Replacement Heroes: Superman

Replacement Heroes: Superman

Superman #686

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.

Cyborg Superman

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.


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