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10 of the Nicest and Nastiest Superman Analogues

Superman is the oldest superhero, and he’s been featured in thousands of stories since 1938. He's also inspired a slew of analogues—Superman-like characters that other companies (and sometimes even Superman's home, DC Comics) created to comment on Superman or superheroes in general. These characters also allow stories that could never be done with the real thing, like Superman going berserk and wiping out whole cities. Here’s a look at 10 Superspawn.

1. Samaritan

This blue-haired boy scout appears in Astro City, a creator-owned comic by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross that’s been published for 20 years and excels at capturing life’s small moments for superheroes and non-superheroes alike. In the story “In Dreams,” Busiek shows the sheer exhaustion a Superman type must feel with so much responsibility—from morning to night he’s foiling bank robberies, averting natural disasters, defeating rampaging robots, and maintaining a secret identity. Only when asleep and dreaming is poor Samaritan able to fly for the sake of flying.

2. Apollo

Superman’s friendship with Batman is a key feature of the DC universe, and that friendship got a new spin in Stormwatch in 1998. Writer Warren Ellis and artist Bryan Hitch created Apollo and the Midnighter, brutal vigilantes based on the two oldest superheroes. There's another twist: The pair are in love and eventually get married. Just like that, decades of superhero subtext became text.

3. The High

Another Superman type popped up during Ellis’ run on Stormwatch. The High is even more directly modeled on Superman. Like Superman, he first appeared in 1938, came from another world, was raised by farmers, and spent his early years fighting for the little guy against tycoons, landlords, and Nazis. Unlike Superman, The High disappeared, sat motionless on a mountaintop for 10 years, then reemerged with a plan to eliminate all governments on Earth by providing every person with endless food, medicine, and freedom. Needless to say, this anti-authority mission did not go over well with the authorities.

4. Omni-Man

This Superman type is the father of another Superman type: Invincible, the star of Robert Kirkman’s long-running Image series of the same name. Like Superman, Omni-Man came from another planet. Unlike Superman, Omni-Man was sent here to ready the planet for conquest. As you might expect, that arrangement led to an awkward conversation/brawl with his son. Imagine if you thought your dad was Superman, but it turned out he was more like Space Napoleon.

5. The Homelander

This extremely creepy character played a major role in The Boys , Grant Ennis and Darick Robertson’s Dynamite series about a CIA team tasked with keeping superheroes in check. Like most superheroes in this series, the Homelander is an abusive monster. In this world, you’d be safer in a CIA prison than anywhere near the equivalent of the Justice League.

6. The Saint

Garth Ennis took another swipe at superheroes in The Pro, an extremely funny one-shot about a prostitute (who not-coincidentally has a revealing costume a la Power Girl) given superpowers to settle a bet by meddling aliens. Along the way, we meet the Saint—a ludicrously naïve simpleton and scathing satire of Superman. I don’t want to spoil anything, but this series reveals something I’ve always suspected: super-sperm and airplane safety do not mix.

7. Hyperion

Marvel and DC Comics have been riffing on and ripping off each other's characters for decades: Quicksilver is a version of the Flash, Swamp Thing is basically Man-Thing, and Namor the Sub-Mariner is a much-improved Aquaman. Hyperion is Marvel’s rarely used version of Superman, and he’s part of the Squadron Supreme, a team of Justice League analogues who are usually treated as a winking joke.

8. The Plutonian

Mark Waid and Peter Krause’s Irredeemable shows the horrific consequences of a bad Superman. In the very first scene, we see the Plutonian incinerate a hero’s wife and child with his heat vision. As the series goes on, Waid and Krause show how and why the world’s most trusted and beloved superhero went berserk and became the greatest mass murderer in history. Waid has explained his inspiration, saying, “In superhero comics, pretty much everyone who’s called upon to put on a cape is, at heart, emotionally equipped for the job. I reject that premise.”

9. Supershock

Along the same lines, this character in Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming’s Powers also has ungodly abilities he uses for mass murder after losing his marbles. Supershock—the original superhero in this world—incinerates the Vatican and annihilates the Gaza Strip, among other atrocities. The cause of his turn is mysterious. The best guess is his brain wasn’t as ageless and invulnerable as his body, and Supershock went senile.

10. Supreme

Created by Rob Liefeld for Image Comics, this creator-owned character had its best run under comics legend Alan Moore, whose stories critiqued '90s comics while paying tribute to the more innocent titles of the '30s through '50s. Moore celebrated every aspect of Superman lore, including Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, and Krypto the Superdog, who became Diana Dane, Darius Dax, and Radar the Hound Supreme. Best of all, Moore created the Supremacy: a place outside space-time where previous versions of Supreme go after being written out of the comics. I’d like to think there’s a Super Supremacy out there where all the Supremes, Supershocks, Samaritans, Plutonians—and, of course, Kal-Els—go when they’ve been “revised,” as Moore puts it.

