The death and return of Superman remain one of the most important and popular stories in the history of comics. Nearly thirty years since its publication, the story continues to be adapted through various media, and the effects of its events still linger in the modern-day.
Although focus tends to fall on Superman’s fatal battle with Doomsday in terms of importance, his return in Reign of the Supermen was equally and perhaps more important in terms of lasting effects. However, the story also introduced several characters and plot points that didn’t survive much beyond that particular arc.
10 Lasting: Return Of The Original
Superman’s death sent shockwaves throughout not only the comic world but mainstream media and by proxy, public consciousness. Journalists everywhere eulogized the Man of Steel’s passing in the same breath as they did the ideals he stood for, a zeitgeist of the cynical climate of the ‘90s.
Of course, comic book fans knew that the Big Blue Boy Scout would eventually return, which he did with much fanfare at the end of this arc. In so doing, he reclaimed his position as DC’s premiere hero and replaced the four imposters who had sought to replace him.
9 Forgotten: Black Costume
When Superman returned, it was not in his original red and blue skivvies, but a slick, silver-highlighted black jumpsuit that looked like a symbiote loaner from Venom. The in-story rationalization for the change was that the black suit allowed Superman to heal at an accelerated rate by absorbing yellow sun radiation faster.
However, it was clearly an attempt to have the Man of Steel fit in with the darker, more “extreme” characters of the ‘90s, if only for a few issues. At the conclusion of the arc, Superman returned to his original costume, and the black one has made sparing appearances since.
8 Lasting: Doomsday Resurrection
When Doomsday popped out of nowhere to kill Superman in late 1992, his own death at the end of the arc seemed to spell the end of the villain. His function fulfilled, Doomsday’s lifeless body was consigned to the furthest reaches of space by the Cyborg Superman, seemingly never to be seen again.
Surprisingly, that was not to be the case, as when Superman returned, it was revealed his killer had as well, reviving on the asteroid he was tied to with a sinister laugh.
7 Forgotten: Super Mullet
The black suit was not the only visual change that accompanied Superman’s return. He also came back with a luxurious mane of long hair that would have made any Pantene model envious. Looking suspiciously like a cross between Fabio and a grunge rocker’s mullet, Superman’s new “do” was a clear attempt to make him more “hip” for a ‘90s audience.
Unfortunately, it had the same effect as a middle-aged man’s attempt to ward off a mid-life crisis by getting an earring and wearing his shirt open to his navel. Thankfully, the ridiculous hairdo didn’t last much longer than a year.
6 Lasting: Reintroduced Superboy
There hadn’t been a Superboy in DC Comics at the time of this story, as 1986’s Crisis on Infinite Earths eliminated Superman’s teenage exploits as a young hero in Smallville from continuity. Reign of the Supermen re-established Superboy for the ‘90s, albeit as a clone of the Man of Steel with some Luthor DNA sprinkled into the mix for good measure.
Connor Kent proved to be a staple at DC for most of the ‘90s and early 2000s and opened the door for further iterations of Superboy (such as Superman’s son Jonathan) to make their way into prominence.
5 Forgotten: The Eradicator
Part of the appeal of the Reign of the Supermen was the mystery of the four “imposters’ and which, if any, was the genuine article. One of the front runners was the Superman appearing in Action Comics, who looked a lot like the original (aside from the funky sunglasses) albeit with a new and ruthless outlook on crime-fighting.
Revealed to be the erstwhile villain The Eradicator, this “Superman” seemed poised to assume a prominent role in the DC Universe as the arc progressed, but ended up close to death at the penultimate climax of the story. Although the character has reappeared since, he hasn’t had as noteworthy a role in subsequent storylines as he did in this one, especially when compared to other characters who made their first appearances in this arc.
4 Lasting: Steel & Cyborg Superman
Some characters who made their debuts during this arc fared better than The Eradicator in terms of their longevity and impact in the DC Universe following the arc’s conclusion. John Henry Irons, better known as Steel, continued to figure prominently as an in-the-field superhero, scientific liaison, and “guy-in-the-chair” for the Justice League.
Hank Henshaw, re-envisioned and re-packaged as the Cyborg Superman, was proven as not just the main villain of the story, but a major antagonist in subsequent DC Universe story arcs such as The Sinestro Corps War and Reign of Doomsday.
3 Forgotten: C-List Villains
A new status quo in a character’s life is usually a good time to introduce some new villains, and although Reign of the Supermen was no exception, these villains virtually disappeared following the conclusion of the arc. The best example of this was the White Rabbit, who appeared to antagonize Steel in Superman: The Man of Steel.
A high-tech weapons dealer who tried to capitalize on Superman’s death, the character appeared sparingly after his return and was re-imagined as another character altogether in the New 52 era.
2 Lasting: The Destruction Of Coast City
Perhaps the most far-reaching and lasting effect of Reign of the Supermen was the destruction of Coast City by the Cyborg Superman and Mongul, the alien warlord. Aside from killing millions of people in an instant, the act had the additional effect of rendering Green Lantern Hal Jordan susceptible to fear and the yellow impurity.
Driven mad with grief, Jordan destroyed the Green Lantern Corps, killing multiple members and Guardians before becoming the villain Parallax. Although these events have since been retconned, they were pivotal cornerstones to the DC Universe for the better part of a decade.
1 Forgotten: The Threat Of Mongul
Although Mongul wasn’t introduced in Reign of the Supermen, his role in the series as the Cyborg Superman’s partner in the destruction of Coast City seemingly promised him a greater prominence in DC’s villainous hierarchy.
Unfortunately, much like the Eradicator, although the character made a few more appearances following the conclusion of this arc, he was killed shortly afterward and was replaced in obscurity by his son.
Focus tends to fall on Superman’s battle with Doomsday but his return in Reign of the Supermen was perhaps more important in terms of lasting effects.