Follow TV Tropes


Superman Substitute

Go To
"It's a flock of birds! It's a squadron of planes!"note 

"This tabula rasa for reader's ideal self slowly became overwritten. This being born of motion became too solid. So writers over the years made dummy Supermen: reflections, dissections, parodies and perversions of Siegel and Shuster's Son of Krypton. In DC Comics: Bizarro, Ultraman, Eradicator. In Marvel: Hyperion, Blue Marvel, The Sentry. In Image Comics: Supreme, Omniman. In WildStorm: Apollo, Mr. Majestic. Mark Waid's Plutonian, Garth Ennis's the Homelander. Kurt Busiek's Samaritan. All attempts to understand this ever-more archaic idea: where does that goodness come from?"

As the character widely considered the first superhero, Superman is a natural point for any writer of superhero fiction to start with. Consequently, pretty much every superhero universe, whether playing straight, parodying, or deconstructing, contains at least one character clearly intended to be a version of Superman.

There are many reasons for why this trope is so common in superhero fiction. Superman's iconography is easily recognizable, and immediately implies a superhero setting. This makes it easy to twist and put the writer's own spin on it. Superman is also considered the starting point for superheroes, which means discussions of him can have more meaning. While doing an Expy of a character like Batman might come across as critiquing or celebrating only Batman, stories attempting to critique or celebrate the superhero genre can use Superman as a base and be reasonably certain their attitudes can translate across to other characters. Superman is also famously considered one of the most powerful heroes, giving the character and their actions a sense of weight, whether as a hero or a villain. Superman's Older Than Television status and idealistic nature make him an easy target for parody or deconstruction as the embodiment of "The Man". Conversely, often a Superman Substitute is created because a writer wants to write a Superman story, but doesn't want to deal with the trouble of negotiating with DC Comics to handle one of their biggest characters without Executive Meddling, and so creates a Captain Ersatz to write him anyway.


Of course, the simplest one is because he's the only one the writer knows.

This was particularly common in The Golden Age of Comic Books, as the runaway success of Superman meant that many companies were eager to Follow the Leader. Plenty of early superheroes essentially were Superman, with a throwaway origin to grant them their suspiciously similar powers and names like Dynaman or Super-American. The most famous of all was Captain Marvel, who actually outsold Superman at points, leading to one of the medium's most notorious lawsuits. Most modern takes on this trope tend to be more self-conscious, less trying to copy Superman and more trying to play with Superman as an archetype.

These characters tend to include the following traits:

A common variant is to include elements of Captain America, typically by playing up the Captain Patriotic elements and changing the origin to include Super Serum, or Captain Marvel, by adding elements of magic or mythology or some kind of transformation. Expect this character to use lots of Dynamic Akimbo posing, too (our page image being a fantastic example of such).

Notably, DC themselves have acknowledged this at points, suggesting that every world in The Multiverse has at least one of these on it (though some are farther than others).

See also: Batman Parody, Spider Man Sendup, HULK MASH!-Up, Captain Patriotic, Wolverine Wannabe, The Fantastic Faux and Wonder Woman Wannabe for other superhero expies.


    open/close all folders 

  • UFO Kamen Yakisoban has Yakisoban, a human alien who comes from a faraway planet, possesses supernatural abilities related to said planet, and has a younger female cousin who shares his powers.

    Anime and Manga 
  • My Hero Academia has All Might, who is the Big Good, The Cape, and a Primary-Color Champion. He can't fly, unlike most Superman Substitutes, but he can Super jump, like the Golden Age Superman, and his power was passed down similar to Captain Marvel rather than alien heritage.note  He also manages to be a Captain Patriotic for America, despite being Japanese. He is also taken as The Paragon for all heroes to take guidance for being the strongest, most charismatic, most effective, and one of the longest serving heroes. Plus his status as "the Symbol of Peace" is very similar to Superman's status as "the Symbol of Hope".
  • Doctor Slump features a parody of Superman, known as Suppamannote . However Suppaman is portrayed as a Heroic Wannabe that lacks superpowers, and is an asshole to anyone he meets, even helping criminals to save his own hide.
  • Mr. Lostman from Gamma is that world's version of Superman, with their similarities ranging from having Super Strength and being the first Cape of the setting to growing Stronger with Age. There is also Mighty Blow, who is the resident expy of Thor, but borrows quite a few aspects (mainly the "truant space policeman" origin) from Stan Lee's take on Superman.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • While Son Goku has long been compared to Superman, his actual origin is tied far more into that of Sun Wukong. It wasn't until Dragon Ball Z that we learned he was an alien sent to Earth as a baby - from a planet that was blown up mere days later. The twist is that he was meant to wipe out human civilization, but thanks to a bump on the head and a good upbringing, he became a Martial Pacifist and the Earth's greatest defender.
    • Speaking of Gohan, he becomes a kind of Superman Substitute in the Buu Saga when he becomes Great Saiyaman. This hero persona has a red cape and tights and contrasts wildly with his soft-spoken introverted and nerdy bespectacled civilian identity. Like Supes, Gohan has to balance his hero life with his normal life and is suspected by his dark haired outspoken Love Interest Videl, before she like Lois learns the truth. Gohan’s High School adventures are even somewhat similar to Smallville. Although there are a few differences as besides Gohan being half-alien while Superman is full alien, Great Saiyaman is more inspired by Kamen Rider and Toku than western superheroes like Superman.
    • Dragon Ball Super saw fit to create a more direct Superman substitute with Jiren of the Universe 11 Pride Troopers. While nowhere near as friendly as most Supermen not made by Image, the guy's sheer power (rivalling or surpassing the Gods of Destruction), Heroic Build, psuedo-Eye Beams and membership in a hero team makes his status as such likely. This is expecially true for his manga incarnation, where he doesn't want to participate in the Tournament of Power because it will cost the existence of other universes while preventing him from keeping watch over his own universe for the duration of the tournament.
  • One-Punch Man:
    • Saitama is the most obvious comparison, he’s got a red cape, red boots, is strong and invulnerable to an insanely ridiculous level much like Silver Age Superman and generally holds back his full strength and doesn't go looking for fights unless his friends and innocent people are threatened. There's some difference though as Saitama isn't an alien, he got his abilities through training, he's bald (similar to a certain Superman villain), he can't fly (only jump super high), can't shoot Eye Beams and Saitama has a much more bitter and sardonic personality than Supes. He's also more violent to his enemies, being totally willing to kill with a single punch. Then again, this Anti-Hero-like behaviour and being unable to fly or use crazy powers does make Saitama akin to Golden Age Superman.
    • Blast, Hero Association's most powerful hero (since they don't know about Saitama's strength) is another clear Superman analogue, especially in the web comic where Blast has a Superman-like haircut, a cape and tights, whilst in the manga he has bulky armour with large shoulder pads and shades (though he does have an insignia on his chest like Superman and the shades make him look like Eradicator). Blast also has a civilian job like Superman and according to Fubuki has Eye Beams. There's several differences though: Blast's powers are even flashier than Superman as he can perform dimensional travel, besides the usual extreme strength and toughness. He's also not a Hope Bringer like Superman, bluntly telling Tatsumaki after rescuing her in a Flash Back not to expect anyone to save her, instilling Tatsumaki with the Jerkass behaviour that she has today. Like Saitama, Blast can be seen as a mild deconstruction of Superman.
  • The Sailor Moon manga has Sailor Venus debut as this, being at first the most powerful and experienced of the Sailor Senshi, The Cape and their role model, the most beloved hero in town even after disappearing for months and Sailor Moon taking over her job, the only one who could fly (at least until she taught the others how off-page), and, even after her identity was revealed, The Leader of the team. This is somewhat Deconstructed, as the sheer effort of presenting herself as an invincible role model in spite of her Dark and Troubled Past has taken a toll on her sanity and solidly tied her self-esteem to her role as a superhero.
  • The Project A-ko movie shows her parents to be Lawyer Friendly Cameos of Superman and Wonder Woman.

