The Split Superman Saga! One of the most revered, popular stories in Superman’s Hi- WAIT, WHAT?? Yes folks we are here today to discuss a largely forgotten story by fans, creators and continuity itself. A story that is very much ahead of its time while also hearkening back to silly Silver Age plot tropes. Its also full of cameos of fan favorites and fan forgottens. Its a brilliant mess and a story I think everyone should check out.
First off the weirdest thing about this story is that its a 1982 SEVEN PART storyarc. Sure, some books at the time had started doing multi part stories but it wasnt exactly the industry standard normal to be packed into trade paperbacks like it is now. And in the quiet Superman books of all titles. This one runs in Action Comics #534-541.
This one is largely written by Marv Wolfman who at the time was trying to revamp the book into something a little more exciting. Shakeups in work, relationships, supporting cast, villains – he was trying it all in this brief Post Crisis era.
So whats this thing all about? Well its about Superman literally splitting into two people. But how do we get there? Who does the dastardly deed? Why its none other than famous Superman foes Lord Satanis & Lady Syrene!! I can hear the collective “Huh?” The married duo of future sorcerers debuted only a few months ago in Action #527. A magical pair of bickering Honeymooners obsessed with using the power of Merlin’s Runestone for their own ends or just messing up the other’s plans as you do.
In our debut issue by Wolfman and legend Curt Swan, Superman contends with The Mole, an underground drilling villain but before he even rumbles with him he ends up in a Time Portal which throws him back to the 14th Century Middle Ages. Stay with me here. Satanis reveals himself as the one responsible and Superman fights some Mudmonsters, a Dragon, all the medieval stuff. Satanis rambles on about how he and Syrene have been tracking the Runestone through time, fighting over who may possess it and at that moment it appears where Satanis knew it would. He says he needs Superman’s powerful form to transfer the energy from the Stone into him. Superman is just a needed sacrifice. Its at this point Syrene pops in and claims its her stone, given to her by her father and she shall claim this Superman and the Stone’s powers for herself. Superman shouts the power is tearing him apart and he means it quite literally!
Let us all take a moment to appreciate Syrene’s insane costume. The boob flowers are a bold and empowering choice.
So Superman is split in half. But what the hell does that mean? Well, for all intents and purposes its two identical Supermen but their powers have been split up. One has invulnerability, heat vision, X-Ray stuff, etc. The other Superman has the super flight, super-speed, super-strength and super-breath.
The next issue #535 by Wolfman and Joe Staton shows us the Super speed, flight Superman back in present day but his powers arent much help to him as he starts bruising and getting hurt quite a bit dealing with stuff.
Its here we start the rollout of cameos and guest stars Wolfman throws in to drum up excitment and connect this to the larger DCU. First up: The Omega Men. They come to Superman for help getting back into Space. Unfortunately The Mole is still burrowing all these tunnels under Metropolis so Supes and the Omega Men deal with that but Superman forgets he isnt invulnerable and gets messed up. The curse of the Split Superman.
Get used to this Superman getting his ass handed to him. Its going to happen again and again here. He ends up needing emergency surgery until the pesky asshole The Mole burrows in and snatches him away. The Mole sure is a funny big deal in this
In #536 by Wolfman, Paul Kupperberg and Staton again, we see why The Mole stole Superman. He takes him to an Underground City he discovered and auctions off Superman to the highest bidder. The Omega Men and Lois Lane end up finding Cave Carson for help getting underground to save him and this is the next exciting (for some) guest star. They eventually end up helping him escape before The Hunter wins the auction and offs Big Blue. Lois does more in this issue than Supes, its pretty great. After this, Superman helps fuel up the Omega Men’s spaceship and while helping them get into Space, we get yet another guest star – and this is the big one – THE NEW TEEN TITANS! Not only do they guest star but we get a crossover with the hot new title!!
So now we continue into Teen Titans #24……………for 4 pages. Hahah we get robbed of an actual crossover as Wolfman just uses this to link up the Omega Men with the Teen Titans. Superman introduces the two teams then bounces.
We continue our story into Action #537 where we get guest writer Mike W. Barr’s part of the story. He teams with Irv Novick to give us the story of this Superman dealing with feeling pain and not being able to do all he normally does. He can BARELY even get into the Fortress of Solitude. He tries to use some Legion Time Bubbles to get back to the past but that doesnt work because Lord Satanis is barring him from going back.
