Return of the Krypton Man
Superman: The Man of Steel #1, Superman #57, Adventures of Superman #480, Action Comics #667; Triangle Numbers 1991 – 19-22
Writers: Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern; Pencilers: Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Bob McLeod, Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert, Curt Swan, Jim Mooney; Inkers: Dennis Janke, Jerry Ordway, Bob McLeod, Brett Breeding, Art Thibert, Denis Rodier; Colorist: Glenn Whitmore; Letterers: Bill Oakley, John Costanza, Albert De Guzman
So why exactly was there a need for a fill-in arc? Because in comics that were cover dated July 1991 the Superman line expanded. Where previously the Superman books were putting out three books a month, there was still a two week gap between issues of Action Comics and Superman. To rectify this, DC Editorial introduced a fourth book to the line-up, Superman: The Man of Steel.
To launch this new title, DC tapped writer Louise Simonson, who had just finished long runs on New Mutants and X-Factor over at Marvel. She brought with her both her frequent collaborator Jon Bogdanove and her experience with collaborative storytelling within the X-Line of books. The X-Men books of the late 1980s and early 1990s functioned similarly to the format the Superman books had started using. The difference is that each book in that line still focused on its own characters while still building to major events, while the Superman books were doing it with a single lead character and most of the same supporting casts through the books, so it had to be tighter.
As part of the massive launch of the new title, all four books that month expanded to 48 pages and each featured all of the writers and artists of the books working in concert with each other on each issue, as well as bringing in Superman art legends Curt Swan and Jim Mooney. This would also be where the creative teams shuffled a little bit moving forward. Dan Jurgens would move from Adventures of Superman to Superman proper, inked mostly by Brett Breeding for the foreseeable future. Jerry Ordway would move back to Adventures of Superman as writer, bringing on the remarkable team of Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood to handle the art. Action Comics would remain Roger Stern and Bob McLeod, and Man of Steel would of course be Simonson and Bogdanove.
One interesting thing about Simonson’s Man of Steel is that it starts with subplots already in place. Not the ongoing subplots like Foswell, Jimmy’s new place, or the White’s vacation; though those are there too. No, Simonson introduces her own subplots that are mostly just contained to Man of Steel, but joins them already in progress. A terrorist named Cerberus has been bombing places around Metropolis, and a strike of the Metropolis transit workers is underway. While it may seem weird to jump into these plots as they’ve already started, it actually makes it seem like Metropolis is a living breathing city. It also immediately highlights the importance of the new title, in that it shows us things that we were missing from only having three books and not four.
The other thing that’s apparent from the start of this run is what a unique artistic voice Bogdanove brought to the books. His Superman is immediately kinetic in a way that some artists are never able to capture. When there is action, he always seems to be in motion. Just the opening splash page alone is a perfect example of the energy that Bogdanove brings to the line.
The other thing about Bogdanove’s Superman that stands out, is that he always feels larger than life. Part of this is because Bogdanove drew him a bit larger than the other artists on the books at the time, but there’s also just more of a mythical, hero of legend, quality to Bogdanove’s Man of Steel.
Along with introducing plots already in progress, Simonson also wastes no time also adding to Superman’s supporting cast. As I said earlier, the writers of the books all had their favorites and that extended out to the supporting cast as well. Jerry Ordway’s made no secret about how much he loves Bibbo Bibbowski, for example, and right away in this first issue Simonson introduces the characters that will be big parts of her run: Myra Allen and Keith Parks. Both of them are distilled to the very essences of their characters in their introductions: Keith an innocent young boy just wanting to protect his pet cat Tiger and Myra a woman who is not afraid to speak her mind, even if the target of her words is Superman.
From there, the action of the issue really starts, with a solar flare causing electronics to fail across Metropolis, including those of planes in the air. On top of that, the aforementioned Cerberus bombs the airport after all the planes have been saved. This makes everything seem to run at a breakneck speed for a bit before the comic lets us relax by checking in on the daily lives of the characters.
Remember how I said we’d check in on the “Jimmy gets his own place” subplot? Well that takes a terrible turn here as acting managing editor of the Daily Planet Sam Foswell decides the only way to cut costs is to lay off a bunch of employees. Jimmy is among the casualties just as he is signing the lease on his apartment. These little pieces are the connective tissue that really drives the line at this point. They’re small, and not as flashy as the big fight scenes, but they make the books feel connected in a way that is all too rare in comic book storytelling.
Simonson also uses her first issue to set up an absolutely amazing reveal. Throughout most of the issue, the focus is on Cerberus and the bombings throughout town. It’s Clark’s focus both as a reporter and as Superman and there are only subtle hints that more is going on than just those bombings. During the hunt for Cerberus there are flashes that things aren’t what they seem. A headache for the Man of Tomorrow. Glimpses of Krypton’s past suddenly appear before him. The solar flare. A terrible rain storm. All of these small and subtle things hinting at a larger coming threat.
The final three pages of the first issue of Superman: The Man of Steel are an epic reveal of the return of the Krypton Man, as he atomizes the Cerberus terrorist and reveals himself to Superman. Clad in the Kryptonian costume that Superman wore during the “Eradication” arc that occurred right after “Exile”, this is now a breathing personification of the Eradicator; a being intent on reshaping Earth to match the dead homeworld of Superman, and meting out extreme forms of justice in the process.
One of the subplots that had been milling in the background, but begins to come to the forefront in this arc is that of how much Metropolis relied on Lex Luthor, and how bad the city is getting without him to drive the economy. Because Luthor had his hands in everything within the city, everything feels his absence. It’s something that previous issues had touched on, but now it’s getting more and more pronounced. The economy of Metropolis is tanking and the citizens are getting desperate.
As the Eradicator works to reshape the Earth, we see glimpses of the plot that Zack Snyder used for Man of Steel. This is a Kryptonian being working to drastically reshape Earth without care for the people that already reside there. In this though the motivation is more believable. Snyder’s Zod has no real reason to enact such change, and would get nothing substantial from it. For the Eradicator, it’s the device’s sole purpose to exist. The device was created to preserve Krypton and it’s customs, so there is a reason for it to want to reshape whatever planet it is unleashed upon. The other key difference in the plots, is a thing that will pop up repeatedly through this era, and that’s Superman working to drive the action away from innocents. In Snyder’s film, this is something that is not a priority to Superman, as he is intent only on stopping Zod, while in Superman #57 it’s one of his primary motivations to try to draw the Eradicator away from the people of Metropolis.
One of the first actions the Eradicator takes also hearkens back to one of Superman’s earliest appearances as well. In Action Comics #8, Superman destroys the inadequate and dilapidated housing provided by slumlords to have it rebuilt as much better housing for the residents. Here in Superman #57, the Eradicator does similar, but instead erects a Kryptonian structure in place of the destroyed apartment building. It’s an interesting parallel, but it’s also evident that the Eradicator’s method is colder and more callous, and that there’s something deep and sinister to his motivations.
While the final conflict and resolution are standard comic book fare, complete with Checkhov’s mystical soul stealing gem, it can not be overstated how important this arc was for the next several years of Superman continuity. While this takes place 19 issues into the new normal, it’s also truly the blueprint for everything that comes after. Things seeded over these four issues will continue to play a huge role in defining the Superman mythos.