Superman (vol.2) #166 (March, 2001)
Writer – Jeph Loeb
Penciller – Ed McGuinness
Inker – Cam Smith
Colors – Tanya & Richard Horie
Letterer – Richard Starkings
Assistant Editor – Tom Palmer, Jr.
Editor – Eddie Berganza
Inspiration – Walt Simonson
Cover Price: $2.25
This one’s been a long time coming. This issue marks a mighty dramatic shift in the post-Crisis Superman’s origin story… and came at a time when I’d only been back reading the character for like three months after being gone a few years, and at that point in my life I doubt I seriously read any pre-Crisis DC. It should go without saying that I was completely lost…
This issue also marks a rare turn of the century gimmick cover from DC Comics. If you notice, the cover price remained $2.25… I mean, that’s really cool! This enhanced cover wasn’t actually the version I bought “off the rack”… instead, I had the newsstand version, a gift from my then-local comic shop owner… given to me from his preview copies a few days before release. That never happened to me before (or since)!
I recall him being really excited about what this issue meant to Superman’s past and future… and, even though I hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was talking about… I shared in his excitement. I lacked the context for what the story meant, which is why it remained in a longbox ever since.
At this point in my blogging “career” we’ve already discussed a few of Superman origins… in particular John Byrne’s Man of Steel #1 from 1986, the Golden-Age Superman’s in Secret Origins #1 (also from 1986), and (quite recently) the pre-Crisis take from Action Comics #500 from 1979. I feel like I’m finally ready to revisit this issue, which promises to give us the skinny on Krypton… again, for real this time you guys… we’re serious.
It’s nighttime in Smallville, and the Kents are awakened by an eerily familiar sound. As Pa shuffles around for his glasses, Ma suggests they call Clark and let him attend to… whatever that was. Jonathan makes his way outside anyway, and finds himself stood before a crashed something-or-other bathed in green light. Luckily, in the time it took for him to make it outside, Martha had already called Clark… so he’s already there. Upon closer inspection, it is revealed that the crashed something-or-other is actually a Kryptonian ship… from it pops a projection of Clark’s birth father Jor-El in all his fringe-armed sterility. He says something in Kryptonese… then perishes, leaving only a glowing green rod in its place.
We jump ahead to Metropolis, where Superman hands the rod over to Professor Emil Hamilton so it might be tested. Emil suggests it’s a sort of recording device, as it’s giving off a bit of a signal. John Henry Irons, who is also present, confirms this and compares them to the readings they’d been receiving from the Phantom Zone. Superman’s all “Yeah, we’re gonna come back around to THAT later…”, but for now the rod is his priority. Hamilton suggests that if Superman takes a seat in his thought-projection device, he may be able to beam the recording right into his dome. Now, if there’s one thing we know about Superman, it’s that he loves to sit in these weird seats.
After a rocky bit of transference, Superman finds himself in a sort of otherworldly miasma of nothingness. Before him stands Jor-El. He asks his son for his forgiveness… for hiding the truth from him. I’m guessing this is about the time when folks who came in under Byrne’s Man of Steel‘s spider-senses began tingling like mad… for, as we turn the page… Jor-El transforms from the one we met in Man of Steel #1… into the more familiar to many, pre-Crisis/Silver Age costume!
He says the memory implants from the “birthing matrix” (note the quotes) only showed him the Krypton he wanted him to see… uh-oh. As his story continues, the miasmatic clouds part revealing… Kryptonopolis!
From here, we get a bit of a retelling of the origin from Action Comics #500 (and Secret Origins #1). Lara and baby Kal are at home, while papa Jor tries to convince the committee that Krypton is doomed… headed into the path of a Red Sun. We know the drill, they ain’t buyin’ what he’s sellin’, and we even go so far as to have General Zod accuse him of using this fear mongering as a way of seizing power… which, wouldn’t have been a bad idea if it were true!
