Does the Never-Ending Battle actually end in Superman #77?
Triangle Number 1993 – 10
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Penciler: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Brett Breeding
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: John Costanza
So yet again, it’s another absolutely stunning cover. Jurgens and Breeding give us their best renaissance painting, as the clouds part and Superman flies angelically towards the beaming rays of light of the sun. I would love to have a full size poster of this cover to hang on my walls.
Of course, this issue is also incomplete in that first omnibus. Case in point, the first four page sequence of the issue is left out, presumably to save straight male readership from gazing upon the chameleon eye nipples of Lex Luthor the Second. It opens on a full page spread of a shirtless Luthor and a narration that hate is what fuels him. While Lex Luthor spars with three women martial artists, there are overlain flashbacks to the feud with Superman that cost him his hand, and eventually his original body. Being lost in thought allows one of the trainers to land a kick on the ginger Aussie, and we see him almost lose the veneer of kindness he’s been building for himself since his arrival in Metropolis, but he’s interrupted by Supergirl and Lois, who is serving an absolutely amazing look by throwing on one of Clark’s blazers and a tie. She’s come to break the news to Luthor and Supergirl that Cadmus are the ones that have Superman’s body, and the only reason she didn’t run that story is that they’d just move him before anyone got there.
One of the things that makes this issue really good are the scene transitions. As Lois leaves LexCorp, she thinks to herself how thankful she is that Ma and Pa Kent don’t have to see the full story, because there’s no telling how they would have dealt with it. Which transitions us right to Smallville’s County Hospital, with Martha and a barely breathing Jonathon. Much like the sequence with Luthor prior, this scene plays with flashbacks, but it plays with them in a different way. Though Jonathon is barely conscious, various actions in the ER are causing him to remember specific things. A hand being grasped becomes the passing of a tool to his teenage son. The ripping open of his shirt to use defib paddles becomes Clark’s shirt rip.
Both that sequence with Jonathon and the next with Jimmy do make it into the omnibus. Jimmy is being consulted by Collin Thornton and the Planet’s photo editor, Mr. Washington, on what photos to use in the upcoming Newstime tribute to Superman. Jimmy expresses his regret about having these photos, and how he’d give them all up if it meant he could have his friend again. Thornton asks Olsen to choose the photo that will grace the cover of the issue, and in the end Jimmy chooses the tattered cape flapping in the wind, because it reminds him of Superman flying.
As Lois and Supergirl fly to infiltrate Cadmus, Supergirl catches Lois in a daydream, and decides that that makes her a liability on such a dangerous mission. She’s not wrong, but also Supergirl knows Clark’s secret identity and also what Clark meant to Lois, so I feel like she should be more understanding than she was. This, however, leads to the reintroduction of a lesser known part of Jack Kirby’s time at DC, as Lois runs into the Outsiders, who offer to ride with her into Cadmus after Supergirl. The actual retrieval of Superman’s body is fairly anti-climactic, as Supergirl had all the action before Lois and Yango even got to the complex.
Back to a piece that’s in the omnibus, we return to the hospital with the Kents. Once again, motions of the doctors and nurses around him trigger memories of Clark for Jonathon. The staff leaning over him to work turns into Clark covering them as a roof collapses. The doctor performing chest compressions on him turns into Clark doing the same for a stranger. Even through the haze of consciousness, Pa Kent thinks about how Clark saved everyone but himself.
As Superman is once more laid to rest, we get one of the most emotional scenes of the entire Funeral storyline. Lois wasn’t able to be close to him at the funeral – there was no reason for her to be – but this time, even though Lex and Supergirl are present, she still has a bit of intimacy to say goodbye, and her goodbye is absolutely gut wrenching.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the union of this woman, Lois Lane, and this man, Clark Kent. Lois Lane, do you take this man to hold and cherish, to love and honor, for the rest of your life?”
Quietly, she says, “I do,” and says her last goodbye to the man who would have been her husband.
Lex Luthor asks for a moment to be alone to pray, but in reality it’s a moment to gloat. As soon as Lois and Supergirl leave the tomb, the focus shifts to Luthor’s face, sinisterly lit from below and covered in shadow. Alone with the body of his fallen sworn enemy, Luthor can’t help but brag. Metropolis is his again, and to prove it, earlier in the issue he strangled to death the woman who kicked him in the locker room.
As Luthor slams his fist on the coffin (a panel that was cut from the page that got reprinted in the omnibus), a doctor’s fist slams similarly on Jonathon Kent’s chest. As Jonathon flatlines, Martha reaches out to him, but he sees Clark reaching out to him instead. He grasps Clark’s hand and the issue ends with Martha crying for him not to leave her alone.
For the first time since 1986 there would be zero Superman books going to press. Was this really the end? What it must have felt like to be a fan at that time. No internet sites for news and rumors, only a handful of trade magazines, comic shop rumors, and distributor catalogs. As this issue released in the third week of January, the catalogs containing information on Adventures of Superman #500 were not printed yet. Those would come at least two weeks later, as the Previews for the month that would contain that issue came out some time in February. For at least a brief time, it seemed that Superman might actually really not come back from this one.