    Comic Books 

DC Comics Despite owning the character, DC has a surprising number of these in their main multiverse — either by buying up other companies with Superman Substitutes, or creating them themselves.

  • Shazam!:
    • DC's Captain Marvel may be the Trope Codifier, as his creators, Fawcett Comics, were notoriously sued for it. In his case, he has the design and the powers, and was even smashing a car on the cover of his first appearance, but he's otherwise not that similar, being an ordinary boy empowered by a wizard. It's often stated that it was exactly this difference that led him to outsell Superman, as a boy who could become a hero struck a chord with readers. Captain Marvel's similarities led to a 12-year long lawsuit as Superman's owners claimed Captain Marvel constituted copyright infringement. As he now exists in the same universe as Superman, he has gone through some Divergent Character Evolution, with writers playing up his nature as a Kid Hero whose power set is based on magic and the gods, which can complement Superman's weakness with the former. Longtime writer of the character, Otto Binder, also prominently wrote Superman in the 1960s, and brought in many elements that he'd used with Captain Marvel — most obviously, Supergirl.
    • Captain Marvel himself has a Captain Ersatz in the form of Marvelman, better known as Miracleman (who is currently owned by Marvel). In Alan Moore's run, the similarities are played up even further, with him introducing a Distaff Counterpart and a Lois Lane Expy, aging up Mike Moran, and linking the character's origin to aliens. Add in the fact that Kid Miracleman is redesigned to be more like Captain Marvel, and the final battle ends up basically being a recreation of MAD's Superduperman but Played for Drama.
  • Slightly behind Captain Marvel, but older than most of the other examples below, is the primarily space-based hero Captain Comet. With the powers of a man "born a hundred thousand years before his time", he's essentially psychic Superman, and like Captain Marvel above DC has intentionally pit their two supermen against each other for the sake of comparing and contrasting their powers and personalities. Comet goes further than most in that he also comes from rural mid-west America and also has parents named John and Martha, something Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics played up.
  • Icon is the Superman Substitute of Milestone Comics, being an alien Flying Brick with a costume including a cape. He's also a black lawyer, who's somewhat out of touch with the struggles of the lower class and underprivileged.
  • Captain Carrot fills this role in the Zoo Crew, though he's otherwise pretty unique, being a comic artist who uses carrots to gain his powers. That, and he's a Funny Animal.
  • After Legion of Super-Heroes was rebooted to remove references to Superman, Mon-El, a character who had once been Superman's adoptive brother, became one of these, filling the role of being the Legion's historical inspiration and gaining a counterpart to Supergirl.
    • DC later spun off an entire race of Supermen Substitutes in the form of Mon-El's people, the Daxamites. They played an integral role in the 1988 Crisis Crossover series Invasion!, along with the 1982 Legion storyline The Great Darkness Saga. In addition, Alan Moore's prophesied "Ultimate Green Lantern" was eventually revealed to be a Daxamite named Sodam Yat. Being a Daxamite means that Sodam Yat has all the powers of Superman combined with all the powers of a Green Lantern.
  • Iron Munro was created because All-Star Squadron couldn't use Superman due to Post-Crisis changes. True to form, he has the same powers as the Golden Age Superman (Super Strength and invulnerability), he basically looks the same only wearing street clothes and with a streak of white in his hair, and he's stated to be the son of Hugo Danner. Iron Munro is inspired by Aarn Munro, character in the novel The Mightiest Machine by John W. Campell.
  • Martian Manhunter became this over time, with him possessing the powers, the origin, the weakness, and the costume. It's often rumored that he was an outright stand-in in early issues of Justice League of America. He has a number of twists to it, however: his powers include several others, he actually experienced the loss of his people, his weakness is fire, and he's clearly alien in appearance while Superman isn't.
  • The Multiversity features an inversion of this trope, with several characters of the depicted worlds in The Multiverse being clearly designed to resemble other Superman Substitutes, while also being alternate universe counterparts to Superman. These include Hyperius (Hyperion), Savior (Samaritan), Supremo (Supreme), and Optiman (Ultiman). It also retroactively makes a number of other characters into these, including other-world versions of Etrigan, Captain Atom, Super-Chief, and Doctor Fate.
  • In the Tangent Comics universe, every character is deliberately In Name Only. The Earth's foremost hero is Adam Thompson, The Atom, a man who manipulates gravity and density to give himself Flying Brick powers and looks basically like Superman with muted colors. Ironically, the actual character going by "Superman" in that world is a Knight Templar with an enhanced brain that grants him Psychic Powers (which, for even further irony, is pretty close to a very early concept of Superman).
  • Dynaman in the Elseworlds tale The Golden Age was one created entirely by Tex Thompson by using exposure to nuclear power to give him his Superman-like abilities, including the ability to create explosive punches just with his fists alone (it was originally Dyna-Mite's own ability that was activated by pressing together his dyna-rings). It eventually turned out that Dynaman was actually Adolf Hitler's brain transplanted into Daneil Dunbar's body, which, when the truth was exposed publicly, caused Dynaman to go berserk, forcing the gathering of superheroes to try stopping his rampage before he was ultimately killed. The story also has aforementioned Captain Comet serving as the substitute for Silver Age Superman.
  • WildStorm features Mr. Majestic, the High, and Apollo, all of whom parallel Superman in various ways. Majestic has the alien origin and the role as a Big Good, The High has a late-'30s debut and an All-Loving Hero attitude gone sour, and Apollo has the sun-fueled powerset and relationship with a vigilante. They've been stated several times to be in the same ballpark. Once the Wildstorm characters were brought into the DC universe proper, Apollo's status gets a direct acknowledgement that Apollo is in fact a huge Superman fanboy.
  • In Watchmen, Doctor Manhattan has an entirely different set of powers, origin, and personality, being primarily inspired by Captain Atom. However, he's more or less an analogue to Superman in that his very existence challenges society, he plays a major international role, is backed and supported by the government, and likewise feels increasingly lonely and apart from humanity. The line of dialogue "the Superman exists and he is American" signifies who Manhattan is meant to represent.
  • Mr Might of the Freedom Brigade is the Superman of Earth-12, having the expected powers and also a back story as Barb-Ell, son of Dumb-Ell of the planet Neon, who predicted the planet would explode, and, when nobody believed him, sent his only son to Earth. (The other Neonians were right.) However, his main signficance is that he's the father of Awkwardman of The Inferior Five, who is Does Not Know His Own Strength combined with The Klutz.

