SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Action Comics #999 by Dan Jurgens, Will Conrad and Ivan Nunes, on sale now.
As the comic book that introduced the world's most iconic superhero heads towards its landmark millennial issue, there are some changes put into place on the eve of Brian Michael Bendis' anticipated arrival on the title. Dan Jurgens uses his penultimate issue to usher in turning points for two notable characters oft-used during his nearly two-year run.
Action Comics #999, drawn by Will Conrad and colored by Ivan Nunes, features an unexpected change for one of Superman's most notorious villains. It also puts forth a change for an important supporting character who's not exactly a villain, although he's frequently been at odds with both Superman and Lois. Both alterations, though, are rather sudden, and their unforeseen implementation calls their permanence into question.
One Last Appearance for a Familiar Foe
Superman is first seen casually doing the kind of thing he does best -- saving the planet. This time, however, he has an additional motive. After breaking up a large asteroid that threatens to collide with Earth, Superman carefully extracts an unknown mineral he's secretly been searching for. This mineral turns out to demonstrate super-strong tensile properties when exposed to Earth's atmosphere, which he intends to use to contain one of the deadliest villains in his rogues' gallery.
That villain is Hank Henshaw – aka Cyborg Superman – who was responsible for the death of millions when he helped Mongul destroy Coast City during "Reign of the Supermen." Henshaw was last seen in issue #984, after being sent into the Phantom Zone by General Zod, and left there by Superman despite having the opportunity to retrieve him. Supes noted at the time that Henshaw's stay in the Zone would be temporary, until he could find a better way to deal with him.
Everyone Deserves a Happy Ending – Right?
Fifteen issues later, Superman believes he's found that better way, and releases Henshaw into a newly constructed room at the Fortress of Solitude that he's reinforced with the extraterrestrial mineral. Kal-El reasons that the Kryptonian chamber would serve as a more humane prison than the cold, dimensionless, psychologically-damaging realm of the Phantom Zone. But beyond that he has another Kryptonian artifact he believes can soothe the psyche of the mass-murdering cyborg.
Retrieving one of his magical Kryptonian crystals, Kal hands it to Henshaw, and the crystal proceeds to allow Henshaw's mind to relive the happier moments of his past. Prior to this moment, though, Henshaw demonstrates some uncharacteristic clarity towards his past grievous deeds, only moments after engaging Superman and losing to him in a brief but raging fight. The unprecedented softening of Henshaw's character primes him for relegation to his current fate – reliving his past in a technologically induced mind trip.
Cyborg Superman has arguably been one of the Man of Steel's more interesting modern-day foes, so the decision to take him off the board on the cusp of Bendis' run, and so quickly, is an intriguing one. Perhaps Bendis has indicated that he has no plans for the character, so Jurgens thought he deserved a happy, if illusory, ending. Or, the development perhaps provides a sort of clean slate for the character, allowing Bendis to use Henshaw in a non-villainous capacity.