If the title didn’t make it clear, this story will spoil the ending of a three-month-old movie which will be on home video in a few weeks. Anyone who still wants a pristine experience of seeing “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” should bail out now.
For the rest of us, not only does the ending of “BvS” foreshadow the inevitable revival of a certain Metropolis Marvel, the advance publicity for the sequel practically guarantees it. Yes, Henry Cavill will be back as Superman in “Justice League,” and today’s task is to figure out how.
First, though, let’s look at the movies’ main inspiration.
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“The Death of Superman” delivered just what the title promised: six issues of carnage, as the mysterious monster Doomsday tore a path of destruction across the country (and through half of the Justice League) before being stopped by a battered Superman’s last bit of strength. It was the four-color event of the fall of 1992, and it would take the better part of a year to resolve.
That wasn’t just marketing at work, but a need to justify such an extraordinary event. Although Doomsday itself was designed to come out of nowhere, the means for bringing Superman back to life involved some well-established elements from the current lore.
Chief among those was the Eradicator, an ancient Kryptonian artifact and all-around plot facilitator which left Krypton long before the planet exploded, in the hands of a wandering clergyman simply called “The Cleric.” A lost-in-space Superman met the Cleric in the 1988-89 “Superman in Exile” storyline, and used the Eradicator to restore his weakened powers (and also repair his costume). Supes then brought the Eradicator back to Earth, where it built a Fortress of Solitude in the Antarctic.
Flash-forward to the spring of 1993 and the first steps in Supes’ revival. Because the Eradicator was charged with protecting all Kryptonian life, it knew when Superman had died. Taking humanoid (but still energy-based) form, the Eradicator took Supes’ body from its tomb back to the Fortress’ “regeneration matrix.” The Eradicator — which had copied Superman’s appearance and memories, if not his personality — then started fighting crime while Superman’s body regenerated in the Fortress. It was all part of “Reign of the Supermen!”, collected most recently in a new(ish) two-volume edition. As the Eradicator explained in the concluding issue, 1993’s “Superman” vol. 2 #82:
My powers and the technology at the Fortress were able to do the impossible. […] Though the conditions were ideal and your Kryptonian body in Earth’s environment was uniquely suited to the recuperative process[,] you had nearly extinguished your massive store of solar energies in your battle with Doomsday. Only by getting to you quickly — and administering the healing baths of the matrix chamber — could I help. Another day, another set of circumstances … and your resuscitation might not have been possible. In fact, it’s safe to say this would not be possible ever again.
Sounds like a good mix of quasi-plausibility and absolute finality, doesn’t it?
Meanwhile, the disembodied consciousness of Hank Henshaw — a scientist who could take over machinery, and who blamed Superman for his wife’s death — had been inhabiting the little neonatal rocket which brought baby Kal-El to Earth, and from it had constructed a cyborg body. Now powerful enough to boss around the intergalactic tyrant Mongul (also seen last in “Superman in Exile”), the Cyborg Superman destroyed Coast City before being defeated by Superman, Green Lantern, Supergirl, the Eradicator, Steel and Superboy.
Along the way, the Cyborg helped restore Supes’ powers. Despite using a Kryptonite-powered weapon, the Cyborg’s technology was still based on the matrix-pod which had been designed to nurture baby Kal-El. Moreover, when the Cyborg shot his death rays at Superman, the Eradicator — still in “protection” mode — took the brunt of the blasts, bathing Superman in a cocktail of Kryptonian energy and science. Superman described it in the aforementioned “Superman” #82: “When the Kryptonite passed through [the Eradicator] — it changed! The Eradicator did something … processed the energy with its own — altered it — and restored me! At first it was painful … but then I felt my abilities return!” (A dose of Kryptonite also restored the New 52 Supes’ powers in the recent “Savage Dawn” arc, but the fallout in “The Final Days Of Superman” wasn’t so great.)
In any event, I’ve gone into this much detail — and trust me, I could have gone into a lot more — to emphasize how Dan Jurgens and the rest of 1993’s Team Superman grounded the Man of Steel’s return firmly in the comics’ ongoing narratives. The Eradicator, the Fortress of Solitude and the Cyborg Superman had been around for between three and four years, at a time when there were at least three monthly Superman titles; and much of “Reign of the Supermen!” could be traced back even further, to “Superman in Exile.”
Basically, since the Superman creative teams were working on a pretty big canvas, they had plenty of room to craft such an enormous story. Warner Bros. hasn’t had the chance to lay a comparable amount of groundwork, but they’ve tried this before.
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