Poll: Who Is The Best Alternate Superman?
It was only one week ago that we asked our readers to cast their votes to determine the best alternate version of Batman --- and in a shocking upset, Terry McGinnis dominated the competition with almost 40% of the vote --- but now, we have come to the inevitable counterpoint to that discussion. With the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel set to throw down on the big screen, we must now turn our attention to Superman.
With over 75 years of stories that have seen him go through countless bizarre transformations, as everything from a guy with a lion head to a guy who loves Communism, to two guys, it's finally time to settle this once and for all and determine who reigns supreme. Read on, dear reader, and cast your vote to determine who will be The Best Alternate Superman!
But first, the standard caveats: Obviously, we can't put every different iteration of Superman on the list, so we're sticking to the most notable takes that, with very few exceptions, exist outside of the core continuity for Clark Kent. As for what qualifies as notable, it basically comes down to the rigorous standard of whether I thought they could get more votes than a Superman who was also a Batman.
In the far-off future of the 853rd Century, when Justice Legion Alpha is tasked with defending the solar system from the forces of evil, Kal Kent carries on the legacy of Superman as the protector of Earth. Faster than a speeding tachyon and able to leap from one planet to another in a single bound, his powers are far beyond those of the 20th century's greatest heroes, largely because one of his ancestors fell in love with the Queen of the Fifth Dimension and ended up giving all of his descendants five extra senses. Which, in practical terms, means that he can stop a prison riot with a psychic thunderstorm and then punch a hole in the time barrier to get back to his native era.
What I'm getting at here is that DC One Million is awesome.
As for why he comes first on this list, well, we might as well start with what is objectively the best choice, right? Right.
Remember back during the 2008 election, when President Obama made the joke about how he was sent to Earth from the dying planet Krypton? Calvin Ellis is that, but for real.
On Earth-23, Ellis has a day job that's a little more compelling than just being a mild-mannered reporter: He's the President of the United States of America, something that he manages to do while he's not just also flying around saving people as Superman — people who apparently don't keep up with the news and therefore don't recognize the President when he shows up to stop a volcano from blowing up — but was also recently seen becoming the leader of an interdimensional task force called Operation Justice Incarnate, commanding heroes from across the DC Multiverse.
Of all the grumpy future versions of DC superheroes, Kingdom Come's Superman ranks only behind The Dark Knight Returns and its infinitely frowny Batman as the DC Universe's angriest grandpa.
After the Joker murders Lois Lane and is then murdered in turn by a guy who looks suspiciously like Cable, a disillusioned Superman gives up on his never-ending battle and decides to retire to a life of farming in the Arctic — which, in all honesty, is actually pretty impressive. Eventually, things get bad enough that he comes out of retirement and immediately builds a prison for supervillains that's literally called the Gulag, something that no one seems to see as an indicator that this might be a bad idea. For some reason, this all ends with him popping out of Hypertime to hang out with the Justice Society and Franklin Roosevel's grandson for a while, which even I cannot explain.
In terms of power, the Superman of Kingdom Come is stronger than he's ever been after a life time of absorbing sunlight. Sadly, this cannot stop him from going grey.
After the rocket carrying baby Kal-L lands in the USSR rather than in the normal version of Kansas, Superman grows up as a Communist, and ends up taking over the Soviet government after the death of Josef Stalin, allowing it to expand (relatively) peacefully all over the globe. The only holdout is, of course, the good ol' US of A, led by capitalist mastermind Lex Luthor, who constantly tries to murder his Commie foe with a seemingly endless stream of references to other DC Comics.
Say what you will, but it's hard to argue that the version of Superman that appears in Red Son isn't the most successful in terms of global politics. Until everything completely falls apart and Lex Luthor creates a utopia that lasts until the heat death of the universe, I mean.
Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen's Secret Identity is quite possibly the single greatest Elseworlds Superman story ever published, and keep in mind that I'm saying that while knowing full well that the story where Superman pretends to be Santa Claus only to be thwarted by a bearded Bat-Santa is technically an Elseworlds.
