Superman artist Doug Mahnke will be one of a number of creators chipping in on the title’s twenty-fifth issue in June — one that looks like it will serve as a spiritual sequel to the best-loved Superman story of Mahnke’s career.
In Superman right now, a number of characters seem to be operating under the influence of a strange being or force masquerading as Superman’s neighbor, an old man who owns a dairy farm. He’s putting together a small army of ordinary people in the small, upstate town of Hamilton who are set to strike just as Superman and Lois are preparing to leave town, seemingly under his spell and enhanced in some way.
It turns out that ol’ Farmer Cobb will be none other than Manchester Black, who will apparently stand revealed as the villain behind “Black Dawn” and the man trying to ruin Superman’s life.
Ruining Superman’s life has been a bit of a recurring motif for Black, who first appeared in Action Comics #775, widely regarded as one of the best Superman stories in recent decades. The tale, written by Joe Kelly and featuring art by Mahnke, centered on Black and his Team The Elite, who were proxies for popular, ultra-violent English superhero characters popular at the time in books like The Authority. They believed that superheroes who refused to kill villains were ignoring a moral imperative to make the world safer and, in turn, were just as bad as those they fought — and they wanted Superman to get violent, or get out of the way. When Superman appealed to their decency, it didn’t work — so ultimately he used his powers and guile to defeat them, but spared their lives.
The story, titled “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?,” is one of a handful of stories we recently noticed were apparently rendered canonical when Superman’s timeline was laid out in Action Comics last month. It was later adapted into an animated feature film, titled Superman vs. The Elite. While it was the kind of story that seemed destined to be a single-issue, strand-alone parable, the popularity of the story (and, inevitably, of Black and his contemptible teammates) led to numerous follow-ups, with Black briefly leading the Suicide Squad and an Elite-driven story in JLA. The team was featured in a spinoff, Justice League Elite, written by “What’s So Funny…?” author Joe Kelly.
A New 52 take on Black saw him as a mysterious and scheming S.T.A.R. Labs employee, although given the restoration of much of Superman’s history post-Rebirth, it seems likely that take on the character will be as forgotten as the Hank Henshaw briefly mentioned in the post-Flashpoint world but later replaced with one thate more closely resembled his pre-Flashpoint counterpart.