This one starts with Superman out in space, coming across a weird energy phenomenon. He checks it out (by flying right through it) and determines it’s no threat to any nearby systems, so he heads back to Earth. On Earth, Lois Lane is on a plane heading for her new assignment in the Middle East. Lois contemplates the new status of her relationship with Superman, wondering if she pushed him away by asking for a deeper commitment, then admitting to herself that she’s been putting her own life on hold to chase him for years, so maybe it’s time she made herself the priority. In downtown Metropolis, a digger breaking ground for a new building when it hits something made of metal. Superman returns to the Galaxy Building but his usual changing spot (the storeroom) is occupied by Perry White, who seems to have something troubling him. Supes zips around to change in Clark Kent’s office, but Lana Lang is there leaving a rose on Clark’s desk. Superman heads up to the roof to change and almost runs into Morgan Edge, who’s telling Steve Lombard his ratings are down and he’d better shape up or he’s fired. Superman changes to Clark and slips inside the building, but overhears Lana talking about a giant metal robot that’s just emerged from a construction site downtown. Clark heads to a supply room to change, but there’s a couple making out inside, so he’s forced to change in the stairwell. He zooms downtown to tackle the giant robot, which is stronger than he expected. He drags it up into the sky where the robot blasts him with plasma. Superman hears a plane in trouble nearby and prepares to use his heat vision to melt the ice off its wings. Before he can act, the robot flies up and melts the ice with a shot of plasma, saving the plane. Superman wonders why a robot that’s fighting him would take time out to save a plane, but he doesn’t have time to figure it out. He leads the robot into a cloud and freezes it solid with super-breath, but he’s in the flight lane from the airport and the airborne iceberg almost hits another plane. Superman pulls the iceberg out of the way and the robot busts loose and disappears. Turns out it hid on the wing of the plane until Superman left, then just dropped down to the ground. At WGBS, a shifty-looking delivery guy drops some flowers with the Daily Planet’s new cub reporter (Justin Moore), telling him to deliver them to Lana. When Justin gives them to her, Lana assumes he’s the guy who’s been sending her anonymous flowers and love notes for the past couple weeks and tries to have security throw him out. Jimmy clears things up, introducing Lana and Justin (who tells Jimmy to ditch his plaid suit and get some corduroy). This sub-plot with Lana getting love notes sounds like it’s been going on for a while, but this is actually the first mention of it. I’m surprised she doesn’t jut assume the flowers and stuff are from Clark, since they’ve been getting closer lately. Speaking of Clark, he’s in a phone booth (ha!) talking to an anonymous source. There’s interference on the line and Clark spots a loose connection in the handset with his x-ray vision. He’s about to fix it with his heat vision when the robot shows up again and vapourizes the phone booth, pulling Clark into the air. He quickly changes to Superman and goes after the robot, which has taught itself to speak. The robot (named Robrox) grabs Superman and flies with him to the moon. Robrox says it was placed in stasis millennia ago in anticipation of a threat that could wipe out all life on Earth. That threat is apparently Superman, which Robrox says it’ll demonstrate. It throws an old lunar module at Superman, who blasts it with his heat vision. That sets off a lethal charge of radiation, which envelops the moon. Robrox says Superman’s heat vision was affected by the space anomaly he flew through earlier and if he’d used his heat vision on Earth, the radiation would’ve wiped out the entire population in seconds. That’s why Robrox attacked each time Superman tried to use his heat vision. Superman realizes it can’t have been an accident that his heat vision was corrupted, and suspects the Superman Revenge Squad laid a cunning trap inside the energy anomaly. Robrox keels over and tells Superman it used all its energy fighting him, so it’s “dying” now. After Robrox expires, Superman buries it on the moon and wonders about the far-seeing race that created it so long ago. On Earth, Lois approaches her final destination in in the Middle Eastern desert and hopes her assignment goes as planned.
