NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Action Comics" #963
It turns out that no matter how confusing, nonsensical, or downright impossible you make your story, comic book readers can't resist a good mystery. At least, that's what DC Comics is banking on with their "Superman: Rebirth". Because beneath the thrills of seeing Superman fight Doomsday or do battle with The Eradicator in "Superman," a massive, mysterious reveal has been made in the life of Clark Kent - minus the blue and red tights.
The re-emergence of the pre-New 52 Superman made sense for those who had followed his survival of the re-writing of the DC Universe, and the tragic death of the New 52 Superman opened the door for his older predecessor to reclaim the role. But as Superman fought alongside Lex Luthor to save Metropolis from Doomsday, a familiar face stood apart from the crowd: Clark Kent, intrepid reporter for the Daily Planet.
How did a de-powered Clark Kent survive in the New 52, despite his superpowered alter ego dying? The latest issue of "Action Comics" has offered a partial explanation... but things are only getting weirder.
New 52 Superman: Dead
As much as we would like to say that the younger, New 52 Superman is unequivocally, indisputably dead, recent events have thrown that somewhat into question. Still, the actual death seems straightforward. Having defeated a 'solar Superman' wannabe and finally succumbing to the radiation/kryptonite/solar energy that had been slowly killing him, Superman's death was given special... finality. He didn't get beaten to death like his resurrected doppelganger, or even poisoned - he erupted in a flash of energy, leaving his body a pile of dust.
That's not exactly the kind of injury you come back from, and despite the older, bearded Superman's abrupt exit from the scene (pictured above), he still made the effort to give this younger hero the same chance at resurrection that he had enjoyed. Unfortunately, the Kryptonian technology that had brought Superman back to fighting strength during the "Death and Return of Superman" story was nowhere to be found in the New 52's Earth - and even if it was, it's hard to believe that a pile of ashes could be reconstituted completely. The result? A Superman who was truly, and unavoidably, deceased.
New 52 Clark Kent... Lives?
As mentioned above, it took little urging for the older, wiser Superman to realize that his years of living in secrecy were over, stepping off of the sidelines and back into the spotlight - in the suit that made him famous on his own world. And, in a poetic twist, writer Dan Jurgens showed why this version of Clark Kent should have considered the risks before jumping back into the work... returning the villain that killed him the first time around. But it wasn't long before this Clark learned that he probably should trust this universe's version of Lex Luthor, and rely on him to help turn the tide of the fight... since the safety of one Metropolis citizen was of particular importance.
With absolutely no explanation or warning at the time, the chaos of the attack subsided just long enough for Clark Kent - the New 52's Clark Kent - to show his face, revealing that although the New 52 Superman had been killed, his human alter ego hadn't... we suppose. This Clark still claimed to be exactly who people would assume - minus the 'Superman' identity and powers people had learned he possessed - and had the broken bones to prove it.
Thankfully with Doomsday downed, "Action Comics" #963 put the focus directly on the mortal Kent, a mystery which may help to unlock even more mysteries of "DC Rebirth" so far.
The Face-to-Face Meeting
When we say that the issue belongs to Clark Kent and not the returned Superman, we mean it: the latter barely makes an appearance. Instead, it's a story all about a man now claiming that his life as a Kansas farmboy leading him to a career in journalism is everything it seemed to be. But let's make it clear: it was Superman, and not this Clark Kent who actually lived the final months of the reporter's life, had his dual identity exposed, and sacrificed his life to protect the world. At least, that's the story he's telling so far.
The issue reveals that it's actually Superman who requests that this new doppelganger be put to a lie detector test (administered by Bruce Wayne in disguise) - a test which ultimately proves that this Clark has never shown superpowers, or taken the name of 'Superman' (as much as a polygraph can, we suppose). So with suspicions understandably growing, now that "Clark Kent" has returned to life while his superhero alter ego remains missing, Lex does what he does best: spin.
Putting Clark in front of the camera to explain that Superman (the younger, deceased one) approached months before his death, asking to essentially pretend to be Kent until a threat had passed.
It's an alibi that is obviously hard to confirm, but at least in the issue itself, it seems to be the truth. But it's a twist that still doesn't make much sense, no matter how honestly this Clark might believe it. Eager to get to the bottom of the problem, Superman puts his wisdom and experience to work tracking down Kent, beginning the true investigation into Clark Kent and Superman's suddenly very dual identites.
Few will be able to speculate or theorize the truth of the mystery, since the looming presence of the mysterious 'Mr. Oz' watching over all the proceedings has yet to fade. No major reveals on that front in "Action Comics" #963, but a chance for a DC writer and artist to collaborate on a scene in which the Man of Steel physically meets his human counterpart is always hard to pass up.
And now more than ever, fans will have some serious questions to ask after reading the issues to come.
Action Comics #963 is available now.
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