Adventures of Superman 400 ended the “Funeral For a Friend” storyline and introduced the four new Supermen that would take over each Superman title for the next several months.
The Return of Superman opens with these four stories followed by the characters’s first issues in chronological order. We meet the Last Son of Krypton, an energy being that is recovering from the loss of his corporeal form, given new form by the Fortress of Solitude’s robots. The Man of Steel is John Henry Irons, an African American engineer in a suit of powered armor that may be a “walk-in spirit” of the original Superman. There is “The Kid” (don’t call him Superboy!), an apparent clone of Superman. And the Man of Tomorrow, a Kryptonian with cybernetic parts.
Lois takes an ongoing supporting role in each story as she struggles to uncover the identities of the mystery Supermen. Each remind her of Clark, and each have a reason for not recalling all their history. The cyborg seems to have a hidden agenda as well, while the Last Son has gained an energy blast he uses for murderous purposes (much to the delight of a guest starring Guy Gardner). The Kid fights a variety of new villains while under the exclusive coverage of WGBS and reporter Tana Moon. And the Man of Steel spends much of his time trying to get an old weapon design off the streets and stop the arms dealer known as the White Rabbit.
The four separate threads do not stay separate long. Within a couple months, Coast City (home of Green Lantern) is destroyed. The disaster slowly brings all the Supermen towards it and the remains of Warworld (now known as Engine City). Mongul stands ready for action in the city, but the true horror is the identity of his ally, none other than the cyborg, secretly a former human, Hank Henshaw.
Henshaw uses his new powers and the Engine City to dupe much of the world in to believing the Last Son of Krypton has gone bad. And while all this is happening, someone else awakes in the Fortress of Solitude....
And we will leave it at that.
“The Reign of the Supermen” does an excellent job of what it sets out to do: expand the city and sphere of Superman. Steel and Superboy would receive spin-offs after its completion. It redefined the level of destruction allowed in a DC comic. It irrevocably changed the life of Green Lantern Hal Jordan (or so we thought before the release of Green Lantern: Rebirth). It even gave Superman longer hair (although it’s hardly the mullet that it gets called quite a lot of the time. Long hair on a men does not equal a mullet, folks.)
And even in all the bad things, the books never fail to be what they should be, a fun superheroic adventure. Something a lot of the modern crossover events could learn a lot from. Recommended.