You Will Believe Many Versions of a Man Can Fly1 of 12
This year, CW's DCTV Universe will tackle a version of Crisis On Infinite Earths - and as part of this crossover, Brandon Routh will reprise his role as Superman from Superman Returns - but with a possible twist.
During CW's presentation at Comic Con International: San Diego, Routh unveiled a very specific Superman logo - that of the jaded Superman of the Kingdom Come universe.
Though nothing is confirmed, the possibility of this iconic iteration of the Man of Steel appearing on TV put us in mind of the best alt-universe versions of Superman ever.
For more on Kingdom Come's unique Superman, check out our rundown right here.
Earth-23 Kalel2 of 12
Writer Grant Morrison created a Superman from Earth-23 that has dark skin, hailing from an island on Krypton, which essentially makes him a black version of the character. In a nod to U.S. President Barack Obama, this Earth-23 Superman has a secret identity on Earth of Calvin Ellis, president of the United States.
The character first appeared in Final Crisis #7, but he got his own post-New 52 reboot adventures in Action Comics. He was later a lead character in Multiversity, bringing together heroes from across the multiverse to save the day.
"The Nail" Superman3 of 12
In the 1998 limited series The Nail, Jonathan and Martha Kent's pickup truck gets a flat tire (caused by a nail), and that prevents them from finding baby Kal-El's spaceship. Without spoiling the entire story, the comic's premise is that baby Kal didn't become a superhero, and the Justice League forms without him.
Without the presence of Superman, Metropolis is an uglier place, many of DC's well-known superheroes have either been disabled or killed during villainous attacks, and the public isn't too keen on metahumans. And to stay spoiler free, let's just say lots of bad things happen because Superman isn't there.
Of course, the story does reveal where Kal-El ended up, and while the character himself wasn't particularly compelling, he makes our list of favorite alternate Supermen simply because he demonstrates so well how important Superman is to the DC Universe.
Without him there, bad things happen in the DCU.
Superboy-Prime4 of 12
Love him or hate him, this hero-turned-villain represents what human selfishness and immaturity could do to a young person who possessed Superman's name and powers.
Superboy-Prime is from Earth-Prime, where superheroes are just fictional comic book stories. (Earth-Prime, which was first introduced in 1968 by writer Cary Bates, was meant to represent our Earth.) His parents named him Clark Kent, even though they knew about the fictional Superman with the same name. But it turns out he was also Kryptonian, and he developed powers like his namesake.
Soon after becoming a hero, he was caught up in the 1985 DC event Crisis on Multiple Earths, which eliminated DC's multiverse. Superboy-Prime's world was destroyed, and he went away with a handful of other DC characters to a "paradise dimension." Twenty years later, in Infinite Crisis, Superboy-Prime evolved into a villain, and he played an adversarial role in several high-profile DC events in the years following.
Eventually, Prime (as he became known) ended up being a personification of the rage that comic fans feel about stories not going the way they wanted. In one of his final appearances in the pre-New 52 universe, he actually went to the DC Comics offices to complain.
Prime's been trapped in the Source Wall for a long time, but how long can you really hold back Superman?
"Secret Identity" Superman5 of 12
In the four-issue series Superman: Secret Identity, teenager Clark Kent exists in our world, and he's getting sick of being teased about his name. But he suddenly discovers that he has superpowers, and he has to decide how he's going to use them.
OK, OK, that might sound a lot like our #8 character (and writer Kurt Busiek has admitted that he was initially inspired by Superboy Prime), but this "boy-with-powers" paints a much more optimistic scene than the Prime version.
In Secret Identity, Clark is immensely likable and feels very familiar, like someone who could live next door. We're giving him a spot on this list for dealing with all the familiar superhero tropes in a very realistic and personal way that made the concept of "Superman" remarkably relatable.
High Chancellor Superman6 of 12
In the video game and comic book franchise Injustice: Gods Among Us, Superman has taken over the Earth after the destruction of Metropolis and the death of Lois Lane.
Deciding to rule over the Earth may sound like a villainous move, but Superman's motives are altruistic — he just wants to wipe out crime. As a result, he's virtually eliminated crime on Earth. (Of course, that's only because anyone who threatens the peace is killed.)
