Superman is one iconic dude. The name, the costume, the super powers, the bald nemesis. It’s all so larger than life. It’s so iconic, in fact, you can create a character that’s a total copy of Superman, and nobody will accuse you of being unoriginal (as long as you use different colors in the costume and use a different name). In fact, it’s expected that every comic book line will have its own answer to Superman. Plus, if you do it right, you’ll get credit for paying homage to the most iconic superhero in the industry, which means Superman is like Shakespeare.
Here are some characters to prove my point:
The most common philosophical question posed by kids in my elementary school was: who would win in a fight, Superman or Mighty Mouse? The question remains unanswered. But the other question is a definite yes: Was Mighty Mouse inspired by Superman?
Ralph from The Greatest American Hero
When Ralph dons the super suit a bunch of aliens gave him, he develops super strength, flight, and is bullet proof. The costume is red with a black cape, but the Superman influence is undeniable when you see him in these leotards. He’s even got a strong willed girlfriend. Of course, she’s a lawyer, not a reporter, and she knows his secret instead of being unable to see past his glasses (in fact, Ralph doesn’t wear glasses). Also, Ralph is a school teacher, not a reporter. Then there is the FBI agent Ralph teams up with.
But the real innovation is that the aliens forgot to give Ralph the suit’s instruction manual. As a result, Ralph can barely control how he flies, and discovers new powers by accident as he goes along. He’s the Keystone Cops of superheroes.
Captain Amazing from Mystery Men
I was going to include The Commander from Sky High, but I decided to go with Captain Amazing instead because Captain Amazing was deliberately made to poke fun at the Man of Steel. Plus, he’s got a lot of sponsorship, so I had to mention him.
Omni-Man from the Invincible Comic
(Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t read the first ten issues of Invincible, skip over this part)
He has super strength, flight, and is bullet proof. His costume has a cape and an emblem on the chest. So far, we’ve got a good match. Of course, his powers come from just being a superior race, not from solar radiation being different on Earth than on his home planet. And he’s not the last survivor of his planet. And, as it turns out, he’s evil and wants to help his home planet take over the Earth (he changes his mind later). But besides that, he’s a close match.
The cool thing is that they did it on purpose. The Invincible series has a lot of fun paying homage to other comic successes, so Omni-Man’s similarities to Superman are all part of the plan.
The Return of Captain Invincible
Once again, he’s got the same powers and a similar costume. But he’s active in the ’50s and he gets accused of being a communist sympathizer (he wears a red cape, you see). This leads to public humiliation, alcoholism, and homelessness. So, he’s different there. And Christopher Lee does a rousing evil rendition of “Name Your Poison.” Superman, as far as I can remember, never was serenaded by his villains.
Still, there is the red cape…
Captain Marvel (DC Comics)
Captain Marvel was definitely inspired by Superman. Sure, he’s got a different colored costume and his alter ego is a 12-year-old boy, and he’s friends with a talking tiger. But his nemesis is bald and he’s got flight and super strength and imperviousness to bullets and whatnot. Plus, Superman’s parent company sued Captain Marvel’s parent company (he was outselling Superman at the time) for copyright infringement and won. So, of all the characters on this list, Captain Marvel is the one we can actually go so far as to label derivative. We won’t do that, since we aren’t mean. But we could.
Seeing as how Power Girl is Superman’s cousin, this feels a little like cheating. But she has developed her own — shall we say — well-endowed presence. After a few retcons and costume changes and whatnot, she has developed her own iconic presence in the superhero community.