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Kal-El, also known as Clark Joseph Kent and best known as Superman, was originally intended to be the flashback antagonist of Ultimate Fantastic Four #22, which takes place in Earth-2149, an alternate version of the Marvel Universe. Being a renowned DC Comics character, this version of Superman wasn't going to be identified by name to avoid any copyright issues, but it was ultimately decided to change him with the Sentry to avoid potential legal problems with DC.
A zombie version of Superman was intended to be the flashback antagonist of Ultimate Fantastic Four #22, the twenty-two issue of Marvel Comics' Ultimate Fantastic Four comic book series, which was set on Earth-1610, best known as the Ultimate Universe. Though Marvel had originally promised a crossover between Earth-1610 and Earth-616, the latter being the Prime Marvel Universe for the issue, it was decided instead to have Ultimate Reed Richards travel to Earth-2149, an alternate Earth which had a similar story to that of Earth-616 before a zombie contagion known as the Hunger Virus infected all its super-powered inhabitants, including the Avengers. According to the Zombie Mr. Fantastic, the zombie outbreak started when an ungodly strong zombified superhero from another dimension, who had targeted many other dimensions previously, punched his way through reality until he landed on Earth-2149, and then proceeded to infect the Avengers, who in turn infected all other superheroes until they devoured almost all inhabitants of the Earth.
In Mark Millar's original script, such zombie superhero would have been none other than Superman, one of the most famous superheroes from Marvel's rival company DC Comics and from all fiction overall. Superman's inclusion would have been an easter egg to the friendly rivalry between Marvel and DC throughout the years. In order to avoid any copyright infringement with DC, Marvel intended to not specifically identify Superman by name in the story nor include his S-shield chest logo (having that part of Superman's iconic costume ripped off), so in this way only fans and readers would be able to realize who the zombie superhero actually was.
However, at the last minute, Millar's editor shot down the idea of having a Zombie Superman as the responsible of the zombie outbreak in the crossover story arc due concerns about potential legal issues that Marvel could have with DC. Thus, in the end, the Zombie Superman was recolored by Greg Land and changed with the Zombie Sentry, who served his originally intended role in the story perfectly as the Sentry was created as a Superman expy by Marvel. The crossover story was ultimately well received and it generated interest among the readers for more stories set in Earth-2149, spawning the original Marvel Zombies metaseries, which lasted from 2005 to 2009.
- Despite that Superman was ultimately replaced by the Sentry in Ultimate Fantastic Four #22, there's evidence that the decision to replace him came up very late and that the character was simply given a recolor so Marvel would not get in troubles with DC:
- The Zombie Sentry had an unusually brown and short in contrast to his long blonde hair (although the original Sentry has had short hair sometimes), given that Superman's hair is black and short. He even had Superman's characteristic spit curl, which the original Sentry doesn't have.
- The Zombie Sentry lacked a piece of clothing on his chest, having it had ripped off. This was obviously done to not include Superman's iconic S-shield chest logo, as it would have made obvious who the zombie was intended to be.
- The Zombie Sentry simply disappeared after infecting the Avengers and was never seen again neither in the issue itself nor in any other installments. As Superman was originally going to be used, Marvel would not have been able to use him for more than a cameo.
- A possible reference to the original idea to have Superman as the virus-carrying extradimensional hero was made in Marvel Zombies Return, in which the Zombie Sentry, before getting send to contain the Hunger Virus in just two realities, is seen as a member of the Zombie Avengers of Earth-91126 (which are composed of Marvel superheroes who are expies from the other known members of the Justice League).
- Although the idea to use Superman for the Marvel Zombies story arc never got off the ground, the idea of a zombified Superman finally materialized with his incarnation from DC Comics' DCeased, a 2019 comic book series inspired by Marvel Zombies and centered on a zombie contagion which affects most of DC's superheroes.