Marvel Comics

Other Comics

  • Wonder Man (Fox) (no, not that one) might be the very first, debuting just thirteen months after Superman. Despite his different origin (he was given his powers by a ring he got from a monk), he was strikingly similar, so much so that DC sued his publisher as soon as the book hit the stands. Wonder Man never got his second issue.
  • Powerman (no, not that one), a character created in Britain for the Nigerian market in the 1970s, sported a cape, Underwear of Power, a P-shaped symbol on his chest, and a Flying Brick powerset, with his Kryptonite Factor being snakebites. In the late 1980s, his series was reprinted as Power Comics in Britain and the United States thanks to the popularity of artists Brian Bolland (of The Killing Joke) and Dave Gibbons (of Watchmen), with the titular character's name being changed to "Powerbolt" to avoid confusion with Marvel's Power Man.
  • Supreme (no, not tha- started as a Darker and Edgier Expy, and under the pen of Alan Moore, became a Captain Ersatz of the Silver Age Superman, including more and more homages to Superman's supporting cast. Most notably was the inclusion of a Legion of Super-Heroes-esque team called the League of Infinity, and his own younger female sidekick (a la Supergirl) called Suprema.
  • The titular character of Superior is one, with the added twist of being a kid who's turned into an in-universe fictional character.
  • The Plutonian from Irredeemable is a Deconstructed Character Archetype of the Man of Steel. The basic premise of the series is that he snaps from the pressure of heroism and becomes the world's greatest villain, with the exploration behind what led up to this. Twists include all his typical flying brick superpowers being derived from being a Reality Warper, and rather than being an extraterrestrial source of radiation his Kryptonite Factor is run of the mill radiation that can be generated on Earth, but in an utterly immense dose. Like, enough to cause a global nuclear holocaust, all concentrated on him.
  • The titular character of Axiom, also by Mark Waid, is pretty much a condensed version of the Plutonian, and therefore by extension he's one of these.
  • Astro City:
    • The first issue focuses on one of these, named Samaritan, who is so occupied by saving people that he frequently finds himself trying to make time to just fly for its own sake. Kurt Busiek is a little annoyed at people comparing Samaritan to Superman, though, noting that he has a lot of other elements in his mix (for instance, he's a time traveler, not an alien).
    • Atomicus is a more clear-cut one, with him being a thorough deconstruction of the Loves My Alter Ego relationship that typified Silver Age Superman and Lois.
    • Supersonic seems to be the other Silver Age Superman equivalent — aside from the name and the Flying Brick powerset, in his prime back in the '60s, he shared that version of Superman's status as a Genius Bruiser who favored defeating his opponents through Hollywood Science and clever tactics over simple brute force (and his habit of messing with his love interest). Also much like Superman, he doesn't do that stuff anymore, though in his case, it's due to old age and possible brain damage from his lifestyle, hence why he's retired.
    • The original Starbright is a pretty clear homage to the Silver Age Superboy, as a clean-cut all-American teen hero from a small town, with his nemesis being similar to Lex Luthor, a put-upon Teen Genius who doesn't understand that Starbright's heroism is sincere until too late.
  • Big Bang Comics is pretty much entirely comprised of various Expies of Silver Age heroes, and they therefore have Ultiman, a clear one for Superman.
  • EC Comics' MAD had the legendary Harvey Kurtzmann parody Superduperman where Clark Bent pines for Lois Pain while his alter-ego fights Captain Marbles. The comic was a huge success and is considered not only a great spoof but one of the greatest comics in its own right. It was notable for shredding the sexist assumptions in Loves My Alter Ego with Lois Pain ditching Bent after he reveals his identity by noting, "Once a creep, always a creep".
  • Marshal Law's first arc focuses on the Public Spirit, a Deconstructive Parody of Superman, whose all-American nature is steeped in an ugly conservatism. Curiously, his powers are fueled by "pumping ions" and not true Super Strength, and he takes steroids to give himself the muscular look. In the various sequels, it seems he also shares Superman's tendencies for spinoffs, including a 1940s one who operates as a failed Captain America and a "Junior" who resembles Legion of Super-Heroes Superboy.
  • The Boys:
    • As a Spiritual Successor to Marshal Law, it uses the equally scummy Homelander as its Big Bad. He even has an identical backstory to Superman, though it's completely fake; he was created by a corporation. Unusually, he's one of the few heroes given any kind of Freudian Excuse (he believes he's committed atrocities that he can't remember doing and he's lost his mind, when it was somebody else disguised as him — his clone, who was created as a contingency to take out the Homelander if he started disobeying, and took steps to ensure this when the Homelander wasn't going to do so himself. He actually fills the role of Batman in the Justice League Expy).
    • Stormfrontnote  is another, Nazi-created version (and one of the covers shows him sitting on a cloud while sneering at the viewer, in a parody of a well-known All-Star Superman cover), although the role he occupies is Thor of The Avengers. His personality and political leanings get him an asskicking by a Frenchman, a Brit, an American and a Russian.
  • Brat Pack has True-Man, a being of godlike power and Slumburg's only genuine hero.
  • Invincible features Omni-Man, the main character's father, who looks like Superman with a mustache. He's more than that, as it turns out.
    • The main character, Mark a.k.a. Invincible, is a combination of this and Spider-Man Send-Up. However, by the end of the comic, Mark does become more similar to the Silver Age Superman, as he has his own family and goes on space adventures.
