Cover date: March 2003
Writer: Mark Schultz
Penciller: Mike McKone
Inker: Marlo Alquiza and Cam Smith
Reviewed by: Michael Bailey (GarrickMcNider@aol.com)
A soul that belonged to Darkseid the Destroyer.
On a barren asteroid Superman and Darkseid prepare to face off in combat. Superman explains that this battle is for John Henry Irons, but Darkseid refuses to believe this to be the truth. He thinks that Superman is making a grab for power. He admits that he is amused and intrigued by the concept and will figure out what is behind Superman's actions. Superman tells him he can call it what he wants to but he wants John Henry back.
Earlier, Superman is on Earth explaining to Nat that he is going after John. He explains that his contacts indicate that there is a good chance that Apokoliptian science has turned John Henry into some sort of entropic destroyer. The problem lies with the fact that since Apokolips is a sovereign state he can't go in and rescue John outright. Superman has a plan, but feels that he has to protect Earth from Darkseid's wrath should he fail. Nat wants to be a part of the rescue, but Superman tells her she can't and leaves with Nat screaming that she can help and that it is her uncle.
On the asteroid Darkseid informs Superman that his childish ideals mean nothing. He also admits to curiosity on how Superman was able to accomplish this action since Darkseid would have known if Superman had activated the JLA Boom Tube. He guesses that Superman had obtained a Mother Box, which was the truth. The Box was given to him by Big Barda. Barda also got Superman's challenge to Darkseid through her network and despite the fact that she wanted to stand with him in battle Superman tells her that it is his battle, win or lose. The people he will choose will be chosen by necessity, not by valor or might.
From the asteroid Darkseid sees that his forces are pinned down. He comments that Superman chose his accomplices carefully. Superman agrees and thinks of how he gathered the extended "Super Family" at the Fortress of Solitude. The new Supergirl, Kara, also arrives and at first Superman believes that the other Supergirl and Superboy are trying to pull something. The two young heroes tell him they're not and that she is a full blooded Kryptonian. The Fortress computers confirm this, causing some discomfort with the Eradicator who had just gotten over the last Kryptonian anomaly. Superman informs the new Supergirl that she is to stay behind and despite her protests otherwise believes that she is not prepared to handle the forces they are about to face. He also explains that he chose them because he had decided to make the operation a Kryptonian one to keep Earth out of it. Superman gives them one final chance to back out and they refuse.
Meanwhile, at the Steel Works, Nat is busy using the equipment to build herself a suit of armor.
Back on the asteroid Darkseid tells the Man of Steel how once Superman had his team in place he set Darkseid up with irresistible bait. Darkseid remembers how Justeen, one of his high command, is being overprotective by thinking that Superman's message stinks with treachery. Darkseid was somewhat impressed with the drama of Superman's challenge to meet on the rock called Shayhol. Darkseid informs her that it is worth the risk and that while he goes to the asteroid she will stay on Apokolips and stand guard should things go wrong.
Superman and his team break through to Apokolips' neck of the woods in the boom tube. Superman tells them that he is off to the asteroid and the rest are to follow Eradicator's orders. The Eradicator informs him that they will give him the time he needs and that he should go. As the Boom Tube begins to dissipate Kara Zor-El pops through.
The Eradicator sees that they have been detected and that Apokolips' defenders are swarming already. He orders Supergirl and Superboy into position and tells them they should join their telekinetic fields, which when augmented by the Mother Box should be able to throw a disruptive force field over Apokolips to keep any army from reaching Darkseid. The two young heroes begin, but are distracted when Kara flies towards them. Before they can react Kara is attacked as Darkseid's forces converge. The Eradicator orders Krypto into action crying that Darkseid's forces must not reach Superboy and Supergirl.
Back at the asteroid Superman informs Darkseid that he pretty much has everything figured out. Darkseid agrees that he understands the mechanics but not the motive since Superman has never shown an interest in acquiring power. Superman tells him that this isn't about power and that the deal is that if Darkseid beats him in personal combat Darkseid would get his life, along with the Entropy Aegis and John Henry Irons. If Superman wins he gets John Henry back. Darkseid believes that Superman isn't telling him everything, but concedes to battle and the two begin their melee. After briefly trading blows, Darkseid uses his Omega Beams to try and destroy Superman. Superman blocks them with his heat vision at first and then leads the beams on a chase before grabbing Darkseid and using him as a shield.
