"Superman's Secret Afterlife"
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciller: Curt Swan
Inker: Frank Chiaramonte
Cover: Ross Andru And Dick Giordano
Reviewed by: James Lantz
Superman has just fallen out of bed in Clark Kent's apartment. Thinking the spiral alien was just an intense nightmare, he showers, compresses his Clark Kent clothes into the pouch inside his cape and flies to the WGBS television studio. He is unaware that Phantom Zone criminals Jax-Ur, Faora and General Zod are secretly observing him.
Superman is about to land in the WGBS storage room when he sees an envelope with an S symbol on it. Clearly there is a message inside that is meant for him. He reads the letter with his X-ray vision and discovers something diabolical.
At 2:00 AM, a satellite-capsule was launched with Lois Lane inside as a prisoner. Another capsule was launched six hours later. This one has Lana Lang within it. The orbit on Lois' ship is deteriorating as Lana's is reaching space. Superman saves both women mere seconds before the satellites collide with one another. However, Lois does not live long after the Man of Tomorrow gets her and Lana to the hospital. Apparently, the stress of what had happened was too much for the star reporter's heart.
The next thing Superman hears is the voice of Lana awakening him. He is surprised to learn that he's married to her and that ten years have passed since he saved Lois and her from the satellite collision. Lana says that it's an important day for Clark Kent because he has an exclusive interview with some astronauts that are returning from a mission to Mars. The interview will be broadcast on a new global link that will send it transmitting even to the NASA base on the moon.
Befuddled by his surroundings and the strange turn of events, Superman flies to WGBS and questions his very sanity. Suddenly, the Man of Steel is grabbed by beings with strength equal to his own. They take him to what is later revealed to be the planet New Krypton. Superman was brought there to celebrate the first anniversary of when he freed the bottled city of Kandor. The Kandorians then colonized the planet that is now New Krypton. As a result, the Kandorians are now celebrating their first year of independence with Superman.
We now move ahead a few more years. Lana and Clark's son and daughter are helping their mother prepare a cake for their father's birthday. Clark blows out the candles and abruptly leaves the house as Superman. He's becoming increasingly more worried about the gaps in his memory. He is pondering them when he hears three missiles prepare to attack his family's home. Both the Man of Steel and the house's defense shields destroy the warheads. However, when Superman returns inside, he discovers something horrible. Destroying the bombs left Superman's body covered with a radiation that kills Lana and both of his teenaged children.
Feeling like there is no reason for living, Superman decides to commit suicide. He flies to a secret cavern where he has hidden the Ultra-Nikru Cannon, the deadliest weapon ever constructed on Krypton. Moments before the cannon's laser can hit him, Superman realizes that something is amiss. He cannot end his life.
The Man of Steel has discovered that he is inside the creature Zod has called the Spiral-Scourge. The mad general, Faora and Jax-Ur were telepathically communicating from the Phantom Zone with the creature in order to make Kal-El experience the Ytrrym Effect. The Ytrrym Effect happens when a Kryptonian is on the brink of death, and it causes one to live moments of what would be their life in the future.
Superman has sent the Spiral-Scourge into the path of the comet that he had defected earlier. Afterwards, he tells the phantoms of Jax-Ur, Faora and General Zod where their plan had gone wrong. They simply forgot about the Last Son of Krypton's oath to never take a life - even his own. Superman's incredible memory reconstructed the events as he had experienced them, and he saw the three Phantom Zone prisoners observing everything. Superman is safe, but it's only a matter of time before General Zod and his followers come up with another plan to defeat him.
Story - 3: I really wanted to give this one a higher rating. I honestly did. It's not a bad story. In fact, it's rather good, but there are many elements that are revealed far too soon in this issue. For example, had Zod, Faora and Jax-Ur been revealed as the villains and had their plan been unveiled toward the end of the book, there would have been a lot more suspense, and it would have been probably one of those comics that stays in your mind forever like the ending of the episode of The Twilight Zone "To Serve Man." Unfortunately, in "Superman's Secret Afterlife," it feels like Bates put the revelation somewhere in the middle of the tale, and it really lacks the impact of the previous three issues of Action Comics.
Aside from that, the story is good. I did enjoy seeing into the possible future of Superman. It's always great to see Zod and the Phantom Zone prisoners. All the elements that I found were great about the Superman comics from the 1970s and 1980s Pre-Crisis era are there. Pieces of the comic just needed to be written and arranged differently in order for it to be a perfect five out of five.
Art - 5: I happened to look through a box of comics that my parents had sent from my collection that I had left in their home in Ohio. One of the comics inside was Action Comics #545 that featured a new Brainiac drawn by Gil Kane. Now, Gil is a great artist, but one can feel that Curt Swan's style is missing from the book. Curt's art really shined in this particular era of Superman and Action Comics stories, and "Superman's Secret Afterlife" is no exception to that rule. The images, particularly the ones in space, are simply breathtaking.
Cover Art - 5: It's dramatic and makes the reader curious about what the heck's going on inside. This is what a comic book cover should do. The more iconic, cinematic images used today are beautiful, but they can't hold a candle to the ones of the past in my opinion. This comic's cover is simply incredible.
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