Superman, who first appeared in 1938’s Action Comics #1, is the flagship comic book superhero, and is easily one of the most famous superheroes of all time. Superman has appeared in thousands of comics, as well as countless radio serials, TV series, movies, video games, and novels, and has always been one of the staple members of the Justice League. He is an ultimate symbol of truth and justice, and even has a reputation of being a bit of a boy scout. He’s usually as good and pure as they come, and other superheroes strive to be him. However, there has been a recent trend in comics, movies, and video games focused on the idea of an evil Superman.
This isn’t inherently problematic. If anything, it’s actually a fun concept that leads to some pretty cool stories. What is an issue, however, is how overused the concept is.
The idea of “What if Superman, the world’s greatest and most powerful hero, was bad?” dates as far back as Superman III in 1983 when Clark faces off against a more cruel version of himself in a junkyard fight scene. It was just a physical representation to showcase his inner conflict for the film and didn’t last long, but it set the seeds for future storylines across other mediums.
We’ve seen Superman become evil in Superman: Red Son, the Injustice video game and comic series, the Irredeemable comic storyline, Superman: The Dark Side, and he looks to be brainwashed to do evil deeds in the upcoming Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League video game. The Earth 3 version of Superman, also known as Ultraman, is the evil leader of the Crime Syndicate. There was even a brief scene in the Justice League film where the rest of the League had to take on Superman. There are characters who are evil versions of Superman without technically being Clark, including Bizarro and Cyborg Superman. Brightburn, a horror film based on the idea of what would happen if Superman was evil that is not technically associated with DC, released in theaters in 2019.
What’s the appeal of Evil Superman?
Having one of the most powerful characters in comics be the antagonist leads to an entertaining story when other heroes, like Batman, have to figure out how to overcome the mighty threat. It sends our heroes into an upward hill battle that they will likely lose, allowing us to cheer them on in one of their toughest conflicts.
Edgy or darker versions of typically lighthearted characters can be exciting new takes on them. They lead to unpredictable “what-if” scenarios and allow the audience to experience the character in ways they may have never expected. Plus, dark or edgy characters are fun, as they allow us to see our own flaws and weaknesses personified. It’s hard not to find the antagonist of a story appealing.
Let’s not forget about the incredible action sequences an evil Superman allows for. He can fly at super speed, is one of the physically strongest beings alive, can freeze anything with his breath, and can shoot energy beams from his eyes. Superman doesn’t want to kill or harm the world he’s trying to protect, so he typically holds back a bit. An evil version of him, however, doesn’t hold back. His incredible powers can shine and it opens the door for a total thrill ride. The fight against General Zod in Man of Steel shows how intense it is when a Kryptonian seeks to cause damage. The over-the-top action can be a ton of fun.
How is the Evil Superman concept harmful to the character?
Seeing Superman, or any other hero, go rogue is a fun and interesting story. There’s no doubt about that. However, when it’s overdone, it makes those special events feel much less special. Fans were blown away when they first got to experience an evil Superman story, but now it feels pretty run-of-the-mill. It no longer feels fresh or unique.
It’s been used so much now that it feels way too out-of-character for Superman. He was never meant to be dark or evil. He’s meant to be one of the purest characters in comics. Seeing an evil Superman story here and there can be enjoyable, but it’s beginning to reach the point where writers of these stories are forgetting what truly makes Superman who he is. These types of stories are happening so frequently that newcomers may primarily see Superman as a darker antagonist character, and there’s something about that that feels unjust.
Superman is far more interesting as the good guy he was created to be. He represents the best part of humanity. Coming from humble beginnings in Smallville, going for a dream job in the big city of Metropolis to make sure the truth is always found, and doing anything for the love of his life makes him relatable to audiences. Sure, he can do a lot that we can’t, but that’s because he’s meant to inspire us to be the best we can possibly be.
Plus, with him being on the side of good, he’s forced to do so much to protect everyone else while also pulling some punches. He’s often forced to find ways to stop a villain or save the day other than simply punching his way out. Seeing him deal with these bigger challenges make for more interesting stories. When he’s evil, things are just too easy for him.
The concept of an evil Superman is a fun one, but it’s becoming way too overused now. It no longer feels special and is just plain out-of-character for him. The world needs to remember there are other exciting and meaningful stories of Superman that don’t focus on him being evil.