Two of the biggest mysteries of DC's "Rebirth" have been answered in this week's Action Comics #975 - the identity of the second Clark Kent in the Superman titles, and the identity of one of the prisoners of Mr. Oz's cells.
Spoilers ahead for this week's Action Comics #975.
As revealed Tuesday tacitly by DC Comics, Mr. Mxyzptlk is the big bad behind DC's "Superman Reborn" event, but this week's Action Comics #975 shows that the story of Mxyzptlk 's appearance ties directly in to the mysteries of "Rebirth."
Mr. Mxyzptlk is the actual identity of the doppelgänger Clark Kent - an extra (and kind of odd) version of mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent who's been a mystery since he appeared in Action Comics at the beginning of "Rebirth." Even when Superman scanned this Clark, he appeared to be just what he said - a simply human Clark.
Now readers have learned that human Clark was actually Mr. Mxyzptlk , who had been suffering from a self-imposed amnesia about his true identity. And now that he remembers who he is - and has returned with a vengeance - he's one of the only characters around in current continuity who is aware of Mr. Oz, his ability to grab people out of the timeline, and his prison that Mxyzptlk describes as "nothing but nothingness."
In the last issue of the "Superman Reborn" crossover Superman #18, an inmate escaped from Mr. Oz's "off-the-playing-field" prison. Readers were shown other prisoners (Doomsday, Prophecy and Tim Drake) reacting with joy because, as Tim says, "Someone got out!" Inside the escapee's cell is evidence - carved into the walls - that this prisoner has been waiting for (and expecting) Superman to rescue him.
Meanwhile, in Hamilton (the home of the current-yet-post-Crisis Superman and his family), Jon Kent disappeared after mysterious blue flames engulf him and his house - flames that appeared to be connected to the doppelgänger Clark Kent. This Clark knew all about Superman, his past and even appeared to recognize Krypto - yet he also had the ability to disappear beyond Superman's ability to see him.
When Jon disappeared into thin air, Clark and Lois were heartbroken and unable to do anything about it as Superman #18 ended.
This week's Action Comics #975 is an oversized issue with two stories - one by Dan Jurgens and Doug Mahnke, the other by Paul Dini and Ian Churchill.
The first story starts with Clark and Lois going to the apartment once occupied by the Clark doppelgänger, trying to rescue their son. They discover that this Clark has no belongings, and his kitchen is stocked with only junk food and candy.
Suddenly, doppelgänger Clark appears and is angry, stating that Superman left him "all alone in that cell." And he begins to shapeshift into different Superman villains, trying to get Superman to figure out who he really is.
Finally, Superman and Lois both figure it out - Mr. Mxyzptlk - and readers see the fan-favorite imp from the Fifth Dimension for the first time in the "Rebirth" era (he was last seen in Grant Morrison's "New 52" Action Comics run).
"Since you didn't want to play, I thought maybe Super-Junior would," Mxy says to explain why he kidnapped Jon, promising that the boy is in a "very, very safe place."
Mr. Mxyzptlk tells Superman that, because he forgot about Mxy, he'll make sure that Superman forgets about Jon.
"It'll be as though he never existed," Mxy says with a smile as he disappears.
Superman is angry, but Lois is confused. "What are we doing in your old apartment?" she says. When Superman grabs her and says "we have to get Jon back," Lois answers… "Jon who?"
Mr. Oz Tie-In
The Dini/Churchill story takes place in the "safe, safe place" where Mxyzptlk has Jon. Readers learn that the post-Crisis Superman had shared stories about Mr. Mxyzptlk with Jon when he was younger.
The boy tells the imp that he had called Mxyzptlk the name "Ruppletat," which was his childish way of trying to say "Purple Hat" (as in the man with the purple hat).
Mxyzptlk thinks that nickname is adorable, but then he shares a story of his own - revealing why he's so angry with Superman.
Mxyzptlk says that, "not long ago, although I've kind of lost track of time," he was coming to Metropolis to play with Superman when - "blammo!" - he was caught in a "transdimensional booby trap" set by a character he just calls "him" (although readers are shown that it is Mr. Oz).
Mxyzptlk is thrown into Oz's prison, and the "negative space" there "nullified" his power.
"Your internment here is precautionary," Oz tells the imp. "It's not for what you have done, but for what you might do … You personify chaos in the existence of Superman. Events pertaining to the Man of Steel are transpiring on a course I alone have set. There is no room for deviation. No random element must be allowed to derail what has been put into play."