In this issue we FINALLY catch up with what the other Split Superman is doing. And he is………..just floating around. He is kept in a stasis beam when Syrene shows up again to use him to siphon the powers again and ruin Satanis’ day. Unable to stop her, he starts to weaken calling out for his other half to come help.
Our modern day Superman’s weakness has become public knowledge and its here we are introduced to 1982’s great character find – THE JACKHAMMER!!
Hahaha ok I kid, this guy sucks. Jackhammer fights Supes and wins with his hydraulic punches. Just mops the floor with him. Action #538 is ALL Jackhammer as we see that Superman just cant with this guy. He gets easily beaten and gets scared and doesnt interfere as he runs up a big crime spree
Eventually Superman thinks back to some good ol’ Pa kent lessons on conquering fear and actually does something. He promptly gets his ass beat again. But wait! The citizens of Metropolis start throwing debris and jeers at Jackhammer which gives Supes enough time to recover and land a satisfying crack on the jaw of Jackhammer, ending his comics tenure completely.
All in all its a fun little diversion showing how Superman needs all his powers and keeps the audience guessing how permanent this Split status quo really is.
Action #539 ramps the story into overdrive as Wolfman returns but this time with legend Gil Kane. Kane’s beautiful, crazy artwork really elevates this story into something even more special. This issue opens with more guest stars as Superman seeks the aid of The Flash and The Atom to help him break the time barrier.
In the pasy Syrene starts to absorb the power gaining the upper hand on Satanis while seemingly killing both Supermen.
Satanis and Syrene end up having a very cosmic Kirby-ish wizard fight and its just awesome. Kane absolutely murders it here. Eventually Satanis takes over the lifeless body of Superman which gives him a sweet magician cape and a weird white arcane horror face. It rules
Action #540 continues the awe inspiring Satanis-Superman vs Syrene magic power fight and its just gorgeous to behold. Some of my favorite comic pages ever created in this issue. Just look at this shit:
In the present day as they are about to cut into Superman’s corpse he wakes up! He’s not dead after all. Now desperate to get back to his other self as he sees the sorcerer fight in his dreams, Clark goes to the Planet where Lois is talking about a story of superheroes that time forgot. Time Master Rip Hunter is one such character and that gives Superman an idea. Cue this issue’s guest star! He tracks Rip down for help getting to the past. In the past we see Superman has woken up in the Satanis merged body as well and is helping him in the fight with Syrene. Satanis succeeds in taking down Serene but as soon as he believes hes conquered all, the other Superman arrives in Rip Hunter’s time pod!
Action #541 finally brings us the exciting conclusion! One Split Superman versus the Satanis occupied other Split Superman in a knock down drag out fight! Eventually the Superman in the Satanis body starts using Satanis’s own magic powers to create arcane beasts to fight him as well and sap his magic powers. Satanis has to expel himself from the Super body and the two Supermen keep Satanis on the ropes. The two Supermen then touch and the residual magic energies from them crackle and rise into the air forming a huge powerful arcane spirit Superman that turns on its creator, Satanis. Having met his match Satanis attempts to destroy it and with its last remaining power, it rejoins the two Supermen into our usual beloved Man of Tomorrow!
People at DC right now should take notes. Dark murder Batman isnt Metal, this is!! Now facing a renewed Superman, Satanis cant do much as Superman starts phasing through time and sends a huge all powerful punch his way defeating the sorcerous villain and in turn vaulting the hero back to his rightful time and place!
The funny thing is after all that, the issue ends with Clark basically thinking “Welp, everything is back to normal!” He meets up with Lana Lang,leans into dating her and a new era is teased next issue, so while this story may be way ahead of its time with some exciting new ideas and ways to push the way comic stories are done into the future, it quickly falls back to status quo.
Anyways, that wraps it up. Its a story from 1982 but it still feels fresh and exciting and is fun to read even these days. It does many of the things that comics in the 90’s and 2000’s seemingly pioneered. Guest stars, crossovers, long story arcs, massive status quo changes!! It’s all in there. Most of all this story is fun. The Gil Kane art is fantastic. Hell, even the Jackhammer issues are engaging and worth your time. I really really dig this stuff and I think its a hidden gem you all should check out!