Over Apokolips Kara battles the Female Furies. The Eradicator admonishes her for stowing away and orders Krypto to protect her while he kicks things up a notch. He transforms into a huge armored figure and begins to use the full power of ancient Krypton against Apokolips. Superboy comments that he is glad that the Eradicator is on their side again.
On the surface of Apokolips one of Justeen's minions informs her that some unknown force has cut off all communication and transport off planet. Mortalla, Darkseid's wife, orders her to release the Doomsday weapon. Outside the area where the weapon is kept guards scatter as the locks are opened.
Back on Earth Nat dons her armor and puts the energy source Superman had given her. Her theory is that the armor works like the Aegis if she thinks that she wants to be with her Uncle John she will. Before she can finish her thought she disappears.
Meanwhile Superman and Darkseid continue their fight. Darkseid knocks Superman to the grounds and picks up a huge stone to crush him with, but Superman counters with a huge blast of his super cold breath.
On Apokolips, Nat appears before the statue of the Aegis. Before she can get her bearings, Doomsday crashes through the door shouting that he is free once again to destroy everything. Nat opens fire, wondering what she is going to do next.
Back on the asteroid Darkseid, bruised and weary, vows to crush Superman. Superman, feeling very much like Darkseid, demands that Darkseid give him Steel. This angers Darkseid and he presses forth in another attack and informs Superman that John Henry was too mortal to be the entropic force reborn. John Henry was what Darkseid used to incubate the force where it could be nurtured and developed to provide fuel that would stoke and amplify a far more powerful entity worthy of the mantle of Imperiex.
Over Apokolips Kara notices that Doomsday is attacking Nat. She flies down to help the girl. Nat, meanwhile, is doing poorly against Doomsday. As Doomsday prepares to deliver the fatal blow John Henry appears in the Aegis armor. Supergirl arrives in time to see John knocking Doomsday across the room.
Meanwhile, Darkseid battles on and declares that Superman cannot beat him and that he is stronger. Superman fights back declaring that today he is stronger. Darkseid cries for quarter and tells Superman that he has blinded him, which means he can no loner resort to his Omega Effect. Superman tells him that he isn't blind and explains that the pounding Superman gave him caused his eyes to swell shut. Darkseid declares that Superman has defeated him and asks for Superman's terms. Superman tells him that his terms have already been named, which shocks Darkseid, who realizes that Superman was telling the truth all along. He cannot grasp the concept that Superman has defeated him and asks for one single man. Superman informs the beaten monarch that this is how it is and the deal is this; the results of the battle will be kept secret so long as Darkseid stays away from Earth. If Darkseid ever threatens Earth again Superman vows to humiliate him in front of the entire cosmos. He then demands to be given Steel. Darkseid concedes, but adds that he may not like what he gets and vows to return John just as he found him.
John continues to drive Doomsday back and manages to use his entropic powers to reduce Doomsday and the devices used to feed him back to base elements so that he may never threaten another life again. After he completes his task John collapses just as Team Superman arrives on the scene. Superman begins to ask why Kara was there, but instead asks how John Henry is. Nat tells him that her uncle is dead, just like he was found on the moon. Superman then asks why Nat is giving him a blood transfusion. Nat replies that with Kara's help she was able to make surgical punctures for the tubing. Superman points out that he's dead, but Nat counters that he is dead only in a relative way. Since he died in a freezing anaerobic environment that the tissue and function damage would be kept to a minimum, so if they can get him care soon John Henry may have a chance. With that the heroes use the Mother Box to return home.
One week later Superman pays John Henry a visit at the Steel Works. John is happy to see him despite the fact that Superman tells his friend that he looks terrible. John jokes that what did Superman expect since he had been dead. John also reveals that he doesn't remember anything since Emil Hamilton materializing and blasting him. Nat points out that his nervous systems is still a wreck so he needs to stick to research since she can handle the armor now. John begs Superman to convince her otherwise but he begs off before leaving.
On Apokolips, Justeen begs Darkseid not to dwell on what happened and pays for her efforts with her life. Elsewhere, Darkseid's troops try to break up a bunch of brazen instigators who have vandalized the area. They bring torches to scour off the red S that the insurgents sprayed on the wall. The troops wonder why they would build their cause around such a symbol.
