WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Action Comics Special
What if Superman's most dangerous enemy discovered his secret identity? That's the question asked in DC's Action Comics Special, bringing the Man of Steel to face a terrifying threat: an unknown foe who knows his every secret. In the modern DC Comics universe, that means Clark Kent isn't the only one at risk... but his wife and son, as well.
DC's Rebirth initiative relaunched Superman's story by reintroducing the older Clark Kent who had married Lois Lane in the 1990s. Marriages seldom last in superhero comics, but this one has lasted long enough for Lois to give birth to Superman's son, Jonathan Kent, a.k.a. Superboy.
The family dynamic has given the Superman comics an emotional center they have lacked for the last few years. But it also makes the secret identity even more important.
Superman has a deeper reason than ever before to conceal his identity, now that he has both a wife and son (who has sporadic and unpredictable powers) to think about. In Action Comics Special, the risks of being close to Superman become alarmingly clear. A dark, shadowy enemy launches a series of terrifying attacks, and wants Superman to know he's responsible for every single one of them. With Lois away on a trip, he even sends Jonathan a text with his mother's flight and seat number. And appends the name, "Mrs. Superman."
As Superman's enemy reflects, "This isn't about bringing down a plane. It's about psychological warfare." Superman's foe is determined to break the Man of Steel, and his opening salvo is certainly effective. Subtle clues lead Superman to Lex Luthor, who he furiously accuses of having learned his secret. Lex hasn't, and fortunately for Superman, his unguarded words don't give it away.
The ultimate question of the Action Comics Special is a simple one: what lengths will the Man of Steel go to in order to protect his family? As great and good as Superman may be, he can be pushed - and his loved ones are the perfect way to get the leverage needed. It's the kind of threat Superman is less than familiar with, one making him suddenly and sickeningly vulnerable.
Unfortunately, a last-second plot twist avoids truly answering these questions and mysteries - but perhaps that's for the best. If Superman's secret identity were ever to be known, he'd be changed forever as a character. And if he actually killed in order to keep his secret... he just wouldn't be Superman anymore.
There's a strange sense in which this issue parallels Batman V Superman, where Lex Luthor tried to force Superman to kill in order to destroy everything he claimed to stand for. This one-shot uses a similar idea, but like BvS it also avoids forcing Superman to ultimately make the choice.
Action Comics Special is available now from DC Comics or your local comic book shop.