Out of the Vault – Action Comics 687

On Monday, I promised to bring you a “forgotten” Superman film to wrap up our months-long look at all of the big guy’s big screen appearances, and that is definitely going to happen. So I figured to give you a small teaser here which, while not being directly connected to the film in any way, will probably serve as a spoiler for those of you familiar with the storyline in question.

Back in 1992, DC Comics got national headlines when it decided to publish a storyline in which Superman was killed in a brutal battle with a mysterious monster known as Doomsday. “The Death of Superman” led into a storyline in which Superman’s friends were grieving while the rival forces of Luthor and Cadmus scrambled to steal Superman’s body to get access to his DNA.

And then, in issue #500 of Adventures of Superman, Jonathan Kent, Superman’s foster father, suffered a heart attack and had a Near-Death Experience in which he pulled Kal-El’s soul back from beyond with him. At least, he thought he had. By the end of the issue, four new heroes had appeared. We met the first one for real in Action Comics #687.

One of the cool gimmicks in the introduction of these four new heroes was the covers. Each of the four Superman titles that month had a double-cover–an outer cardstock cover with a cutout to show the Superman shield (slightly different for each of the four pretenders to the throne), and an inner cover featuring a portrait of the character to be featured in that book. For instance, underneath the cardstock cover above, we got this…

A couple of scientists near the North Pole see an unusual aurora, different from the normal Aurora Borealis, and in the process make an obscure in-joke.

I’m not sure who started the trend of naming things in the DC Universe after past creators–my gut wants to say Frank Miller, though Steve Englehart will probably claim credit–but here we have an example. Whitney Ellsworth was the editorial director of DC Comics during the Golden Age and went on to become the producer and script writer on the Adventures of Superman TV series starring George Reeves.

Anyway, that final panel is taking place in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude (which in the comics has never been a crystal cathedral), where a strange humanoid figure made of energy appears, claiming to be reborn. He travels to Metropolis to find “the body,” which has been returned to its coffin in the aftermath of… well, just a whole lot of weird crap that went on between various factions after the funeral. But then we see…

Could this in fact be Superman, risen from the grave? The coffin is open, and it sure looks like him. But he doesn’t really act like what we’re used to from Superman.

That threat to send the thug to hell? Not idle. This “Superman” kills the thug, then meets with Lois Lane, where he tells her Clark Kent is gone, and that only Superman, alien avenger in weird shades, remains.

I’ll talk more about the storyline next week, but first, on Monday, be here for the big reveal.

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