  • Prime, of The Ultraverse, is more or less one, though with a bit of Captain Marvel in the mix.
  • PS238 has Atlas, whose son, Ron/"Captain Clarinet", is one of the more important characters. At first he's pretty standard: he's the Sole Survivor of the doomed planet Argos, was raised on a farm, is vulnerable to Argonite and is married to a journalist with L.L. initials. However, eventually he and Ron's mom divorce, and then we find out that the government lied to him about his origin — he's actually a Hidden Backup Prince to The Empire.
  • In some Disney comics, Goofy has a Super-Powered Alter Ego called "Super Goof". He wears a blue cape and red overalls, and has pretty much the same set of powers as Superman, such as Flight and Super Strength. The only major difference is that his powers come from eating special peanuts called "Super Goobers".
    • This is made even more evident in Ultraheroes, where he's by far the most powerful of the team, with Paperinik the Devilish Avenger fulfilling Batman's role and Emil Eagle as the Mad Scientist Big Bad (a role reprised from previous Super Goof stories from Italy, in which he was an outright Lex Luthor Expy).
  • Top 10 has Atoman, who is the leader of a whole Ersatz Justice League of America, who are actually a pedophile ring.
  • Powers has Super Shock, commonly acknowledged as one of the most powerful superheroes alive and The Paragon. Unfortunately, his major appearance is the volume where his isolation and disconnect from humanity results in him becoming a Super Supremacist who decides to enforce to his own order on the world. And it turns out that as powerful as people had known he was, Super Shock and his teammates had been considerably downplaying his real power to avoid a worldwide panic...
  • In The Shadow Hero, The Anchor of Justice is your typical Superman Substitute — a Flying Brick with a kindly, modest personality. And he's an alien, as well, although much less humanoid beneath his disguise than Kal-El.
  • Clark Oppenheimer of The Tick is basically only saved from being a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo by a few Parody Names and that we only ever see him in his... er... disguise. This being The Tick, Clark gets a pretty merciless parodying.
  • The greatest hero on Earth prior to it being conquered in Empire was Endymion, who more or less ticks all the above boxes — Flying Brick, The Cape, Primary-Color Champion, et cetera. He's a Posthumous Character to imply the lack of any hope in the world of the story until it's revealed that he's still alive, and his blood is being harvested to make a Fantastic Drug.
  • Comics' Greatest World has Titan, a Flying Brick who's part of the group of superheroes "Catalyst: Agent of Change" as their champion to guard Golden City. However, his Smug Super attitude and Hair-Trigger Temper makes him leave this group to "forge his own legend" and eventually makes a Face–Heel Turn becoming the villain of the Will to Power arc.
  • The Umbrella Academy has Scientific Man, who's an Affectionate Parody and Composite Character of both Superman and Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen. Like Superman, he has a cape, tights and Eye Beams, and like Manhattan, he has the blue glowy skin and even has does the Levitating Lotus Position while overlooking Hotel Oblivion on a barren planet. Unlike Superman and Doctor Manhattan, Scientific Man has a villainous role, being The Dreaded warden of the Extranormal Prison and reveals upon breaking out that he considers mankind "a disease". Like Superman, Scientific Man has a weakness, as electricity will knock him out due his hyper-conductive molecules.
  • Dynamo5 has Captain Dynamo, protector of the City, champion of the people, a wonderful husband... who is found to have been EXTREMELY unfaithful after his death, having had at least six kids. One of which with his arch-nemesis.
  • Sunstar in Second Coming lands in all of the usual trappings of the trope; he's The Ace among superheroes, has Flying Brick powers with laser vision, has his own kryptonite (solanite), is a Human Alien raised on Earth, et cetera. However, he isn't as flawless as Superman, having accidentally killed humans in robot suits thinking they were just robots and briefly took on a "With Great Power Comes Great Perks" stance after a brief talk with God.
  • In one Red Dwarf Smegazine strip, Ace Rimmer found himself in a superhero universe where his counterpart was Super-Ace, a Flying Brick who desperately wanted to be the greatest superhero of his dimension... except that his Weaksauce Weakness was flesh, and he lost consciousness every time someone touched him.
  • normalman is an inversion, a non-superpowered child sent to a planet where Everyone is a Super. His bent friend Captain Everything is a more straight example but he's an idiot and has New Powers as the Plot Demands mentioned as his main power In-Universe.
  • The End League has Astonishman, who fits pretty much all the classic notes: Flying Brick, cape, powered by a celestial body (in his case, the earth's core), Something Person name, "first" superhero held in high regard, Ideal Hero... uncommonly for the rather grim story, his issue is not that he's secretly corrupt or malevolent, but rather that he makes a small number of crucial mistakes which kick the world into Apocalypse How mode, and has to deal with the catastrophic aftermath.
  • Jupiter's Legacy has the Utopian, a Flying Brick with a cape, an emblem in an escutcheon, and who acts as the leader of the superhero community and is a champion of good and the American way. However, he holds onto his Code, a set of moral rules that are becoming more outdated as time goes on, far too strictly, and has unrealistically high moral standards for his fellow superheroes, especially his children. He also isn't an alien, but rather was Touched by Vorlons along with five others during The Great Depression.

