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10 Superman rip-offs who are actually great characters

DC's Black Superman, Calvin Ellis, has returned
Calvin Ellis is the Black Superman. Pic credit: DC Comics

It’s hard to find a comic book character who is more a cultural icon than Superman

Even people who have never read a comic in their lives know who the Man of Steel is. He’s so recognizable that it’s no surprise scores of comics have attempted their own versions of Superman over the years.

Many of these are meant to be parodies to send up Superman’s ethics or “behind the times” mentality.

Others are not very well done, such as Marvel’s Sentry.

But some takes on Superman are truly great characters, whether a deliberate homage or merely inspired by him. A few can be darker than others but still shows the facets that make Superman such a great character. 

While there are scores of examples, these ten characters are more than mere Superman rip-offs but also as fun to read as any comic of the Last Son of Krypton. 

Gladiator

gladiator
Gladiator in X-Men comics. Pic credit: Marvel Comics

Both a foe and ally of the X-Men, Gladiator was one of the first Marvel characters to be so close to Superman. 

The leader of the Imperial Guard, the super-powered champions of the Shi’ar Empire, Kallark is centuries old and one of the most powerful beings in any galaxy.

The man has withstood the explosion of planets and personally fought scores of Marvel’s heroes to a standstill. He is a man of honor, serving his empire to the point of even briefly becoming its ruler. 

A warrior born and bred, Gladiator lives up to his name as a fighter no sane person would ever want to face on their own. 

Supreme

Supreme
Supreme by Rob Liefeld. Pic credit: Image Comics

It was a parody that turned into a wonderful homage.

Created by Rob Liefeld in 1992, Supreme’s origins would shift from a fallen angel to a human granted powers by an experiment. He initially could be a violent figure mocking others. 

Alan Moore reimagined the character as a loving take on the Silver Age Superman, working as a comic book artist while on imaginative adventures.

It restored Supreme to a fine hero who enjoyed the wonders of the universe and a heartfelt character.

While others have played with him, Moore’s take on Supreme is the best version of a top Superman Expy. 

Blue Marvel

Blue Marvel
The Blue Marvel. Pic credit: Marvel Comics

A Superman character is tricky to work in the Marvel Universe, but the Blue Marvel pulls it off.

While introduced in 2008, the backstory is that Adam Brashear was a Korean War veteran and brilliant scientist who gained amazing powers in an inter-dimensional experiment. 

Adam went around as the Blue Marvel but kept himself masked as he felt the 1960s public wouldn’t accept a black man with such power. He was proven right when his identity was exposed, and President Kennedy asked Adam to retire to quiet the outcry.

Still rather young-looking thanks to his powers, Adam works with the Avengers and other groups, balancing his science with his heroism and proving himself as a worthy hero at last. 

Apollo

Apollo
Apollo of the Authority Pic credit: DC Comics

The Authority is what would happen if the Justice League decided not to hold back anymore.

The Wildstorm super-team has no problem invading countries, smashing up dictators, and changing the world on their own terms. 

Apollo is the clear Superman analog, living up to his moniker as a Sun God by being a living battery of solar energy to the point he can vaporize an army with a blast. 

While amazingly tough, Apollo has a warm heart, as proven by his relationship with teammate Midnighter. That makes him one of the more intriguing turns on the Superman formula to help Apollo shine. 

The Plutonian

The Plutonian
The Plutonian from Irredeemable Pic credit: Boom Studios

What happens when Superman goes mad?

That’s the basis for Mark Waid’s Irredeemable. With no warning whatsoever, the Plutonian transforms from his world’s greatest hero into a monster. 

Earth is helpless before a being who can hear every insult and crush entire nations with ease. His fellow heroes soon realize how little they truly knew about the Plutonian, which set up his fall. 

Despite being shown ravaging the world, the Plutonian is a fascinating figure as it shows how the pressures of literally carrying the world on one’s shoulders can crack anyone. While it’s a dark ride, it’s also a very compelling read. 

Icon

Icon
Icon Pic credit: DC Comics

Created by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie, this Milestone character is set for a big comeback.

When his spaceship exploded, an alien landed on Earth to take on the first form he saw: a slave in the 1830s American South.

Still alive 150 years later, Arnus meets a young woman who discovers his extraordinary powers and encourages him to be a hero.

The storylines can be bold with daring ideas, such as how Icon’s conservative viewpoint clashes with his partner’s more liberal stances but still meaning well. 

Beyond being just a “black Superman,” the character could be daring in his outlooks for the time and is still one of McDuffie’s best creations. 

Hyperion

Hyperion
Hyperion in Squadron Supreme. Pic credit: Marvel Comics

For years, the Squadron Supreme were comics’ biggest in-joke. A team of heroes from an alternate world in the Marvel Universe, each member of the Squadron was an obvious take on the Justice League.

In Hyperion’s case, he was the sole survivor of his destroyed planet, rocketed to Earth, and growing up to become a hero.

But he got more depth in an acclaimed series where, after their world was ravaged, the Squadron took it over to help it recover.

They soon realized how their well-meaning efforts were still a dictatorship, with Hyperion acknowledging why heroes shouldn’t be so proactive.

There have been other versions of the character, but it still shows a “Superman” with a lot more attitude than the original. 

Samaritan

Astro City
Samartian of Astro City. Pic credit: DC Comics

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City has been hailed for showing a realistic “man on the street” take on superheroes. 

In the 35th century, Earth is nearly in ruins. One volunteer goes back in time to prevent the moment that starts it all – the space shuttle Challenger’s destruction.

When the press asks who he is, the new hero says, “call me a good Samaritan,” and the name stuck. He later discovered he had indeed made his future better at the cost of his family never existing.

Posing as magazine editor Asa Martin, Samaritan barely uses his secret identity as he’s so busy saving the world with Honor Guard.

But his lightning-like powers and courage make him Auto City’s most beloved hero, and his unique journey another reason fans love this book. 

Shazam

Zachary Levi as Shazam Pic credit: Warner Bros

This is a rip-off that became just as iconic as the original.

Debuting in 1941, Billy Batson was a young orphan chosen by the wizard Shazam to become his champion. By calling out that name, Billy was transformed into the super-strong adult Captain Marvel. 

He was a terrific hero, including sharing the power with foster siblings Freddy and Mary to become a Marvel Family. Even though legal issues forced DC to change the name to Shazam, the character remains a powerhouse. 

Shazam became even more popular with his hit 2019 movie, and while he and Superman have fought a few times, they are staunch allies as the little kid has grown into a hero is a DC mainstay.

The Martian Manhunter

Martian Manhunter
Harry Lennix as the Martian Manhunter in Justice League Pic credit: Warner Bros

A mainstay of the DC Universe for over 60 years, J’onn J’onzz is more than worthy of being Superman’s equal.

The sole survivor of his Martian race brought to Earth by a teleportation ray, J’onn first acted as a cop, using his shapeshifting and telepathy to get around.

He soon took on a superhero identity to form the Justice League and has been in nearly every incarnation of the team since. 

J’onn uses his powers to understand humanity, and his wisdom and calm counsel have been key to the League. Readers still enjoy reading his adventures to show how, even more than Superman, J’onn is terrific as an alien hero on Earth. 

Michael Weyer


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