Reign of the Supermen (2016)
Reprints Action Comics #687-688, Adventures of Superman #500-502, Superman #78-79, Superman Annual #5, Superman: The Man of Steel #22-23, and Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #2.
Written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern
Art by Jon Bogadanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, David Lapham, Eddy Newell, Mike Barreiro, Brett Breeding, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, Mike Machlan, and Denis Rodier.
What a strange, exciting time in comics this was for me. I was twelve years old and finally had a steady enough allowance to pick up a book or two every week off the rack at Kroger. This was also a time when Sam’s Club sold a shrink-wrapped stack of twenty comics. They were grouped as either Marvel or D.C., and I have always been more partial to D.C. I ended up collecting almost all of these issues though not in order over a couple of years. This was my first time reading the storyline in chronological order, so it made much more sense.
Superman is dead. But four Supermen have suddenly shown up in Metropolis at the same time. There’s the man in the metal suit wielding a sledgehammer. Then you have the golden-visored Kryptonian vigilante inflicting brutal justice. The leather jacket-wearing teenager is more interested in media attention than real heroics. The one that most likely appears to be the real deal is a melange of man and machine. For about half a year, D.C. let each character dominate a Super-title as we marched toward the inevitable return of Superman.
Superman: The Man of Steel featured John Henry Irons, a Suicide Slum resident who was rescued once by Superman. When ultra-dangerous weapons show up on Metropolis’s streets, leading to the death of two children who Irons tried to mentor, he dons an experimental armor he developed in a past life. Irons slaps the S-shield on his chest and puts on a red cape to become The Man of Steel. This was one of the characters that obviously wasn’t the “real” Superman, but out of all four, he was the truest in spirit to the fallen hero. Steel wasn’t my favorite of the four in these early appearances. I became a bigger fan of his in the pages of Grant Morrison’s JLA. Louise Simonson was interested in writing a street-level hero in the same vein as Daredevil or Luke Cage, and those have just never been my cup of tea in comics.
The Superman clone was featured in Adventures of Superman, and while he wanted to be known by his adult moniker, he is continually referred to as Superboy. I always found his story to be the most interesting because it explored a Kal-El who was never raised by the Kents and therefore had no strong sense of purpose and justice. Instead, Superboy strikes up a business and slightly romantic relationship with WGBS reporter Tana Moon. She gains prominence at her network by making Superboy exclusive to the channel, and he gets tons of praise and adoration from the masses. Superboy brings such a different tone than you would expect from a Superman title that makes for surprising reading. He had an ongoing flirtation with Supergirl, which gets a lot of attention in this volume.
It was always clear that these two characters: Steel and Superboy, were not the real Superman resurrected. The final two Supermen were the mystery characters, intended to tease the readers with hints and clues. Firstly, you have the Last Son of Krypton, wearing a costume that combines the traditional look with Kryptonian dress elements. His eyes have extreme photosensitivity, so he is forced to wear a yellow visor. What made the Last Son so different is that he resorts to violence quickly in his debut, killing the criminals he’s caught. Physically he resembles Superman the most, but Lois Lane has severe doubts due to his behavior. Steel may not look like Superman but holds all his values, so he stands in most contrast to this character.
The last of the Supermen is the Cyborg Superman. He claims to be the real deal, brought back through cybernetics but missing large chunks of his memory. The Cyborg is the Superman hailed by the U.S. government when he saves the president’s life from would-be assassins. Lois feels the most compelled to believe in the Cyborg but still holds out due to some gaps. He is definitely the most mysterious of the four, and writer Dan Jurgens is intentional in how every issue of Superman is told from someone else’s perspective about the Cyborg. Why he’s doing that becomes apparent in the next volume.
I think this is a pretty solid group of books. It’s definitely not a complete story, more an introduction to this quarter of Supermen. The real story kicks off in The Return of Superman, so this is a weird collection to talk about. My personal nostalgia factor was very high, and so I felt a lot of warmth toward reading through the book, but I could someone who doesn’t have the history with this era of Superman not enjoying it. It becomes historically essential to so much of the Superman mythos that would come after as all four remain players in the D.C. Universe even today.