Action Comics #983 continues to build on the theme of family, which has been the core of DC Comics’ Superman titles since the Rebirth relaunch. But this time the focus is on the extended Superman family coming to the rescue as Lois, Jonathan and a blinded Clark are threatened by the Superman Revenge Squad, a motley collection of pre-Flashpoint and New 52 villains hellbent on world domination, and on destroying the Man of Steel.
Written by Dan Jurgens, with art by Victor Bogdanovic and Jonathan Glapion, “Revenge Part V” opens with an inversion of the status quo from the previous issue, which depicted Lex Luthor at the head of the rescue team, with Kara holding a fallen Clark. But Superman has recovered from the beating, and even though he’s still blind, he takes charge of the assembled heroes to confront the villains trying to break into the Fortress of Solitude.
The melee that ensues is a high-stakes six-on-six punch-up. On the one hand, Superman and his crew must prevent General Zod — the de facto leader of the Revenge Squad — from breaking into the Fortress and retrieving technology that would allow him to build a new militarized Krypton on Earth, in the process wiping out humanity. On the other, the Superman Squad must also give Lois and Jon enough time to get away from the Fortress, not only ensuring their safety, but also preventing Zod from discovering that Superman has a son upon whom he can focus his homicidal intent.
That the Kryptonian General has no previous knowledge of Lois and Clark’s offspring suggests the revived Eradicator may have no memory of his previous confrontation with Superman’s immediate family. It also points to the idea that the Revenge Squad is even less of a cohesive unit than we’ve seen in the past. The previous issue showed members of the group at cross purposes, bickering with each other. Their discipline breaking down as they pummeled Superman when he emerged from the Fortress. Its members had not yet started working as a team.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Zod has been counting on the group’s disarray to cement his leadership, but before he reveals the true nature of his plan, he must first defeat Superman.
Upon realizing his opponent is blind, Zod also deafens him. In the silence that follows Superman’s scream of pain, he hears Jon and Lois. Realizing that the pair is trying to escape, he trains his heat vision on the departing Kryptonian flyer that promised mother and son safe passage, before turning his attention back to his ultimate prize, the Phantom Zone projector.
As Superman and his cohorts prepare a final stand against the Revenge Squad, Zod reveals his true plan. He never intended to rescue his army from the Phantom Zone. His goal all along was to trap Superman in the nothingness of the shadow dimension in which Jor-El had imprisoned him. In doing so he has also doomed all the members of the Superman Squad to oblivion. In mere moments Zod not only gets revenge on his jailer’s son, but on Kal-El’s immediate family, and a good chunk of his chosen family. But are things as dire as they seem?
The likelihood that Jon and Lois are dead is slim. In the panels leading up to Zod’s attack on the flyer, it isn’t clear whether the duo remained on the craft when it launched. And, as we’ve seen in both Action Comics and Superman, mother and child are more than able to stand up to villains on their own when dad’s not in sight.
There is also another wildcard: Krypto was all over Action Comics #982, but he doesn’t appear at all in Issue 983. The Rebirth version of Superdog has proved to be quite the capable canine, helping the Man of Steel defeat Eradicator in the pages Gleason and Tomassi’s Superman #6. Then there’s the New 52 version of Krypto, who is a very different beast.
In the pages of Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run, Krypto saved Jor-El and his family from the clutches of Xa-Du — the very first resident of the Phantom Zone — as the scientist tried to escape into the shadow dimension while Krypton was being torn apart. In protecting the infant Kal-El, the dog was sucked into the Zone and ended up spending years in exile, fighting off the ghosts of villains until he was rescued by the adult Clark.
Has the current Krypto merged with his New 52 counterpart as have Lois and Clark? Is there only one Superdog? And can he help rescue Superman and his friends? Or is an alternate incarnation of Kal-El’s faithful companion waiting to help him in the Phantom Zone?
Then there’s the matter of Hank Henshaw. In the heat of battle, Superman takes time to ask him how he reverted to his pre-Flashpoint Cyborg Superman version. The villain, who initially brought together the Revenge Squad, reveals that he used the Oblivion Stone, an alien artifact that his New 52 version brought back to Earth, to become a previous version of himself, the astronaut who blamed Superman for his wife’s death.
This beat in the middle of a fight suggests that there’s far more to Henshaw and the Oblivion Stone than we already know. Could Cyborg Superman hold one of the clues to the mystery of Rebirth? Is the Oblivion Stone connected to the upcoming Doomsday Clock story that pits Superman against Doctor Manhattan?
On the surface, “Revenge Part V” is a classic Superhero slugfest, but there’s also a lot that is left unspoken. This bodes well for the next installment of this exciting story.