NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Superman #14
You might think that a hero capable of lifting entire mountains would be enough to keep readers (and writers) captivated, but as the history of DC Comics has shown, the only thing better than one Superman is two. But where other tales of alternate universe hero doppelgangers or "Elseworld" stories may imagine a superhero's abilities placed in a different context, it's the Man of Steel's moral makeup that's drawn the imagination of countless writers, editors, and artists. How much would Clark Kent's story change if he landed elsewhere on Earth? If his powers arose in a culture whose definition of "heroism" was different than America's?
The resulting stories have ranged in impact (and outrage), as the DC Multiverse has revealed one Superman doppelganger after another. And thanks to the twists of Superman #14, readers can see what unfolds as these hypothetical Supermen join forces for a common goal. It's a treat for fans of the characters involved, but for those blessed with the 'Super' moniker... things aren't looking up.
Red Son Rises
For readers who may have been intimidated to jump in on the current DC slate after the upheavals and relaunches of "Rebirth," the issue in question may be the comic they've been waiting for, since it begins quite literally out of nowhere. As Clark Kent takes a drive through the countryside near his secluded family home - his alternate universe exploits of the past far from his mind - one of his best known doppelgangers steps into the road directly in front of him. The hero in question is the star of Mark Millar's "Superman: Red Son" - the version of Kal-El that would have risen to power had he landed in Soviet Russia, not the United States. But before Clark Kent can even learn that this Superman hails from Earth 30, the bloodied Kryptonian gives him a warning: the enemy isn't far behind him.
Stating simply that he was being "processed" in an unknown location by the underlings of a villain named 'Prophecy,' the Red Son Superman was drawn to this universe by a bright blue aura revealed to be unique to the current Superman. For simplicity's sake, we'll condense the explanation offered in the latest Superman Annual as such: this Superman, having hailed from a different (pre-New 52) universe reacts with sunlight differently - apparently, enough to act as a beacon for his Earth 30 doppelganger.
The Red Son Superman warns that Kenan Kong, DC's new, Chinese Superman, is also set to be captured as he was. And only seconds later, the 'Gatherers' in question arrive. Repeating to themselves as something of a mantra, the alien kidnappers state their mission to fulfill "The Lyst," and the Supermen on it ( to be processed, then consumed as commodities). The two Superman combine their strength and heat vision, and before long, the Gatherers are subdued - just in time for even more superheroes to arrive from yet another interdimensional gateway.
The Cavalry Arrives
The superheroes in question aren't any random group, but an assembled cosmic Neighborhood Watch known as Justice Incarnate (or, in this case, Justice League Incarnate). Readers who followed Grant Morrison's recent parallel-universe-extravaganza "Multiversity" will already be familiar with the group, and the villains and threats that forged them into a collective watchdog. The threat that's brought them to Earth is more important than a history lesson in how they found one another, so we'll instead follow their own lead and give, as they offered to the dumbfounded Superman, a breakdown of their ranks.
It's a veritable who's who of the Multiverse, led, of course, by Superman of Earth 23, Calvin Ellis (broadly inspired by Barack Obama, judging by the fact that he is both a Kryptonian and the President of the United States), first appearing in the Final Crisis event. Joining him is the Batman of Earth 17 (home to the armored, post-apocalyptic Atomic Knights), Aquawoman of Earth 11 (where all heroes' genders are flipped), Green Lantern of Earth 20 (Abin Sur, from a post-WWII era), Mary Marvel of Earth 5 (home of the Golden Age Captain Marvel family), Red Racer of Earth 36 (filled with DC homages), Thunderer of Earth 7 (an Aboriginal take on Marvel's Thor) and, finally, Machinehead of Earth 8 (a pretty obvious pastiche of Iron Man).
Missing from the group is arguably the most beloved (if outrageous) member of the group: Captain Carrot, the anthropomorphic, superpowered cartoon rabbit from Earth 26. We'll find out the reason for his absence by issue's end, but with Kenan Kong the next on the Gatherers' "Lyst," the team head off to find him before their opponents.
The Supermen Are Being 'Gathered' - But Why?
The team is too late to rescue Kenan as he is ambushed and assailed with strange black orbs that cocoon him into total submission. Despite the team's best efforts, Kenan - like the other Supermen who have been similarly gathered - simply ceases to exist... in the observable Multiverse, at least. It doesn't seem like the first such instance the Justice League of the Multiverse has encountered, and with this Earth's Superman (referred to as an "anomaly," given his escape from his own universe to this New 52 version) not in danger of being added to Prophecy's collection, the League prepares to depart. But the 'S' emblazoned on the victims' chests is enough to earn Clark Kent's commitment, as he promises to accompany this cosmic superteam into the unknown spaces of DC's Multiverse.
Unfortunately, the heartbreaking conclusion to the issue comes immediately afterward. Shifting the focus to an unknown holding facility where dozens of Supermen from across the Multiverse sit imprisoned in labeled cells. Captain Carrot stands apart. Not for long, though, as he's plucked from his cell and exposed to an unknown blast of energy. Once the smoke clears, and Captain Carrot's cries subside, he's revealed... reverted to the form of an everyday rabbit, and cradled in the hands of an unseen master.
Will the other Supermen be similarly de-powered? And for what purpose? Mysteries have been commonplace in the Rebirth era, so until we get some clarity, fans will just have to enjoy Superman's team-up with his Multiverse doppelgangers. Oh, the stories they'll tell...
Superman #14 is available now.