    Films — Animation 
  • Hercules was seen less as a Disney take on antiquity and more an attempt to retell the story of Hercules in the style of Superman. In this version, he's a god Brought Down to Normal (but not entirely), was raised by Muggle parents, had an awkward teenage year at the farm, goes to a temple and talks to his space-Dad... er God-Dad, and as an adult falls for a snarky civilized girl (Megara) who dresses in purple and the bad guy is a megalomaniacal huckster in the vein of Gene Hackman's Luthor (Hades). One of the more interesting twists is that Meg/"Lois" starts out as a Punch-Clock Villain until Love Redeems. His mythological status as the son of a god sent to Earth and spending significant time there as well as the human love interest are derived from Thor while the blue cape and Pegasus horse are more akin to Valkyrie.
  • The Incredibles has Metaman, revealed in the DVD extras to have very similar powers to Superman, along with a similar name and costume... with the unfortunate exception of not being immune to a broken neck. Mr. Incredible himself has a few clear nods, mostly in his costume, powers, and name, though he's overall closer to The Thing in his role in the family.
  • Megamind has Metro Man, defender of Metro City, who is more or less Superman with a few elements of Elvis, complete with analogues to Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Lex Luthor. He's a bit of a Smug Super in order to give more sympathy to the Villain Protagonist.
  • Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors tweaks America Chavez's origin so that her parents put her into an Interdimensional teleporter to save her from their dying planet. In the comics, she left under her own power after her parents had died successfully saving the planet.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Neo from The Matrix and its sequels is celebrated for "doing the Superman thing", i.e. Flight and other powers. He's a Messianic Archetype who had a mild-mannered civilian identity, has a committed relationship with a confident dark haired woman, and his main enemies are not so different from Brainiac and Luthor.
  • Played for Horror in the film Brightburn. Brandon shares an origin story with Superman (crash-landed on Earth as a baby and was adopted by expies of the Kent family); however, when he discovers he's a superpowered alien from another world, he, ah...has a very different reaction to it than what Superman had.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Thor is considered the God of Thunder and beloved by many in the universe, and for a while was considered the strongest Avenger alongside the Hulk and eventually grows even stronger. He's also a Flying Brick in Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War. He's one of the first superheroes due to being a battle capable warrior in Asgard for over 1000 years.
    • Vision, introduced in Avengers: Age of Ultron, is played as a Superman Substitute, in contrast to his often-destroyed comics counterpart. In terms of personality, he's shown to be The Paragon and worthy of using Mjölnir. In terms of powers, he's another Flying Brick (with the Super Toughness part taken Up to Eleven due to his 3D-printed cells being laced with vibranium) with energy blasts from his forehead gem (a.k.a. the Mind Stone).
    • Captain Marvel is an enhanced human who received her powers from a Superhuman Transfusion using Kree blood (at least, that's what she's told — it's later revealed that, while she did indeed get a transfusion, her powers actually come from the Tesseract). She can fly at the speed of light, can fire photon blasts, is considered the strongest hero in the MCU. She wears a largely red and blue spandex-appearing outfit with a Chest Insignia, and her main weakness comes from difficulty controlling her emotions.
    • Ikaris, of the Eternals, is a Human Alien Flying Brick with eye beams whose outfit is blue with gold accents. Despite Ajak being the leader, Ikaris frequently takes point in their clashes with the Deviants, and is regarded by the other Eternals as the most powerful of the group. He's also (along with his fellow Eternals) one of the oldest superheroes in the setting, having arrived on Earth seven thousand years ago, predating even Thor (and that's not even getting into The Reveal that they'd been active for millions of years before that). Phastos's son even compares him to Superman after meeting him for the first time, having seen him on TV, "wearing a cape and shooting lasers". Unfortunately for his fellow Eternals, his fanatical devotion to Arishem's will gives them cause to Beware the Superman.
    Ikaris: ...I don't wear a cape.
  • Hancock is Superman if he were a reckless alcoholic who was hated by the public. Although deemed a superhero, he is one of the last survivors of a race of gods or angels rather than an alien.
  • G-Girl from My Super Ex-Girlfriend is a Clingy Jealous Girl who got Flying Brick powers from a Magic Meteor.
  • Played straight in the Shaw Brothers fantasy movie, Descendant of the Sun, starring Derek Yee as the titular character, a prince who is a magic solar baby from a faraway planet sent to Earth by a benevolent god after his home planet's destruction and subsequently adopted by an old childless carpenter. This protagonist has superior martial art superpowers and skills, and his form of kryptonite are solar eclipses which strips him of his powers. There is also an Evil Counterpart for the protagonist, an Expy of Zod from the same planet as him.