Story - 4: This was a satisfying end to the sub-plot that had been running since OUR WORLDS AT WAR. The mystery surrounding John Henry Iron and the Aegis armor was entertaining, but was threatening to go on too long. The Superman books were starting to feel like the X-Men books in the late '80s/early '90s.
Overall this book served as a good send-off for writer Mark Schultz. I have to admit that I was never the biggest fan of Schultz's take on Superman. I've always been more of a human interest guy with the occasional bust up mixed in with a good cosmic saga every once in awhile. Hard science fiction has never been my thing. Despite this I believe that Schultz brought a lot to the Superman titles in terms of continuity and legacy. He brought back the feeling that Superman was extremely intelligent as well as extremely powerful and brought a Silver Age feel with a 21st Century vibe. His last issue of SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL was very well done, as was this comic.
The balance of action and intrigue was well done through out the story. We were treated to a very well done fight between Darkseid and Superman, which, for once, had a somewhat definitive ending. In ACTION COMICS #586 John Byrne did a good riff on this concept, but Schultz managed to carry it one step further. The flip side to this is that the fight was just a diversion in a larger plan, which showcased Superman as a man of intelligence, cunning, and one who is dedicated to his friends and willing to go all out for them. This was quintessential Superman as I see the character and proved to be a very pleasing turn of events considering that with a few exceptions there hasn't been much about Superman that has been all that super lately.
(By the way, please do not take that as yet another Superman reader bashing the current administration, so to speak. While I admit that some of the stand alone stories have been less than perfect, but "Lost Hearts" and "Ending Battle" were pretty good, despite the fact that the Luthor knowing Superman is Clark Kent sub-plot was dropped abruptly. I look forward to the Superman books this year and know that things will turn around. Now back to our regularly scheduled review.)
The dynamic between Team Superman was handled very well. It was good to see The Eradicator again and considering his recent bumps and bruises I think Schultz vindicated the character through his heroism. The addition of Kara Zor-El from SUPERGIRL was an interesting and allowed for Superman to meet the mystery girl without having him take over the situation from Supergirl. Using these characters also showcased the cunning previously mentioned by making the action one on the part of Krypton, not Earth. This served to make the group a tighter unit and played up the family angle. It was good seeing Superboy considering his cancellation and given that Supergirl is going to follow him soon it's nice to have these characters appear anywhere.
(I don't understand it. Everyone associated with Batman gets their own titles which seem to go on forever but the Superman family of titles have been dropping like flies. Even one of Superman's own books is gone. We have to do something about this and soon.)
It's also nice to see John Henry back in the saddle, so to speak. Given the clean slate Schultz left there is a lot of potential for the character in terms of him being a vital supporting character. Also there is the out of having his nervous condition cured miraculously and having him play hero again. Either way I want to see more of John Henry. One of the things about Schultz's run that I did like was his use of Irons.
My only problems with the story had to do with Doomsday and Nat. The return of Doomsday could have been handled a little better and probably was intended to, but I have the feeling that Schultz had to wrap things up fast so a dramatic return was out of the question. This tends to happen when books are cancelled. It often leaves the creative team scrambling to get everything they wanted to accomplish done.
Nat was my only other sticking point. It wasn't the characterization by any stretch of the imagination, she proved to be an effective narrator. It's the item she used to power her armor. It's been awhile since I have re-read my Superman books, but I can't for the life of me remember what the item was and when Superman had given it to her. I wish this would have been made a little clearer and if someone who had never read the Superman books had picked it up they would have been just as confused. Schultz did such a good job of catching the reader up that I was surprised that there wasn't even an editor's footnote.
Other than that this was a really solid comic. As stated I'm kind of sad to see Schultz go. I'm hoping for a Steel mini-series, but I don't think we're going to get it.
Art - 4: Mike McKone, Cam Smith and Marlo Alquiza did a remarkable job on the art. The character work was solid and the pacing was well done. I've always thought that McKone was one of the better artists to come across the Superman titles in the past few years.
My only problem was the fight choreography. While the fight scenes weren't terrible and were, in some ways, rather clever in the use of Superman's powers. There were certain instances, though, that were lacking in certain areas.
Overall I enjoyed the art in this comic. I hope McKone sticks around for a little while.
Cover Art - 3: This cover really didn't do much for me. The two characters coming at each other like this didn't pull the eye like it should have. The coloring was interesting, but didn't do enough to make the piece a winner. It wasn't a bad cover, just not a terribly good one.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2003.