Since the dawn of the Silver Age, legacy characters have been a staple of superhero fiction, and having a new character step into a well loved roll can open up new opportunities for writers and artists to tell different kinds of stories. In The Replacements, we'll look back at the notable and not-so-notable heroes and villains to assume some of the most iconic mantles in the superhero genre.
Today we’re looking at the brave souls who heard the call and in one way or another attempted to fill Superman’s boots. Some — much like Superman himself — are lost souls from dying worlds, some are two-bit thugs and at least two of them are pretty much The Terminator.
Composite Superman (Joseph Meach)
Created by Edmond Hamilton & Curt Swan (World's Finest Comics #142)
Joe Meach was a down-on-his-luck high diver that loathed the attention Superman and Batman received, and while working at the Superman museum a jolt of lightning struck the Legion of Super-Heroes exhibit and granted Meach the combined powers of the Legion. He then shapeshifted into a new form, a green-skinned combination of Batman and Superman, split right down the middle.
Meach’s powers eventually wore off, but they were restored by an alien named Xan who set The Composite Superman against the heroes once again, and once again he was defeated. Xan himself then unlocked the powers of The Composite Superman and became the second iteration of the villain, before renaming himself Amalgamax and taking on the Legion.
The Composite Superman isn’t a concept that has been revisited all that much in the modern age, with a few notable exceptions. When a meteor made of Kryptonite threatens Earth, Hiro Okamura — the teenage Toyman — designs a rocket capable of destroying the giant rock, and he designed it in the shape of The Composite Superman, although this time Batman’s name got its due.
The Composite Superman was finally updated when Professor Ivo attempted to clone the Justice League, but deeming the experiment a failure, he buried them in a field. They later awoke, merged into one being and took on the appearance of The Composite Superman, although was only ever referred to as Composite. It attempted to live out the lives of Superman and Batman at once, and eventually tore itself asunder trying to intervene in separate crimes.
Superboy Prime (Clark Kent)
Created by Elliot S! Maggin & Curt Swan (DC Comics Presents #87)
Superboy Prime was the Clark Kent of Earth-Prime, which is ostensibly “our Earth”. He grew up in a world without heroes, reading Superman comics, until one day Superman of Earth-1 appeared and awoke Superboy Prime’s innate Kryptonian abilities. He helped Superman stop a cosmic tidal wave and after the day was saved, followed Superman through the portal back home to Earth-1.
Superboy Prime was one of the few survivors of Crisis on Infinite Earths, along with Superman and Lois Lane of Earth-2 and Alexander Luthor of Earth-3. They spent their remaining days in a paradise dimension, but Prime and Luthor eventually became dissatisfied with their predicament and sought a way out.
The pair attempted to overwrite the current reality in their attempt at creating a perfect Earth, and in the final conflict Superboy Prime killed his counterpart Kon-El. They were eventually defeated, Superboy Prime was imprisoned on Oa by The Guardians of the Universe, but he escaped and joined the Sinestro Corps going by the name Superman Prime for a brief period.
He later led the Legion of Super-Villains in an all-out war against the Legions of three worlds, but upon discovering the Time Trapper was a future version of himself, he attacked, which caused a paradox resulting in Superboy Prime being shunted into a recreation of his own universe. He spent his days reading comics and complaining about them online, and upon his return to Earth-1 he was defeated by the Teen Titans and trapped in The Source Wall.
Steel (John Henry Irons)
Created by Louise Simosnin & Jon Bogdanove (Adventures of Superman #500)
John Henry Irons was a steelworker whose life was saved by Superman, and when he asked how he could pay back the debt, was told to instead pay it forward. Irons felt compelled to intervene during Superman’s fight with Doomsday and following the death of his hero he constructed an armored suit to take his place as The Man of Steel.
In actuality, John Henry Irons was a scientist and former weapons developer who destroyed his data and went into hiding after discovering his weapons were sold to terrorists. As Steel, he fought against the rise of those very same weapons in his own neighborhood and was announced on live television as the physical host for Superman’s soul by his eccentric neighbor Rosie, a would-be psychic.
Following Superman’s return, Steel would join the Justice League of America alongside his hero, and alongside his niece Natasha he opened Steelworks, a workshop to develop non-lethal weapons for the Metropolis PD. Natasha occasionally took the role of Steel, either at his side or in his stead, and after a clash with Lex Luthor over Natasha’s safety, Irons found himself briefly covered in a living metal alloy; a literal man of steel.
The Eradicator (Dr. David Connor)
Roger Stern & Jackson Guice
The Eradicator was originally the systems of a ship altered by the scientist Kem-L to preserve Kryptonian culture above all others. Superman encountered The Eradicator on his adventures and brought it back to Earth to study inside the Fortress of Solitude; occasionally having to wrangle it back when it attempted to cleanse Earth of anything not Kryptonian.
The Eradicator first appeared believing itself to be the true Superman after gaining consciousness as an energy being inside the Fortress of Solitude. It took on a Superman costume and set about doling out justice to the crooks and gangsters of Metropolis, but in a much more violent way than Superman ever did.
While wavering on the side of good and evil throughout Superman’s absence, The Eradicator’s intentions were ultimately good and it joined in the final fight following Superman’s return. The Eradicator even sacrificed itself to protect Superman, and in doing so the real Last Son of Krypton regained the full use of his powers. Following its death, it was examined in STAR Labs, merged with Dr. David Conner, and briefly merged with the Fortress of Solitude, where it attempted to murder Krypto, whom it deemed an affront to Kryptonian purity.
