has to a Superman.
Captain Atom is forced to use drugs to keep his quantum senses at a manageable level, after his body was disintegrated and then reformed. In his team-up with the other multiversal Supermen, Captain Atom proves himself invaluable, when he manages to fuse Superman with his antimatter opposite, Ultraman, in order to save the day. His omnipotence is pretty unsettling, but he’s definitely someone you’d want to have on your side in a pinch.
5. Cyborg Superman
What if Superman… was a psychotic robot?
Okay, so this not technically an alternate Superman, but rather an insane robot who posed as Superman in order to destroy his reputation. Beginning as an analogue for Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, Hank Henshaw’s wife and crew were killed by the radiation from a solar flare, with Hanks’s body beginning to deteriorate as well. Thanks to Lex-Corp, though, he was able to live on in a brand new robot body, where he became delusional, believing that Superman was responsible for the destruction of his life.
After Superman died, Henshaw posed as him in order to besmirch his good name, and the title (and costume) of Cyborg Superman just stuck. He’s since reappeared numerous times to be a thorn in Superman’s side, even making his way into space to terrorize the Green Lantern Corps, joining up with Sinestro during the Sinestro Corps War.
4. Super Soldier
What if Superman… was combined with Captain America?!
In the 1990’s, Marvel and DC went to war, and the result was Amalgam Comics, an imprint consisting entirely of characters created by mixing and matching Marvel and DC heroes and villains. With a rich invented history, Amalgam was populated by characters like Darkclaw (Batman/Wolverine), Amazon (Wonder Woman/Storm), and of course, Super Soldier, an amalgamation of Superman and Captain America.
Clark Kent is an ordinary human, until he’s experimented on using a super-soldier serum made from alien DNA. Frozen in ice and rediscovered in modern times, Super Soldier wields a shield in addition to his natural super strength, and foils the plots of Lex Luthor, who turns himself into the Green Skull, by experimenting on himself with a substance known as Green-K.
3. Injustice Superman
What if Superman… snapped?!
The version of Superman that appears in the Injustice series of fighting games, in addition to their tie-in comic book series, began identically to the Superman that everyone knows and loves. One fateful day, however, the Joker tricks Superman into killing Lois Lane, which triggers an explosion that simultaneously wipes Metropolis off of the map. Overcome with sadness and rage, Superman murders the Joker, before initiating “global peace,” by establishing himself as the tyrant of the One Earth Regime.
The Joker has long held the belief that it only takes one bad day for someone to become like him, and with Superman he proved that theory true. While it’s debatable whether or not such an incident would truly cause the primary Superman to become a murderous dictator, it does go to show that if he decided to take over the world, there’s no one who could stop him.
What if Superman… was a monster?
On Earth 43, Clark Kent is human being who is determined to save the world. In order to do so, he plans to built an unstoppable robot called Superman– the hero that his world needs and deserves. Things go wrong, however, because things always go wrong, and the evil company Overcorp distorts Clark’s vision, twisting it into a grotesque creature known as Superdoom.
Appearing in Grant Morrison’s run on Action Comics, Superdoom breaks loose from Earth 43, and begins a rampage across the entire multiverse. He is eventually stopped by the Superman of Earth 23, President Calvin Ellis, who appears on this list. Bearing some of the physical elements, as well as part of the name, of Superman’s dreaded enemy Doomsday, Superdoom stands for the opposite of everything the Man of Steel represents.
What if Superman… married Batman?
Okay, that’s a little unfair. Apollo, who appeared in Warren Ellis’s runs on Stormwatch and The Authority, is not technically Superman. And his husband, the Midnighter, is not technically Batman. However, Apollo is an incredibly strong superhero with the powers of flight, strength, and laser-vision, while the Midnighter is a black-leather-clad brawler who regularly takes down people much stronger than him, so it’s no secret who they are based on.
The relationship between Midnighter and Apollo is super sweet and adorable, though it initially ruffled some feathers with people who resented the implication that Batman and Superman secretly wanted to get it on. But love is love, and after the initial controversy wore off, Apollo and the Midnighter went on to be two of the flagship characters of the Wildstorm Comics imprint, eventually making their way into the DC Universe after Flashpoint, as part of the New 52. Those versions of the characters were strangers upon meeting, and readers got to watch them fall in love all over again.
What’s your favorite alternate version of Superman? Sound off in the comments!