  • Captain Underpants of course is a hilarious Affectionate Parody of Superman originally created by schoolboys George and Harold in a In-Universe comic where Captain Underpants was launched into space by his parents from his dying planet Underpantyworld and arrived on Earth. For fun and to escape punishment, George and Harold hypnotise their mean Principal Mr Krupp into thinking he’s Captain Underpants, which quickly proves to be a bad idea when he goes out and fights crime for real to George and Harold’s horror, since he’s just a regular guy wearing a curtain and underwear. Although by the third book, Captain Underpants does takes Extra-Strength Super Power Juice and becomes a Flying Brick for real. Unlike Superman, Captain Underpants alter-ego Mr Krupp is a Jerkass, but in the Alternate Universe Krupp is a Nice Guy like Clark Kent, unfortunately his hero persona Captain Underpants in this universe is a Beware the Superman baddie.
    • Captain Underpants also has a Kryptonite Factor in the fifth book... because George and Harold mistakingly gave him a weakness: spray starch in one of their comics which becomes bad later when a villainess uses it on him and thanks to the placebo effect, it works. Forcing George and Harold to to create a comic that says the power of Underpantyworld was in him all along at which He's Back!.
  • David Brinkley of Superfolks is a clear one, down to being vulnerable to "Cronkite".
  • Ultragod in The Supervillainy Saga is the resident equivalent to Superman. His powers more closely resemble Green Lanterns even if he uses them to mostly replicate the standard Flying Brick power-set. He has a Supergirl equivalent in his daughter Ultragoddess, The Observatory as his Fortress of Solitude-esque base of operations, and a reporter wife named Polly Perkins. He's also African American, immortal, and a human astronomer empowered by aliens.
  • In Superheroes Anonymous, the hero Blaze is a loose one. He has the Flying Brick power set but also is able to shoot fire (but he becomes vulnerable to damage during this time). Gail Gadot, the world's equivalent to Lois Lane in being captured (to the point of being known as "Hostage Girl") is constantly rescued by him as well. Amusingly, most people in the setting believe she's dating his Clark Kenting secret identity. She's not and is glad when Blaze finally reveals his feelings for her.
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible has Corefire as the archenemy of Doctor Impossible. The world's greatest superhero ticks most of the usual boxes including his ability to come back from the dead. This version of Superman gained his power in a lab explosion, however, and is implied to be a jerk. Doctor Impossible is an Unreliable Narrator, though.
  • The Cloak Society has Lone Star. While he has a bit of the boisterous personality in his first appearance, his Dark and Troubled Past winds up getting more focus: years ago the titular supervillain team seemingly killed most of his superhero teamnote , and in a horrified fury he broke his no kill rule, wiping out most of Cloak's ruling members. He's still haunted by this, but threatens to do it again when Cloak returns with the same weapon.
  • Hero by Perry Moore has at least two of them;
    • Uberman has the powers and the role.
    • Justice has the powers derived from the sun, was sent to Earth as a baby from a destroyed planet and was raised by a couple in Kansas. Turns out he's trying to destroy the Earth.
    • Captain Victory deserves a mention, he had no powers but his secret identity was a Clark Kent expy. He worked as a journalist, disguised his identity with unnecessary glasses and was one of Earth's first superheroes.
  • Whateley Universe: The first and most notable superhero in the setting (appearing circa 1930) was Harry Holbrook, The Chicago Champion, who believed himself to be the last Olympian (at least until he got a pair of Kid Sidekicks who shared his powers). Notably, the Superhero Origin story he created for himself was pure nonsense; he was in fact a Mutant with a variant of the Avatar power, which allowed him to absorb various spirits and use their powers, fusing them into what became known as the Champion Force. He even goes through some of the same stages which Superman did, as he initially could 'only' jump very far, before gaining the power of flight. Interestingly, the Champion of the series is a Legacy Character, as the original Champion was able to pass the Champion Force on to his protegé when he died. The current (as of 2006) Champion is the sixth, and there is always another Avatar waiting in the wings (a student at Whateley Academy, selected for their sense of justice and honor) to take up the title when the current one falls.
  • Worm:

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Iraqi live action comedy series "Akbar Chathab اكبر جذاب (Biggest Liar)" is about an old man named Hooby who tells his friends a made up story about how when he was young he had an adventure that parodies famous stories, one episode parodies Superman (as Super Hooby).
  • The Boys (2019) has Homelander, the leader of (the secretly villainous) The Seven.
  • Doctor Who's 2016 Christmas Episode, "The Return of Doctor Mysterio", is a tribute to superhero comics in general and Silver Age Superman in particular, in which the Doctor lands in New York in The '90s and a boy named Grant Gordon swallows an Applied Phlebotinum due to a misunderstanding. The wish-granting gemstone gives him superpowers like his comic book heroes. Twenty years later, Gordon became "The Ghost", a vigilante superhero with the abilities of flying, super strength, X-ray vision and other Superman-like powers, and a Lois Lane-like Loves My Alter Ego problem with the woman journalist for whom his civilian identity works as a nanny.
  • A recurring sketch on Donny And Marie has Donny as Captain Purple, whose chest insignia is a cluster of grapes. Marie appears at least once as a Wonder Woman Wannabe dressed in red.
  • Jupiter's Legacy has Sheldon a.k.a. The Utopian and to a lesser extent his brother Walter aka Brainwave. Both are granted flight and super strength and through Sheldon’s Superman-like ideals about never killing or interfering with political matters their superhero team Union of Justice successfully protects humanity for a century. Things start to go south when the next generation (including Sheldon’s own family) struggles to live up his to rigid expectations and high-standards, culminating in the death of a villain at hands of Sheldon’s son Walter and triggers a public debate whether The Utopian‘s ideals are still relevant in a Darker and Edgier era.
  • Red Dwarf: In "Red Dwarf The Promised Land", Rimmer of all people becomes this (along with The Flash) in his hero persona "The Mighty Light" after upgrading to Diamond Light. He becomes a ridiculously powerful stud with superpowers including flight, laser beams and super strength and he even gets the trademark Superman-hair flick. Unfortunately for Rimmer, the excessive of power drains his Light Bee and he soon goes back to normal. However, during the Darkest Hour in the finale, Rimmer regains his Diamond Light form and pulls off a Big Damn Heroes, acting like The Cape in the process, although the Smeghead rears his head when Rimmer is begrudgingly forced to give up his powers to save Kryten.
  • One sketch on Short Ribbs, "Superbilly", has Billy Barty spoofing George Reeves' portrayal from the 1950s Adventures of Superman TV series. Patty Maloney is a Lois Lane expy, who is abducted by a villain that resembles a cross between Daffy Duck and a certain Libyan dictator.
  • The Tick (2016) has Superion, a cape-wielding superhero that can fly, has super strength, is extremely tough, shoots lasers out of his eyes, has a freeze breath, and is vulnerable to Big Bismuth.

