The Next Superman Movie Could Fix A Very Old DC Trope

How do you defeat the Man of Steel?

Evil Superman versus Clark Kent in 'Superman III' (1983).
Warner Bros

Everyone knows that the only way to defeat Superman is to hit him with some kryptonite. But, what several, several classic Superman movies actually do is to try and defeat Superman with some other similar version of himself. Now, with a combination of set photos and plot rumors, it sounds like the next big-screen version of the Man of Steel may reboot a trope we’ve seen on screen since 1983, but goes back to 1964 or 1958, depending on how you look at it.

And, if some some these rumors are to be believed, it’s possible that the new James Gunn Superman film — starring David Corenswet — might do justice to a very old concept.

Ultraman cometh?

David Corenswet as Superman in an official DC promo image. Could he play Ultraman, too?


Recently, various leaked set photos, and rumored plot points for the next Superman film seem to indicate that the plot will, at least, partially, revolve around a Superman doppelgänger called “Ultraman.” In the leaked set photos, Kal-El (Corenswet) is handcuffed, and being led away by armed guards, as well as a masked figure with a large “U” on their chest. This “U” is reminiscent of a logo used by several versions of Ultraman, an evil version of Superman who has been appearing in DC comics since 1964. In most versions of DC continuity, Ultraman comes from a parallel Earth (often “Earth-Three”) though, this particular DC villain has had several different backstories. Sometimes he’s made of anti-matter, sometimes he gains strength from Kryptonite, and in the TV series Smallville, he was Clark Luthor, a version of Kal-El adopted by Lex Luthor’s dad, Lionel, rather than by the kindly Kents. In all cases, Ultraman has Superman’s powers (more or less) and is motivated by evil, rather than Superman’s (mostly) innate goodness.

To be clear, Ultraman is not “Bizarro” (sometimes called “Bizarro Superman”). Bizarro is a more dim-witted creature, decidedly more overtly grotesque and monstrous than Superman or Ultraman. And yet, according to at least one rumored plot description for the new Superman film, Lex Luthor will create a duplicate of Superman, named Ultraman, and then, Ultraman will devolve into Bizarro.

Just to recap: The masked figure in the leaked set photo could be a clone of Superman, who will be named Ultraman, but then, is rumored to lose his mojo and become Bizarro. This concept would be a creative twist on both characters and essentially, give the movie two evil Supermans for the price of one.

An evil Superman — done right?

Superman versus Clark Kent — both played by Christopher Reeve — in 'Superman III' (1983)

Creating realistic adversaries for Superman onscreen is hard. Teased in the 1978 Superman, Christoper Reeve’s version of the Man of Steel had to fight three super-powered Kryptonians in Superman II (1981). In Superman IV (1987), he had to fight a black-caped baddie called Nuclear Man. And, of course, in Superman III (1983), he had to fight himself.

Despite a long history in comics and other TV shows of evil versions of Superman, the most enduring cinematic version comes from Superman III in which Supe’s persona becomes increasingly aggressive and selfish, all thanks to some weird version of kryptonite. By the middle of Superman III, Superman’s suit is noticeably darker, he’s drinking liquor straight from the bottle, and flicking peanuts at super-speeds. Eventually, Superman and Clark Kent literally become two different people, and in a very meta fight in a junkyard, Clark has to fight himself, in order to become whole again.

While the fight between Clark and evil Superman in Superman III is memorable, this also isn't really considered one of the better Superman films mostly because nothing about the movie makes any sense. The evil Supe in Superman III is not Bizzaro nor Ultraman, but rather something closer to a split Captain Kirk from the classic 1966 Star Trek episode “The Enemy Within.” This psychological approach was cool on paper, but even the biggest Christopher Reeve fans will admit this very cool idea does not happen within the best Superman film.

If the Ultraman rumor in the next Superman turns out to be true, James Gunn has the opportunity to do something incredible: take the tired evil Superman trope and make it seem new.

The next Superman movie will hit theaters on July 11, 2025.

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