I covered the Death of Superman a few months back, and I had previously forgotten that, while it may not be an objectively well-made book, I really did enjoy it. It’s a delightful bang-up of a comic.
But what’s more, I really dig some of the stuff it wrought in its wake.
So we’re moving on to what will be part two in a… hmmm… three part series. We’re skipping out on Funeral For A Friend for a now, but maybe we will shoehorn that in way down the line if enough of you request it. Do you want to read that? It’s not very eventful! But I am a man of the people.
TITLE: Return of Superman
Writer and Artist: Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, and more! Lots of work on this work.
Protagonists: Superman! Also, Superman. And Superman. Can’t forget Superman! And, finally, Superman.
Antagonists: Mongul and one of those Supermen up there. Ah, let’s say… the second one.
Every time I have done one of these collaborative crossover books (except for when I covered 52 because all of the artists there were, at the very worst, adequate), I note that I am jarred by the art changing every twenty-two pages. This book follows that pattern, and it shifts through art that is pretty darn good (Tom Grummett’s work on Adventures of Superman), not particularly great (Jon Bogdanove on Man of Steel, and he seems to do this to me a lot, as he was the artist I enjoyed the least from X-Tinction Agenda way back when I did that review; though to be positive for a bit, his work work is a massive upgrade over what it was there), and some that are between those extremes (Jackson Guice and Dan Jurgens on Action Comics and Superman). If I had my way, this entire collection would have been handled by Grummett and Jurgens. But it is what it is; that’s what makes comics a unique medium.
In the wake of Superman’s death and, well, his wake, Return of Superman sees the rise of four new characters all claiming ties to the fallen Man of Steel. How fortuitous; there were exactly four Superman books being published at the time! Each makes their own claim to the mantle, if not the identity, of Superman, and their stories all coalesce around an eventual fifth Superman, clad in black, also claiming to be the original. The Supermen fight some jabroney villains like White Rabbit, Steel Hand, and Stinger along the way to prove their mettle, but they also cross paths and end up fighting each other a few times because it’s comic books, and that is part of what we pay the cover price for. Eventually, the classic Superman foe Mongul gets involved, Coast City is eradicated (and say what you will about the over commercialization of it all, but DC did a decent job of making sure that Kal-El’s death had a long-reach), and the true Metropolis Marvel emerges. With a happenin’ 90’s hairdo!
After all this, the status quo is returned, and the DC Universe got some great new long-term characters. Like I said… long reach.
But is it good?
I don’t know. I mean, it’s not a bad story; it’s not one I struggled to read. But it’s not brilliant, either. There is a lot of scuffles between the would-be successors that all feel a bit tacked on, and the story is generally pretty unfocused and moves way too quickly despite being a HUGE collected trade. There is some brief establishment for the new characters, but it is done away with in short order to get to the main plot at hand. The Cyborg Superman is revealed incredibly early on to be a heel, Steel and Superboy pretty much immediately make it known that they are not the reincarnated Last Son of Krypton, and the Eradicator at no point seems likely to be the real deal. So while the story could have had some drama, it disavows itself of it very quickly. Perhaps that was so fans didn’t feel TOO bait-and-switch’ed when none of them were the genuine article, but all it does is make it obvious that the man in black is the real Clark Kent as soon as he appears.
That said, for being disparate titles with entirely separate creative teams, the storyline flows remarkably well, with issues occasionally picking up at the exact moment a previous one ended. So there is some tight, well-managed continuity here to appreciate, as DC must have written this whole thing out well in advance to make sure everything fit together.
Ultimately, what I dig most about Return Of Superman is what it gave us long-term. Hank Henshaw became a solid second-tier DC villain. Superboy and Steel would grow into popular, well-developed heroes. And the story planted the seeds that would bloom into Kyle Rayner’s tenure as Green Lantern. So there are those items to admire given that a lot of what happened in 90’s comics—especially in the way of creating new characters—were resounding flops or essentially fell in the woods with no one around.
One last note: Lois Lane is the WORST at secret identities. She has moments with each of the new Supermen where they do or say something that vaguely reminds her of her husband, and she outloud says “Clark?” around or to them. Including once to Superboy—who admitted straight away that he wasn’t her husband!—while an entire newsroom was looking at them. What the hell, Lois?! Keep a secret! In my head, Lois is an idiot walking around Metropolis who calls out “Clark!” to everybody who ever lifts something heavy or jumps high. Basketball games are probably very confusing times in her life.
Talking Point: Come on. You remember the buzz for this. When this was happening, which of the new Supermen, if any, was your pick to be the real/new long-term Superman? Be honest! I totally thought it was going to be Cyborg. Dummy!
Crossovers suffer a lot from being uneven, and this is no different. The art is all over the place, as much stuff misses as hits, and the constant title switching makes it hard to keep up momentum, even with the respectable continuity. But it’s a decent enough romp with enormous impact on the DC landscape long after it ended, so… more good than bad.