Or – “I Hear There’s This Movie Thing…”

As often remarked on the Major Spoilers Podcast, I don’t necessarily rush out to see any movie, even those based on the comic books that I enjoy.  As such, I often hear all about the films long before I check them out myself, such as with the recent release of ‘Man Of Steel,’ whose plot-points have caused many fanboys to name-check a certain 25-year-old Superman issue.  Quarter-century old comics?  This looks like a job for ME!  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!


Trying to tie up loose ends.
John Byrne art at the peak of his powers.

Justifications that are unneeded.
Frickin’ Matrix Supergirl.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆



Superman22CoverSUPERMAN #22
Writer: John Byrne
Artist: John Byrne
Colorist: Petra Scotese
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Mike Carlin
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: 75 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $4.00

Previously in Superman: There were decades of stories, years upon years of divergent continuity, a Legion of Super-Heroes from the future, a dog, a cat, a monkey a fish, all with super-powers.  (The fish was interesting.)  That all ended with the Crisis on Infinite Earths, as the history of the entire DC Universe was rewritten, and Superman changed accordingly.  Under the stewardship of John Byrne, Superman entered a new age, but a few questions remained, such as: Who was Superboy?  Through a series of time-manipulations, an ancient evil known as the Time Trapper had created a pocket universe with a younger version of the Last Son of Krypton, a world where the Trapper’s powers reigned supreme.  Now, that world has been destroyed by a trio of villains who escaped from the Phantom Zone, and now Superman has to face an unthinkable choice…


The architects of this world’s destruction are General Zod, Quex-Ul and Zaora, three Kryptonian ne’er-do-wells, none of whom are named Ursa or Non.  This particular lack of research has been all over the internet recently, forgive me for wanting to stab it in the heart repeatedly.  Speaking of lethal intent, General Zod shows his own lack of restraint while engaging a human freedom fighter with an oddly familiar name…


The combined powers of three pre-Crisis Kryptonians also take down Supergirl (a superhuman protomatter creature created by Lex Luthor with the mind of Lana Lang), and brutally murder alternate versions of Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen before Pocket Universe Luthor realizes what the heroes cannot and do not: These villains won’t stop until they are dead.  He sends Superman off to find the abandoned Kent homestead, only for the Man of Steel to discover the hard way how over-matched he really is…


Byrne’s layouts in this issue are extremely confusing to try and decipher, by the way, consists on wide-angle double-page spreads laid out like a stained glass window, making it occasionally confusing how to follow the story.  Quex-Ul, by the way, in addition to NOT being Non, is not a new character, though in the pre-Crisis world, he looked and acted somewhat different.  Either way, the villain chases Superman straight into Superboy’s hidden underground lab, where Supes uses the inside info he got from Lex Luthor to great effect…


GOLD MOTHA#$&@$IN’ KRYPTONITE!!!  For those who aren’t fluent in Silver Age, Gold K removes the powers of a Kryptonian PERMANENTLY, with no known recoveries or replacements.  (Write that down.  It’s important in a minute.)  Sadly, this revelation comes too late for Lex Luthor, the last surviving human being of this pocket Earth, who expires in the arms of a man who looks just like his greatest enemy.  It’s actually quite sad, and leaves the Man of Steel in a very agitated state.  Worse still, after seeing AN ENTIRE WORLD die at the hands of people who are, essentially, him without scruples, Superman is horrified to hear their plans for the future…


… I don’t like where this is going…


Nearly three decades down the line, and I still don’t like that resolution.  I have to hope that it was the hopelessness of the destroyed Pocket-Earth that made Superman react in this manner, but from what I understand from the reactions to ‘Man of Steel’, I’m in the minority.  Zod actually DOESN’T die by Superman’s actions in this story, by the way.  Duplicitious to the core, he tries to turn on Quex-Ul and Zaora, and is strangled to death by Quex-Ul, as both men die.  Zaora expires moments later, after promising to be Superman’s sex-kitten, another moment which is quite disturbing.  The darkness at the core of these characters informs Superman’s lethal decision, certainly, and Byrne does his best to make it clear that they’re stone-killers, irredeemable and untrustworthy, with blood in their eyes and murder in their black, black hearts.  Returning to his home universe with Supergirl/Matrix, Clark is still haunted by the actions he had to take…


The death of the Phantom Zone villains causes this iteration of Superman to lose sleep, though a series of changes in the creative team make this plot-point somewhat muddy over upcoming issues.  Byrne’s seeming intent with this issue was to give a solid rationale to support Superman’s vow against killing, but many fans (myself included) have questioned why such an explanation was necessary.  Indeed, it was only a year or two earlier that DC published the Alan Moore story “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”, widely viewed a the last Silver Age Superman tale, a story in which the taking of a life causes Superman to decide that he must stop being Superman, having broken the one unbreakable vow.  More importantly, the effect of Gold K was repeatedly shown to be utterly permanent (a fact which, admittedly, this Superman couldn’t know), which does undermine, for the informed reader, some of the thought process behind the executions.