  • Red Panda Adventures:
    • During World War II, Canada's military uses a formula called Royal Jelly, devised by reformed supervillain Doctor Bumblebee, to try and create super soldiers to use in the war effort. One of the results of this experimentation is the superhero Mr. Amazing, whom the Red Panda describes as an "ubermensch who converts power from the sun". He has the standard Flying Brick powerset, fires energy beams, and his costume is described as having a stylized letter A on it. His big weakness is ultimately that his power is finite; because Royal Jelly's reactions have been varying degrees of unstable, the scientists who gave Mr. Amazing his abilities tried capping the power to keep them from going out of control. This means he only has so much power to draw from and, once it's used, he'll die. He does exactly that saving the Red Panda from a Nazi-made ubermensch.
    • Towards the end of the series, another Royal Jelly-made Flying Brick is the Black Eagle. In his case, the scientists went for a slow burn. Giving him treatments designed so that his powers would emerge slowly over time, giving his body time to acclimate to them. This worked, but took so long the scientists deemed the experiement a failure and made the Eagle their company clerk for the remainder of the war. The Black Eagle's powers didn't emerge until the war was over and he'd gone home, at which point he started covertly helping his superhero idol the Red Panda before becoming his formal successor as Toronto's protector. In his civilian identity of Harry Kelly, an agent of the Red Panda's since childhood, he's a reporter for one of Toronto's biggest newspapers, has a female reporter rival with an alliterative name, and his highlight episode before the series Grand Finale is against a Mad Scientist in a power suit ranting about how all should Beware the Superman. That episode also describes him as wearing glasses and said reporter rival calling him clumsy.

    Puppet Shows 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mutants & Masterminds:
    • The core book, and later the Meta-4 setting, had Protonik, who fits most of the requirements (first superhero, The Cape, Flying Brick, vision powers) with two twists. Firstly he started out as a Captain Patriotic Super Soldier, before later announcing he was a citizen of the world. Secondly, he was a Russian Captain Patriotic Super Soldier, during the Cold War.
    • The Freedom City setting has (or rather, had) Mark Leeds, the Centurion, who fitted almost exactly, only with the addition of an Ancient Rome theme. The first superhero (debuting in, yes, 1938) and leader of the premier superhero teams of the Golden, Silver and Dark Ages, he died in battle with the setting's Darkseid expy prior to the game's time period. Unlike Superman, he stayed that way. He has more recently been replaced by his daughter from an alternate timeline, Centuria, who's similar to Supergirl.
      • There's also his fellow hero Captain Thunder who has elements of Captain Marvel with parts of the origin story of Hal Jordan.
      • In the Lockdown sourcebook there's a disgraced African American hero called the Golden Marvel who was unfairly imprisoned. Not long after an eventual presidential pardon he transferred his powers to his grandson, who became NGM, the New Golden Marvel and joined the teenage superhero team called the Next Gen.
    • The Paragons setting has Patriot, who is a Captain Patriotic take on the concept, with a dark secret that the game master is free to define. There's also Luminary, an amnesiac hero with the typical Flying Brick power set and the added twist of also having light-manipulation powers; after rescuing a passenger plane, he was recruited as the leader and the poster boy of Vanguard Mission Team Alpha.
    • The Halt Evil Doer! setting has two. Anthony Atlas/Antaeus/Titan Man (the latter being the name the press gave him) was the 1940s non-flying brick with powers similar to the Golden Age Superman. Mikhail/Divinos is the "classic" Superman, except that he arrived on Earth as an adult, and as a result sometimes comes across as distant from humans, a bit more like the Martian Manhunter.
    • One of the default character archetypes in 3rd Edition is essentially a basic one of these, named the Paragon - a Flying Brick whose outfit is a spandex suit and a cape, with the extra of being able to survive in space.
  • Silver Age Sentinels has the Sentinel, who is also a Captain Patriotic type hero, similar to Statesman mentioned below.
  • ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying has the Captain Patriotic themed pastiche All-Star, and his sidekick All-American Girl who fulfils the same concepts as Supergirl.
  • The card game Sentinels of the Multiverse has Legacy serving the same basic role as Superman and his daughter, Young Legacy or Beacon, serving as the equivalent to Supergirl.
  • Aberrant has Caestus Pax, who along with the various other deconstructive elements takes the concept in a somewhat darker direction, with fascist leanings and a tendency towards being kind of an utter dick.
  • Several of Brian Rogers's articles on superhero roleplaying in Pyramid Vol.2 feature worked examples of a Justice League expy led by Omniman. The article "A League of Your Own" introduces his supporting cast, including his sister Omnilass and his dog, Omnipup. The article "All Things to Everyone" uses his fictional history to track how superhero settings vary on two axes: Fantastic to Realistic and Adventure to Wonder. This reveals that Omniman has a similar origin to Supreme (ordinary kid affected by a metor) and has him eventually learn the Startling Truth about the meteor and how his powers actually work.
  • The "Supertoon" setting in Toons ''Tooniversal Tour Guide" has Ultrapig, the classic example of the Strong-Jawed Hero character type.
  • The cover for the Heroes Unlimited book "Powers Unlimited 3" by Palladium Books features a clear Superman homage, though this character appears to generate energy blasts from his hands.

    Video Games 

  • Omegaman from Ennui GO! not only takes plenty of cues from the Man of Steel (i.e. His secret identity is a newspaper reporter, has his own version of Kryptonite called "Alphasite", started his hero career at a young age as "Kid Omega", etc.), but he even explicity conisders Superman to be an inspiration for his heroic career.
  • Love and Capes focuses on the love between Abby Tennyson and one of these, named Crusader.
  • The first page of Kong Tower introduces Sergeant Omega, whose wavering competence due to lack of Required Secondary Powers, Kryptonite Is Everywhere, and general stupidity is a recurring joke.
  • In the superhero arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space, Arthur is the leader of the Table of Justice as Kingman. He has some similarity to Billy Batson, getting his powers from the magic word "ACRONYM!", but beyond that, he's Clark all the way: he wears glasses in his secret identity; he works for the Daily Sword in Camelotopolis as a mild-mannered reporter (as does Guenevere, who strongly suspects Arthur and Kingman are one and the same); he has a superpet (Cabal the Kingdog) and so on.

