Superman‘s place in media history is undeniable. The character, first introduced in Action Comics #1 in June 1938, has come a long way from his original roots. Created by Jewish author Jerri Seigel and illustrator Joe Shushter, Superman’s birth was a response to Hitler’s idea of the “Übermensch,” or “Super Man.” The intent of the character was to represent everything that fell into this category, but to fight for justice, truth, and the American way.
At the time of his creation, Superman’s set of powers was not dissimilar to what it is now — save for one massive change: he couldn’t fly. Comic aficionados and Superman fans will be familiar with the phrase “able to leap over buildings in a single bound,” which has been largely overlooked in the modern context of the character, but until the ’40s, Superman could just jump really, really far. It wasn’t until Max Fleischer’s animated Superman series that the character developed the ability to fly, changing his mythos forever.
Since then, Superman has had a long shelf-life, having his stories told in movies, comics, and TV shows, with countless versions and reinterpretations, each exploring every crevasse of what it means to be a “super” man. Along the way, the world has striven to create other characters with as much of a global (and moral) impact as the big blue boy scout, recontextualizing the character through a myriad of narrative lenses and what such power could represent.
Here are 10 characters that are basically copycats of Superman.
10 Homelander — The Boys (2019-Present)
Prime Video’s adaptation of the Garth Ennis comic The Boys is no stranger to the Superman archetype. In one of the many attempts at telling grounded superhero stories, this series presents the heroes as super-powered celebrities, all operating out of the same parent company, with PR teams and sponsors, and most of all: secret internal lives of which the public has no idea. The core superhero team, aptly called “The Seven,” is a not-so-subtle reimagining of the iconic Justice League, with the biggest being Superman’s copycat: Homelander (played by Antony Starr).
Although he has the exact same powerset and “origin” (not really), Homelander is and represents everything that Superman is not. He is selfish, egotistical, insecure and, above all else, cruel. Created and grown up in a laboratory, he is severely maladjusted to any sort of social setting, and often resorts to using his powers as a means to have his way.
Superman has had a multitude of stories where the character is adapted to be an overpowered maniac in a realistic setting, but Homelander is perhaps one of the best and most grounded portrayals of a monster wearing the skin of a man. Stream The Boys on Prime Video
9 Brandon — Brightburn (2019)
Considering James Gunn’s current status as the head of the new DCU and director of the upcoming Superman: Legacy, his involvement on Brightburn seems like a happy accident. This Gunn-produced film is a direct riff on the Superman mythos — specifically his upbringing — and asks: what if Superman was already evil when he got here?
So much importance is placed on Superman’s adoptive parents in almost every iteration of the character, crediting them as the reason for his strong moral compass and judgment. That said, this 2019 film plays the story much the same way: a childless couple prays for some sign from God that they will conceive soon, when an alien spacecraft lands right in the backyard of their farm.
However, instead of this version of the character learning about humanity through his parents, Brandon, as he’s called in this universe, is genetically predisposed to destroy the planet once he comes of age. What follows is a pretty nihilistic story of unrelenting carnage. Rent Brightburn on AppleTV
8 Omni-Man — Invincible (2021-Present)
Another Prime Video superhero series, Invincible is an adaptation of the eponymous comics series created by Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker. Taking a more non-traditional approach to the Superman story, Invincible himself is more of a mix between Superman and Nightwing. His dad, on the other hand, is a character that plays off the Superman story brilliantly before subverting all expectations.
Hailing from an alien planet called Viltrum, Omni-Man is a superhuman being with super strength, invulnerability, and the ability to fly across the planet in the blink of an eye. He is one of the most trusted members of this universe’s Justice League, called the Guardians of the Globe, and our main character’s father. Which is why it shocks everybody when he single-handedly slaughters the Guardians of the Globe, and eventually destroys his home city before claiming to be Earth’s extraterrestrial overlord.
Invincible assumes you are already familiar with the cultural context of these superheroes, and goes out of its way to create inventive, subversive, and hyper-violent stories to keep you on your toes. Omni-Man is a truly unpredictable character who goes from hero to villain to something more. If you’ve read the comics, you know what we mean. Stream Invincible on Prime Video
7 Sentry — Marvel Comics / MCU’s Thunderbolts (Release Date TBD)
Almost unanimously referred to as “Marvel’s Superman,” Sentry is an unusual addition to the Superman archetype. The origins of the character date back to before the birth of The Fantastic Four, to an early superhero created by Stan Lee with the same name. The original run of the character is now long-forgotten, having been replaced by the version created in 2005 by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee.
Sentry’s set of powers is similar to that of Superman, although the divide between the god and the human alter-ego are much more defined as opposed to his DC copycat. Robert “Bob” Reynolds is a middle-aged man, deep in the throes of his midlife crisis when he starts to remember his life as a superhero. As he begins to uncover more and more about his past, he soon remembers the immortal life he has lived, thanks to a specialized serum that he used to take, as well as a malevolent creature aptly called the Void that he had fought many times before. After experiencing a psychotic break, he realizes that The Void is a part of his own fractured psyche, and thus has to erase the memories of everybody in the world to save the universe from himself.
Sentry is more like a nuclear bomb than a superhero: his otherworldliness and superhuman attributes often become the focus of his stories. He often appears in ensemble stories alongside the Avengers, despite his universe-breaking powers. He is set to make his MCU debut in Thunderbolts, with The Walking Dead star Steven Yeun cast in the role.
6 Ikaris — Eternals (2021)
For the sake of comparison, we’ll be talking mostly about the version of the character as seen in 2021’s Eternals. Adapted from the Marvel Comic series of the same name, Ikaris is the leader of the ancient superhero group called the Eternals, whose job it has been to oversee the birth and change of human civilization on earth, protecting humans from the malicious and animalistic Deviants.