This one starts with Superman testifying at a parole hearing for Neutron (who he fought back in issue 525). Superman says Neutron is a menace to society and should be kept locked up, but Neutron’s lawyer argues that Neutron got his powers by accident and is already suffering, since he’s trapped inside his containment suit. The parole board decides to be lenient and releases Neutron, though Superman’s still not happy about it. Neutron shakes Superman’s hand, but naturally he’s planning revenge. In the Middle East, Lois has lined up interviews with two leaders in the troubled area. (The leaders are called Ali Kyamm and Ben-David, and the countries are never named, but they look a lot like Arafat and Begin.) Lois first meets with Kyamm, but he’s changed his mind about the interview, saying he won’t be associated with a warmongering dog like Ben-David. Lois is disappointed, since getting interviews with both men would be quite a coup. She meets with Ben-David next, who’s eager to speak to her, but he gives her a list of demands that Kyamm will almost certainly reject. (Kyamm can’t use Ben-David’s name when talking with him, he’s not to answer any questions that Ben-David’s government hasn’t approved, and any promises Ben-David makes are non-binding.) Lois goes away even more disappointed, wondering if she should’ve stayed in the States. Back home, Clark and Lana are on a romantic carriage ride in the park when there’s an explosion nearby. Clark uses his super-vision to see Neutron wrecking a building and wonders how he can get away from Lana to change into Superman. But Lana’s already out of the carriage, ready to track down the exclusive story. Clark changes and tackles Neutron, who warns him he’ll be sorry if he stops him from demolishing the building. Superman does stop him and Neutron becomes pure energy to escape. Superman creates a vortex that knocks Neutron out and takes him to the nearest jail before returning to WGBS to see Lana. Clark runs into Perry White, who’s in a shitty mood (as usual lately), this time because his computer lost a story he was working on. Clark asks about Lois’s assignment and Perry tells him it’s stalled, so Clark decides to head over as Superman to talk to Lois. She’s glad to see him and when she mentions she’d like a break from the heat, he takes her to the north Pole. Superman talks about the beauty of nature and how much he loves Earth and Lois asks why he doesn’t just use his powers to end the Middle East conflicts. Superman says he’s not a god, so he can’t use his powers to go against human nature. If he did, it would be a slippery slope and he might end up telling people what to do, how to live, what political party to vote for. Lois says his judgment is good but he reminds her he’s not infallible, so his opinions are no better than anyone else’s. Lois says if she had his powers she wouldn’t waste time fighting guys like Luthor, she’d use them to actually make a difference. Obviously they’re not going to agree on that, so Superman takes her back to the Middle East and zips home to Metropolis. He’s shocked to see Neutron isn’t in jail; instead, he’s wrecking another building downtown. Superman tackles him and they start fighting, but Superman’s surprised when the onlookers (including Jimmy and Lana) act like he’s the one doing something wrong. Another reporter (Stasson, from the Daily Eagle) starts talking shit about Superman saying he’s power-mad until Jimmy tells him to shut the hell up. Superman wraps Neutron in his cape, but when Inspector Henderson shows up with Neutron’s lawyer, things get dicey. Apparently, Neutron was hired to demolish the buildings by the owners, so Superman was interfering with Neutron trying to make a living. Superman is taken aback and the lawyer says they might sue and that they’re contemplating a restraining order. Neutron gives Superman his card, which says he works for the Abraxas Corporation. Superman realizes he’s been made to look like a reactionary asshole (again … Savage set him up to look bad last issue as well) by Vandal Savage, the head of Abraxas. Superman goes to see Savage, who admits he’s decided to use technology as a means to gain power. Savage taunts Superman with his success in making him look bad, saying Superman can never be sure if Savage is doing something legally or not, so he’s screwed no matter how he reacts. Superman gets pissed off and melts half of Savage’s office and Savage points out that he’s getting to Superman, since he’s never been so casually destructive before. Superman flies off, with Savage’s mocking laughter ringing in his ears.
