And, Who, Disguised as Clark Kent?
Credits: Roger Stern (writer), Karl Kesel (co-plotter), Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier (art), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)
Summary: In front of a news crew, Superman saves Clark Kent from a pile of debris. Clark explains that he’s stayed in the building’s civil defense shelter while waiting to be rescued. Superman flies through the city, encountering Lex Luthor in his helicopter. Lex demands to know where Supergirl has been, but Superman refuses to answer. Later, at Clark’s home, “Clark” morphs into Supergirl. Superman and Lois thank her for her help and then embrace.
- According to the news report, Doomsday’s rampage was only a little over a month ago. Think of all of the Superman stories that have been crammed into that timeline!
- The news report also leaves Eradicator’s fate ambiguous, even though the previous chapter seemed like a clear death scene to me.
Production Note: The Return of Superman trade only reprints eleven pages of this issue. It’s placed in the back as an “epilogue.”
Review: It’s not hard to guess why this portion of the story has been reprinted -- the reader needs to know how exactly Clark Kent explains his absence during Superman’s “death.” The explanation is perfectly reasonable within the context of this era’s continuity, although I wonder now how DC explains this away in the re-re-revised canon. (Surely Supergirl was never a shapeshifting pile of goo in the current continuity.) With this dangling tidbit addressed, that closes out the Death and Return of Superman epic.
On a basic level, it’s hard not to view the entire stunt as a success. It brought more attention to the titles (more than DC could’ve ever expected), increased sales, and enabled DC to compete against the birth of Image Comics and the increasing expansion of Marvel’s X-titles. Marrying Superman and Lois off would’ve caused a blip in sales and a smidgen of publicity, but killing him off, duping the audience with four possible replacements, and finally reviving him kept attention focused on the books for almost two years.
Creatively, the storyline has a few problems. The initial point the story tries to prove, that Superman is a true hero that will endure past any fad, seems to fade in and out as the months continue. A few characters learn lessons about true heroism over the course of the event, but the stories seem more and more concerned with gigantic fight scenes than making any metatextual statement about the public’s perception of heroism. And those closing issues, the big fight scene that draws all of the characters together, seem to drag on forever. It’s a shame that the creators couldn’t have devised a more satisfying conclusion to the event, rather than stranding the reader on Engine City for what feels like an eternity. If you want to see Superman fight Doomsday, his actual killer, in a rematch, then you’re out of luck. That comes later, in a different set of higher-priced bookshelf format specials. It’s the ‘90s, folks.
Following the resurrection, DC felt obligated to indicate that not everything has returned to the old status quo. You can’t take your flagship character and put him through this kind of experience without some acknowledgment of what he’s endured, right? So, now Superman has a mullet. And Clark Kent has a ponytail. What can you even say? I can understand the creators’ desire to return to a more traditional Superman, with only a small cosmetic change thrown in, but it seems like a wasted opportunity. If you’re ever going to redesign Superman’s costume, this is the time to do it. Why couldn’t he keep the black and silver look? Who’s to say he even needed to return as Clark Kent? For that matter, why is Superman even returning before the next big anniversary issue (Action #700)? Even after the gimmick of which Superman is the real one has been exhausted, I think Supergirl, Superboy, and Steel could be able to carry the titles for around a year. Why create a massive marketing event around Superman’s death, but only leave him dead for one month in the timeline? Why couldn’t Superman return to a very different Metropolis?
Despite my gripes, I have to say there has been a level of, at the very least, professionalism throughout the event. The Superman titles never reach the nadir of the Azrael solo stories the audience had to endure during “Knightfall,” and we should all thank the heavens for that. It’s obvious the creators have genuine affection for the Man of Steel, and even if it’s easy to view the event as a cynical stunt, I think there was a sincere effort all along to tell an entertaining story. There seems to be a decent amount of nostalgia for this era of Superman, and I have to acknowledge that most of these stories have aged pretty well. Trust me, as far as ‘90s gimmick storylines go, the audience dodged a bullet on this one.