Painted as a gruff military leader of sorts, this version of the character, played by Richard Madden, exhibits many of the same superpowers as Superman, though operating more like a tactician or a surgeon than a friend of the people. Generally quiet and broody, this leader of the Eternals seems to keep his cards close to the chest at all times — with the shocking revelation of his turn against his own kind framed as a very natural decision on his part.
Ikaris is a man of duty first; everything else comes second, which is why he is an easy villain to both root for and hate. Named after the iconic Greek character, Icarus, he lives up to the legend: losing everything when flying too close to the sun. Stream Eternals on Disney+
5 Shazam — Shazam! (2019) & Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)
Beginning originally as a character from Fawcett Comics, Captain Marvel — now called Shazam — was licensed to DC Comics in 1972, citing the character broke copyright laws by being too similar to Superman, which is pretty interesting, considering the position we find ourselves in now. For those unfamiliar, Shazam is the alter-ego of young orphan boy Billy Batson, who magically transforms into an adult version of himself, albeit with lots of different superpowers, when he yells “Shazam!”
The word in itself is an acronym: Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles, and Mercury (representing the attributes that Billy gets from these historical and mythological figures). For the most part, Shazam falls very close to the ideal Superman archetype, blending the naive gung-ho optimism of a child with Superman’s positive moral compass and power-set. Shazam has appeared in several animated DC productions, but most notably featured in his own movie franchise, starring Chuck actor Zachary Levi. So far, only two movies have been made: Shazam! and Shazam! Fury of the Gods.
Compared to many of the other entries on this list, Shazam is perhaps the closest Superman copycat both in terms of powers and his standing as a “good guy.” In fact, the character is often partnered up with Superman in an older-sibling-younger-sibling dynamic.
4 Hyperion — Marvel Comics
Hyperion is among the comparatively lesser-known Marvel Comics characters, which is funny considering the character’s Earth-13034 version has almost the exact same origin story and power-set as Superman. The character debuted in Avengers #69 initially as a villain and leader of an anti-Avengers-type group called the Squadron Sinister. This short-lived character acted more as a foil for Thor than an independent character of his own.
Since then, however, Hyperion has undergone two more reboots, the second of which directly calls back to Superman’s own origin: a child cast out of his home due to unforeseen circumstances, now landed on Earth with the powers of a God. Unlike Superman, however, Hyperion is an edgier character who seems to find himself more at odds with the Avengers than rallying by their side. Hyperion exists in a truly unique space in Marvel’s superhero history as he was intended to be a pastiche of Superman, but is now playing second-fiddle to Sentry, mentioned earlier on this list.
3 All-Might — My Hero Academia (2016-Present)
Anime fans will be instantly familiar with this square-jawed hero from the popular Shonen-anime, My Hero Academia, which is all about superheroes and their super-school. Considering Japan’s penchant for portraying Americans or American characters as massive, gun-toting, blonde exaggerations, it’s no surprise that the character of All-Might was intended to riff off the idea of the American superhero, which in this case would be Superman.
Considered the strongest superhero in the show, All-Might’s backstory is actually more similar to Captain America’s than it is Superman’s. Starting off as a young and scrawny 18-year-old, Toshinori Yagi has prophetic visions that he will one day become the symbol of peace and bring justice and safety to the world. He is taken under the wing of the reigning superhero at the time, Nana Shimura, who passes on her own powers to him, as a way of fulfilling his prophecy.
All-Might exists within and is tied to the rules of the My Hero Academia universe, with his story operating more as a series of Herculean myths, determined by fate and prophecy, as opposed to the more directly-involved superhero stories of the West. Still, both All-Might and Superman share similar costumes, powers, and positions in their worlds, acting as beacons of hope for everyone to strive towards. Stream My Hero Academia on Hulu
2 The Iron Giant — The Iron Giant (1999)
Cliché as it sounds, ’90s kids will remember The Iron Giant well. Brad Bird’s 1999 directorial debut has all the heroics, hope, and heart of any good Superman copycat story. Set during the Cold War, The Iron Giant uses this setting most effectively to break down themes of radicalization, politically-motivated violence, and the potential fallout that could occur if the U.S. got their hands on a weapon to end all weapons.
The eponymous giant is a mysterious space-faring robot with amnesia, who learns human morality and principles through the eyes of 10-year-old Hogarth Hughes — an avid Superman fan himself. From there, the giant embraces his humanity, refusing his original role as a weapon of mass destruction because he is “not a gun.”
The Iron Giant is a masterclass in storytelling, using the Superman mythos as the linchpin around which all other characters’ actions are measured. The film is among the best anti-war stories ever told, and we guarantee nobody leaves this film without shedding a few tears. Stream The Iron Giant on Paramount+
1 Goku — Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996)
Almost everyone familiar with the Dragon Ball Z character of Goku has either asked or been presented with the question: could Superman beat Goku in a fight, and vice-versa? Ever since the character’s mainline introduction in the super-popular Shonen Anime series Dragon Ball Z, this debate has been a topic of fervent discussion. This comes as no surprise, though, since both characters exhibit many of the same attributes when it comes to their roles in their respective franchises.
Crash-landing on an alien planet, Goku’s story follows almost the exact same beats as Superman, where he is taken in by a kind and loving man, who raises him to harness his powers and become a positive beacon for the universe to look up to.
Goku is the ultimate super-powered good guy: he loves his family, looks out for the little guy, and canonically has come back from the dead at least once. His adventures are never-ending, and somehow he’s managed to convert one of his worst enemies into his closest friend. Much like Superman, Goku has inhabited a multitude of avatars, each bringing out a different aspect to his personality. Perhaps it is this malleability that has helped both characters stand the test of time. Stream Dragon Ball Z on Crunchyroll
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