WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Action Comics #978
The debate over which version of Superman was best came to a screeching halt recently, when DC Comics rewrote its universe around the original Superman's history - and from the looks of it, Superboy Kon-El/Conner Kent is next. Usually it's a complicated affair to retcon or rewrite the smaller details of old comics events to make the current version of events make sense. But with Geoff Johns's emphasis on the DC Rebirth being a return to the hope and legacy of DC's heroes, everything else came second. For the most recent issue of Action Comics, that meant reincorporating Superman's origin story, his superhero career, and even his run-in with Doomsday and the epic "Reign of the Supermen" arc that came with it.
The entire mythology of the New 52 has been rewritten, with Clark's classic origin taking top priority (and every other necessary change coming as an afterthought). While bad news for some, the return of the most iconic version of Superman is hard to resist. Especially with the characters who rose up to replace him in death - The Eradicator and Cyborg Superman - being recruited to make good on their past defeat. In Superman's memory of the events, though, there's one major figure missing.
Which is DC's biggest hint yet that a return-- no, a Rebirth of the original Superboy isn't too far away.
Superman's History is Back, But Something is Missing...
Given the confusion that comes when the old and New 52 Superman become one, DC has spent recent weeks offering a crash course in the new, unified origin story for Superman. Told in the pages of Action Comics, the story is largely what it used to be. Technically, it's being shown as archived historical accounts belonging to Kelex, Superman's Kryptonian butler in the Fortress of Solitude. What's caused Clark's sudden curiosity into his own life? Well for starters, that merging of the original Superman and the New 52 version revealed that at some point, the former had been fractured to form the latter. But as Clark walked away from the issue a brand new Superman, he couldn't help but wonder... if his perception of reality had been so warped, and so much of his existence forgotten... could it happen again?
The historical account matches his recollection at every turn, including - as mentioned above - his death at the fists of Doomsday. He died in Lois's arms, and eventually came back to set things right and marry her. But the historical account only includes The Eradicator, a Kryptonian construct built in Superman's image, Steel, the hero John Henry Irons in a suit of armor, and Cyborg Superman, the consciousness of Hank Henshaw in a robotic body emulating the Man of Steel.
Yet Superman can't shake the feeling that something is missing from that story. Or rather, not something - but someone. And DC Comics fans know exactly who he's referring to based on nothing but this single panel.
Superboy Headed For a Rebirth of His Own
The final figure to arise in the wake of Superman's death, and arguably the one who most mattered to the DC Universe in the long run, is Superboy - preferring to be called "The Metropolis Kid" when he burst onto the scene. The leather jacket, glasses, and 1990s style of the younger Super-hero didn't last too long, but the character sure did. When it was revealed that he was actually a clone of Superman, Clark Kent took responsibility of the boy. While the original story claimed he was a genetic clone of another man, remodeled in Kryptonian image, it soon gave way to his officialy origin story: Superboy is the clone of Superman and Lex Luthor.
There's good reason why Superman would find himself pulled to the memory of Superboy despite all evidence and reality-warping to the contrary. To say that Supes put the younger hero under his wing would be an understatement - he eventually took him on as a son of sorts, granting him the Kryptonian name of Kon-El (essentially adopting him into the El Family) and arranging for him to live under the watchful, loving eyes of his own parents in Smallville. Assuming the civilian identity of Conner Kent, Superboy would go on to form Young Justice with the rest of the DC adolescent heroes, forge a loving relationship with Wonder Girl, Cassandra Sandsmark.
While Superboy got a similar reboot in the New 52 Universe, this Superman saga has shown that the Man of Steel has the ability to rewrite the reality of the New 52 all on his own. Which means that the version of Kon-El who fought in the New 52's Teen Titans is likely not going to be the one getting a similar resurrection. Not only because he's not the one who should stand alongside Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg Superman in the returned Clark's memory, but due to his sacrifice in DC's Infinite Crisis.
It was as fitting a death as Superman's own, as Conner risked everything to stop the rampage of Superboy Prime, dying in the process. His last moments in Cassie's arms, noting how "cool" it was that he saved the day are remembered by every fan who read the series. Meaning his resurrection would be cause for celebration - particularly for fans of the animated Young Justice.
Where Does That Leave Jonathan Kent?
The return of the original Superboy will be an issue, since that moniker has already been given to Superman's son, Jonathan Kent. And so far, the father-son dynamic of both the Kents and Bruce and Damian Wayne has been one of the most pleasant surprises. As one half of the Super Sons comic series, it seems safe to assume that the title is Jonathan's for the foreseeable future. But if you think that rules out the return of Conner Kent, Geoff Johns has made it perfectly clear that Kon-El's return is a matter of when, not if.
Back when the DC Rebirth was just being promoted, Johns explained that the need to return to the classics, and re-establish the bonds broken through the New 52's reinvention was embodied in Superboy. As a writer on the Teen Titans series, Johns had intense affection for the clone of Superman and Lex Luthor, trying to forge a path belonging to only himself. But in the New 52, the version of Kon-El being given to fans was unrecognizable to Johns. So as much sense as it made for Johns's other beloved Teen Titan, Wally West to kick off the "Rebirth" as a whole, it's been a matter of time until Johns set Superboy right.
This panel in Action Comics seems to signal that fans should expect an answer soon enough - building off of Barry Allen's shock at ever having forgotten the younger sidekick/friend/son that the New 52 forced out of existence. A similar scene may be coming for Clark and Conner... but who will Conner Kent return as, if not 'Superboy'? That question alone will be enough for his fans to chew on until his inevitable rebirth, but the bigger mystery may be the forces that removed him from the universe - and how they'll react when he rejoins his former friends and family.
As we mentioned above, it would be jumping the gun to assume that the erasure of the New 52 continuity, and the return of classic DC continuity and timeline (thanks to Superman) is strictly an editorial decision. The world of "Rebirth" has been filled with mystery, deception, and looming, unseen threats from the start. So this twisting of reality could be the very thing that the shadowy, perhaps Watchmen-themed villain of the DCU was intending to prevent.
Action Comics #978 is available now.