This article contains Crisis on Infinite Earths spoilers.
“Crisis on Infinite Earths Part Two” introduced us to the Superman of Earth-96, played by Brandon Routh. This Clark Kent is a little older and wiser, having suffered an unimaginable loss. He’s now the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet, displaying the same fondness for brown suits that Routh’s Clark did in Superman Returns. His Superman suit, however, in addition to simply being possibly the best live-action Superman costume ever, is inspired by the Kingdom Come Superman, which brings with it a tragic backstory of its own.
Earth-96 received its numerical designation because Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross was first published by DC Comics in 1996. In that book, the world of Kingdom Come is a slightly more “mature” DC Universe, set in a near future where the Justice League members are older and living very different lives. When it was first published, Kingdom Come was something of a statement on the state of the comics industry at the time, a boom period where new superheroes couldn’t be created (or forgotten) fast enough, each of them armored, cybernetically powered, heavily muscled and/or weaponed, and many with little regard for human life or collateral damage.
At the time, the best thing that had happened to Superman, from a sales standpoint, in years was his death and subsequent resurrection in 1992-1993. But there was an increasing sense that Superman was becoming impossibly old-fashioned, not cool with the kids and not viable commercially within the industry. Kingdom Come took that sentiment and turned it into story.
However, let’s be clear: the Earth-96 as we meet it here in Crisis on Infinite Earths isn’t explicitly the Kingdom Come Earth. There’s nothing to indicate that “traditional” superheroes have fallen out of fashion. Instead, it’s a way for the TV version to pay tribute to the year this important work was first published.
Kingdom Come Superman
In Kingdom Come, Superman has grown into middle age and remains the protector of Metropolis, even as a new generation of increasingly brutal heroes has sprung up around him. Graying around the temples, broader in the torso, and perhaps more powerful than ever before, Superman is secure in himself and his mission, despite the tide of public opinion beginning to favor a newer, flashier, more violent breed of heroes.
But then the unthinkable happens. The Joker leaves his usual stomping grounds in Gotham City and decides to go bother the citizens of Metropolis for a while. And by “bother” I mean he unleashes a gas attack in the Daily Planet offices that leaves 93 people dead, including Lois Lane. Superman captures the Joker, and in the process of bringing him to stand trial, Joker is killed by one of the new heroes, Magog. Superman arrests Magog for murder.He is promptly acquitted, as the public hails Magog as the real hero for his decisive (and final) action. This leads Superman into self-imposed exile.
You can certainly see elements of that in the Batwoman episode of Crisis on Infinite Earths. The Joker (who isn’t named, but it’s clearly supposed to be him) killed dozens of Daily Planet staffers (including Lois Lane) with a gas attack. But this world’s Superman didn’t go into exile, and instead carried on his never-ending battle for truth, justice, and tolerance both in costume and out of it, where he took over as Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Planet. In other words, despite the costume and the similarities to the story, this isn’t explicitly the Kingdom Come Superman.
So who is he?
The Christopher Reeve Superman Returns via Brandon Routh
The Superman that Brandon Routh is playing here is intended to be the version of the character he played in Superman Returns…who was also supposed to be the same incarnation of the character Christopher Reeve played in four films between 1978 and 1987. The first clue is the use of the famed John Williams “Superman March” at key points. While that has popped up from time to time on everything from Smallville to Krypton, it’s more prominent here, and they even use “Can You Read My Mind,” the love theme from Superman: The Movie to introduce this Clark to Elizabeth Tulloch’s Lois Lane.
There are more specific indicators that this is supposed to be in continuity with those earlier films. Earth-96 Superman’s heat vision looks very much like how it appeared in Superman Returns rather than the more ambiguous energy emitted by Arrowverse Kryptonians. Earth-96 Clark, upon meeting baby Jon Kent, says he “looks just like Jason.” In Superman Returns, it was revealed that Clark had unknowingly fathered a child with Lois Lane, and that kid’s name was Jason. Jason would be about 19 now if we’re on the Superman Returns timeline, so perhaps he’s still around somewhere.
But the biggest one for Christopher Reeve fans may be a line uttered after the Earth-38 vs. Earth-96 Superman fight. Earth-96 Supes (holy moley, this is getting confusing) says “This actually is the second time I went crazy and fought myself.” He’s referring to the events of Superman III, nobody’s favorite Superman movie to be certain, but it contains a triumphant moment where the Man of Steel is turned evil by synthetic Kryptonite, before splitting into two versions of himself, with his good side finally winning out. Of course, Superman Returns was intended to only be a vague sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies, essentially ignoring the generally regrettable Superman III and the even more unfortunate Superman IV.
But let’s not worry about that for now. The most important events for the Earth-96 Superman seem to be his origin story and first encounter with Lex Luthor in Superman: The Movie followed by his conflict with General Zod and two other exiled Kryptonian criminals with a vendetta against his father in Superman II. It was in the latter film where he also renounced his Kryptonian birthright and powers (sound familiar?) so he could be with Lois Lane. Presumably, this was when Jason Lane was conceived. He regained his powers in time to get rid of Zod, Non, and Ursa, and then let’s just assume that the events of Superman III and Superman IV took place in fairly short order, before he learned Lois was pregnant. He then left Earth for several years on a quest for his Kryptonian heritage, and came back in Superman Returns. There’s another 13 years of adventures we don’t know about until he recounts the tragic events at the Daily Planet here in “Crisis on Infinite Earths Part Two.”
What About the Comics?
So now that we’ve established that the Earth-96 Superman is a hybrid of the movies and Kingdom Come, there’s still the matter of how he fits into the larger story. The original Crisis on Infinite Earths story framed the Superman of Earth-2, the original 1938 Superman of the DC Universe, as a central character. The Superman of Earth-2 also eventually married Lois Lane, became Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Star, etc. His hair was gray at the temples and his “S” was slightly more stylized to make it easier to distinguish him from his younger Earth-1 counterpart. I won’t spoil anything, but expect the Superman of Earth-96 to have a major role to play in coming chapters. He’s already been identified as the Monitor’s “Paragon of Truth,” but don’t be surprised if there’s more to the story.
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