(This isn't the first time Oz has indicated that he's fooling with Superman's life. Even his language in Superman #32 - his first appearance - indicated that he "taught" "New 52" Superman, and he's certainly been watching his life closely since, sometimes even meddling in things.)
"Thus I have taken you 'off the table,'" Oz says, using similiar language he used when he told Tim Drake he was taking him "off the field." Oz says he intends to release Mxyzptlk "only after my business with Superman is concluded. And perhaps not even then." (So…the "long game" of which Oz has previously spoken does have a goal?)
Why Mxyzptlk's Mad
Mxyzptlk mentions that people will come looking for him - like Bat-Mite ("that little weirdo in the Batsuit") and Ms. Gsptlsnz ("my hot girlfriend") - but Oz says they won't notice him missing because of the endless nature of time in the Fifth Dimension.
But time isn't like that on Earth, Mxyzptlky says, and because Oz "snatched" him on "Day 90" (referring to the forced time period between Mxy-Superman encounters), Superman will surely come looking for him.
But Superman didn't come, and many, many days pass - evidenced by the writing on Mxyzptlk's cell walls - so long that even he doesn't know how long he's been there.
Mr. Mxyzptlk sadly comes to the realization that Superman "didn't care" that he disappeared.
"I was part of it from the beginning," he says. "Well, almost the beginning. The comics, the toys … I was on the cartoon show…"
Jon interrupts the story to question this line of thinking, and through artwork, readers are shown a few Mxyzptlk and Superman iterations - including the round, cartoon version from Superman: The Animated Series (and the square-jawed animated Superman) and even the Lego versions of Supes and Mxyzptlk.
Getting back to the story, Mxyzptlk reveals that, when he came to the conclusion that Superman didn't care, he blurted out "Kltpzyxm" - the magic word that Superman always tricks Mxy into saying so he'll be forced back to the Fifth Dimension.
This time, the magic word doesn't transport Mxyzptlk home, but it does appear to have power behind it - so much power that Mxy uses it to blast through his cell walls and transport himself to Metropolis.
"But the hooded monk was still on my tail, so I ran," he said.
Then he decided to don a disguise based upon "the guy who refused to help" - Clark Kent. And to make it real enough to sell it to everyone - including Oz - he put "the whammy" on himself and became mindwashed enough to forget who he was.
But the gaps in him memory prompted him to investigate things, and that's when the sight of the Kent family brought everything back.
"The whole Superman family, all together… without me," Mxy says jealously.
Mxyzptlk decides to play some games with young Jon, telling him to figure out the one magic word that will take him to his own house. Jon figures out that it's "Tatelppur," which is the nickname Ruppletat backwards. He's right, and he's sent to his home.
But of course there's a twist. Although Mxyzptlk said Jon could "go" home, he didn't say he could "stay" home.
As the issue ends, it's clear that Mxyzptlk intends to continue playing borderline-cruel games with Jon until his father can figure out how to reach him - with his father appearing to be the only one who remembers him.
If solicitations for future issues are to be believed, Jon will survive this encounter. However, Superman's life will be "drastically changed" by the end of "Superman Reborn."
With Mxyzptlk in play, almost anything could happen. He's already made Jon's existence in the "Rebirth" era questionable. He could similarly make people forget that Clark Kent is Superman (since, prior to "Rebirth" his secret identity was public knowledge). He could also fool with the reality of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jon in almost any other way.
But solicitations also indicate that Superman will soon be looking for the entity that "tried to destroy his life" - presumably Oz. So with Mxyzptlk knowledgeable about Oz, and aware that he's fooling with Superman's life, it's fair to guess that Mxyzptlk will tell Superman about Oz's existence and his manipulation of things. And since Superman has already met Oz - in DC Universe: Rebirth #1 - and remembers what he said about him not being what he seemed, that's most likely who Superman and the Super-characters are hunting for in the "Superman Reborn Aftermath."
One other note: If Mxyzptlk has been imprisoned for a long time, could he be the character who was shown way, way back in 2015 during the Geoff Johns/John Romita Jr. run of Superman? In Superman #34 (during the "New 52"), Mr. Oz was shown talking to someone a pair of locked doors. "If I let you out, I'm sure you'd offer an opinion," he says. Because many fans believe Mr. Oz could be Ozymandias from Watchmen (which has been connected to recent time manipulations in the DCU), many people thought the person behind those prison doors was connected to the Watchmen universe. But now, maybe it was Mr. Mxyzptlk all along?