    Western Animation 
  • In Darkwing Duck, Drake Mallard is meant to be a Batman Parody, but Gizmoduck, the publicly adored superhero who is seen as more powerful and capable and dresses in brighter costumes, is meant to be Superman's stand-in. Their dynamic resembles the DCAU version of World's Finest.
  • Mighty Mouse is a pretty direct one, being basically "Superman as a Funny Animal".
  • Drawn Together's Captain Hero is more or less Superman as a Comedic Sociopath.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • The short known as "Super-Rabbit" is a spoof of the Fleischer Superman shorts, starring Bugs Bunny in an ill-fitting Superman costume, getting his powers from specially treated carrots. When his carrots fall into the hands of his enemies, he decides to become "a real superman" - a U.S. Marine.
    • Another short, titled "Stupor Duck", has Daffy Duck in the role of Cluck Trent, a reporter who becomes Stupor Duck in order to stop Aardvark Ratnik from threatening the world. However, Ratnik is simply a fictional villain from a soap opera Trent's boss was watching and that Trent mistook as being real. Hilarity Ensues.
    • The Looney Tunes Show revived the idea of Bugs Bunny playing the role of a Superman parody with an episode also called "Super Rabbit". Said episode combined various elements from the comics, Superman: The Movie and its first sequel, and Man of Steel. In it, Bugs as Super Rabbit fought a few other fellow Looney Tunes playing the roles of various Superman villains.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures:
    • The episode "SuperBabs" had Babs Bunny as the titular character fighting Montana Max in the role of 'Wex Wuthor'.
    • In "The Just-Us League of Supertoons", Batduck (Plucky Duck) and Decoy (Hamton J. Pig) tried to join the eponymous league, which featured Buster Bunny as Superbun.
  • Captain Sunshine of The Venture Bros. is a mix of several heroes, but he's clearly intended to be Superman at first glance, with his sunlight-fueled powers, brightly colored caped costume, and obvious secret identity. In a bit of a Genius Bonus, his secret identity is a newscaster, something Clark Kent became for a few years in the 1980s after writers decided that his being a reporter was a bit dated (and changed back from it after they realized how badly it would stretch the limits of Clark Kenting).
  • In The Little Rascals episode "The Zero Hero", Darla's favorite superhero, Captain Muscles, appears to pastiche George Reeves' portrayal of Superman, the main differences being that he has blond hair and an M insignia on his chest.
  • Titanium Rex from Supermansion is essentially a geriatric Superman past his prime, sharing not only the same role as the resident leader of the local Super Team, but even a similar backstory of being an outsider (though Rex came from an underground empire as an adult rather than from space as an infant).
  • Major Man from the Powerpuff Girls episode "Major Competition", who wins over the people of Townsville and appears to make the girls redundant. However, it turns out that he deliberately causes problems so he can fix them, and when faced with a threat he didn't create, he's totally helpless.
  • Mighty Man from the forgotten Mighty Man and Yukk series. His identity is Bruce Wayne like but he has the power of flight, strength, and many other powers.
  • Ultimos, a minor character in the Ben 10 series, has all of the major trappings, powers, and attitudes of a Superman stand-in. His weakness is a compound that can be found in chocolate, which will weaken him severely if he consumes it.
  • "Superkatt" was a 1949 Columbia cartoon about a cat who whips up a superhero get-up and id eo fool a mouse he's chasing.
  • Ralph Bakshi created The Mighty Heroes for Terrytoons and CBS. Strongman was the most direct of the heroes as the others had individual idiosyncracies that matched their brands.
  • Captain Sturdy is a very clear Superman pastiche, with the short "The Originals" even revealing that he's held onto the shrunken city of Maldor until he can restore its citizens to normal size, a nod to Superman having the bottled city of Kandor as one of the few remants of his home planet Krypton in his possession.
  • The Fairly Oddparents:
    • The Crimson Chin is a combined parody of both Superman and Batman in that he combines multiple aspects of both characters and one from Spider-Man in his origin of being bitten by a Radioactive person. The most notable attributes borrowed from Superman include relying on little more than a pair of glasses to protect his secret identity, working at a news company with "Daily" in its name and at one point wondering if his powers not working is because of some "Chintonite" being nearby. The Nickelodeon Magazine comic story Untold Tales from the Big Superhero Wish even reveals that the Chin originally had a similar origin of being sent to Earth as an infant from a dying alien planet before a lawsuit necessitated changing his origin to what was established in the cartoon.
    • "Power Pals" has Timmy Turner wish he had "super friends", which summons a pastiche of the Justice League as depicted in Superfriends. The Superman ersatz is named Super Sam, who essentially looks like Superman with the blue parts of the costume colored white and his S-insignia replaced by a medallion with two S's on it, one of which is reversed. Supes' heat vision is also parodied by Super Sam having the power of "sweet vision", which he uses to make an ice cream cone appear in a little girl's hand.
    • "Chip off the Old Chip" shows Timmy Turner becoming a superhero in a red and blue costume with a cape and black hair in a spit curl during the music video sequence of Chip Skylark's song "Find Your Voice".
  • The Real Ghostbusters episode "Captain Steel Saves the Day" reveals that Ray Stantz' favorite superhero is Captain Steel, who has a considerable number of similarities to Superman, such as wearing a blue, red and yellow costume with a cape, having most of his powers and his archenemy Dr. Destructo being a balding Mad Scientist with yellow Powered Armor similar to what Lex Luthor wore in the comics at the time.


Video Example(s):


Kyle explaining the trope

In "Gods, the Ubermensch, and the 'Unrelatable' Nature of Superman", Kyle explains the concept of Superman's various copycats.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / SupermanSubstitute

Media sources: