This week's issue of Superman from writer Gene Luen Yang and artist Howard Porter was officially solicited as being about Superman participating in a "superhuman fight club," but to longtime fans, probably a more interesting element of the story is a strange trip down memory lane.
No, I'm not just talking about all the flashbacks. There is a device in the issue through which Yang appears to want to explore what Superman means to different people by looking back at his early days through a number of sets of eyes.
That gives us an opportunity to see a number of things including, yes, a ton of Easter eggs...and we'll get to that in a bit. Probably the most significant -- and certainly the most obvious -- thing takes place in the modern day, as a powered-down Superman squares off against a duplicate of himself...made from sand.
Let's start this one at the beginning.
In 1971, DC Comics had it in their heads that Superman had become too powerful for most readers to relate to and, drawing inspiration from the increasing popularity of Marvel Comics, wanted to scale the Man of Steel down to be a bit more "man" than "steel."
Longtime Superman editor Mort Weisinger had retired and, in the wake of his departure, the men who took his place -- most vocally Julius Schwartz -- wanted to make Superman's mythology a bit less fantastical and "silly." This meant getting rid of things like imaginary stories, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Bizarro, Krypto, Jimmy Olsen's Elastic Lad stories, Lois Lane's Reptile Girls stories and more...including Kryptonite.
In the story, written primarily by Dennis O'Neil, Superman would abandon the oafish and cowardly Clark Kent persona, and would have his powers scaled down by about a third as Superman. The changes didn't take, with readers preferring the "version" of Superman they had been reading for years, and the Schwartz/O'Neil Superman would be largely forgotten. During the battle that ultimately cost him a fraction of his powers, which was against a sand duplicate of himself that was using Superman's own powers against him.
An "updated" version of the story would be published in 1992's Superman Special! by Walter Simonson, one of the last big stories published prior to the status quo-shattering Doomsday!, Funeral For a Friend and Reign of the Supermen storylines. Both versions shared the common DNA of Superman having to use his wits rather than his fists to defeat the Sandman Superman, who was more powerful than he was. In the case of the post-Crisis iteration, Superman used the then-recent trauma of his execution of the Phantom Zone criminals in Superman #22.
SPOILERS for Superman #46 below.
In this week's issue, though, we see Superman use his wits -- and it doesn't work. Rather than successfully turning the Sand Superman's superior firepower against it, the creature bypasses attacking Superman and instead attacks and seemingly kills Jimmy Olsen.
We'll get a solid answer on that -- and see what Superman's response to it all is -- in a month, although it certainly seems as though we've passed some event horizon here. With his identity outed, his legal and financial life in shambles, his powers a fraction of what they were and now his best friend apparently dead, it seems unlikely he can reclaim any sense of normalcy from here.
As they set that in motion, though, the comic's creative team wasn't shy about giving us a guided tour through some of the character's history.
Shortly after his Mythbrawl fight at the start of the issue, Superman's life is see nthrough the eyes of Shahrazad, who see one of his earliest memories -- and one that harkens back to Superman: The Movie.
With, perhaps, a bit of a nod to All-Star Superman when they call the Kents "kindly" in that panel, but that's likely just a coincidence.
Not surprising, really: we've got a generation of creators who grew up on the Donner movies in the same way that many creators of the '80s and '90s grew up on The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves. You could see the Reeves material permeating the Superman titles in the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot, and you're likely to keep seeing bits and pieces of Donner mythology bleeding through to this generation.
Hell, just look at the Supergirl TV show, but that's another conversation entirely.
Before we move too far, it's also worth noting that one of the other Mythbrawl compatants -- Haemosu -- is a Korean sun god. Superman -- an alien who gets his powers from Earth's sun, and who hails from a planet where they worshiped Rao, the Sun God -- having any interaction with Haemosu is likely to be important as the story unfolds.
One complaint in that area is that there doesn't seem to be a ton of conversation or coordination going on at DC at present. Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello are writing Dark Knight III: The Master Race, which basically repurposes the premise of World of New Krypton, but sets it in the Dark Knight universe. Superman is playing with sun gods at the same time Justice League America just wrapped up a Rao storyline.
And let's not even get into the whole question of just what the hell the timeline is supposed to look like, with Superman depowered in 80% of the books but operating normally in JLA and possessed by the New Gods in Justice League.
Anyway, back to the Easter egg hunt, because this is the part where it gets rich.
At a Big Belly Burger in Oakland, one of the most common DC Comics fast food joints, we get a flashback by Jiimmy: Superman takes down a villain who appears to be a post-Flashpoint take on The Puzzler, while Jimmy looks on thorugh the windows of a (different) Big Belly Burger.
And literally every building we see on the Metropolis street outside is named for a notable Superman artist from the past (you can see that above).
Those names, in case you don't know them? Quitely's Emporium refers to All-Star Superman artist Frank Quitely; Swan's Books to legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, whose last work was published in Superman: The Wedding Album and reissued two weeks ago as a 100-page giant branded for Superman: Lois and Clark. Byrne and Ordway would be John Byrne and Jerry Ordway, the artists who launched Superman's post-Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot. Ordway, incidentally, wrote the previous Superman #46.
The absolute crown jewel of the Big Belly Burger Easter egg hunt, though, is the Oakland Big Belly employee of the month: some guy named Stan.
That's right: Stan Lee has a cameo in Superman #46. And it's arguably easier to find than it was in Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
I can't say I'm not at least a little bit disappointed that the employee of the month wasn't longtime DC editor Andrew Helfer, whose bug was the original inspiration for the Big Belly Burger mascot (now retired, sadly, with the new logo and such seemingly designed for Arrow).
A little later, we do get a bit of business in the dialogue, when somebody asks him why the coloring on his S-insignia isn't right and he responds with "It's not an S," just like he said in the Man of Steel movie and just like Kara Zor-El said in the Supergirl pilot.
From there it gets very plotty, and we already covered the Sandman Saga stuff, so there really isn't much more to say...except maybe one thing.
A double-page splash -- the coolest shot we get of Superman in the whole issue -- evokes...something familiar...!
I'll leave you with that.
If you want to get yourself a copy of Superman #46, it's probably available at your local comic shop NOW. Otherwise, grab it on ComiXology.