WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Man of Steel #1 by Brian Michael Bendis, Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Jason Fabok, and Alex Sinclair, on sale now.
Man of Steel #1 lays a lot of the groundwork for DC newcomer Brian Michael Bendis' run on the Superman titles, while also harkening back to John Byrne's 1986 miniseries of the same name which redefined the hero for a new era. But in the issue's final moments, it looks like Bendis may be drawing on another major continuity-defining event.
But is it referencing Crisis on Infinite Earths… or its nominal sequel, Zero Hour?
Near the end of the issue, the Kent family is enjoying a quiet moment at home before a faint white light begins pouring in from off-panel.
Jon's and Lois's lines here are repeated twice in the issue, once earlier when Superman is trying to rescue people trapped in a burning building and again on the final page, after the entire scene has faded to white. That page is otherwise silent, composed of three vertical panels showing Clark, Lois, and Jon looking in terror at something off-panel; the second panel is a detail of the first, with the white light consuming even more of the image.
The most obvious connection would be to Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC's best-known event series, which collapsed all of the publisher's multiverse into one streamlined universe with a reconfigured (and often difficult to parse) timeline. Crisis led directly to Byrne's reboot in Man of Steel that same year. So, with a new Man of Steel, it would be only natural to refer back to Crisis. Especially since, in that series, worlds were also destroyed by encroaching white light.
But when the entropy hit in Crisis, it was preceded by red skies and rampant natural disasters. The suddenness and relative calmness of the wave in Man of Steel appears much more similar to what we saw in 1994's Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. In that series, a white wave rushed over creation until nothing was left but absence -- all of the tie-in issues ended with one or more completely blank pages.
This image, from Action Comics #703, shows Lois being swallowed by the wave, a page which was followed by several all-white pages. The ending of Man of Steel #1, with its gradual fade to white, then, evokes the form of Zero Hour much more than it does Crisis.
Further, the seeming anomaly of Lois and Jon's repeated lines at different times and places suggests the sorts of temporal anomalies that heroes experienced during Zero Hour rather than the utter chaos of Crisis. It's also important to consider that Zero Hour was much more concerned with origin stories -- many of its tie-in issues featured alternate versions of characters, or explored the consequences of their choices; the event was immediately followed by a month of "Zero issues" revisiting each hero's origins.
It's not at all clear how this development plays into the main conflict with Rogol Zaar, the alien who claims responsibility for Krypton's destruction. But Man of Steel has been billed as an exploration of Superman's past that will define his future, and if the final pages do indicate another continuity-shaping event, that may point toward how Zaar accomplished Krypton's demise. Rather than hitting it with a giant axe or bomb or what have you, with the sorts of universe-altering power wielded by the Anti-Monitor in Crisis or Extant and Parallax in Zero Hour, Rogol Zaar could create the natural conditions necessary for Krypton to explode.
Rogol Zaar has so far been presented as pure brute force, but a being who can turn time and space against an entire planet would represent a true crisis for the Man of Steel. What the white light means for Superman and how it relates to Zaar will likely be revealed in short order, as Man of Steel continues weekly through June.