The Never-Ending Battle: SUPERMAN #81

The real Superman is back and ready to take down the imposter tarnishing his name.
Superman proves himself and heads towards Coast City in Superman #81.
Superman in a black suit flying through Green Smoke with the Kid and Steel behind him, Superman #81
Triangle Number 1993 – 26
Writer: Dan Jurgens
Penciler: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Brett Breeding
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: John Costanza

One very interesting aspect of the return of Superman is just how late in the game the decision was made to give him long hair upon his return. When he hatched out of the Regeneration Matrix in Action Comics #689, he had the traditional short hairstyle we’ve seen on Superman over the years. When he emerged from the Kryptonian Battle Armor at the end of Man of Steel #25, suddenly he had long hair. This is also evident on the covers of Superman #81, Adventures of Superman #504, and Man of Steel #26. When those covers were completed, the plan was still for him to have short hair. He also has shorter hair in the concept art for him that is drawn by Jon Bogdanove which is included in all versions of the Omnibus and in the newer trade paperback.
As this new Superman arrives on the scene he has to work to convince everyone there of his intentions. The person wanting to believe in him the most — Lois Lane — is also the person who has had her trust burned repeatedly over the course of this story arc. But this Superman has something the others don’t. He’s the real deal and has the memories to prove it. In the end, though, it’s not his memories that win Lois’s trust, it’s his actions. Sure he remembers things like Clark’s favorite movie, things like Ma’s engagement ring, like their conversation in the mountains. But like she tells him, the others knew things, too, so that didn’t do much to persuade her after all she’d seen. What did win her over was his willingness, vastly de-powered, to go fight a monster that destroyed a city, even without hope of actually winning. But really, it was a repeat of the words he said to her just before he died: “Just remember… no matter what happens… I’ll always love you. Always.” The emotions as Lois realizes her love is back just before he heads back into certain death are absolutely gut-wrenching.

This issue also serves as another exposition dump like the Eradicator revelation in Action Comics #690, only this time it’s the true origin of the Cyborg. The Cyborg is indeed a character we’ve seen before in the Superman books, however, it was shortly before the Triangle Era started. When Jurgens was on Adventures of Superman he briefly introduced an ersatz Fantastic Four, only these four were utterly destroyed by the changes the radiation caused in them. One of their number, Hank Henshaw, found himself able to merge his consciousness with machinery, and when he left Earth he did so in Superman’s birthing Matrix. This Matrix provided him knowledge of Superman’s life, and also provided him with the metals and genetic code that would constitute his new form. Blaming Superman for his misfortunes and losses, Henshaw sought revenge and stumbled upon another who did the same: the would-be tyrant, Mongul. The two of them plotted their revenge, a mission that would forever tarnish Superman’s memory and destroy everyone he ever loved. Thus, the Cyborg Superman was born.
If his conversations with Lois weren’t enough to convince readers of his legitimacy, there was one more selling point to his claim: this was a Superman who was massively depowered, so much so that the Man of Steel could hurt him, and because nobody else could, here he was heading off to Engine City to fight the Cyborg. This is the archetype I’m a sucker for, the lawful-good Paladin, facing overwhelming evil without a moment’s hesitation.
Miss any previous entries in The Never-Ending Battle? The early entries can be found at Comfort Food Comics, while more recent ones can be found here at The Beat.
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