Still, what was shocking in 1988 seems quite tame by today’s standards, in a world where heroes who kill their foes are lauded for being more “realistic” and are celebrated for their lapses into brutality.  (Yes, I am talking about Batman, but also Wolverine, Superior Spider-Man, The Punisher, The Authority and dozens, perhaps HUNDREDS more.)  In the eyes of some, this issue is irretrievably awful for its flaws, but I don’t know that I would go that far.  Two universal revamps down the line, and this Superman who kills and angsts over it seems positively quaint and retro, leaving Superman #22 with a mixed-bag 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Byrne’s final issue ends up being emblematic of his entire Superman run, intriguing but troublesome, flawed but good-looking, examining deep themes but ending in a manner both abrupt and frustrating, failing to stick the landing on something that could have been a game-changer.  (Check out this coming week’s Major Spoilers podcast for more on that subject.)

Rating: ★★½☆☆


About Author

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Superman is Moses, right? Moses was a weak man; soft spoken and cowardly. He was anything but a hero. In fact, he killed someone who was threatening the innocent. But when the time came, he was called to be something greater than that. He was supposed to become a leader and inspiration to his people. He grew into that role, rather than simply being born with it. So, with regards to the hard decision that Clark makes in the movie, it merely serves as a signal that he still has more growth ahead of him. The comparison to this comic is a bit unfair, considering that Man of Steel has Clark on his first showdown with super-powered beings and the comic has Superman as a seasoned veteran facing down old foes. The Superman in this comic has much more to answer for.

    • TheWatcherWatchingWatchers on

      Later, in the Bible, Moses brutally murders the little boys his army kidnapped, and gives away the little girls to the men who killed their families.

      God approved. In fact, Moses is only ever punished for also attacking a rock.

      Compared to that nasty piece of evil, this is a children’s bedtime story.

  2. “I’m in the minority.” – Honestly, and without the means of having a scientific poll to gauge reactions, I would conjecture that it’s more a generational split. On one side older fans saying “No way” and younger fans (and some old – like me) saying “No biggie.”
    For me, it’s more “realistic” to accept a Superman who kills only as a last resort – but doesn’t revel in it or murders outright. Unlike our reaction (in the real world) when the news broke that Osama Bin Laden had be killed.
    What he did in Superman #22 had to be done. There is such a thing as unrepentant evil. A lifeless universe? One callously killed by Kryptonians boasting to do it to his universe (there’s even an image earlier in the story line with Zaora crashing into a classroom filled with kids) can you imagine what happened next? And they were (at the time of the comic) still powerful enough, smart enough to find a way to do it? It was a chance he couldn’t take.

      • i keep hearing people say things like youve just said “Superman who kills only as a last resort”. and here is my problem. superman didnt need to kill zod in the movie. it wasnt his only choice. it was a great example of lazy writing. how bout this. zod is about to heat vision innocents, superman who has him in a full nelson lets go moves at superspeed takes the victims 20 miles away them comes back to fight zod. or zod is about to heat vision innocents, superman who has him in a full nelson fligs him into orbit, then we see see superman launch from the ground flying at incredible speed punches zod in the chest and continues at an even fast rate to the moon where he punches zod to its core, zod falls unconsious. later superman throws him in the phantom zone. or lets be simple, superman tilts zods head back so he cant see the innocents and there for cant heat vision them. or superman puts his hands around zods head and covers his eyes. superman didnt need to kill zod, and im not sure if im mad he killed zod or mad that the writer was so lazy.

        • That would be great if the character Cavill was playing was an experienced Superman with years of superheroing under his belt. I respectfully disagree with your premise of ‘lazy writing’ – the reality of the movie was he just began to fly, confirmed his origins and literally out of the blue faced his own super-bretherans and a Zod bred for combat – sorry, but with all that empirical evidence – it ended the way it should.

  3. I remember buying this issue back in the day and thinking it was one of the most awesome issues I’ve ever read. I thought it would have been such a controversial issue but it ended up being overshadowed just a couple of months later by the death of Jason Todd in the Batman titles.

  4. While I’m normally all down for the pickin’ of nits, if they’re still the ‘other two’ of the three Kryptonian villains, does it matter if they’re called ‘Non’ or ‘Quex-Ul’ on ‘Ursa’ or ‘Faora’ … ?

    They’re still the big strong Kryptonian thug and the female Kryptonian with a slight sexual deviancy to her. And, they’re still just Zod’s back-up.

    They’re still the same characters, even if they have different names.

  5. one thing about pointing out that superman may have killed someone in this issue or that other movie ect is that the people who didnt like him killing zod in this new movie probly didnt like those other times he did similar things either.

  6. I picked this comic up back in 88 when it was published. It was one of my favourites then and it’s still one of my favourites. It showed a depth to Superman that we rarely get to see. In his world, every problem has an answer, every puzzle has a non-lethal solution. It was nice to see an instance where that formula simply didn’t work. It was equally nice to see him step up with the courage we would expect to see in Superman when it came time to do the only thing he could. A great story, told well.

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