Warning: Minor spoilers and plenty of speculation ahead for Action Comics #964, on sale today, and beyond.
Today's issue of Action Comics may provide a key clue as to just what is going on with the "human Clark Kent" introduced during June's "Path of Doom" storyline -- and it may tie not only into a previous theory we had presented here at ComicBook.com, but also to a story from the 1990s.
Let's take a look, first, at the solicitation text for Action Comics #964, on sale today in print and on ComiXology:
"WHO IS CLARK KENT?" part 2! Superman comes face to face with Clark Kent, and he wants answers! But first the Man of Steel must protect his former alter ego. Clark Kent tells all in this shocking issue! And don't miss the return of a ghost from Smallville past…
So what does "Clark Kent" reveal? And who is the ghost from Smallville's past? We believe the two may be connected.
First off: two weeks ago, we introduced the notion that Mr. Bandu, the man in charge of Geneticron, may in fact be the father of Savitar Bandu, better known as the short-lived Superman supporting character Shadowdragon.
Created by longtime Superman inker Brett Breeding, Shadowdragon at first appeared to be a Deathstroke-style super-soldier but later turned out to be something more: a master martial artist who wore a tech suit with microweave circuitry that enhanced his strength, speed, and agility while also providing him some cool tech toys to play with, offering him invisibility among other things.
What's interesting -- especially in the context of the new Clark Kent showing up at the same time as this new "Mr. Bandu" -- is that Shadowdragon's biggest role was in a storyline called The Death of Clark Kent, which centered on the idea of Superman's identity being jeopardized when a supervillain got his hands on it.
Specifically, Shadowdragon -- whose father was the king of the fictional country of Bhutran -- existed primarily as an information broker. He would steal intellectual property and then give it to companies in Bhutran to help the small, largely-impoverished country remain competitive in the global technology marketplace.
In The Death of Clark Kent, he stole a great deal of data on Superman from a number of sources -- enough to piece together that Superman was Clark Kent -- and provided that information to Conduit, a then-new Superman villain with a mean-on for Clark.
It seems, then, very interesting that a man who may be the post-Flashpoint reinvention of Savitar Bandu's father is apparently running a company with deep ties to this new Clark Kent. Kent claims to have been investigating Geneticron when the New 52 Superman told him that his (Clark's) life was in danger, and that he needed to go into hiding and allow Superman to stand in for him for a while.
The company, as confirmed in this week's issue, were hiding Doomsday in their "secure vault" before he was sprung at the start of Jurgens's Action Comics run and went on a rampage. So clearly they've got secrets, and maybe even some ties to the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe.
Meanwhile, Conduit get a name-drop of sorts this month -- probably the first such reference made to him in many years (he hasn't appeared since his death in 1995, but was referenced in Blackest Night).
Conduit was Kenny Braverman, a friend of Clark's from childhood. Growing up in Smallville, Kenny could never seem to measure up to Clark Kent. Whether it was athletics -- in the post-Crisis, pre-Birthright DC Universe, Clark's powers didn't fully manifest until he was an adult, and so he participated in athletics -- or academics, Kenny was no Clark Kent -- something that his domineering and abusive father used to impress on him regularly.
"My friends, like Pete Ross, Kenny Braverman, and Lana Lang..." begins Clark as he extols the virtues of Smallville in today's issue of Action Comics.
So...Kenny Braverman is a character who exists in this version of Clark's past.
In the post-Crisis timeline, Kenny grew up, and eventually developed Kryptonite-based powers as well as physical disfigurement. At first he was content to work for the government, using his powers to benefit American military interests, but eventually he washed out of the military and the CIA due to mental problems and became a supervillain.
Kenny had been irradiated essentially at birth. Born the same day as Superman, Kenny was delivered while a meteor shower passed overhead, never knowing until much later that it was in fact Superman's rocket falling to Earth in Smallville.
Blaming Clark for all of his problems, he set out to kill the mild-mannered reporter...which turned out surprisingly difficult to do, since Superman was always nearby, ready to lend ol' Clark a hand. Eventually, Shadowdragon would provide Conduit with the information necessary to connect the dots, and Conduit lost it. Convinced that Clark had been using his powers to cheat Kenny out of his hard-earned victories for all those years, he became even more enraged and set about trying to ruin Superman's life, making attempts on the lives of Lois Lane and the Kents, burning the Kent farm to the ground, and kidnapping Jimmy Olsen.
All of this built to a climax where Conduit forced Superman to fight him to the death inside of a replica of Smallville, complete with realistic automatons that looked like their childhood friends and cheering section made up of robots of Kenny's father.
While it's not explicitly stated, it seems likely that Kenny Braverman is the "ghost from Smalllville past" referenced in the issue's solicitation text.
In Action Comics #964, we see a mysterious man in a baseball cap fighting off Geneticron goons and setting some kind of device -- a bomb? A recording device? Something else? -- in their labs. His appearance comes, perhaps not coincidentally, one page before Clark Kent dishes on his past and mentions Kenny Braverman.
This isn't the first time we've seen the man -- although we still haven't really got a good look at his face. The man in the cap was seen -- sporting roughly the same color hair that Kenny Braverman used to have in the '90s and wearing a thick beard that might obscure his disfigurement -- in Action Comics #963.
You can see him twice in that issue -- first, he's watching Clark Kent's press conference, at which he tries to convince the world he isn't Superman. Later, he's outside Geneticron when Clark is about to fall to his death and is rescued by the Man of Steel.
So...for some reason, this man in the ballcap is following Clark Kent, not Superman. Absent any other "ghosts of Smallville past," he seems the likely candidate.
And absent any other clues as to who or what might be haunting Clark from his Smallville days, we're going to go ahead and guess that the man in the cap is Kenny Braverman. Given his relative obscurity and the fact that both Pete Ross and Lana Lang have already been referenced and/or accounted for in the post-Flashpoint DC Universe, it seems likely his name was put there in that caption box for a reason.
And, really: in a story all about Clark Kent (not Superman), what are the odds that both Savitar Bandu and Kenny Braverman would be name-dropped if there wasn't some at least tangential tie to The Death of Clark Kent, the only story the two appeared in together and the only major story that Shadowdragon was ever a part of?
It also seems worth noting that Kenny created a town full of lifelike automatons in his '90s appearances, and that one of his other major appearances -- cover pictured in the gallery attached -- was during the Dead Again storyline, in which the recently-resurrected Superman finds a seemingly-authentic Superman corpse in his tomb and has to make sense of the "extra" Superman while trying to find its source.
You can see the image gallery attached for a number of shots of both the man in the hate and Kenny Braverman as Conduit in the '90s. Bear in mind that if he does re-emerge in the post-Rebirth DC Universe, it's very likely he will get a visual overhaul and may not look exactly like this.
If it is Kenny, what his exact agenda is -- is he trying to kill Clark? Is he trying to protect him? Does he know Clark's secret? -- is unclear.0comments
Heck, even if it isn't Kenny, the exact agenda of the man in the cap is unclear.
Pick up Action Comics #964 to see for yourself, and see if you can figure out any details we might have missed! Let us know in the comments whether you think this man in the cap could be Kenny Braverman, Savitar Bandu, or someone else entirely!