[Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for "Superman" #52, "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1 and "Superman: Rebirth" #1.]
DC Comics fans have had some time to accept that the New 52 Superman's days were running out - a story coming to an end for months in "The Final Days of Superman," and the titles set to be released as part of DC Rebirth's new slate spinning directly out of the event. But where the special "Rebirth" issue kicking off the change in status quo showed the Man of Steel mysteriously missing, comic readers knew that things were far more dire for the hero. And with a new, older, bearded Superman emerging to take his place, some explanation was needed.
Now that "Superman: Rebirth" #1 has been released, it seems that this time around, death for Superman will be a bit more... final. That doesn't mean the New 52 take on the iconic superpowered Boy Scout wasn't given a fitting send-off, but in taking over the series, writer Dan Jurgens calls on the most famous version of "The Death of Superman" to establish a new narrative. After all, he's the one that wrote it in the first place. So for those left confused by the "Rebirth" swap, allow us to bring you up to speed.
Out With The New
Without summarizing the entirety of "The Final Days of Superman" story (it's there for those who wish to see it play out), it's enough to say that with Superman dying from at least one cause, he entered into his final fight, determined to save innocents. He finished the job (with some help), but the cost was too high a price. Completely spent, the New 52 Superman exploded in a burst of light, with what appears to be bolts of energy firing out from him to a number of locations.
It's assumed that this will be delivered upon later, as a possible explanation for how Lois Lane (struck by one of the bolts) takes on the hero's powers and begins serving as Superwoman in her own comic title. Whatever the case, Superman was no more, reduced to an image of himself composed of ash. Although death in comic books is usually never permanent - and Superman himself has returned from the grave once before - the decision to not just kill Superman, but reduce him to dust seemed to have an air of intention about it. So with Clark Kent out of action, a massive hole was left in the DC Universe... or so we thought.
In With The... Old?
The older, bearded Superman already made an appearance in "DC Universe: Rebirth" #1, where we offered an explanation, but we'll repeat it here. Put simply: the old Superman - the one readers of the 1980s and 1990s will know, who died, returned, and married Lois Lane, etc. - was removed from the timestream before the New 52 continuity was born (through Barry Allen's meddling). When he was dropped back into the universe, the New 52 Superman was already making a name for himself, and catching enough doubt and paranoia that Old Clark and Lois decided it was best to keep to the shadows.
Taking a different name and raising their son in secret, Superman performed superheroics as he always had (with newfound determination to not be seen). In the first issue, Lois Lane reveals that her husband was present - in costume - ready to step in to fight Darkseid during the initial "Justice League" storyline, meaning Supes was keeping tabs on this alternate, younger version of himself. So when the New 52 Superman entered his final battle, only to find himself too weak to finish it, Old Superman came to the rescue.
New 52 Superman took the help, before belting his mysterious ally back to Earth, claiming the the planet would need one of them soon. He was right, too: as he turned to ash before his friends' eyes, the older, bearded Superman promised to answer the questions on their mind - soon enough. "Superman: Rebirth" #1 is that day finally come, with Old Superman finally taking the first steps toward the spotlight after a decade spent avoiding anyone on the planet thinking he was any kind of hero at all.
No Resurrection This Time Around
"Superman: Rebirth" #1 picks up where "Superman" and "DC Universe: Rebirth" left off, with Old Superm-- well, the only Superman arriving at the monument erected in Metropolis to house the Man of Steel's remains. Struck with a sense of deja vu, since a similar monument was erected in his honor years earlier, Superman stumbles upon Lana Lang arriving to remove the New 52 Clark's remains. After some (understandable) confusion at meeting an older version of her late friend, Lana claims she's there to bury his remains back in Smallville, as Clark had wished. Superman is also there to collect the dead hero's remains - for a completely different reason.
Knowing he had been resurrected thanks to a Kryptonian "regeneration matrix" (a controversial conceit at the time), Superman and Lana head to this universe's Fortress of Solitude in search of the same. Upon arrival - after a trip down memory lane (for Jurgens and the reader), detailing Superman's death at the hands of Doomsday, and subsequent resurrection - the pair learn that no such technology exists. Which means that a long shot becomes an impossible one (we have to imagine that being turned to ash isn't something you can really recover from in the best scenario).
Accepting that this world's Superman is truly dead, and that Earth still needs a protector, the issue ends with the Superman of yesterday deciding what those excited for the DC Comics Rebirth already know: it's time for him to get back on the job. "DC Universe: Rebirth" teased that there may be more to this story than either Man of Steel realized, but fans can see the veteran return as the title hero in "Superman" #1, releasing in two weeks.
Superman: Rebirth #1 is available now.
[vn_gallery name="DC Comics Rebirth" id="793575"]