Think of them as the Super-Temps.
We know that there’s a Battle for the Cowl coming and that
someone new will stand in the shoes of the recently “sanctioned”
Batman. Similarly, we’ve heard that - as a result of the New Krypton storyline - Superman will be stepping down from his lead role. Holding down the Fortress (and his
title) will be a handful of other heroes - Nightwing and Flamebird in Action Comics and Mon-el in Superman. This puts us in mind of the
times that Superman, like Batman, has been temporarily replaced. Here’s
a lot at some of the notables that have been Pinch-Hitters of Steel.
Action Comics #875
Reign of the Supermen: Let’s start with quite possibly the most famous group of Superman Replacements, the gang from Reign of the Supermen. In 1992, Superman died battling Doomsday (yes, he’s doing much better now, thank you) in the landmark Superman
#75. During the several months that Kal-El was off the canvas, the four
Superman titles were each filled by an alternative version that rose to
take his place. Initially, each claimed to be Superman in one fashion
or another, and the truth became clearer throughout the long Return of Superman arc. The four, as you may remember, were:
Superboy: A clone created at Project Cadmus, “The Kid” claimed
vociferously to be the real deal. Ultimately accepting the title of
Superboy, Kon-El, as he came to be known, had his own lengthy series, a
55-issue run as a member of Young Justice, and was a founder of the revamped Teen Titans. Superboy later died battling the mad Superboy-Prime during Infinite Crisis.
The Cyborg Superman: Superman enemy Hank Henshaw created this identity
as a ruse to accomplish larger goals. Ultimately responsible for the
destruction of Coast City (along with villain Mongul), The Cyborg has
returned repeatedly to bedevil the DC heroes. Most recently, he was
part of the Sinestro Corps until his defeat by the Green Lantern Corps
and the heroes of Earth. To the villain’s dismay, his still-active
remains were rescued to be rebuilt by the Manhunter robots that had
become his servants.
Steel: Construction worker and inventor John Henry Irons really took
the name Superman at first as a tribute to the hero. Lacking powers,
Irons built himself a suit of armor and wielded a high-tech
sledgehammer in the name of justice. A one-time member of the Justice
League, Steel continues to appear in a supporting role to this day.
The Eradicator: A Kryptonian artifact that took Kal-El’s form, The
Eradicator purported to be the take-no-prisoners version of a reborn
Superman. He was actually responsible for saving the real Superman,
having secured his body into the matrix chamber that healed him.
Eradicator has appeared sporadically over time, though his last
appearance of note was in 2005’s Infinite Crisis.
Gangbuster: Superman finally crossed the line he’d always drawn
for himself in the late ‘80s when he executed a trio of Kryptonian
criminals with Kryptonite. Feeling enormous guilt, Superman traveled
into space. One of the heroes who covered Metropolis in his absence was
the non-powered Gangbuster. Jose Delgado, who first appeared in Adventures of Superman
#428 from 1987, was a teacher that took on the heroic identity to
largely deal with the problem of, you guessed it, gangs. Though he
retired for a time, Gangbuster has been active in the pages of the
current weekly series Trinity.
Supernova and Booster Gold: After the events of Infinite Crisis, Superman was depowered for roughly one year. During this time, documented in the weekly series 52,
several heroes worked to take up the slack left by the convalescing Man
of Steel. Among those was Supernova, a completely masked hero that
enjoyed the adulation of the public. Supernova’s rival in protecting
the public was Superman’s one-time Justice League teammate, glory-hound
Booster Gold. In what turned out to be an extremely calculated ruse,
Supernova was in fact the time-traveling Gold himself; the feint had
been perpetrated to foil the cross-time manipulations of a villain that
was revealed to be alien worm Mr. Mind.
The Wedding: Though not a full replacement situation, Superman
still needed some help when it came to the issue of a little time off.
When Superman/Clark Kent finally married Lois Lane in Superman: The Wedding Album
in 1996, he faced the dilemma of taking Lois on their honeymoon while
leaving Metropolis unguarded. Enter Batman. Not only did the Dark
Knight arrange for a battalion of heroes to keep Superman’s city safe
in his absence, he also (as Bruce Wayne) bought the building where
Clark and Lois were apartment-hunting to ensure that they got the place
that they wanted. Rich buddies rule.
The Super-Cop of Metropolis: In the late ‘70s, an Elliot S.
Maggin and Cary Bates Kandor story was featured in a Power Records
book-and-record combo. “The Best Cop in the World” showcased Kandorian
lawman Ron-Za’s trip outside of that bottled city. He tries to do a
better job cleaning up Earth than Superman, but returns to the bottle
as a more humble public servant after being nearly killed by a
long-haired criminal with red solar headlights.
Superman-X: In a story from Superman #418 from 1986,
Superman agrees to leave Earth to help some aliens that he once met.
One of the aliens takes his place in a modified, high-tech-looking
suit. Referred to by the public as Superman-X, the alien accidentally
disrupts human society by healing the sick. This leads to outbreaks of
violence as more and more people demand to be healed. Lois and Jimmy
pull an extremely dirty trick that makes the hapless alien believe that
his attempts to help actually got a child killed (they did not).
Mortified, Superman-X leaves the planet. Regular, non-riot causing
Superman came back to Earth a short time later.
Crisis Corrections: In the Mid-1980s, DC Comics rewrote their continuity with the 12- issue Crisis on Infinite Earths.
The many machinations involved ended up eliminating Superman from
earlier stories and completely removing his time as Superboy from the
canon; in the revised continuity, Clark never adventured in the
Superboy identity. Needless to say, this caused problems for a few
other series. One of those that was most affected was the Legion of Super-Heroes;
the super-teens of the 30th Century had been completely inspired by
Superboy, and even made him a member. A replacement Superboy was
crafted in his stead, a doppelganger created by the
continuum-manipulating Time Trapper. It turns out that the Legion had
been inspired by this Superboy from a “pocket universe”, rather than
the “real” Superman; the replacement Superboy died fighting the Time
Trapper, closing off that window.
Another quandary was created by DC’s books that were set on Earth-2, an
alternate world where Superman had been a hero in World War 2. When the
Earths were merged into one new world, Superman’s presence in the past
was accounted for by the creation of another hero to belong to the
WW2-era All-Star Squadron. That ostensible creation was Iron Munro.
Writer Roy Thomas used a very cool set of influences; he made Munro the
son of Hugo Danner, the superhuman protagonist of Phillip Wylie’s
seminal science-fiction novel “Gladiator”. The super-strong Munro still
appears in the DC line; he is the grandfather of Kate Spencer, the
super-heroine presently known as Manhunter.
Those are just a few of Superman’s notable subs. We know that Mon-El will be taking a swing at bat in the pages of Superman in the coming months. What are some of your other favorites? “The Replacement Supermen” from All-Star Superman
#9? Any of the various appearances of the Superman Robots? Whatever the
case, one thing is always evident: no matter how long Superman may be
away, no one ever really takes his place.
A Field Guide to New KryptonWho is Superwoman?Replacement Heroes: Batman