In Justice League: The Darkseid War, Superman was transformed into The God of Strength, but fans missed out on Francis Manapul’s original design.
Thanks to his incredible power, Superman has been able to fight more than his fair share of gods in the name of protecting humanity, but it took Darkseid’s death to turn him into one. But while Superman’s God of Strength origins and redesign were appropriately epic, a sketch of Man of Steel’s original divine costume shows that he could have looked even cooler, if not for a trivial detail that unfortunately stood in the way.
Part of the new 52-era, Justice League: The Darkseid War saw Darkseid and Anti-Monitor maneuver into an epic clash with DC’s heroes trapped in the middle. Against all odds, the Justice League actually managed to defeat Darkseid, but killing a literal god had a ripple effect on reality, and the heroes began to assume epic new forms and powers. Batman’s possession of the Mobius chair transformed him into the God of Knowledge, Flash merged with Black Rider to become the God of Death, and Superman sucked the energy of Apokolips to become the DC Universe’s new Power God.
Trapped on Apokolips without his powers due to the lack of yellow sunlight, Superman was thrown into one of the planet’s giant fire pits by Lex Luthor, leaving his cells with energy that corrupted his mind and gradually began to kill his body. Superman’s new form was represented by a new coloration that made him a black and white photon negative, representing how his perspective was reversed. But while this look was striking, it pales in comparison to the new forms adopted by Green Lantern, Shazam and even Lex Luthor, as it actually does not change anything about Superman’s costume. In a sketchbook section included in DC’s ‘Essential Edition’ of the story, Francis Manapul’s original design is revealed with a renewed look that better communicates Superman’s transformation into a Darkseid-style New God.
With a high, straight collar, metallic cuffs and the iconic ‘Kirby dot’ energy that bleeds out of his body, Superman’s original God of Strength design communicates how centering his physical power as his defining trait perverts the hero he is intended to be.
An editorial note under the costume reveals that this “Super-God” costume was ultimately not used due to “there was no way for Superman to change costumes.” That’s an unfortunate explanation, but one that makes sense when Superman changes form after falling into the core of Apokolips, instead of merging with another force or being like the rest of the Justice League. Unfortunately, this minor detail kept Manapul’s much more impressive design from appearing in the actual story.
The negative design used in the series is still effective – though it falls back on a relatively clichéd design choice – but with DC’s New Gods firmly rooted in Jack Kirby’s incomparable art, it was a great missed opportunity not to give Superman a full new God transformation. While Superman is known for its incredible strength, Justice League: The Darkseid War explored what he would become if this trait came to define him, with the original design for the new God of Strength, including a series of insightful details that establish how easy it is to change the priorities of Man of Steel and transform him from the hero to bully.
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