Action Comics #692 (October, 1993)
“And Who, Disguised as Clark Kent?”
Writer – Roger Stern
Co-Plotter – Karl Kesel
Pencils – Jackson Guice
Inks – Denis Rodier
Letters – Albert DeGuzman
Colors – Glenn Whitmore
Associate Editor – Frank Pittarese
Editor – Mike Carlin
Cover Price: $1.50
If you were to take a poll and ask those folks who trawl the 25/50-cent bins which books show up most often during their hunts, you’re probably going to get a bunch of different answers… though most, I’d assume would be early-Image (or early-Image adjacent).
If you were to ask me though… it’d be this book, and lemme tell ya, it’s not even close! Action Comics #692, for being such an important book (as we’re about to talk about), is my most tripped-over weed in the cheap-o bins… and has been for well over a decade!
This is all apropos of nothing, of course… just something that immediately comes to mind when this cover passes my gaze.
Let’s get to it!
We open with our newly-returned Superman digging through the rubble of a building destroyed during the brouhaha with Doomsday… where he manages to find Clark Kent, alive and well! Hey, that takes care of that! Lois rushes over to embrace her missing fiance, before posing for a great photo-op.
Superman is pulled aside by Cat Grant for a statement. While they talk a slimy fellow rushes up to inform Superman (and the world) that the rights to the name “Superman” now belong to Rex Leech Enterprises… and that teen-age Superman clone!
Superman doesn’t seem to be sweating this, and just figures he’ll have a chat with the kid somewhere down the line. Speaking of Superboy (and the other three would-be Supermen), the news broadcast next jumps to a “where are they now?” segment. After sacrificing himself out at Coast City, the Eradicator is down and out at S.T.A.R. Labs. Steel was also injured during that to-do, and is expected to make a full recovery. Superboy, er, “the Teen Superman” has been seen canoodling with “LexCorp’s” Supergirl, and the Cyborg has been confirmed as having been “destroyed”.
We rejoin Superman in the sky, when he is approached by Lex Luthor (II) in his helicopter. He wants to know what Superman has done with his Supergirl. Turns out, she’s been pretty evasive since the business in Coast City. Superman assures him that he’s not Supergirl’s keeper before taking off. Luthor seethes… but only for a moment. He now realizes this is the real Superman… which means, he still has the chance to kill him!
Back to Lois and “Clark”, who are at Metropolis General. Clark is examined and given the medical stamp of approval. To explain his phenomenal shape, Clark claims that the place he’d been “buried” for the past month was well-stocked with food and water… and plenty of room for him to keep up with his calisthenics.
Meanwhile at S.T.A.R. Labs, the Eradicator is loaded into one of those fluid-filled tubes that people always seem to be loaded into anytime they visit S.T.A.R. Labs. Many of the sci-guys (and gals) assume he’s a lost cause… until they pick up a heartbeat!
We shift scenes back to the Kent apartment, where Superman and Clark finally have a “private” face-to-face confrontation. Superman’s all “hands off my woman”, Clark goes “oh yeah, try and make me”. They let Lois decide, and she picks Superman… which was always her way, wasn’t it? Anyhoo, it’s revealed here that “Clark Kent” was actually a shape-shifted Supergirl!
The Kents thank her for the help, and she heads off to return to her man, Lex Luthor (II). Lois and Clark have a bit of a reunion… until Clark remembers that he never checked in with Pa after his heart-episode. If you recall, Pa and Superman fought side-by-side on the other side during Adventures of Superman #500 (which I could’ve sworn we’d discussed here… must be getting my Treadmilling confused with my Infiniting).
Anyhoo, Superman goes to dial up his folks… when suddenly the scene dramatically shifts. Next we know, we’re in the office of Dr. Occult, who Superman recognizes from an earlier adventure (which hadn’t been told yet). He’s here to spill the beans on exactly how Superman was able to cheat death.
He first takes them back in time to the battle between Superman and Doomsday. With every punch they experience, (present day) Superman appears to feel it! It’s as though he’s going through the same ordeal all over again. Occult assures Lois that Superman ought to be strong enough to survive this time around.
As the trip down memory lane continues… Superman dies. Occult explains that after “death”, as Superman’s spirit was vacating his body… that body was still soaking up energy from the Sun. Also, that Bibbo’s efforts in resuscitating him were actually helpful!
Next stop… Superman’s coffin. It’s just Occult and Lois for this leg of the tour… present-day Superman has been kayoed. Occult drops even more knowledge. Ya see by this point, Superman’s spirit did evacuate the body… however, all of the stored energy inside the body managed to preserve it.
All this explains how Superman was able to fight side-by-side with Jonathan Kent during the opening salvo of “the Return”.
At this point, the Eradicator awoke and sought to claim Superman’s body. The body was taken, and placed in a Kryptonian Regeneration Matrix. During the process, the Eradicator took some of Superman’s energies… and as we know, briefly attempted to usurp his role.
And now… Superman’s back! Lois wonders if this means Superman is unkillable so long as there’s a Sun. Occult assures her that that’s not the case at all… and that it was due to the confluence of a whole lot of factors that he was able to come back at all.
Next thing we know, Lois and Clark wake up in a field.
But not just any field… it’s actually part of the Kent Farm! We wrap up with Lois, Clark and the Kents having a joyous reunion.
Well, there we have it… so many questions answered in a single issue, that it’s kind of mind-boggling, ain’t it? Could not imagine something like this happening today. Explanations today are dragged across six-issues (if we’re lucky!) and often wind up rendered moot with the arrival of subsequent creative teams.
It’s hard to consider just how tight everything was back then. 90’s comics get a ton of flack (some warranted, some not so much) for being vapid and shallow, but… c’mon, this is some solid stuff that doesn’t just tie a bow on what came before, but spurs out into several new story threads.
Let’s take a look at the explanation… by first being thankful that it wasn’t the Phantom Stranger who took Lois and Clark on their magical mystery tour (though, he is sorta Phantom Stranger-adjacent… they’re both part of that Trenchcoat Brigade we talked about a few months back).
The actual explanation though? It worked well enough. I mean, we’re dealing with the life, death, and return of a superpowered alien here, so it’s not like we should go into this expecting some crazy scientific deal… it’s your standard “spirit left the physical husk” type’a stuff… only with the hows, whys, and whens included… and, of course the spirit reoccupying the body bit.
I appreciated the “where are they now?” bits discussing the four impostor Supermen. We didn’t need full-blown visits with them here, and a panel a’piece (Eradicator excepted) was good enough. This wasn’t their story this time out… but, it’s good to know there’s still “stuff” going on with them.
Overall, it’s not quite business as usual for the Super-books… even though the Real Steel Deal is back to wearing the colors. This feels kind of like an evolution from where the books were pre-Doomsday, and I gotta say, it’s a pretty welcome change. That isn’t to say I didn’t like/appreciate what came before… but, a quarter-century removed, this feels more like “my” Superman going forward. This issue has been collected… well, at least the “Clark gets dug out of the rubble” bit, and is available digitally (though, I’m sure if you really want it… dollars to donuts, it’s in your local cheap-o bin!).