SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Action Comics Special #1, by Dan Jurgens, Will Conrad, Wil Quintana, Rob Leigh, Mark Russell, Jill Thompson, Romulo Fajardo Jr., Max Landis, Francis Manapul, Steve Wands, Ryan Sook, Cary Nord, Steve Orlando, Mick Gray, Wade von Grawbadger, FCO Plascencia and Carlos M. Mangual, on sale now.
Brian Michael Bendis may be poised to take over as the scribe on both Superman and Action Comics, but in Action Comics Special #1, writer Dan Jurgens still has one more story to tell. That being said, it’s only fitting that Jurgens – who’s by no means a stranger to the Man of Steel – and artist Will Conrad pit the Big Blue Boy Scout against a foe who was seemingly plucked straight from the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe.
In the first of several short stories contained in this oversized special, we learn that someone has discovered Superman’s secret identity and – as any villain would – they’re using this knowledge to target the person Clark loves the most: Lois Lane.
Because the missile that hit Lois’ plane was comprised of both “Kryptonian and Earth alloys,” Supes is able to deduce that the culprit must be someone who’s not only smart, but who also holds a grudge. Naturally, this makes Lex Luthor the primary suspect, and while Clark’s suspicions do turn out to be true, it’s not the current, heroic iteration of Lex, but rather the purple-and-green-armor-clad version that the pre-Flashpoint Man of Steel is all too familiar with.
After rescuing Lois, Superman engages Lex in battle, and while he initially believes his opponent is merely an imposter, he eventually discovers the shocking truth upon ripping off the chest-plate of his armor.
“What’s the matter, you alien trash?” says an elderly-but-unmistakable Lex Luthor, whose decrepit body is hooked up to all sorts of tubes and electrodes inside the massive battle suit. “Still don’t recognize your old friend Lex Luthor? Guess an extra seventy years make me a little unrecognizable, heh.”
“Took me… decades of work,” he continues. “Even as I fought the cancer… to acquire the power needed to sustainably pierce the time barrier.”
As longtime readers will likely recall, the post-Crisis/pre-Flashpoint Lex Luthor was diagnosed with cancer because of prolonged exposure to the radiation emitted from a kryptonite ring he regularly wore on his right hand. Once he determined his condition was terminal, he faked his own death and then transplanted his brain into a cloned body, passing himself off as his original self’s son, Lex Luthor II.
However, just as quickly as we’re reintroduced to the time-displaced, pre-Flashpoint Lex, he’s ripped away from us once again when he suffers a fatal heart attack just moments before his armor catches fire and explodes.
Given the decidedly extreme measure in which he dies, though, one can’t help but wonder if – much like “Superman Reborn” – this is Jurgens’ way of trying to eliminate any remaining loose threads from the Man of Steel’s multiple-continuity-spanning past. After all, as Superman says while he’s flying off, “As far as I’m concerned, [pre-Flashpoint Lex’s] been dead for years.”
Whatever the case may be, the present-day Lex certainly doesn’t seem to be content with what’s transpired, and it’d be foolish to think his quest for answers will simply end with Jurgens’ Action Comics run.