SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers from “Action Comics” #978, by Dan Jurgens and Carlo Barberi, in stores now.
From an editorial standpoint, Superman has a pretty complicated relationship with his own continuity — something that comes with being continually published for 80 consecutive years. From Crisis to Crisis, between multiple Earths, with no shortage of retcons, redos, and reboots, the Man of Steel’s past is generally about as uncertain as his future.
Thankfully, “Action Comics” #987 seeks to set that record straight, once and for all (or for now, at least) by taking a deep dive into the Kent family’s newly realigned post-Superman: Reborn history, beat by beat.
The way it accomplishes this is a bit utilitarian, featuring Clark literally acting as a spectator to his own memories with the help of Kelex in the Fortress of Solitude. The Fortress’ archives provide Clark with a movie he can insert himself into as the audience, allowing him to scan the archives for any sign of incongruity at the hands of whatever has been messing with the fabric of the DCU at large.
The New Timeline, Explained
His first stop is, of course, meeting Lois Lane, both in and out of costume. In this incarnation of the event, Clark, of course, meets Lois as a Daily Planet coworker, and then later, in costume, saves her from falling from the top of a skyscraper in costume. Still set in the very early days of Clark’s costumed adventuring, the rescue prompts Lois to give Clark the “Superman” moniker in the headline of the Planet the following morning, inadvertently providing a subtle backdoor origin for Lex Luthor in the process.
Lex doesn’t stand alone in his new, slightly modified status quo — a full-page splash confirms the return of villains like Silver Banshee, Mongul and Imperiex back into Superman’s ambiguously defined “early” history despite being previously shuffled around by the New 52, along with a pretty hearty cross-section of alternate costumes like the infamous “Electric Blue” variation from the mid-90s. All, apparently, have been folded back into a story that previously held no room for them, though no real effort is made to explain specifically when or how those adjustments are meshing in with the shared history between Clark and the other heroes in the DCU.
The next stop on memory lane is his proposal to Lois, which proves to be a unique riff on the time-old Earth-2 formula of Clark proposing, Lois saying “yes,” and then Clark revealing his secret to her after she’s already got an engagement ring on her finger. The Kryptonian bombshell, shockingly, isn’t a massive deal breaker, or even an issue at all. True love. This particularly thread of memory careens into a a re-imagining of “The Death Of Superman” and “The Reign Of The Superman,” reestablishing Clark’s “death” at the hands of Doomsday and subsequent replacement by Cyborg Superman, Steel, and the Eradicator (the Metropolis Kid, however, is left conspicuously absent.)
Though his return from the dead maintains the fantastic mullet, it subtly deletes the “healing coma” explanation in favor of a brief line about “Kryptonian technology.” At this point, in this new continuity, Clark and Lois were finally married. Also in this new continuity, this is around the time when Ma and Pa Kent died, though it’s not clear which version of their deaths is now canon.
After the marriage comes the demystifying of Lois’s pregnancy and Jon’s birth in a sequence of events that manages to clip out moments from the “Road to Rebirth” branded alternate-Earth “Lois & Clark” book that this version of the Kents originally called home while simultaneously deleting elements of the New 52, including Clark’s public identity (and, apparently, the T-shirt-and-jeans costume, which is a bit of a shame, to be honest) and the events that lead up to the original New 52 Clark’s death.
Of course, the issue isn’t solely dedicated to re-hashing the newest iteration of Superman’s canon. As Clark is busying himself with playing detective in his own past, a mysterious force is at work, and for once? It’s not Mr. Oz.
…Or, well, it’s someone acting independently of Mr. Oz, who does make a bit of an appearance in the issue by issuing a warning to Clark that interrupts his memory-walking to tell him he’s messing with forces that are “beyond him.”
But we knew that much already.
So, no, the real bulk of the ominous villain work this time around is accomplished by someone else, and his name might ring a few bells. Hank Henshaw — the original Cyborg Superman himself — has somehow returned, and has set about recruiting some very specific villains for a cause. The first is the Eradicator, who most recently served as the “big bad” of the first arc of Rebirth’s “Superman,” and had been crushed into the moon.
This, as it turns out, is a bit convenient for Henshaw’s purposes, because Batman just so happens to have a remote Batcave base on the moon (presumably the one established back in the earlier years of the New 52) that Henshaw has recently co-op’d for his own use.
But the Eradicator is just one part of Henshaw’s gambit — two other “recruits” are pulled (literally, teleported into the Batcave base) into the plot in the form of Blanque and Metallo. This, Henshaw reveals, is to be the new Superman Revenge Squad.
Of course, with the newly reestablished status of “The Reign of the Supermen” so briefly glossed over, we can’t really be sure what Henshaw’s real game is here. Just how much of his story will come from the original text vs his more recent New 52 variation is anyone’s guess. One thing is definitely more than certain, though: he’s less than pleased with Superman.
The tease for issue #988 announces that the Revenge Squad has their sights set on Mongol meaning this next arc is most likely going to feature some more diving back into Dan Jurgen’s Greatest Hits Collection. Best guess is to keep an eye out for Steel…and maybe some elaboration on just why Mr. Oz absconded away with Doomsday back at the start of “Action Comics” new Rebirth run.