SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for "Superman" #19, on sale now, and last week's "Action Comics" #975.
It's time for a post-Rebirth rebirth in the penultimate chapter of "Superman Reborn," as Superman makes a discovery about the nature of his late New 52 counterpart that sheds new light on the whole framework of the current DC Universe.
"Superman" #19, by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason, picks up where "Action" #975 left off, with both Clark and Lois on the verge of forgetting their son Jon's existence thanks to the machinations of Mr. Mxyzptlk, while also incorporating threads from the tie-in issue "Superwoman" #8. But perhaps most intriguing is what the imp from the 5th Dimension has to say about how the New 52 came to be, and this revelation's significance in a post-"Rebirth" world.
The first thing to note is that Mr. Oz, the mysterious figure working behind the scenes whom many believe to be Ozymandias from "Watchmen," does not appear in this issue, save for his place of prominence on the cover... unless he's secretly Jon Kent! Which would be a pretty wicked twist.
But that's not to say there aren't major "Rebirth" revelations to be found within. First, Mxy refers to "tinkering busybodies" messing with time/space, likely the mysterious Mr. Oz, architect of so many clandestine plans in the "Rebirth" universe, and another cosmic manipulator, with most evidence pointing toward Dr. Manhattan of "Watchmen" fame. But Mxyzptlk also refers several times to the creation of the New 52, always using language that implies it was inherently broken, or "fractured."
This leads Supes to the realization that he was "split in two." And yes, we are quite literally talking about Superman Red and Superman Blue, N52 being "red energy" which made Lana Lang a Superwoman (energy she just returned to the universe in her own series), and pre-"Flashpoint" Superman being "blue energy," which Kal-El notes this issue as Mxyzptlk leads him around his own ethereal being.
A Surprise Return
While Superman fights to rescue Jonathan even as Mxy's magic is eroding his memory of family life, Jon is greeted by the "red energy," aka New 52's Lois and Clark. He recognizes them as not his parents, but like them, and together they team up to deal Mxyzptlk a critical blow.
And when the dust settles, it's not Jon's parents who bear him back to the real world, but their New 52 counterparts, re-formed and revitalized at last.
What It All Means
Much as Lana lamented over in "Superwoman," Mxyzptlk once again wonders at the seemingly outsized significance of Lois & Clark to the grand scheme of things. "No matter what, when, or where, it's always you two." This may be a thematic effort on DC's part to restore Superman's centrality to its universe; he was the publisher's foundational superhero, after all, but for quite some time he has not been the "original" in continuity.
The revelation that Superman was "split in two" may have implications for how we view the rest of the New 52 universe, as well. Was it created by a shaving off of the pre-"Flashpoint" DC Universe? If the "hope and optimism was split," as Mxy says in a metatextual flourish, what does that say about what comprised the N52? And if this was an experiment by Dr. Manhattan, as has been speculated, what was he hoping to reveal.
Mxyzptlk, like Kadabra in "Titans," was apparently not involved in the creation of the New 52 universe, but was aware of the schism from the beginning. Kadabra seized the opportunity to erase Wally West, while Mxy was busy being imprisoned by Mr. Oz. Both villains, too, seem to know who's responsible, and are not currently aligned with the architects' goals.
"Superman Reborn" seems likely to conclude, when it hits its climax next week in "Action" #976, with the dual versions of Clark Kent and Lois Lane recombined, a unified history overwriting their individual lives; "Superwoman" #8 intimated as much last week. This may also suggest that the same fate awaits all remaining elements of the New 52 and pre-"Flashpoint" universes, though that will necessarily take many forms specific to the characters. "Hope" has already begun leaking into Green Arrow's life, for example, as he's rediscovered his love and deep connection to Black Canary, but will he also be reunited with his son Connor Hawke? Or is Connor more akin to Wally West, who had no New 52 counterpart (except, er, for his "cousin"...) to escape oblivion whole?
Another possibility: even though it seems unlikely that the New 52 versions of Superman and Lois will prevail in the end, it is conceivable that Jon could be cut adrift without parents should the universes realign to make Lois and Clark lovers but not yet husband and wife. Jon currently co-stars as Superboy in "Super Sons," so he's not going to disappear, but the folks he regards as Mom and Dad could be erased. Let's hope not -- the family relationship has been a shining star of the Superman titles and offered the first meaningful, persistent change in the series in ages. Yes, a more significant and important change than even the clean slate of the New 52 reboot.
Next week's issue of "Action Comics" represents the culmination of almost a double-shipped year's worth of Superman stories across two titles, and in addition to restoring Superman's status as a native of the prime universe, it's all but certain there will be further revelations about "Rebirth" writ large. Mr. Oz hinted at it early on, and this issue confirmed: Whatever the truth of this new universe, Superman is at its center.