Super-Who?! The Stories Behind DC Rebirth’s Strange New Superman Titles
When DC announced its slate for the upcoming Rebirth line of comics, it played a relatively safe hand with its announcements. The line seems to head in the opposite direction of the risk-taking DCYou initiative, with many of the publisher's most interesting books, such as Midnighter, Starfire and Martian Manhunter, no longer on the docket.
Yet there are three announced books that seem curiously out of place in their line-up: The Super-Man, Superwoman, and The Super Sons. They're all new titles, but they're also titles and concepts that have a long and rich history in the DC Universe. We’re diving back into DC’s archives to see what clues the past might offer us about the future of these books.
The Super-Man instantly conjures up thoughts of the very first Superman story produced by creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, years before the release of Action Comics #1. In a 1933 short, titled Reign of The Super-Man, their title character was a far cry from the cape and tights hero we know today, and instead was a bald vagrant named Bill Dunn, who gains telepathic powers courtesy of an experimental potion developed by the mad chemist, Professor Ernest Smalley.
Dunn immediately goes mad with power and seeks to use his new gifts to rule the world, and is referred to as The Superman (the hyphen is only present in the title of the story). He kills Professor Smalley, who intended to kill him and use the potion, but Dunn discovers that the formula is only temporary, and with no way to reproduce it, he returns to his life of vagrancy.
Siegel and Shuster eventually reworked their Superman idea into that of a hero private detective, inspired by Detective Dan, Secret Operative No. 48 by Norman Marsh. Consolidated Book Publishing, who produced Detective Dan, went out of business, and Shuster burned the pages of the story, with only the cover surviving because Siegel rescued it. After much hard work, they would eventually introduce the Superman we know and love in Action Comics #1, and the rest is history.
The most obvious candidate for DC Rebirth's Super-Man would be Lex Luthor, who has been slowly turning face for several years at DC, and fits the bald genius archetype of Siegel & Shuster’s original creation. The cover to Justice League #51 shows Lex busting out of his shirt revealing a Superman costume underneath, and the rumor immediately following the announcement of DC Rebirth was that of a Luthor book, so that’s where the smart money is.
Superwoman is a concept that has been through many different iterations over the course of DC’s long history, with multiple women donning the mantle. The classic Superwoman is Lois Lane, who first appeared under that name in 1943 when she dreamed she gained powers courtesy of a blood transfusion from Superman. She first gained powers canonically in 1951 due to an experiment of Lex Luthor’s, and Lois as Superwoman is an idea that has been revisited countless times over the years, notably in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman #3.
Other women to don the mantle of Superwoman include Lois’ sister Lucy Lane, obsessed Superman fan Dana Dearden, and several gender-swapped alternate versions of Superman himself. Elliot S. Maggin introduced Kristen Wells in his novel Miracle Monday, and later developed her Superwoman in the pages of DC Comics Presents. Kurt Busiek and Rick Leonardi introduced a Post-Crisis version of Wells in 2007 who was a Kryptionian soldier hiding on Earth.
The most enduring character to carry the name Superwoman is actually a villain from the alternate reality Earth-3. This Superwoman is the Crime Syndicate of America’s analogue to Wonder Woman, and is a twisted version of Lois Lane. In most incarnations, she’s been portrayed as a sadist, and in more recent incarnations, Superwoman is hyper sexualized and often plays Ultraman and Owlman against each other.
Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis introduced the New 52 Superwoman in Trinity War as part of the new Crime Society, and she played a major part in the Forever Evil storytline. At the end of that story, it turned out she was pregnant with the child of Earth-3 Alexander Luthor, AKA Mazhas, and her offspring seems to be an integral part of Justice League’s current Darkseid War story.
Similar to the Lex Luthor rumor following the Rebirth announcement, initial speculation about Superwoman is that it would be a Lois Lane-led feature. However, given DC’s push for the Crime Syndicate over recent years, there’s a chance that this new title will feature the villainous Lois Lane of Earth-3, rather than the heroic version.
Finally, The Super-Sons in all incarnations are the children of Superman and Batman, although with separate partners, not by each other, as fun as that would be. The original Super Sons were Superman Jr. (Clark Kent Jr.) and Batman Jr. (Bruce Wayne Jr.), and their mothers were Lois Lane and Kathy Kane respectively. Traditionally, however, their mothers would never be fully shown, allowing the reader to believe that Superman Jr.'s mother may be Lana Lang, for example --- all depending on reader preference.
It was later revealed that The Super-Sons had no mothers, and were instead artificial intelligence creations of Superman and Batman inside a simulation, with the World’s Finest explaining that they didn’t think mothers were relevant to the simulation and as such didn’t bother to program any, just like most big-budget video games. The Super-Sons eventually came to life in the real world, and things got super dark when Superman and Batman convinced them to jump in a “disintegration pit” and kill themselves because they were emitting a radioactive aura that could doom the world.
There have been other instances of the Super-Sons in post-Crisis DC, notably Joel Kent and Bruce Wayne Jr of John Byrne’s Superman & Batman: Generations series of graphic novels. In the late-2000s, DC introduced in-continuity sons Damian Wayne and Chris Kent, and while Damian survived the Flashpoint into the New 52, Chris Kent now seems to have never existed.
As for who The Super-Sons of DC Rebirth are, there aren’t any obvious candidates in The New 52. Grant Morrison and Ben Oliver introduced Earth-16 in Multiversity: The Just which featured Chris Kent and Damien Wayne as Batman and Superman in a world where the Justice League was dead and their children had all taken their place, but it seems the Multiversity universes will be explored in their own original graphic novels.
DC has said that it plans to reveal more detail about Rebirth at Wondercon on March 26th, so we’ll hear more about these three mysterious books then, and we'll see how right our guesses for each of them were.