While there are plenty of stories about Kryptonian religion and cults, none feels quite so familiar to fans watching tonight’s Supergirl than “The Power Within,” Roger Stern and Curt Swan’s story told in two-page increments for a year of Action Comics Weekly.
After nearly 50 years of being the lead feature in Action Comics, Superman took a back seat to a number of characters who did not have ongoing series. The Crisis on Infinite Earths was fairly fresh in the rear-view mirror and Superman, whose origins and power level had been changed significantly as a result of John Byrne having been given basically a good deal of creative leeway. Action had been reinvented as a team-up book, and when Byrne left the title, DC opted to lean into that and make the book a weekly anthology series.
The comic featured Green Lantern, Nightwing, Speed/Arsenal, Wild Dog, and various others during its run, with pre-Crisis Superman legend Swan drawing the Man of Steel’s stories. Roger Stern wrote stories untethered to then-current continuity, creating essentially a two-page, weekly Superman strip that felt timeless, with a contemporary feel as drawn by one of the artists with the longest Super-history.
Their story, which involved Superman grappling with a religious sect who believed him to be a god while he himself believed that his best quality was the humanity instilled in him by the Kents, made overt a subtext that the character had struggled with for years. The story was hardly a classic, but it was one of the earliest Superman stories by Stern, who would remain a key part of the Man of Steel’s creative makeup through the end of the ’90s.
Superman: The Power Within, which also includes the story arc “The Sinbad Contract” and some other odds and ends from that era, was released in collected edition for the first time ever in 2015. Here is the official description of the story:
When Superman saves an innocent man from being killed, he discovers two disturbing facts: 1) the man he saved is part of a cult that worships the Man of Steel, and 2) the man’s would-be killer is part of another faction dedicated to wiping them out! Even worse, both groups are gaining super-powers due to a mysterious, space-born source that Superman must discover before it is too late!
You can get the trade paperback physically or digitally if you are interested in taking a deeper dive.
Fans who jumped on the post-Crisis Superman bandwagon in 1992, when the Man of Steel died at the hands of Doomsday and became briefly the hottest thing in comics, might have missed “The Power Within,” but both encountered these cultists and confirmed that in spite of Swan’s presence the stories still too kplace in Byrne’s post-Crisis continuity.
The cult of Superman popped up following his death, with sects camping out near his grave to await his resurrection (proving that fictional cult members are smarter than some of the people who fueled the speculator market of the ’90s).
After four people arrived, each hoping to replace Superman, different sects of the cult were spotted squabbling with each other over whose Superman was the “real” one during The Reign of the Supermen!. Unfortunately, we never got to see how embarrassed the Cyborg Superman loyalists were by the whole Coast City thing.