This one, however, is pure brilliance: Set in our world, where Superman is a comic book character, it follows a poor kid named Clark Kent, who finds himself as the butt of every joke you can imagine, up to and including being set up on a blind date with a woman named Lois. The thing is, this Clark Kent actually has the super-powers of his comic book counterpart — and when he decides to start using them for good, he dresses the part under the assumption that no one would believe that Superman hopped off the printed page to save them.
The premise of JLA: The Nail is one of those ideas that's brilliant in its simplicity: On the day that they'd be driving to town and catch sight of a rocket ship from Krypton crash-landing in a field outside Smallville, Jonathan and Martha Kent instead run over a nail and spend their morning changing a flat tire. Because of that, they never find the baby that would grow up to be Superman, and we get a look at a version of the DC Universe where Superman never was — but everything and everyone else all happened.
Of course, the twist to it is that Superman's still out there. Instead of being raised by the Kents, he was raised by Amish farmers, keeping his powers a secret until a super-powered Jimmy Olsen tried to murder him. That didn't exactly work out, and he became Superman, joining the Justice League and leading to a story where Batman literally punches the Joker so hard that he spends eternity in Hell.
Speaking of Supermen who try to keep their powers under wraps, we have the star of True Brit, an original graphic novel written by Kim "Howard" Johnson and Monty Python's own John Cleese, with art by John Byrne and Mark Farmer.
The basic idea here is... well, the basic idea is that it's a Superman story co-written by one of the guys from Monty Python in which Superman is raised in Britain instead of America, and is therefore faster than a dead parrot, more powerful than the Holy Hand Grenade, and able to leap tall buildings in a single silly walk.
Annnnnnd that's my quota for Python references for today and also my entire life.
In one of the stranger examples of the bizarre transformations of the Silver Age, 1963's Superman #162 saw a daring "Imaginary Novel" in which the residents of the Bottle City of Kandor gave Superman a deadline to fix their tiny situation or else swap places with someone who could. To that end, he employs a "Brain Evolution Machine," which is basically a hat made of radioactive space rocks, and ends up splitting himself into two identical Supermen, each a hundred times smarter than the original.
Well, I say identical, but in one of the rare examples of everything working out for the absolute best, it turns out that one of them prefers Lois Lane and the other prefers Lana Lang, leading to a double marriage that suddenly becomes a triple marriage when Jimmy Olsen and Lucy Lane decide to get involved in the act.
Meanwhile, Lori Lemaris sits alone at the bottom of the ocean, waiting for someone to call.
The cover story in 1965's Superman #181 opens with what might be one of the boldest panels of the entire Silver Age: A splash page of a graveyard that features monuments to dead Supermen, starting with our own Superman I and going down through the generations, with a single figure soaring above a thousand years of dead Supermen.
That figure is Klar Ken T-5477, the Superman of 2965 AD, and while that opening is pretty amazing, I have to admit that the rest of the story doesn't quite live up to it. Edmond Hamilton and Curt Swan swear on the cover that you won't believe how different he is, but in practice, he's alarmingly similar. Not only does he have the same day job as a reporter for the Daily Interplanetary News, he even wears the same costume as his ancestors.
The one big difference? His weakness. The Superman of 2965 is completely immune to Kryptonite (which, for those of you keeping score at home, is an extremely rare space rock), but can be reduced to helplessness by seawater, which covers 75% of the planet on which he lives. Amazingly enough, we somehow didn't get another new Superman in 2966.
If you've ever wondered if it's possible for someone to only be kind of Superman, then allow me to introduce you to Kent Shakespeare. As a resident of the 30th Century, the far-off future of the Legion of Superheroes, Kent discovers that he's actually a descendant of Superman, and in some versions of the ever-confounding continuity of the Legion, he ends up becoming that century's Superman to carry on the legacy.
To be honest, though, he is basically just on here because of the name. Kent Shakespeare. That is great.
This is literally a Superman who is also a Batman.
Adjust your votes accordingly.