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Space Goat Publishing
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Comics
These Evil Dead 2 Comics Will Look Groovy on Your Bookshelf
Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Bruce Campbell has been quoted as saying the gallons of fake blood poured into his face during filming of the 1987 cult classic horror film Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn led to a week of red-tinged mucus leaking out of his nostrils. Fortunately, no Campbells were harmed in the making of two new comic collections from Space Goat Productions that are now being funded on Kickstarter. The Evil Dead 2 Omnibus features over 300 pages of stories set in the Necronomicon-plagued universe featured in numerous comic book miniseries; The Art of Evil Dead 2 reveals never-before-seen production art from both the comics and ancillary projects.

The campaign is the latest from Space Goat, the Bellingham, Washington-based company that’s made a cottage (or cabin) industry from products spinning out of the Sam Raimi-directed film, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In addition to the new collections, the publisher has also issued an Evil Dead 2 coloring book; a comic where Campbell’s demon-fighting hero, Ash Williams, encounters Adolf Hitler; and a forthcoming board game where players can navigate Deadite threats while shaking their head at Ash’s questionable competency. (No matter the iteration, he seems ill-equipped to deal with the threat of his own possessed and lopped-off hand.)

According to Space Goat publisher Shon Bury, licensing the Evil Dead 2 property from rights holders StudioCanal in 2015 has been a buoy in navigating the difficult waters of comic book publishing. (Even Marvel, which rakes in billions through its film franchises, struggles to sell more than 60,000 to 70,000 copies of its most popular monthly titles.) One day into its Kickstarter launch, the Evil Dead titles had reached 50 percent of their $20,000 funding goal.

“It’s definitely our flagship on the publishing side,” Bury tells Mental Floss. “The board game is our top seller in the Evil Dead category, and the coloring book sells really well. They’re our evergreen products.”

The cover to 'The Art of Evil Dead 2' from Space Goat Publishing
Space Goat Publishing

Exploring Ash’s adventures in other media comes with a few caveats. While Space Goat is free to explore the characters and situations portrayed in Evil Dead 2, incorporating ideas from the rest of the series (including 1993’s Army of Darkness or the Starz series Ash vs. Evil Dead) is generally off-limits. And while the StudioCanal rights include a likeness of Campbell, the actor has veto power over how he’s depicted on the page. “For some reason, he doesn’t like the dimple on his chin to be drawn,” Bury says. “But he’s very insistent that the scar on his face from the movie is always there.”

Other actors featured in the film—like Richard Domeier, the future home-shopping host who portrayed “Evil Ed”—may not have granted their likeness rights, but his Deadite character design is part of the deal. “You want to inoculate the owner or licensor of the rights,” Bury says. “So we submit drawings and they might say, ‘No, too close to the actor.’”

That development process is part of what makes up The Art of Evil Dead 2, one-half of Space Goat’s current Kickstarter project that follows a successful Evil Dead 2 board game launch in 2016. The campaigns, Bury says, help target Ash fans with material that might not get enough attention if it were released directly to retailers. “Kickstarter is basically social media. It’s direct engagement, our way of saying to fans, ‘Hey, you’re really going to like this.’”

Bury expects fans to be just as enthused about Evil Dead 2: The Doppelganger Wars, a limited series due for release in 2018 that sees Ash and sidekick Annie Knowby enter the mirror dimension glimpsed at in Evil Dead 2 to discover the true origins of both the demon-summoning Necronomicon and the cult surrounding it. A meeting with H.P. Lovecraft may also be on deck, along with other narratives that would carry the license through the end of the publisher’s current agreement with StudioCanal in late 2019.

Still to be decided: whether Ash will ever encounter the werewolves of The Howling, Space Goat’s latest horror license. “Those conversations have occurred,” Bury says. “It would be a natural. But it’s also challenging because the royalties [for the licenses] double.” 

Digital versions of The Art of Evil Dead 2 and the Evil Dead Omnibus will be available to backers pledging $20 beginning in December. Softcover, hardcover, and Necronomicon slipcase editions ($30 and up) ship in May 2018. The Kickstarter runs through November 25.

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Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
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History
How Superman Helped Foil the KKK
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images
Hulton Archive (left), Bruno Vincent (right) // Getty Images

The Klansmen were furious.

Dozens of them had congregated in a nondescript room in Atlanta, shaking cloaked heads at the worrisome news that their sect leader had just shared: An act of gross subterfuge had transpired over the airwaves. Millions of Americans had now become privy to their policies, their rankings, their closely guarded methods of organized hatred.

