Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery… Or is it?
A look at some of Superman’s dark and disturbing imitations
By Michael Moreno
Superman is the world’s first and most beloved superhero. Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, and first introduced in 1938’s Action Comics #1, Superman remains DC Comics’ most important and greatest superhero, inspiring all of his fans and readers with his heroic adventures. Often other superheroes are created based on the inspiration of Superman’s image, but what about the Superman “imitators” whose motives are unjust, twisted, or evil? Over the past several years, there has been a rise of twisted versions of the Man of Steel. In this article, I will be discussing the similarities and differences between Superman and his not so heroic imitators.
We all know the story of a child who arrives on earth and is adopted and raised by two kindly farmers, growing up to become the world’s greatest superhero, Superman. But what if instead of growing up to become a decent person, he turned out to be a very disturbed and violent child? Such is the case of the child from the movie Brightburn. A farm couple known as Kyle and Tori Breyer, discover a baby at a spaceship crash site and decide to adopt and name him Brandon. When Brandon grows to reach his pre-teenage years, he starts to develop superpowers. Like Superman, Brandon has abilities of flight, super strength, heat vision, and invulnerability. However, what makes this child different from Clark Kent, is his dark and twisted personality. Brandon uses his abilities to attack and murder, not only the citizens of his hometown, but also the loving family that raised him as well. Wearing a long red cape and a red shoe-laced mask to invoke fear in his victims, Brightburn‘s Brandon is probably the closest thing to a movie adaptation of the twisted and evil “Superboy Prime” character from DC Comics.
Everyone loves a superhero that they can look up to. Especially if that hero is supposed to inspire people just by looking at the camera and smiling, giving fans a sense of security and hope. It’s perfectly understandable for anyone to make that mistake when first looking at the so-called superhero “Homelander” from the Amazon Prime series The Boys, which is based on the comic book series created by Darick Robertson and Garth Ennis. Where Superman hides his true heroic personality and nature behind a pair of glasses, Homelander hides his true villainous personality while smiling in front of a crowd or camera. Homelander was given his powers by the company “Vought”, and they are similar to Superman’s powers. Powers such as flight, super strength, heat vision, and invulnerability. Thanks to the company Vought, he was made to lead the so-called superhero team “The Seven”, a group of corrupt so-called superheroes who use their powers and fame to get what they want. What would be illegal vices for most people, “The Seven” are able to get away with, thanks to the help of the company that created them. Even though Homelander may look heroic wearing patriotic colors of red, white, and blue, his actions aren’t. Often he will kill those who get in his way or he will decide not to save someone if he feels like it. For example, in the first season of The Boys, Homelander refuses to help Queen Maeve (a fellow member of “The Seven”) save a plane from crashing after the plane’s flight controls are accidently destroyed in an altercation with hijackers. Homelander and Queen Maeve leave a falling plane with its passengers to crash and perish. These aren’t the actions that Superman and Wonder Woman would choose, had they had been the ones to be on that plane. If they were, everyone on that flight would’ve survived without a scratch. What is also disturbing about Homelander, is that he fantasizes of murdering a crowd of people with his heat vision after they protest against him in an episode of the series. This gives the audience a look at how unstable Homelander’s mind truly is.
What is it like for any kid to find out that the world’s greatest superhero is their dad? Currently, The CW’s show Superman & Lois, explores that question with twin boys, Jordan and Jonathan Kent, finding out that their father is the Man of Steel, Superman. But what if any kid found out that their dad, the world’s greatest superhero, actually turned out to be a world conquering alien warrior bent on dominating the earth? Such is the case for young superhero in training, Mark Grayson aka “Invincible”, in the Amazon Prime series Invincible, based on the Image Comics series created by Robert Kirkman, Ryan Ottley, and Cory Walker. Mark gains superhuman abilities and tries to follow in his father’s (Nolan Grayson aka “Omni-Man”) footsteps as a superhero in training. His father is a Viltrumite from the planet Viltrum. Nolan was sent by his people to Earth pretending to be a superhero in order to gain their trust. Secretly, Nolan had planned on taking over Earth for his world conquering species. After killing off his superhero teammates known as “The Guardians” (the show’s equivalent version of the Justice League), Nolan passes out and the truth of Nolan murdering all of his teammates remains a mystery until later on in the first season when his son eventually finds out and confronts him. Like Superman, Omni-Man has the powers of flight, super-strength, super-speed, and invulnerability, powers that his son Ryan has as well, however Ryan’s powers are not as well developed as his father’s. By the end of the first season, Omni-Man almost kills his son in their fight for the earth, and Omni-Man then leaves earth when he realizes that he almost killed his own child. In a similar way, when Superman fought his own son Jordan (who was possessed by the evil Kryptonian Zeta-Rho personality), he had held back his full strength in fear of harming or possibly killing his own son.
Where does one’s loyalty lie? In director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel film, this question is what Henry Cavill’s Superman had to face when Michael Shannon’s General Zod forced Superman to choose between their Kryptonian race, or the human race that had raised him. Superman answers Zod by saying, “Krypton had its chance,” and he then stops Zod’s takeover of our planet and saves earth’s humans from extinction. However, in the Marvel movie Eternals, the character Ikaris played by actor Richard Madden, makes a different choice. Having started out as one of earth’s ancient alien protectors known as the “Eternals,” Ikaris had used his super abilities to protect earth. He used his powers of flight, super strength, and energy beams (that he projects from his eyes) to fight monstrous creatures known as “Deviants”. At one point in the film, Ikaris was even mistaken for Superman by a child of one of his fellow Eternals saying, “Dad, that’s Superman! And you were shooting laser beams out of your eyes!” to which Ikaris responds, “I don’t wear a cape”. As the movie progresses, it is revealed that the ancient planet-sized alien being Arishem, who is a Celestial, created the Eternals and reveals to them that earth will be destroyed for the sake of the birth of a new Celestial growing inside the planet. All of the Eternals defy the Celestial’s plans and choose to protect the earth, except for Ikaris and his teammate Sprite, who choose to follow their orders rather than protecting the planet. In their defeat in the battle against the Eternals, Ikaris and Sprite fail to awaken the dormant Celestial. Ikaris dies as he flies into the sun, and Sprite asks a fellow Eternal to take away her powers and immortality so she can live her life as a mortal.
With as many Superman-like characters as there have been in recent years, the question has to be asked, is imitation the highest form of flattery, or has it become the highest form of mockery instead? Superman stands for what’s right, and he never wavers in his beliefs or morals. Always defending the innocent, and never choosing the side of evil. These pseudo Superman variants are examples of what the Man of Steel could be if he were to freely choose evil or corruption, and they fail in comparison to him. They only make it easier to appreciate the good and righteous character that is Superman. And while there is no movie currently in the works for the Man of Tomorrow, fans can still watch him heroically save the day on The CW’s hit show “Superman & Lois”.
We all need a hero to look up to. And the best one to look up to has always flown high in the sky. Accept no substitutes. There is only one Superman.