SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Action Comics #982, on sale now.
How do you counter a Superman Revenge Squad hell-bent on destroying the Man of Steel? With a Superman Squad, of course, and that’s exactly what we see at the conclusion of Action Comics #982.
In this fourth instalment of Dan Jurgens’ “Revenge” storyline, which sees the writer joined by artists Jack Herbert, Jose Luis and Ray McCarthy, Cyborg Superman Hank Henshaw continues to scheme against Kal-El. Seeking to avenge the death of his wife, which he blames on the Man of Steel, Henshaw has assembled a rogues gallery of Superman’s foes, including General Zod, whom he has sprung from Belle Reve prison where he was being held by Suicide Squad head honcho Amanda Waller as a last resort should Superman turn to evil.
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With a full complement of villains at his side, Henshaw prepares to head to the Antarctic Fortress of Solitude, correctly surmising that the Man of Steel fled there after being pummeled by Zod. He and the Eradicator recognize that the fortress is more than a hideaway, and a “repository of science and technology that Earth has yet to discover,” which they can use to achieve far more than simple payback. Revenge is only part of their plan, and they have to convince their comrades to look beyond simply beating the snot out of Superman.
The bigger picture, they promise, has more to offer to each member of the Revenge Squad. The Eradicator not only gets to purify Kal-El’s bloodline by killing Jonathan, he also gets to rebuild Krypton on Earth. Blanque’s reward is a planet’s worth of human canvasses, Mongul is promised perpetual war, and Metallo can hope for eternal life. Zod, for his part, will gain access to the Phantom Zone projector that can bring back his armies. This is not so much a coalition of the willing as it is a group of thugs joining forces for their own selfish purposes.
What they don’t know, as they embark on the journey back to Earth, is that Superman was blinded and lost his vision-based powers as a result of being inside the Black Vault that encased Belle Reve. Kelex surmises that the loss of sight is due to the barrier containing properties related to the Phantom Zone, but he also doesn’t now if the damage is permanent. Lois, who has also fled to the Fortress with Jonathan and Krypto, suggests that he use the Kryptonian battle suit that helped restore him after his first battle with Doomsday, but Kelex cautions that his catastrophic injuries at the time have exhausted his system’s restorative capabilities.
Faced with diminished capacity and increased vulnerability, Clark recognizes he must call for help, but the Revenge Squad strikes sooner than he’d anticipated, so he sends a distress signal to Supergirl using the Omnihedron, a mysterious Kryptonian device that he gifted to his cousin in the pages of Supergirl #8. He then tunnels though the ice underneath the fortress and bursts into the air in the midst of the assemblage of super villains. He knows he can’t defeat them but he intends to distract them long enough for Lois and Jonathan to escape.
The battle is short, and quickly descends into chaos once the Revenge Squad corners the Man of Steel. The moment Superman is down, each of its members wants a shot at his nemesis, and the lack of co-ordination provides a vector for Supergirl to swoop in and rescue her cousin. But Kara is not alone, she has brought along Lex Luthor, Steel, new Super-Man Kenan Kong and Superwoman Lana Lang.
“Superman is ours,” declares the armored Lex. “The only way you get him is over our dead bodies.”
The iconic full page panel that concludes Action Comics #982 reveals Luthor as the head of the Superman Squad, and effectively completes the iconic character’s transition from villain to hero.
Superman’s one-time greatest nemesis, who for decades schemed to destroy the Man of Steel and dominate the world, now stands alongside a group of Superman-related heroes against a group that would subjugate humanity and implement the reign of a master race, all for the sake of petty revenge — and he does so with Superman’s iconic S-shield prominently emblazoned on his chest. This turn is a testament to the power of redemption and resistance at a time when so much is as stake in the real world, and sends a message that we can abandon once cherished beliefs when they no longer serve us, or those around us.
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Without a trace of irony and more than a nod to creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Jurgens has given us a Lex Luthor who embodies the same virtues of the Superman who first graced the pages of Action Comics #1 in 1938. After all, their first version of Superman — who debuted in the pages of their 1933 fanzine Science Fiction: The Advance Guard of the Future #3 — was conceived as a bald villain who wanted to rule the world.
But there’s another lesson to be learned from this fun action story: Evil is often based on self-interest. When the chips are down, follow-the-leader gives way to a free-for-all, because everyone is working at cross purposes.
The Superman Squad, on the other hand, presents a united front. Although it is an ad hoc assemblage seen here for the very first time, it embodies a cohesion and a unity of purpose that extend beyond the “S” emblazoned on every member’s chest. The message could not be clearer. Virtue, not might, makes right, and no matter how you slice it, the shield truly does stand for hope.