NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Superman #19
For all the success of the DC Comics Rebirth, there's one truth impossible to overlook: the boost in sales, readership, and enthusiasm came with a heavy price tag. And chief among the changes leading to the Rebirth and the return of the Post-Crisis Superman was the death of New 52 Superman. The modern incarnation of the character hadn't been quite as much of a hit as his predecessor, which lead many to view his death as DC giving older fans what they wanted, returning the older Superman and his wife, Lois Lane, and their son, Jonathan Kent. To add evidence to their claim, the New 52 Lois Lane was killed too, after receiving her powers from the dying Superman.
As it turns out, DC has a much larger story in mind for those versions of the characters. One that is tied into the very heart of the Rebirth and its blue, glowing, Watchmen-based architect. The first big twist may have been dropped with when the cover of Action Comics #976 revealed both the New 52 Superman and the one that replaced him taking flight together, but we now know the possible explanation. There are still secrets to be spilled in "Superman: Reborn" but it's time to hop on the story arc, Super fans - because DC may have just returned the New 52 Superman to the current DC Universe.
Keeping Up With Mxyzptlk
We say "may" because the entire story has gotten more and more ludicrous and unpredictable the closer we've gotten to answers. Remember that de-powered version of Clark Kent stalking Lois Lane? It turns out that's been classic Superman enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk the whole time (the fifth dimensional imp known for his trickery and games). Apparently, old Mxy was captured and help captive by the same mysterious 'Mr. Oz' who's been pulling the strings behind the Rebirth universe - kidnapping Tim Drake, and another Doomsday, among others. Believing Superman would rescue him before long, Mxy was forced to finally realize that the Man of Steel wasn't a friend after all. He managed to blast his way out of Mr. Oz's prison and back into the world, but could only escape his jailer if he convinced the world - himself included - that he was everyday Clark Kent.
But with Jonathan Kent now in his custody and a bone to pick with Superman, Mxy has taken his game to another level. First, he wipes Lois's memory of her marriage to Clark Kent, or their son. Next, he plants Jonathan at the very top of a strange, fifth-dimensional skyscraper and challenges Superman to make it through his nonsensical nightmare and retrieve his son. Mxy isn't volunteering to answer the questions of Superman or the reader, casually referring to the days prior to the death of the New Superman, when the older Superman was shown to be watching from the shadows prepared to lend assistance if it was needed. According to Mxy, the bond between this older and younger man from two (presumed) different dimensions has been misunderstood.
Was the original Superman "split" to make two versions? It's a new idea for the New 52 and the Rebirth, but it's just the beginning of weird happenings in Superman #19.
Jonathan Kent Learns The Truth
It's Jonathan who makes the actual discovery of the fates of both the Superman and Lois Lane of the New 52. As a brief reminder, neither actually died in a traditional sense. Instead, they erupted in a burst of red energy that reduced them to ashes. So it may not be too shocking when Jonathan - hovering in a state of limbo in Mxypltzk's game - witnesses two balls of red energy that fly towards him and stop, seeming to communicate. By presenting photos, the balls of energy reveal that they are Clark Kent and Lois Lane... the New 52 versions, not Jonathan's parents currently seeking him out. Not one to get hung up on the details, Jonathan senses their power, and requests their help in communicating with his parents. And by 'communicating,' we mean blasting him out of whatever prison Mxy has left him in so his parents won't have to fight their way to him alone.
As Superman succeeds in smashing his way through Mxy's game with the motivation only a child in jeopardy can offer, the imp changes the rules. He's determined to wipe Superman and Lois's memory of their son and have the final laugh... but that honor goes to Jonathan. Begging his new friends to help him escape, the detonation of red energy that breaks Jonathan free of Mxy's labyrinth into full view of his parents also sends the reality itself crumbling. Mxyzptlk is stunned and infuriated, but Jonathan has never been happier. Because he now stands beside his mother and father... possibly a different version, but a reunion of the family, all the same.
New 52 Superman Returns?
The issue ends with the New 52 Superman, in full, collared costume returned in all his glory. In one arm he holds Lois Lane, and Jonathan in the other. What makes this shocking reveal - the return of the presumed dead New 52 Superman - so powerful is that it's not quite clear just what's occurred. Has the New 52 Superman taken physical form out of his energetic one alongside his Lois Lane? That is, are Jonathan' parents safely standing out of the panel, brought face to face with the doppelgangers they watched from the shadows in the years since the New 52 relaunch? Or, in a more unexpected twist, has the release of energy brought some essence of those New 52 versions to reshape his own parents?
Jonathan's quivering, questioning reference to them as his parents confirms that even he isn't sure just yet, so fans don't need to obsess over the outcomes. What matters most is that, after months of being presumed dead to make way for a more popular rendition, the New 52 Superman is back... we think. Even if it's just his essence, his costume, or his willingness to help a boy in need. And that's a start.
What do you Superman fans think of the bombshell (that was teased without context already)? Are you thrilled with the very idea that the New 52 Superman's death was never just what it seemed? Or are you suspicious that some other plan or strategy is in play? Let us know your own theories in the comments, and stay tuned as "Superman Reborn" delivers its next twist.
Superman #19 is available now.