The Return of Superman (2016)
Reprints Action Comics #689-692, Action Comics Annual #5, Adventures of Superman #503-505, Adventures of Superman Annual #5, Green Lantern #46, Superman #80-83, and Superman: The Man of Steel #24-26
Written by Gerard Jones, Dan Jurgens, Jeph Loeb, Karl Kesel, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern
Art by Jon Bogdanove, M.D. Bright, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Ed Hannigan, Dan Jurgens, Lee Moder, Terry Beatty, Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, Jose Marzan Jr., Andrew Pepoy, Josef Rubenstein, Denis Rodier, and Romeo Tanghal
So we reach the big finale, and I can tell you that this was epic stuff when I was a kid. The moment when the real Superman, clad in shocking black and silver suit emerges from the Kryptonian mech he’s walked from Antarctica, across the bottom of the ocean, and into Metropolis in. Reading that original story is a was a triumphant moment that signaled the mid-point of an epic tale. The ramifications of Superman’s return and his battle with a couple of old enemies would send ripples through the DCU that would forever change his own title as well as Green Lantern’s.
As we enter this fourth chapter, the truths behind the Last Son of Krypton and the Cyborg Superman are finally revealed. From the very first issue in this collection, we see the real Superman emerged from the energy matrix in his Fortress of Solitude. He has no idea what’s been going on, and Klex, one of the Fortress’ robots, updates him about the four imposters in Metropolis. The artist makes sure we see the similarities between the Last Son and the real Supes.
Meanwhile, the Last Son’s aggressive nature is turning public opinion against him. He skirmishes with Steel and flies off, thinking he may need to soften his tactics. Word of a massive alien vessel breaching Earth’s atmosphere spreads. The ship appears to be headed for Coast City, California, where the Last Son is assisting Ferris Air. The White House dispatches the Cyborg Superman, who shows up and reveals his true colors. He kills the Last Son and ushers the arrival of the alien invaders led by Mongul, the former ruler of Warworld, usurped by Superman a few years prior.
Throughout the next few issues, Mongul unleashes his engines of destruction that begin terraforming Coast City with plans to transform the entire planet into a new Warworld. The Cyborg tricks Superboy into helping him investigate what’s going on, imprisoning him inside Mongul’s ship. We learn that the Last Son is the Eradicator, a Kryptonian artificial intelligence from a storyline a few years prior. With Superman’s death, he was activated but with corrupted memories and took the form of the deceased hero. And then, the real Superman returns.
I do not believe for a second someone without the deep nostalgia I have for these stories is going to enjoy it as much as I did. Objectively, it’s merely a decent long-form comic book storyline. Not much happens that’s outside the genre tropes, and the artwork varies in quality. I think this was peak Dan Jurgens art, and I will always have a warm place in my heart for Tom Grummett’s Superboy. As I read, I noticed places where I think the writing should have been tightened up or missed an opportunity to explore an idea. The collection is almost 500 pages, so there are lots of subplots beyond the main arc.
One element I truly loved was Superboy and Steel’s reactions when they realized they were dealing with the real Superman. At the time, I was too naive to see that spinoffs for these characters were setting up when the story reached its ending. Superboy quickly takes on the name he’s hated this whole storyline after seeing the real deal in action. Steel has some great moments with Superman as they navigate the engine city Mongul has constructed. I would say this story is the perfect payoff for the whole arc. These are not groundbreaking comics that will blow your mind. They are a wonderfully fun summer read, though.