It’s been a busy year for Superman, who turned 75 this year. He’s a titular character in four new series: Adventures of Superman, Superman Unchained, Batman/Superman, and Superman/Wonder Woman. His feature film, Man of Steel, lasted a whopping 143 minutes! So yeah, we’ve seen plenty of Superman playing the hero.
On the flip side, we’ve also seen him play the villain in comics, on film, and in a video game this year. Here’s a list of 2013’s five villainous versions of Superman.
1. Wraith of Earth-1
“…Superman may be fast, and he may have his little powers… but the fact remains… we have the Real Superman down here. And he’s been working for the United States for nearly seventy-five years.” – General Sam Lane, Superman Unchained #1
Wait… so the government’s got the pre-New 52 Superman locked in a basement? Well, no, actually. This guy doesn’t wear red trunks, either. He doesn’t even look human… or Kryptonian. This guy, an alien himself, has been living on a government base performing horrific missions for the government, like actually being the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in 1945.
To Lois Lane’s father, General Sam Lane, Wraith is the perfect model of a superhero. Wraith doesn’t hesitate to impose America’s will on the rest of the world, something the modern Superman is unwilling to do, which makes him a coward in General Lane’s eyes.
So far Wraith seems thrilled to be fighting alongside Superman against a terrorist group named “Ascension.” But the two shared a very cryptic exchange in Superman Unchained #3:
Wraith: “It’s a shame, really.”
Superman: “What is?”
Wraith: “That soon I’m going to have to kill you.”
“Our greatest hero, thought dead, returned– as the herald for the greatest of evils.” – Earth 2 #17
The writers of Earth 2 did something shocking in the first issue: they seemingly killed Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. Recently, Superman reappeared alive and in the most unexpected of ways: as the demon Brutaal, servant of Darkseid.
Brutaal was a loyal underling to Darkseid’s military commanders, Steppenwolf, until Steppenwolf arrogantly declared Earth his and not Darkseid’s. Brutaal then blasted his commanding officer with heat vision, threw off his armored disguise to reveal that he was Superman, and declared “Hail, Darkseid!”
So is this a brainwashed version of Earth 2’s original champion, Kal-L? Some other earth from the multiverse? Or is he an entirely new creation of Darkseid’s? Perhaps the villain month special, Justice League #23.1: Darkseid #1, offers some clues.
Crazy Theory Alert – Do Not Take As Confirmed Canon
The issue describes Darkseid’s rise to power as leader of Apokolips and then describes his obsession of the various Supermen of DC’s multiverse. The last panel features a laughing Darkseid, looking at a stitched up Superman, most likely Brutaal, hanging next to a pile of dead Supermen. So… I’m going to guess that Brutaal’s some sort of Franken-Superman.
Also, Brutaal displays heat vision that travels in zig zags, much like Darkseid’s own power, so he definitely added some of his own traits his creation.
Only future issues of Earth 2 will tell if I’m right.
3. Ultraman of Earth 3
“Be the strongest there is, Kal-Il– –or be nothing at all.” – Jor-Il, Justice League #24
As a baby, Kal of the House of Il was sent away from his planet of Krypton, much like Earth 1’s Superman. However, during the flight, Jor-Il’s recorded voice taught the baby to hate weakness, priming the young boy to be the cause rather than the champion of the oppressed. He is currently the leader of the Crime Syndicate, which is Earth 3’s evil version of the Justice League.
But that’s not the only way he’s the opposite of Superman: he actually gains his superpowers by snorting Kryptonite like it’s cocaine and loses them in the yellow sunlight of earth.
This summer, his Crime Syndicate turned out to be the villains behind the Trinity War event, and now they’ve crossed over into Earth 1 to lord over it, empowering other supervillains everywhere in the massive crossover event, Forever Evil.
“Writing Superman is a dream come true, but with ‘Injustice,’ that dream has quickly become a nightmare. The events in this series are just — horrible. I think my love for this character meant I knew exactly how to hurt him. I’m not lying when I say this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever written. No one should have to do this to their hero. No one.” – Tom Taylor in an interview with Comic Book Resources
Superman has always attested that his job has been to inspire rather than to impose his will on it. On a parallel earth, however, a tragedy that destroyed Metropolis and left Lois Lane and Superman’s unborn child dead drives Superman to set up a world-wide regime that eliminates all crime and war. Sounds good, right? Except, anyone who opposes is killed.
The world I just described is the setting of Injustice: Gods Among Us, a fighting video game released by NetherRealm studios, the company that created the Mortal Kombat series. Most of the superheroes of this earth have allied themselves with Superman, except of course… who else but Batman? Batman sets up a resistance group and pulls uncorrupted heroes from a parallel earth to join him.
The game redeems Superman by having a good parallel earth Superman being the hero to ultimately defeat the evil Superman.
DC has published a digital prequel series based on the book, written by Tom Taylor, currently the writer of Earth 2. Clearly the guy’s been getting a lot of practice writing evil Superman.
5. Superman from ‘The Dark Knight Returns’
“In all the years to come, in your most private moments, I want you to remember the one man who beat you.” – Batman, Dark Knight Returns Part II
Okay, so this guy is definitely not the most evil Superman, but he’s definitely the most problematic, mainly because people don’t understand that Frank Miller’s classic tale is Elseworlds fiction. That means it takes place in another DC Universe than the one we’re used to. And yet, many people think that Miller’s Superman is an accurate representation of our man in blue.
Now many of you are thinking, but wait a minute, Dark Knight Returns came out in 1986. True, but recently the graphic novel was adapted into a two-part animated movie, with the second part being released on January 29 of this year. As soon as this movie is available on Netflix instant streaming, the story will be available to a whole new audience who were too lazy to read the graphic novel.
DKR revolves around a possible future, you know, the 1980s, in which a grizzled old Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to don the cape and cowl once more and clean up Gotham City. Unfortunately, vigilantism has been outlawed. If this is ringing any bells, you should know that Alan Moore’s Watchmen was published around the same time.
After a Russian nuclear warhead—which Superman successfully diverts only to have it explode in his face—sends an electromagnetic pulse that renders all of America powerless, Batman brings the citizens of Gotham together, making it the safest city in the country. This angers the president, who’s modeled after Ronald Reagan. He orders his government lackey, Superman, to arrest Batman.
Superman agrees and the two have a showdown in Crime Alley, where Bruce’s parents were shot. Normally, Superman would win the fight. However, Batman creates this amazing mechanized suit and Superman’s still feeling a little queasy from the nuclear blast. Also, Green Arrow shoots Superman with a Kryptonite arrow. But if it makes you happy, go ahead and say, “Batman always wins.”
This Superman isn’t directly responsible for any deaths, but he does prove he’s willing to sell out one of his best friends. And as Dante Alighieri will attest, the last round of the deepest circle of Hell is reserved for those who betray their friends.
But let me stress again: The Dark Knight Returns is an Elseworlds tale.
It’s all fiction, really. That’s why none of these characters, as enjoyable as they are, can ever corrupt my love of Superman. When I’m feeling down, I can always pick something up like All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and obliterate all my cynicism. Whether he wears his trunks on the inside or outside, the S on his chest continues to stand for hope.