The Eradicator was seriously injured by an OMAC and rendered comatose, but reappeared — as an ambassador for New Krypton — as a member of The Outsiders. While other members of the team weren't happy about their new member, The Eradicator proves itself a hero during a battle with Doomsday, sacrificing its life to protect its teammates.
Created by Karl Kesel & Tom Grummett
In the wake of Superman’s death, Cadmus attempted to clone and replace him, but the clone was broken out of holding before he fully matured and he immediately made his presence known in Metropolis. Despite his youthful demeanor, he would snap at anyone that called him Superboy, and insisted on being referred to as Superman.
Once Superman returned, the clone did take the name Superboy, and was gifted the Krpytonian name “Kon-El” by Superman, who welcomed him into his family. Around this time he discovered that his powers, unlike Superman’s, derived from “tactile-telekinesis” meaning he could pretty much emulate the real deal, but he needed to be physically in contact with whatever he was effecting.
It was later discovered that Superboy was a clone made up from genetic samples from both Superman and Lex Luthor, which left him scared that he had as much capacity for evil as he did for good. He took the civilian name Conner Kent, and briefly shaved his head bald and turned evil due to conditioning by Luthor, but was stopped and welcomed back onto the Teen Titans by his understanding friends.
He proved himself a hero during Infinite Crisis when he put his body on the line to fight Superboy Prime and was ultimately killed. Kon-El returned to get revenge on Superboy Prime during The Legion of Three Worlds, and settled back into life in Smallville, reuniting with his friends in the Teen Titans, and briefly striving to learn what makes his genetic “father” Lex Luthor tick.
Cyborg Superman (Hank Henshaw)
Created Dan Jurgens (Adventures of Superman #465)
Hank Henshaw was one of four pilots aboard a space shuttle that was exposed to cosmic radiation and taken to LexCorp for observation. As they began to deteriorate, Hank was able to save his wife Terri and seemingly died, but he actually uploaded his consciousness into the LexCorp mainframe and built himself a new metal body.
Henshaw blamed Superman for the accident, and following the hero’s death, Henshaw appeared as the Cyborg Superman, claiming to be the real deal. All tests proved positive, and — of the four Supermen — Henshaw was the one officially endorsed by The White House.
Henshaw’s true motives were revealed when — along with Mongul — he destroyed Coast City and nearly destroyed Metropolis. It took the combined efforts of Steel, Superboy, Supergirl, and the resurrected Superman to stop Henshaw, and the sacrifice of The Eradicator led to Superman getting his powers back and stopping the Cyborg Superman.
Henshaw resurfaced multiple times, most notably as a member of The Sinestro Corps, where he served as a herald of The Anti-Monitor who promised to give the Cyborg a true and final death once his goals were achieved. Unfortunately for him, the Sinestro Corps were defeated, and although his body was destroyed his consciousness lived on yet again, cursed with seemingly eternal life.
Superman of Earth-22 (Clark Kent)
Created by Mark Waid & Alex Ross (Kingdom Come #1)
The Superman of Earth-22 retired after The Joker killed Lois Lane and his colleagues at The Daily Planet, and the villain was executed by the new anti-hero Magog.
In Superman’s absence, his world saw the rise of more and more anti-heroes such as Magog, and soon there was no distinction between heroes and villains. After Magog’s actions lead to his death, the death of his team, and the destruction of a large portion of Kansas, Superman was coaxed out of retirement by Wonder Woman and together they reformed the Justice League, forcing metahumans to abide by a strict code or face imprisonment.
This led to a conflict with Batman that ultimately resulted in a giant superhuman brawl, forcing the United Nations to drop nuclear weapons on the heroes. At the exact moment the bombs fell, Superman found himself inadvertently transported to Earth-1 thanks to the new Starman of the Justice Society of America.
Superman tried to find his place on this new Earth and slowly started to see that it was heading in a similar direction to his old Earth, due to the rise of the godlike Gog and his herald, Magog. Gog was ultimately defeated, and Superman was sent home by Starman, where he lived for over one thousand years, long enough to see his younger self fly through the skies as a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
The Superman of the 853rd Century (Kal Kent)
Created by Grant Morrison & Val Semeiks (JLA #23)
Kal Kent is a distant descendant of Superman, and is the Superman of the year 85,270 AD, who journeyed back in time along with his team, Justice Legion A, to invite the JLA of 1998 to join them in the future for contests and games as part of a big celebration. While in the present day, he helped stop a prison riot and let slip that while it was the first meeting for Superman, they had actually already met from Kal’s perspective and battled the Chronovore.
Justice Legion A found themselves stranded in the present day after Solaris The Tyrant Sun launched an attack from across time. In the end, the Justice Legion had to create Solaris in order to defeat Solaris, and the traitorous Starman sacrificed his life in the effort.
At some point in the future, Kal Kent and the Superman Squad brought the original Superman back in time to see his father one last time before he died. They disguised themselves as farmhands and took the younger Superman’s place battling the Chronovore, stopping the beast from devouring three minutes of his life in which his father suffered a fatal heart attack.
Following this adventure, Kal Kent introduced Superman to the leader of the Superman Squad — actually Superman himself from Kal’s time period — who presented Superman with an indestructible flower from New Krypton to place at his father’s grave.