I started considering this after watching Chronicle screenwriter Max Landis’s takedown of the Death of Superman story of the 1990s. It’s a few months old, but it’s worth watching.
It was one of the best-selling comic books of all time, and the biggest Comic Book Event ever. But looking back now, it seems to me that DC made a big mistake with the follow-up. They didn’t play fair.
The hook with “The Reign of Supermen” storyline was that after Superman had died in his battle with Doomsday, four new Supermen showed up. So there was a new mystery about which one of these guys was the real Superman. The cyborg and the guy with the weird energy suit were obvious suspects. It seemed pretty clear that it wasn’t the teenager or John Henry Irons, the armored black guy. The final answer was that it was none of them. The real Superman was somewhere else.
Twenty years too late, here’s what they should have done. It’s conceivable that this could happen in an Ultimate Superman type series, or perhaps a future volume of Superman: Earth One.
First, it was kinda lame how they killed Superman. Doomsday was a new villain who represented brute force, but it seems like a guy who can fly and travel through space can come up with a few easy ways to defeat a villain who is merely strong and vicious. In Final Crisis, Grant Morrison came up with a better way to kill an iconic superhero, as he had New Gods villain Darkseid use the Omega Beam against Batman, trapping Batman in a different time period.
Darkseid has a power set that makes him a more appropriate enemy for Superman. Like Doomsday, he’s strong and fast. But he can also fly, and has various energy projectiles. He also has more personality, which would have made the fight more fun. The Omega Beam, a mysterious energy form that can warp time and space, would also have been a better way to kill Superman for a little while.
Afterwards, I still would have had the four potential Supermen. I’ll admit that it was a cool scene when the Cyborg Superman killed the Eradicator Superman. And Superboy was a worthwhile addition to the mythos. Since there were four Superman titles at the time, it also made a lot of sense to feature four potential Supermen. But it should have been revealed that one of those was the real deal. And that’s what I would have done.
During the Return of Superman arc, it could have been revealed that John Henry Irons is Superman, somehow reincarnated through magic. It was all part of a trap, so that Superman would be trapped in the body of an ordinary man, with the memories and experiences of an ordinary man. He would have no special powers, and no ability to do anything that an ordinary man could not. Darkseid’s assumption would be that this would be the end of the world’s greatest hero.
But there was something intrinsically heroic about Superman. Even when he loses everything else that makes him special, he would have his willpower. The moment that he was able to do so, he would start building an armor, so that he could stand up to the Lex Luthors of the world, and fight for truth, justice and the American Way.
And at some point, he would be restored to his old self. And he would always remember what it was like to be John Henry Irons.