This one starts with Superman (who looks like a hippie with long hair and a full beard), wandering through a post-apocalyptic Metropolis wondering what the hell happened. He runs into some Atomic Knights in armour who tell him the city was wiped out in the Great Atomic War of ’86. When the Knights realize who Superman is, they start giving him shit, asking why he didn’t stop the nuclear war. As their faces distort and their accusations get stronger, Clark Kent wakes up from his nightmare, wondering why it all felt so real. Later that day, Clark reports on a mix-up with some false alarms putting the United States and the USSR on high nuclear alert. It was sorted out before any missiles launched, but Clark wonders if the near miss has anything to do with his dream. Superman goes to his Fortress of Solitude to check his computer, which should have sent him an alert about the nuclear foul-up but didn’t. He knows the American and Russian computers have been having strange screw-ups lately, and now his super-computer isn’t working right either. He hooks himself up to the computer to check it, but gets a blast of electricity that knocks him for a loop. When he comes to his senses, he seems to have traveled to the future again. He runs into the same group of Knights, but now they’re quite friendly. They introduce themselves as Gardner Grayle, Wayne and Hollis Hobard, Douglas Herald, and Douglas’s sister, Marene. Grayle tells Superman they’ve been rebuilding in the six years since the War and shows off their community of Durvale. Grayle also introduces Hercules, who Superman’s met before although the Greek hero doesn’t remember that. Superman wonders if he’s dreaming again or if he’s really in the future, but before he can figure it out, the Knights are told of a nuclear monster rampaging through New York. Grayle tells Superman that New Yorkers were devolved to cavemen by the nuclear fallout, but the Knights managed to get through to them and bring out their innate humanity. While the Knights rescue the people, Superman tackles the radiation monster, wondering how it could have mutated so big in only a few years. Grayle warns Superman the monster might have kryptonite powers, which Superman thinks is impossible for a monster spawned on Earth. But the monster does have kryptonite and blasts Superman, which leaves Hercules and the Knights (riding on mutated dalmatians!) to bring it down. Superman confronts Grayle with all the inconsistencies of the world: total devastation from the War, but the people have plenty of supplies and the city is fairly intact; no radiation sickness in the populace and not even a hospital in case someone did get sick; rampant mutations in only a few years, including a monster with kryptonite breath … none of it makes sense. Grayle freaks out and throws Superman into a wall. Superman wakes up on the floor of the Fortress and realizes he was dreaming again. Superman isn’t sure whether or not his dream might be foretelling Earth’s future, but he recognized Marene Herald as a psychiatrist at STAR Labs he once met. He goes to see her and asks about the Atomic Knights and Gardner Grayle. Marene says she’s never heard of them, but Superman finds evidence that Grayle was a soldier who she evaluated a while back. Apparently Marene’s memory was blocked and now that Superman has broken the block, she remembers Grayle. She says Grayle was part of an experiment to test how an average soldier would react to a post-nuclear world; Grayle was put in a sensory deprivation tank and hooked up to an advanced computer, so maybe he’s still in there. Marene guides Superman to a top secret military base where her old key-card almost gets them blown up. Superman rips the door off and they find Grayle still in the sensory deprivation tank. There’s a simulation of his thoughts on the computer screen that shows Grayle and the other Atomic Knights in post-nuclear New York. Marene says the human mind has the potential to evolve great mental powers, so maybe sensory deprivation allowed Grayle to evolve those powers in his own mind. The horror of nuclear war was too much for him, so he projected himself into the role of hero instead of helpless observer. Superman figures Grayle’s new mental powers must be tapping into other computer systems, altering things to make the nuclear war simulation come true so Grayle can be a hero. The rational part of Grayle’s mind knew it was wrong, so it drew Superman into the fantasy, but kicked him out when he started questioning things. Superman is ready to disconnect Grayle from the computer before he starts a real nuclear war, but Marene says that could ruin Grayle’s mind completely. Before Superman can decide what to do, a bunch of giant robots (which look like knights in armour) come in to stop him. The robots were apparently built to survive a nuclear war and help the survivors in the aftermath, but Grayle has taken them over and invested them with the personalities of himself and his fellow soldiers. Superman fights the robots, which are tougher than they look and can shoot red sun radiation. Marene figures she better disconnect Grayle from the computer, but the robot with Douglas Herald’s personality grabs her and tries to kill her. Superman points out to Grayle that the other robot is going to kill Marene, the woman Grayle is in love with. The two robots start grappling, though technically, Grayle is fighting himself, since the robots are all just manifestations of his personality. The Grayle robot tells the Douglas robot to stop, since he’s about to kill his own sister. Marene knows how to get through to Grayle and tells him he has to face the truth … she’s Douglas’s wife, not his sister. Grayle freaks out and the robots malfunction, but Grayle’s mind instructs the computer to call a nuclear strike. Superman reprograms the computer at super-speed, stopping the countdown just in time. Grayle wakes up and feels like an asshole for almost starting World War III. We get a bit of editorializing at the end, as Grayle goes on about how learning to live with nuclear war isn’t the answer; the right thing to do is not to have the war in the first place. But in the 80s, nuclear war was a constant possibility, so Grayle wonders if humanity is smart enough to avoid it.
