Superman (vol.2) #22 (October, 1988)
If you’re still here (or back)… cool. Let’s get right into it.
We open with Superman surveying the absolute decimation of the pocket Earth. Barring a handful of folks, there are zero signs of life in this entire universe. Superman reconnoiters with Supergirl, and they spy Phantom Zone Criminal, Quex-Ul’s ship flying overhead.
The Supers look to engage in battle with Quex-Ul. Of special note, they are wearing breathing apparatuses in order to survive without any atmosphere. This was added to the character post-Crisis as a way to power-down the Man of Steel somewhat from his Silver-Age capacity. Quex underestimates Superman, thinking him just a fool Earthling cosplaying as Superboy. He’s gets walloped for his poor judgment!
This surprises not only Quex, but Zod and Zaora as well. To get over the shock, General Zod decides to… incinerate Bruce Wayne. The would-be Batman perishes in a fiery poof.
Supergirl falls back and checks in with Lex Luthor. We learn that after getting knocked loopy, Quex-Ul decided to check in on Smallville Station… and, ya know… destroy it, killing everybody inside to boot. Lana is so enraged she flies headlong toward the Criminals and… gets toasted!
She slumps to the decimated Earth, a mass of flaming humanoid glop. Superman checks in with Luthor as we see both Ollie and Hal get unceremoniously killed. Lex mouths his final plan to Superman, hoping he can use his x-ray vision to read his lips (so the criminals don’t overhear). Luthor is going to offer a distraction so that Superman can act.
Unfortunately, that tricky Quex-Ul gets in Clark’s way. The two engage in battle once more, until Superman burrows into the ground in an attempt to flee. He shows a bit of embarrassment for taking the “coward’s way out”, but time is truly of the essence right now! He continues to burrow until he emerges in Superboy’s underground laboratory. Quex-Ul shows his unflinching tenacity by jumping Supes shortly after arrival.
The pair gets back down to it, fighting all around the lab… until Superman finds his “ace in the hole” in the form of Gold Kryptonite! Gold K is a pre-Crisis dealie that has the ability to permanently rob a Kryptonian of their powers… at least (and luckily) those Kryptonians who are from this pocket universe!
|Love the “Gold K” canister!|
Quex-Ul is down and out. Superman crafts a giant cubic prison around the criminal brute and heads off to complete the hat-trick. It doesn’t take him long to find Zod and Zaora, and rob them of their powers as well.
With the Kryptonian threat neutralized, Superman goes off in search of Lex Luthor. When he finds him, he’s about ready to draw his final breath. Before he passes on, he confides in Superman that the “real” (pocket) Lana Lang was long dead, and “Supergirl” was, in actuality created from Lana’s molecular Matrix. Lex used Lana in order to help ensure Superman’s cooperation.
Superman heads back to the cube holding the criminals. These bastards are still as cocky as ever… mocking Superman for his inability to truly “take them out”. He cannot send them back to the Phantom Zone… and they promise when they get their powers back (because they’re sure they can), they would find his Earth, and do to it, what they did to this one.
Resigned to the fact of what he must do, Superman removes a canister from the wall of the cube. Without hesitation, he lifts the lid… revealing green Kryptonite!
The Phantom Zoners never saw this coming. Their first instinct is to turn on one another. Zod claims to be a pawn of Quex-Ul… to which Quex begins choking the life out of him. Zaora attempts to appeal to Superman’s more… baser needs. None of it matters, as only a few moments later the three criminals slump to the ground… dead. Superman… killed them.
As he emerges from the cube, he spies something on the periphery. We find out, after Clark returns to the “real” Earth that this was the gummy form of Matrix. He delivers her to the Kent farm… to his parents. He gives them the quick ‘n dirty of what he’d just lived through, and asks that they take care of her for a little while.
The Supergirl Saga wraps up with Superman taking to the skies… heavy with the gravity and severity of what he’d just done. He thinks to himself that going forward, things will never be the same again.
Without the ability to return the crew to the Phantom Zone, he really didn’t have any other choice. It wasn’t a decision he made lightly… and it was one that would carry the burden of guilt for a long time to come. Superman was looking out for the needs of the many, rather than the dark designs of a few.
This issue really packs a punch, as, while it’s kind of “under the radar” in the grander scheme, but… Bruce Wayne dies here… so do Hal Jordan, Oliver Queen, and Lex Luthor! Sure, they’re not “our” versions… but still, kind of sobering to see.
The reveal that Lana was among the first Pocketers to perish was interesting (and validating)… it’s been a long while since I first read this… and while I knew this Supergirl was the “Matrix” iteration, I was wondering if I’d somehow missed a truer connection between Lana and Matrix. Now, I know.
Let’s discuss the cover for a moment. It’s strange that for the longest time I never noticed the “S” on the executioner’s shirt. Whenever I look back on this era without context, I sometimes mistake the executioner for some sort of villain Superman has to fight off. That is to say, for whatever reason, I don’t usually associate this cover with this storyline. I actually had to stop and realize that this is symbolic of the story inside. Talk about “duh”… Superman is the executioner.
I’ve long held that if you were to build a comic book creator from component parts and from the ground up, what you would come up with is John Byrne. He is the prototypical comic book creator to me. He has such a mastery over giving subtle facial quirks to his characters. From the moment Superman “pulls the trigger”, there is a subtle “heaviness” over his brow. It’s not overdone, it’s really just a very well-placed line or two… but it speaks volumes for the gravity of what had just occurred. Absolutely beautiful work here.
This entire “saga” is well worth your time… as a matter of fact, I would heartily recommend the John Byrne post-Crisis Superman as a whole. Thankfully, DC has collected nine (count’em, nine!) volumes of it… the Man of Steel Collection truly is “must-reading”.