The Return of Superman: 30th Anniversary Special brings together the Superman creative teams of the ’90’s for fresh perspectives on the debut of The Reign of The Supermen. Wrapped around a story that fits into current comic events, this special is also a great standalone edition to the era that birthed these characters. With five stories total, the page count nearly reaches graphic novel status allowing you to savour every bit of this nostalgic goodness.
The covers also pay homage to the time by recreating the character designs used back then, including Clark’s “controversial” long hair. The main cover is a gorgeous wrap-around by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, and Elizabeth Breitweiser. Cyborg Superman is featured larger-than-life as we all know the depths of his villainy that truly started with this story line. Standing in opposition to his nefarious plans, Clark gets front cover billing as Conner, John Henry, and The Eradicator adorn the back cover. The entire piece looks as though it was repurposed from the ’90’s in the best possible way, instantly taking us back to this historic era. Be on the lookout for the foil variant as it’s sure to pop with all the Steel and Cyborg Superman metallics presented for this cover.
Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessy, and Nathan Fairbairn is a take on the assault of Engine City with their incentive variant. Showcasing the black and silver suit Superman returned in and having to use weapons to offset his depowered state, Clark leads the charge against Mongul and Cyborg Superman. Although Supergirl had stayed behind to defend Metropolis if they failed, it’s nice to have her included in this image as she played an important part during The Reign as well.
The incentive variant by Jon Bogdanove and Sian Mandrake is a recreation of Bogdanove’s final page of Superman: The Man of Steel #25. The not so subtle imagery of Clark being born again on the docks of Metropolis from a Kryptonian battle suit was the beginning of the end for The Reign as the real Superman had officially returned. The updated version is a more polished look as it adds more fluids pouring off Clark’s body and redefines some lighting, but the essence and significance of that moment remains intact.
The regular variants are all recreations of the deluxe issue version each member of The Reign was featured. With a solid colored background, each issue had only the various versions of the Supermen’s emblem visible on each cover. John Giang recreates Superman #78, Dave Wilkins does Superman: The Man of Steel #22, Francis Manapul handles Adventures of Superman #501, and Ben Oliver takes on Action Comics #687. The original versions had cover pages hidden behind the card stock cut out main covers, so here’s hoping these also hold artistic treats behind the recreations in homage to those editions.
Starting with a story called “Legacy”, Dan Jurgens along with letterer Rob Leigh, tell a modern tale with Cyborg Superman attacking S,T,A,R, Labs. Answering the call to the attack is Conner and Steel, along with a projection of The Eradicator to provide tactical support. Lois and Ron Troupe begin to dig into the motivations of Henshaw’s attack and stumble upon Perry White’s journal of those first days these characters hit the scene. This story lays the framework of the special as it plays out throughout interludes of flashbacks that feature each member of The Reign. Artist Travis Moore and colorist Adriano Lucas provide the visuals which helps control the flow between each interlude.
The first account is given by Ron Troupe as he recalls seeing Steel in action for the first time. Entitled “Speed”, Louise Simonson takes Steel back to the streets battling gangs equipped with his Toastmaster weaponry. Simonson effortlessly reminds us why Steel became such a popular character after Superman’s death, as he showed us how anyone could pick up the ideals of Superman and make a positive difference in the world, regardless of who you were, what you’ve done, or where you came from. Artist Jon Bogdonave and colorist Glenn Whitmore recapture their iconic run perfectly, especially with attention to their original designs for Steel’s suit and hammer.
Using Perry’s journal to recount his first impression so the other Supermen, the next instalment is about The Last Son of Krypton and is entitled, “He Had Me Thinking He Was Superman”. Written and drawn by Jerry Ordway with Glenn Whitmore on colors, Perry White details his first encounter with The Eradicator as Superman. Violently shaking down a possible Intergang member for information, Superman finds himself squaring off with Metropolis SCU. Seeing Maggie Sawyer back in her role as Captain of the unit was a nice touch as she attempts to maintain control of the situation. Showing Perry he didn’t need to exact lethal force to accomplish his goal, Perry begins to question if this isn’t the real Superman changed from his encounter with death.
Next is a story called, “The Metropolis Kid”, by Karl Kesel with art by Tom Grummett, inks by Doug Hazelwood, and colors by Glenn Whitmore. Kesel expertly captures the overconfident cockiness of Conner in his earliest days. Flying around with Tana Moon and demanding to be called Superman was his trademark while he operated in Metropolis. The story has Perry trying to figure out why he likes this kid in spite of his brashness of youth when an encounter with Bloodsport sheds some light. In short, Conner reminds him of the spirit of Metropolis and the potential it can hold for those that live there. In short, Perry doesn’t know if he’s Superman returned, but he does know he’s a perfect hero for his city, The Metropolis Kid.
Rounding out the flashback stories is “Betrayal”, written by Dan Jurgens while also providing breakdowns, with Brett Breeding doing finishes and Elizabeth Breitweiser on colors. This story deals with how Hank Henshaw dupped the world as Cyborg Superman and addresses The Daily Planet’s endorsement of Cyborg Superman via Ron Troupe’s article in Superman #79. It also summarizes the finale of The Reign of The Supermen with Clark’s return and Henshaw’s defeat.
All the flashback stories are lettered by Richard Starkings which adds a to feeling they’re being told by the same person. Denis Rodier also provided additional inks throughout the special. This issue then wraps up with a pinup gallery by Jackson “Butch” Guice & Glenn Whitmore, Jerry Ordway & Glenn Whitmore, Daniel Sampere & Alejandro Sanchez, and Pete Woods.
Marrying the past with the present clearly shows how far these characters have developed over the decades. The Return Of Superman 30th Anniversary Special also acts as a nice retelling of The Reign of The Supermen event that brought Superman back from the dead. The creators show their love of their work with several visual easter eggs and story elements for fans familiar with the original story that doesn’t detract from the new material presented. All in all, This issue is fun and engaging for new and old fans alike.