When DC tweaks its comic book universe during this summer's Rebirth event, it's expected that what results will pull from the best of the present universe, the pre-"New 52" universe and the film and TV universes — all boiled down to the "core" of the characters and concepts that fans know and love.
This comes less than five years after the universe was rebooted in a line-wide renumbering and relaunching of all DC's titles in September 2011 — the "New 52." As we remember the bright and dark spots of the "New 52" timeline and say goodbye to the current status quo, Newsarama is looking at the key characters from within the "New 52" and how their stories shaped the universe.
What If You Missed the "New 52"?
If you missed or skipped the New 52," you would have missed the de-aging of Superman that happened when DC abandoned its high numbering on Action Comics and Superman to relaunch both titles.
Giving the character a new costume that eliminated his red trunks, DC reinvented Superman to be a younger character who only recently became a superhero — in fact, he was one of the first to be noticed publicly in this relaunched universe.
But this Superman is no longer squeaky clean and kind. As his new series launched, Superman not only fought against criminals, but passionately fought against any injustice — even if it meant breaking the law, battling a corrupt government, or losing his temper with the police.
Action Comics writer Grant Morrison said at the time that Superman's new attitude was a reflection of the modern world. "Nobody has much faith in their elected leaders in the same way that they did," he said. "We all have a lot more cynicism and a lot more doubt about the people who are running our lives than we did when Superman was a 'Boy Scout.'"
The "New 52" version of Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent, has also lost both his earthly parents before he gets a job as a reporter in Metropolis — meaning Superman doesn't have the elderly Kents urging him to make nice with the world, Morrison said.
And although Clark had married Lois Lane in the pre-"New 52" continuity, the new Clark Kent is a bachelor again, and their story debuted with Lois dating another man and working as a rival journalist.
"We wanted to have that sense of isolation that might come with being an alien among men," explained DC Co-Publisher Dan DiDio at the time. "The two choices that were made, with both his parents being dead and not being married, isolated Clark a little bit more, so that he really had to do more exploration about mankind. There wasn't that one strong human tether that he was bonding with and learning through."
Dating and Doomed
That isolation didn't last long, as 2012 had Superman dating someone else in the DCU — Wonder Woman.
In Justice League #12, Wonder Woman and Superman began a relationship, something that had been hinted about for a few issues. Not long after, DC launched a Superman/Wonder Woman title that explored the pair's relationship — showing them going on dates, visiting their hometowns, and discovering both their similarities and differences.
One of the first challenges for the new couple was an attack by Doomsday — a "New 52" version of the villain that had formerly (in previous continuity, mind you) killed Superman.
This time around, the attack from Doomsday took a different form, as it infected Superman. Clark spent the summer of 2014 turning into a form of himself DC called "Superdoom," a monstrous version of Superman mixed with Doomsday. So although Clark Kent got the girl — and was coupled with Wonder Woman for much of "New 52" continuity — their relationship began with him looking not very pretty.
That's not to say that Clark didn't develop a relationship with Lois Lane. Despite Wonder Woman being his official bae, Lois has been a part of almost every Superman storyline, playing the role of supporter and friend.
During the "New 52," DC launched an Earth 2 series that introduced readers to the "New 52" version of Earth 2 Superman — briefly, however, because that character soon died (and then turned evil — that's another story).
However, the original, older, wiser version of Earth 2 Superman — in the "New 52" — was revisited when the Clark Kent of the main "New 52" Earth was briefly united with his Earth 2 counterpart during a Batman/Superman storyline.
There's also Earth 3 versions of the characters in the "New 52" — namely, Ultraman and Owlman — who fought the Justice League during an event called Forever Evil. The Earth 3 characters are part of the current Justice League storyline, "Darkseid War," and may play a role in moving the "New 52" toward its Rebirth refinement.
And then in 2015, DC opened the door for infinite numbers of Supermen, during the Convergence event. Soon after, DC launched a title that actually stars another version of Superman — the one from before the "New 52," who is married to Lois Lane and has a son, Jonathan Kent. He's still part of the "New 52," but he works in secret to fight against crime, often trying to prevent the emergence of the villains he knew in his old universe.
Since the "New 52" version of Superman appeared in 2011, he's been getting more abilities. For example, when he debuted in Action Comics, he couldn't quite fly yet, but instead leapt tall buildings with a single bound. Eventually, he's gotten most of the abilities for which Superman is known, including super-strength, flight and X-ray vision.
But perhaps the greatest leap forward came when Superman gained a whole new power — a Solar Flare. In Superman #38, when the character pushes his heat vision to its limit, he unleashes a massive amount of solar flare that, according to Batman, was stored in every one of his cells.
This superpower eventually led to the character losing some of his powers — and eventually, thanks to a coordinated attack by Vandal Savage — Superman lost all of his powers.
In June 2015, as DC launched brand new storylines and titles, it was revealed that Superman's secret identity had been exposed — by Lois Lane, no less. Eventually, readers found out that Lois only did it to try to save Superman's life.
Superman was driven out of Metropolis, he was fired from his job, and he even changed his secret identity (using the name "Archie Clayton"). Even his relationship with Wonder Woman was put on hold.
"What we on the Superman team wanted to do was strip Superman down to his essence," explained Superman writer Gene Luen Yang in December 2015. "What we want to do in all these issues, in all the Superman books, is talk about what Superman is at his core — even apart from his normal supporting cast, even apart from the power set that modern audiences associate with him. What is he at his core?"
By the time the "New 52" concludes this spring, the character will — not surprisingly — get his powers back. But the Superman team has spent many issues stripping away most of what readers would find familiar about Superman's world, from the absence of Supergirl, to the character leaving Metropolis, to his lack of a journalism job.
The "New 52" might be coming to an end — or at least a point of morphing into something new — in June's Rebirth, but we expect that Superman's journey to his "core" will continue. In April and May, DC is publishing a new storyline titled "Super League" that appears to heighten the more familiar elements of Superman's world, which will probably be the direction of his comic books come June.