NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Action Comics" #962
Comic book fans had finally gotten used to seeing a brand new, younger Superman protecting the world of DC's New 52 Universe when the publisher determined it was time for some drastic measures to be taken. That measure became known as the "DC Rebirth" - not a reboot or restarting of continuity, but a reboot behind the scenes. Top talent was either retained or brought onto the company's core titles, prices were slashed, and the company-wide mandate was clear: return DC's heroes to the stories, the strengths, and the legacy that fans love.
So far, the results have been a success, with fantastic origin stories and new chapters in iconic heroes' mythology - and the same is true for "Superman: Rebirth," returning the older, Silver Age Superman to the DC Universe, with wife Lois Lane and son Jonathan in tow. But in order for this old Superman to reclaim the spotlight, the new one had to step aside. While the circumstances of that Superman's death are a mystery likely to be solved, the new Superman is back, and better than ever.
Unfortunately, there's no better time for "Action Comics" writer Dan Jurgens to throw the Man of Steel's greatest defeat back in his face: Doomsday.
The Original Doomsday
No "Superman" fan will ever forget the day that the infamous "Death of Superman" story arc delivered its most shocking blow, and any fan of the Man of Steel since has probably heard of the event in one medium or another. To keep a long story short: an alien created to be un-killable arrives on Earth tracking the scent of Kryptonians, engaging in a battle with Superman that saw the Man of Steel put the beast down for good - sacrificing his own life in the process.
For a while, anyway. Eventually, Superman was revealed to have simply been "regenerating," allowing him to reappear on the scene with an unforgettable black suit and shoulder-length hair. The live-action films have taken a similar path, with Doomsday also killing Superman (Henry Cavill) in Batman V Superman, and Cavill already teasing the black suit return as Justice League films.
It's an unforgettable story, even if it is a pretty straightforward one - which explains why Jurgens has returned to that storyline for "Action Comics"... since he wrote the original "Death of Superman" story to begin with.
Superman vs. Doomsday - Round 2
Now for those who may have missed out on the "reborn" Superman in the pages of either his title series or "Action Comics," it's worth explaining that the entire situation surrounding the New 52 Superman's death, the return of classic Clark, and the reshaping of the DC Universe as a whole has been overtly sinister. Even without the strange similarities between the life Superman knew and this younger world playing out the same, the sudden, unexplained arrival of Doomsday - in a containment suit, no less - in his return issue delivered two things. First, some nervous excitement at seeing Superman's greatest foe reborn along with him. And secondly, the obvious message that something or someone was orchestrating these events.
Either way, the sudden arrival of Doomsday - big, hulking, practically-invulnerable and suddenly more-strategic Doomsday - in downtown Metropolis doesn't leave much room for detective work. Thankfully, this Superman happens to be a whole lot older and wiser than the hero that first battled the Doomsday of his own universe - and he's intent on avoiding the mistakes made the first time around. But even before he can put his strategy into place, Doomsday reminds the Man of Steel that he's un-killable for a reason, devastating the city, injuring dozens, and all things considered, showing he's still more than Superman can handle.
Which is why having Lex Luthor, the new Superman of Metropolis on his side is a big help... not to mention the arrival of Wonder Woman for even more support.
Now it should go without saying that this Doomsday Rematch is arguably harder on Lois Lane than anyone else, having famously witnessed the murder of the man she loved once before, only to see him return, start a life together, escape the re-writing the of the DC Universe, raise a child, and now be faced with the same menace bent on murder all over again. To make things even worse, Doomsday's hunger for Kryptonians to kill also includes Lois and Clark's son, Jonathan.
Superman makes the call to isolate Doomsday in the countryside away from innocent civilians, and entrust Wonder Woman with his wife and son - carried away safely to the Justice League Watchtower. With his family safe and sound, and only Doomsday to deal with, Superman is free to... well, get savagely beaten by Doomsday all over again. Now, the Man of Steel can give as good as he gets, but when a mysterious team of soldiers fails to contain the beast (we'll get to them soon) it becomes perfectly clear that simply reacting to Doomsday isn't going to win the day. Thankfully, Superman has a plan.