All of it fodder for some comic book radio show. Their mission had been compromised, sacrificed at the altar of popular culture. Kids, one Klansman sighed. His kids were in the streets playing Superman vs. the Klan. Some of them tied red towels around their necks; others pranced around in white sheets. Their struggle for racial purity had been reduced to a recess role play.

Stetson Kennedy listened, doing his best to give off irate body language. He scowled. He nodded. He railed.

The covert activist waited patiently for the Klan to settle down. When they did, he would call radio journalists Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, offering the results of his infiltration into the group for public consumption.

He’d also contact Robert Maxwell, producer of the Superman radio serial. Maxwell, eager to aid the humanitarian mission of the Anti-Defamation League, would promptly insert the leaked information into his show’s scripts. In between fisticuffs, his cast would mock the KKK’s infrastructure, and the group’s loathsome attitudes would be rendered impotent by the juvenilia.

The Klan roared, demanding revenge on their traitor. “Show me the rat,” their leader said, “and I’ll show you some action.”

Kennedy cheered, just as they all did.

And when he returned home, his Klan robe would be traded for a cape.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Kennedy, born in 1916, was an unlikely undercover operative. After a back injury kept him out of World War II, the Jacksonville, Florida native decided he wanted to combat anti-American forces on the home front. With Klan members alleged to have assaulted his family’s black maid when he was a child, the Klan—once again gathering steam in an era of segregation and racial divisiveness—was a favored target.

Having convinced a “Klavern” in Atlanta, Georgia that he shared their bigoted views, Kennedy donned the ominous attire of a Klansman, attended cross burnings, and covertly collected information about the group that he would then share with law enforcement and media. Radio journalist Drew Pearson would read the names and minutes of their meetings on air, exposing their guarded dialogues.

Revealing their closed-door sessions was a blow—one that Kennedy didn’t necessarily have to confine to nonfiction. In 1946, Maxwell, who produced the Superman radio serial broadcast around the country, embraced Kennedy’s idea to contribute to a narrative that had Superman scolding the racial divisiveness of the Klan and airing their dirty laundry to an enraptured audience.

“The law offices, state, county, FBI, House Un-American Activities Committee, they were all sympathetic with the Klan,” Kennedy said later. “The lawmen were, ideologically at least, close with the Klansmen. The court of public opinion was all that was left.”

Ostensibly aimed at children, Superman’s daily radio dramas were often broadcast to assembled nuclear families; one phone poll showed that 35 percent of its audience was composed of adults.

But regardless of whether parents listened, the activist believed the younger demographic was worth attending to. “Even back in the ’40s, they had kids in the Klan, little girls dressed up in Klan robes at the cross burnings," Kennedy said. "I have photos of an infant in a cradle with a complete Klan robe on. It seemed like a good place to do some educating.” 

In “Clan of the Fiery Cross,” a 16-part serial airing in June and July of 1946, Superman opposes an organized group of hatemongers who target one of Jimmy Olsen’s friends. Exploring their network, Clark Kent uncovers their secret meetings and policies before his alter ego socks the “Grand Scorpion” in the jaw. The idea, Kennedy wrote in his account of his work, The Klan Unmasked, was to made a mockery of their overblown vernacular.

When traveling, for example, Klansmen might identify one another by asking if they “knew Mr. Ayak,” an acronym for “Are You a Klansman?” Although Kennedy may not have actually shared their code words on air—a longstanding myth that was debunked in Rick Bowers’s 2012 book, Superman vs. the KKK—their histrionics were perfect for dramatization in the breathless structure of a radio drama. Given shape by actors and sound effects, all the clubhouse tropes of the Klan seemed exceedingly silly.

The cover to the first issue of Superman
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Kennedy continued to serve up Klan secrets to Superman, he watched as Klan morale dipped and membership enrollment ebbed. Desperate, the Klan tried calling for a boycott of Kellogg’s, a new sponsor of the show, but racial intolerance was no match for the appetites of post-World War II homes. Rice Krispies and Corn Flakes remained breakfast table staples, and Superman’s battles with the close-minded continued. Emboldened by his success against the Klan, Superman took aim at Communism, a favorite target of the show’s anti-Red star, Bud Collyer.

Kennedy would go on to burden the Klan using proof of uncollected tax liens, and eventually convinced the state of Georgia to revoke their national corporate charter.

Kennedy died in 2011 at the age of 94. While some of his accounts of subterfuge in the Klan later came under fire for being embellished, his bravery in swimming with the sharks of the organization is undeniable. So, too, was his wisdom in utilizing American iconography to suffocate prejudice. Fictional or not, Superman may have done more to stifle the Klan’s postwar momentum than many real people who merely stood by and watched.

Portions of this article were excerpted from Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon by Jake Rossen with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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