[WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for "Action Comics" #957.]
The days of change are afoot in the world of Superman, and we're not just talking about the big screen version. No, as part of the "DC Rebirth" currently underway, the Big Blue Boy Scout has shuffled off this mortal coil, handing the mantle back to the version of the hero fans know and love (not figuratively: the Superman of the 1980s and 1990s has returned). But where "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1 left the younger, New 52 hero's fate a mystery, and "Superman: Rebirth" #1 solved it (*sniffle*), the arrival of "Action Comics" truly begins the next chapter - with a massive bombshell.
In the event that lapsed comic fans will be drawn in by the cover art, the overall "Rebirth" event, or just the fact that DC's famous comic series is once again returning to its original numbering with Issue #957, we're here to help fill in the blanks. The issue begins immediately following the "Rebirth" stories, but without having read a few storylines leading up to it, things get confusing fast. Plus, if you're just curious to see if the story is one you're willing to pay for, allow us to outline the major beats - and the most compelling storylines on the way.
Lex Luthor - Lord of Apokolips
To those who haven't followed the New 52's "Justice League," and the recently-concluded "Darkseid War" in particular, the mere cover of the issue is going to be confusing. Lex Luthor in a mechanized/tech suit of armor is nothing new, but emblazoned with Superman's inisignia? For the answers regarding his plan, powers, and new wardrobe, one major twist from the recent comics needs to be known above all others: Lex Luthor is now the Lord of Apokolips. As in, 'he has replaced Darkseid.' Yeah, that happened.
But as that shocking moment played out on Earth, Lex Luthor and Superman found themselves accidentally transported to Apokolips, the home of Darkseid, his parademon soldiers, and the 'Forgotten People.' It's the latter who find Lex, after Superman's powers have drained without a nearby sun, and Lex decides the only solution is to throw the Kryptonian into one of Darkseid's fire pits and hope the solar energy fuels, not burns the hero. It works, but when Superman goes into a rage and leaves Lex for dead, the Forgotten People arrive to begin his next chapter.
Since a prophecy claimed that on the night Darkseid died, a human would walk on Apokolips - a hero of Metropolis raised by humble farmers to save his planet time and time again - and that he would be the chosen one to lead Apokolips "to a new age." And to do it, he'd be blessed with the Omega Sanction - Darkseid's greatest powers. Lex lied and claimed to be the hero, taking his place on the throne, and having these otherworldly people craft him a suit of armor fit for a king.
"Action Comics" #957 seems to pick up not long after that conclusion, with Lex sporting the suit and having returned to Metropolis to fulfill the role of 'Superman' left vacant by the late Clark Kent. Obviously... that won't do for the Man of Steel still in hiding. Because as much as the people of this world believe Lex to be on their side - and as much as he has been - this Superman knows the truth.
The Old Superman Returns
Having been removed from the normal timestream when the "Flashpoint" event gave birth to the New 52, Superman and his family had returned to this world of new heroes, and decided it best to live in hiding. But that time wasn't wasted: this older, wiser Clark Kent spent his days seeking out the villains of his own past on this new world, hoping to monitor or defeat them before they became the villains he knew they would.
Then there's Lex Luthor. Like the one Superman knew on his own planet, this Lex was a ruthless, brilliant billionaire who ached to fight alongside (or outright replace) superheroes. But in this New 52, Lex actually had enough love for his own world to side with those heroes, saving the Justice League and the world, and being inducted into the team's ranks (why he and Superman were working together on Apokolips in the first place).
But one look at Lex claiming the mantle of Superman, hovering over the assembled citizens of Metropolis, and this older, wiser Man of Steel decides the time for hiding is over. A quick blast of heat vision to shave off his beard, and a quick retrieval of his classic (but still new) costume, and he's on the scene to protect the world from the monster he knows - or simply assumes - Lex Luthor has been all along.
The Twist: Clark Kent Lives?
It just wouldn't be a "Rebirth" comic without some completely baffling twists, and "Action Comics" may have delivered the most startling, most confusing one yet. Because as the returned Superman trades blows (and suspicions) with Lex Luthor, the audience is shown that one intrepid reporter is looking for the story. An intrepid reporter who just so happened to have his secret identity as Superman outed... not long before he was killed. So with our operating knowledge of 'secret identities' declaring that if one identity is turned to dust, both are, we can't help (along with the reader) to feel a bit like Jimmy Olsen.
How Clark Kent lives, or who this man claiming to be Clark Kent really is are the obvious questions (though his exact wording seems to imply writer Dan Jurgens has something more than an impostor in mind). But it's a tease that can't help but hint at a massive change in the core "Superman" fiction. If Clark Kent, the human half of the New 52 Superman has returned to his job, does this mean two such men exist on this Earth - with only one possessing the powers of Superman?
Only time will tell, but a twist like this seems difficult to keep restricted to one ongoing "Superman" title. So just as "Detective Comics" #934 (released this week) sheds light on the events of "Batman: Rebirth" and its new sidekick/partner, we can only hope that coming "Superman" stories will do the same. If for no other reason than the intentional inclusion of the mystery man 'Mr. Oz,' as always, monitoring the Supermen of the world.
Action Comics #957 is available now.
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