Writers: Peter Tomasi, Patrick Gleason
Art: Patrick Gleason
Ink: Mick Gray
Colors: John Kalisz
Letters: Rob Leigh
Variants: Gary Frank, Brad Anderson
Action Comics #976
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Art: Doug Mahnke
Inks: Jaime Mendoza, Christian Alamy, Trevor Scott
Colors: Wil Quintana
Letters: Rob Leigh
Covers: Patrick Gleason, John Kalisz, Gary Frank, Brad Anderson
Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
[Spoiler Warning for the two comics]
Every major reshuffling of DC’s shared universe will include a few common elements: it usually begins with some version of the Flash acting as a harbinger of change, and ends with another rewrite of Superman’s story. As Superman goes, so goes the DC Universe. The Superman of the New 52 relaunch attempted to bring him back to his social justice roots, erase his romantic history with Lois Lane, and even strip him of his secret identity and much of his powers. DC even got rid of his iconic red trunks. Did any of this work for DC’s readership? Outside of Grant Morrison’s run, I don’t know. The DC Rebirth rebranding promised to roll back many of the New 52 changes. And just recently, the first indication of a cosmic reshuffling occurred within the pages of Superman #19 and Action Comics #976.
Rebirth introduced the theory that the New 52 was basically the previous DC Universe, only with ten years stolen from its history during the last universal reset, by an as yet unidentified entity. But it was already revealed a year before that the previous incarnations of Superman and Lois Lane were alive and well, living incognito with their son Jon. They’ve kept out of the way of New 52 Superman until the latter died. And they were the only refugees from the previous Universe until Wally West/Kid Flash showed up in the pages of Rebirth. You know who else knows of their existence? Mister Mxyzptlk. And for some reason, he’s mad as hell at Lois and Clark for not bothering to contact him all this time.
Superman #19 attempts to explain the paradox of two pairs of characters co-existing in the same Universe by going back to the cosmological well one more time - that powerful forces conspired to split Superman’s reality into two parallel versions. It’s not a particularly satisfactory explanation, given how often DC resorts to multiversal shenanigans to tidy-up their continuity. Equally unsurprising is the the well-worn resolution - the two versions must merge. Mxyzptlk has trapped the Kent family inside a limbo dimension in order to torture and eventually eliminate them. But this act inadvertently allows Lois and Clark to make contact with the souls of their dead New 52 counterparts. Presumably, the rest of the New 52 Universe has to somehow follow Superman’s example in order to fulfill the promise of Rebirth and regain those lost ten years.
At this point, this all feels like an elaborate form of hand-waving that doesn’t even begin to resolve the tangled mess created from contradicting other titles like New Super-Man and Superwoman, let alone Superman’s various appearances within the New 52 timeline. For example, what happens now to his established romantic connection with Wonder Woman? And how many times has Superman died in this timeline?
The end of Action Comics #976 further underlines the cynicism at the heart of Rebirth. As Mxyzptlk flees and the Universe is realigned around Superman’s new timeline, the comic ends with a panel of the planet Mars accompanied by the ominous words “Is it Superman who has the final say? Or him?” Yup, Watchmen character Doctor Manhattan, and not the guys who run DC, is still allegedly to blame for the crappy state of the New 52 Universe.