- I guess at least some of this stuff is referring to the Hercules Unbound series which was set in a post-apocalyptic future, but this story seems t be saying that was all in Grayle’s mind, so maybe it’s supposed to render that series apocryphal? I thought the Atomic Knights were linked with Kamandi’s future somehow, but Kamandi is wiped out by the Crisis anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter much if the Hercules series is “real” or not.
This one starts with Travis Morgan, his daughter Jennifer, and Shakira going back through the magic mirror to return to Skartaris’s present from the Age of the Wizard Kings. Jennifer gets back to Castle Deimos just fine, but Morgan and Shakira take a wrong turn at Albuquerque and end up on the surface world … in Sydney, Australia. They try to find some more appropriate clothes, but Morgan soon realizes something’s wrong; the city is basically deserted. The do run into some punks who try to mug them, but Shakira changes to cat-form and slices one guy’s face while Morgan blows another dude away. He tells the last punk (a woman) to drop her gun and get her wounded friend out of there before he wastes them both. As they stumble off, the wounded guy says Shakira doesn’t look like a “mutie”. Morgan figures they must be in Earth’s future, probably after a nuclear war. He tries to explain nuclear bombs and fallout to Shakira, but she has no frame of reference. Morgan hopes they can get back to Skartaris through the South Pole, but isn’t sure what they’ll be returning to, since time passes so differently between Earth and Skartaris. They trek south across Australia, encountering aborigine tribes and dust devils in the deserts. But surviving here isn’t much different than surviving in Skartaris; one uncivilized place is a lot like another. Eventually, they run across horse tracks and since the horse is shod, Morgan figures they might finally be close to civilized people. They track the horse to a farm and are wondering if they could “borrow” a couple of horses, when the farmer shows up with a shotgun, hoping to kill a couple of muties.
- When Morgan first tells Shakira they’re on the surface, she says “It’s been so long I’d forgotten”, which suggests she’s been there before. That’s a surprise to Morgan (and us, since it’s never been mentioned before).
Barren Earth – “Into the Lizard Camp” – Gary Cohn/Ron Randall
Last issue, Jinal and Skinner kidnapped Mangle, the chairman of the council, from the city where Skinner’s fellow humans have been living. Now they’re in a Harahashan (who the humans refer to as Lizards because of their reptilian appearance) camp to kidnap one of their leaders too, so they can get the two leaders together and hopefully stop the fighting between the two factions. Skinner speaks Harahashan, so they sneak in disguised as Lizards. Jinal tells Skinner that the Harahashan are actually humans who have mutated to survive in the harsh deserts that now cover Earth. The Lizards discover them and they start fighting, doing pretty well since the Lizards are sluggish I the cold night air. But they’re overwhelmed by sheer numbers and the Harahashan drag them to the leader’s tent. The same Harahashan who rescued Jinal a few issues ago recognizes her and asks why she’s there. She decides to be honest and says they’re there to kidnap him to try and end the fighting. The Harahashan says if she wanted to talk she could’ve just asked and Jinal admits that never occurred to her. The Harahashan agrees to accompany her, but Skinner has to stay behind as a hostage; if they’re not back by dusk the next day, Skinner’s dead meat. Jinal takes the Harahashan to where they stashed Mangle, who’s not happy to see his kidnapper consorting with a Lizard. Jinal reminds them that their fight is over water, a precious commodity in the desert. But she says Earth used to have plenty of surface water and she and Skinner know what happened to some of it; they stumbled across it while escaping the giant badger a couple issues ago. She leads them to the underground cavern she and Skinner found, which is filled with water.