High Chancellor Superman's evolution into "world ruler" is not only frightening, but understandable, thanks to the video game's intro and the Injustice: Gods Among Us comic. It's a chilling reminder that Superman is an almost all-powerful being, and the folks in the DCU are really lucky he's got his head on straight. He may now be a super-jerk as we've pointed out, but that doesn't mean he isn't interesting to read about.
"Red Son" Superman7 of 12
In Superman: Red Son, baby Kal-El's rocket lands in the Soviet Union instead of Kansas. He is raised to be a champion of the Communist regime instead of fighting for the "American Way."
Like the High Chancellor Superman in Injustice: Gods Among Us, Red Son Superman becomes a ruler who leads by force. But in this story, he does so as part of the Soviet empire.
However, Red Son ends up confirming that even within this framework, Superman is the hero we know. Plus it ends with a coda that is one of the more clever alternate origin stories for Superman.
Red Son Superman was once shown to be among DC's multiple Earths (specifically, Earth-30), with his home Earth having appeared in DC stories.
Bizarro8 of 12
Among all the clone, robot, and reverse versions of Superman, one stands out as being the most imitated: Bizarro.
The character is intended to have Superman's powers, but to be his opposite. While Superman is smart, Bizarro is not; while Superman is heroic, Bizarro is not. And as any good Bizarro imitator knows, the character has a speech pattern influenced by the "opposite" theme: "Goodbye! Me not named Bizarro."
In various incarnations, Bizarro has been a clone, and he's lived on a planet in the DCU called "Bizarro World," complete with Bizarro versions of other characters.
Earth-Two Kal-L9 of 12
This older, wiser Superman from another Earth was married to Lois Lane, lived in a nostalgic style Metropolis, and fought alongside other classic DC heroes in the Justice Society of America.
The character was introduced during the 1960s to explain the continuity glitch of there being Silver Age characters alongside the first, Golden Age version of Superman in DC comics. (And yes, we realize that technically, Kal-L didn't originate as an "alternate" Superman, but we're including him on this list because he functioned as one for much of DC's publishing history.)
The main reason this Superman makes our Top 10 is because the invention of him as an "Earth-Two" Superman was one of DC's first experiments with multiple versions of the character, paving the way for more "alternate" versions. Plus, his character starred in several of DC's most high-profile events, including Crisis on Infinite Earths and Infinite Crisis.
Earth-Two has been rebooted to become "Earth 2," and while this original Superman doesn't exist there, the alternate Earth did once have a Superman. He returned from the dead under control of Darkseid and a homicidal maniac named Brutaal...
So what we're saying is Earth-Two Kal-L was the cool one.
Ultraman10 of 12
Ultraman is the villain from another Earth who is an evil counterpart to Superman. Originally hailing from "Earth-Three," he showed up later as a villain from the "Anti-Matter Universe." Of course he's recently played a starring role as a supervillain from a planet designated as "Earth-3" in the "New 52" event Forever Evil.
The new Ultraman like his previous incarnations, draws power from Kryptonite. He was even seen crushing and snorting it like a superpower-gifting drug.
The character is most compelling because, as heroic as Clark Kent is, Ultraman is just as evil. He's a cold-blooded killer, yet stories have shown that, because he relies on his ability to kill (instead of his ability to fight and out-maneuver), he's at a disadvantage against the more creative abilities of Clark Kent.
"Kingdom Come" Superman11 of 12
A story that takes place in the distant future of the DCU, Kingdom Come portrays a Clark Kent who retires after the murder of Lois Lane. While he's out of commission, more and more nihilistic heroes begin to appear, and when Superman eventually returns, the struggle causes major upheavals.
With award-winning artwork by Alex Ross and an almost spiritual story by Mark Waid, Kingdom Come made this Superman so beloved that DC ended up making him part of regular continuity for awhile, and even made Kingdom Come one of its 52 Earths.
Now, it may also be one of the Earths of the CW's DC TV Universe - with former movie Superman Brandon Routh reprising that role for the network's Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover - potentially with a Kingdom Come twist, judging by a very conspicuous shirt he displayed at Comic Con International: San Diego.
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