Yes, while he may have spent the past decade living on this Earth in secret, watching as a younger version of himself made so many of the same mistakes he had, Clark Kent the father spent his days building a Fortress of Solitude of his own. A little suspension of disbelief will be needed here, since Clark claims to have rebuilt all of the Kryptonian tech seen in the fortress - including Kelex, his robo-butler - which would imply a superintellect also able to split mountains.
Whatever the research or study needed, Superman has prepared "Defense Protocol: Doomsday" - activating weapons throughout the Fortress to overpower Doomsday once he follows the Man of Steel into his hideout. Unfortunately, whatever step in the plan came next is rendered pointless by Doomsday once again overpowering Superman, leaving him well aware that this time around, it's the love of his life AND a son he's leaving behind.
Wonder Woman Saves The Day
As is usually the case, it's Wonder Woman to the rescue, being commanded to help Clark by Lois and Jonathan. Arriving with only moments to spare, Diana - who had previously enjoyed a romantic relationship with the other Superman of this universe - puts the obviously-complicated feelings aside to do what she does best. Thankfully, Superman really only needed a few seconds to complete his plan.
It turns out it wasn't just an artificial intelligence, a robo-butler, or countless other pieces of Kryptonian tech in the background of the Fortress that Superman forged from memory of his homeworld, but weapons, too. In a twist of wisdom kept secret from even the audience, Superman knew all along that there was no defeating Doomsday without sacrificing his own life in the process. And if you can't beat an opponent, there's only one thing left to do...
Banished to The Phantom Zone
When in doubt, banish your enemy to the shapeless, formless, torturous dimension known as the Phantom Zone, an experimental 'prison' seen in just about every incarnation of Superman fans have gotten. And while it may not be as satisfying a conclusion as Superman actually defeating Doomsday once and for all, it makes a bigger point: Superman doesn't have to actually kill his enemy - clearly not entering into this fight of his own free will, as we mentioned above - and better yet, he's put somewhere that he can no longer hurt anyone (including himself).
We'll leave the moral questions of whether Superman should really walk away with a clean conscience - not only because Doomsday is condemned to a hellish prison, but because Superman hasn't even tested the Phantom Zone projector when he uses it. Unfortunately, we don't actually get a glimpse of what Jurgens has in mind for this particular version of the Zone, or just how possible it would be for Doomsday to actually escape - since the end of the issue leaves him someplace else entirely.
The Twist Ending
It just wouldn't be a "Superman" story in the DC Rebirth without a cryptic tease or two towards the mysterious 'Mr. Oz,' the unknown, robed figure who has been following Superman's actions for months (both the New 52 Superman and this returned, older version). After warning the older Clark that he was blind to the reasons for his return, and continued looks at his monitoring of the Men of Steel, Issue #962 actually offered more leads than ever. Remember that team of soldiers we mentioned earlier? Well, their efforts to pounce and ambush Doomsday once Superman got him away from the crowds were commanded by Mr. Oz.
The exact plan wasn't clear at the moment that their attack was thwarted, with Doomsday resisting their attempts to force him into a mysterious "gate" and murdering them in moments. The goal of Mr. Oz may have been revealed in the issue's close, however, with the robed man boasting that he had succeeding in intercepting the Phantom Zone projector - and claimed Doomsday for himself. Again, questions abound: was Doomsday sent by Mr. Oz? This scene would imply he didn't (since he was wanting to acquire Doomsday the whole time), so who really did send Doomsday? And perhaps most importantly for DC's Superman family: what does he mean to do with it?
We'll hold those questions until the next issue, and for now, simply celebrate the fact that with a rematch offered, Superman made the most of it, defeating Doomsday thanks to planning, friendship, and Kryptonian tech. All in a day's work for the big blue Boy Scout.
Action Comics #962 is available now.
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