From here, the landquakes start up… and it’s only a matter of time before Krypton goes to bits. Jor brings Lara and Kal over to the model rocket, and says there’s room enough for two. Lara chooses to remain by her man, but sends baby Kal off so he might live his life. In he goes… off he goes, bada bing bada BOOM.
The information being too much for Superman to bear, his reaction causes Emil Hamilton’s magical chair of whoziwatsits to explode. It’s revealed that he’d only been sitting in it for 20 seconds… man, talk about decompressed storytelling. Superman thinks to himself how so many of the Kryptonian artifacts he’s run into over the years all agree on this “lie” of an origin before revealing some of what he’d just learned, and much to his surprise, Hamilton suggests that there might just be a way for him to “go home again”.
Next we shift to a White House Press Briefing where new President (perhaps still President-Elect at this point) Lex Luthor is stood before the media to introduce his cabinet. I gotta say, I love the idea of using a fictional President of the United States in stories… wish that would happen again. Anyhoo, his cabinet includes: General Rock as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Amanda Waller as Secretary of Meta-Human Affairs, Lois’ dad Major Frank Lane as Secretary of Defense, Black Lightning Jefferson Pierce as Secretary of Education, and Cat Grant as White House Press Secretary. In the crowd, Lois asks some “tough questions”… which annoys and embarrasses everyone around her… except Lex, who appears to find her humorous.
The issue wraps up with Lois returning home to find her husband brooding on the patio. She asks what’s up, and he tells her about his Kryptonian experience. She’s positively tickled pink, and thinks it would be great for them… both… to see what Krypton is really like!
I’m so happy I waited almost… twenty years (you kidding me… where did my life go?) to revisit this issue. When it first hit, I had so little context of what’s what when it came to Superman. I was familiar with the Death-and-Return era, and not a whole lot more. You could’ve told me that John Byrne had a Kryptonian stork drop baby Kal into Ma Kent’s arms via parachute and… well, I’d have thought that was dumb, but I wouldn’t dismiss it as a possibility.
I recall being very active… or at least actively lurking, on forums back in the day… kinda social media before the term was mainstreamed… and I remember the uproar from fans over this issue… from both sides. Many, like the owner of my LCS, were pleased as punch… while many others, felt betrayed. “SAS” was a term bandied about a lot. Stands for Silver-Age S***, by the by.
But for me, concepts like the “birthing matrix” were just as foreign… perhaps moreso, than baby Kal being loaded into the rocket. So, I really didn’t mourn the loss of it from the lore/canon. In the years that followed, and as I honed my Superman fandom into the, well, rounded point that it is today, I can sympathize with them. The idea of a birthing matrix is intriguing. After all, it makes it so Clark could’ve technically been born on Earth. To this point, if I’m not mistaken, this is the biggest change made to the post-Crisis origin here.
Now, as post-Crisis-y a guy I am overall… I think I’m okay with this. Perhaps I’ve just been beaten into submission with all the changes to the origin that occurred since this big adjustment (with the most recent having a cover-date of June, 2017), or maybe since broadening my Super-horizons, I’ve become a fan of the character overall, without a particular preference in era. I can completely understand how a fan of the day would have responded to this sort of addendum… and in hindsight, I kinda wish I was a part of that movement… on one side or another. Instead, I was just left scratching my head… though, dazzled by the beautiful art.
I’m pretty sure my first time through, the page I got the most out of was President Luthor’s press conference… though, I’m sure at the time I hadn’t the foggiest idea who Amanda Waller or Jefferson Pierce were or what their significance to the DC Universe was. I’ll say it again though… fictional Presidents… if you ask me, that’s the way to go!
Overall… this is a toughie. A hugely significant story for the time, and for maybe a couple of years after… until 2003’s Superman: Birthright, anyway. I’d still say it’s worth checking out. I love the team of Loeb and McGuinness, and credit them with easing my back into the Superman world after a prolonged absence. I can’t say for sure how long this “go round” would have lasted for me without the talents of those folks. This bugger is available digitally, though obviously without the foil enhancement. It has also been collected in the Superman: Return to Krypton trade paperback.