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The Blackest Night Falls: Kal-L

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“They will descend upon our worlds to claim the loved ones we have lost.  They will forever hunger for those that still feel and live.  And if the universe is to survive, willpower and fear must come together because…across the universe, the dead will rise…”

With the Blackest Night descending, BF looks at one of the first Black Lanterns – Kal-L, the Superman of Earth-2

Black Lantern Superman

Kal-L, soon to be the Black Lantern known as Superman, first appeared in the pages of Justice League of America #73 (August 1969).  He also, according to most people, made his debut in Action Comics #1 (1938).

Yes, with all of DC’s rewriting of their chronology, this one is a pretty tangled mess.

Early in DC Comics’ Silver Age of superheroes, the company introduced the idea of an alternate reality – Earth-2 – where all of their characters from the 1930s, 40s and early 50s had their adventures.  For heroes such as The Flash, this meant they each had a distinct, separate Earth-2 counterpart.  For a long while, this worked fine, but as the fan culture around comic books evolved, there were some big questions regarding DC’s chronology.  If “our” DC reality had Barry “The Flash” Allen and Earth-2 had Jay “The Flash” Garrick, what did that mean for characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman (the handful of superhero characters who continued to have adventures published consistently through the break between the Golden and Silver Ages of comics)?

Justice League of America #73 introduced Kal-L, the counterpart for our Kal-El.  As such, Superman’s adventures from 1930 to approximately 1957 were assigned to Kal-L (who adopted many of the until-then-never-explained continuity inconsistencies from the character’s early days). 

Kal-L’s costume was modeled more closely to the one originally designed by Joe Shuster.  Rocketed to Earth from a doomed planet of supermen, Kal-L was brought up in the 1910s by John and Mary Kent.  Incredibly strong and able to leap great distances, Kal-L was raised as Clark Kent, an earnest young farm boy.  The first inkling of his greatness came when a dimension-hopping young man named Superboy appeared at the Kent farm sometime in the early 1930s (New Adventures of Superboy #15-16, March-April 1981).  Motivated and trained by “our” Superman’s younger self, Kal-L decided to use his powers to fight for truth, justice and the American Way.  Following the death of his adoptive parents, Kal-L moved to Metropolis where he began his costumed career as the vigilante, Superman.

After Superman’s high-profile debut in which he made a last-minute save of an innocent man sentenced to death, Clark Kent used his write-up of the story to land a reporting job at the Daily Star (Action Comics #1, 1938).  Also working under Star editor, George Taylor, was aggressive career woman - Lois Lane.  An aspiring reporter herself, Lane was instantly attracted to the mysterious and powerful Superman.  At the same time, Kal-L was drawn to Lane’s strength, but the meek façade he displayed as Kent kept her attention firmly fixated on the Man of Steel.

The Man of Tomorrow

Initially, Superman’s crusade found him tackling social problems of the 1940s including spousal abuse, corruption and slum lords.  As his powers gradually increased, so to did the caliber of his foes.  The first of his two most significant rivals came in the form of the Ultra-Humanite (Action Comics #13, June 1939).  A criminal genius with an amazing grasp of technology, Ultra-Humanite perished during his first conflict with Superman, but returned on several occasions, his brain installed in various new bodies.  Kal-L’s other major rival, was Alexei Luthor (Action Comics, #23, April 1940), a red-headed evil-scientist, bent on taking over the world.  Considerably more vicious and less moral than “our” own Lex Luthor, Alexei was not above attempting to incite a war or murder to obtain his goals.

For years, Superman continued his crime-fighting adventures, usually on his own, but occasionally as a reserve member of the Justice Society of America (DC Special #29, August 1977) and All-Star Squadron (All-Star Squadron #3, November 1981).  In the late 1940s however, Superman disappeared.  Due to the magical manipulations of the Wizard, Superman was removed from existence – although Clark Kent remained.  During this time, the Kent façade grew into a confident personality, leading his career to grow and a romantic relationship to develop between him and Lois Lane.  Lane and Kent were married, and it was not until their honeymoon that Lois discovered that Kent was, if fact, the missing Man of Steel.  Upon her return to Metropolis, Lane located the Wizard and had the spell reversed.  Kent’s memory was restored and Superman returned to Earth-2 (Action Comics #484, June 1978). 

  

Much of the next block of Kal-L and Lois’ life was told in the pages of Superman (up to #329, November 1979) and Superman Family (#s 195-222, June 1979 to September 1982) in a featured titled “Mr. and Mrs. Superman.”  At this point, Kal-L was depicted as being older than “our” Superman, now beginning to grey at the temples.  During this time, Clark Kent became the editor-in-chief of the Daily Star, replacing George Taylor (Superman Family #197, September 1979).  Superman moved into semi-retirement at this point, occasionally adventuring with the Justice Society and serving as a mentor to Power Girl, his cousin from Krypton.  He also participated in a significant adventure that partnered him with Superman from Earth-1 and Alex Luthor of Earth-3 (where heroes are villains and vice-versa) against Lex Luthor, Alexei Luthor and Ultraman (Earth-3’s Superman) in DC Comics Presents Annual #1, 1982.

Twilight Years

During Crisis on Infinite Earths, Kal-L was one of the major players in the fight to prevent the Anti-Monitor from destroying all reality.  During a conflict at the dawn of time, DC’s history was re-written, with all of the parallel Earths collapsing into one.  Earth-2, along with Lois Kent, was erased from existence, with Kal-L once again becoming the sole survivor of his home (Crisis on Infinite Earths #s 10-11, January-February, 1986).  At the climax of the Crisis, it was Kal-L who stood alone against the Anti-Monitor.  At the last moment, Alexander Luthor (son of Earth-3’s Luthor) appeared, revealing that he had been able to save Lois Kent from the erasure of Earth-2’s existance.  Accompanied by Superboy-Prime, these refugees from realities that had never existed disappeared into a nirvana dimension to live happily ever after (Crisis on Infinite Earths #12, March 1986).

It would be over a decade before Kal-L’s next appearance.  During The Kingdom mini-series (February 1999), writer Mark Waid re-introduced and reworked the concept of DC’s parallel universes.  In the prologue, Waid teased at A Superman trapped in a dimension that turned out to be more of a prison than Heaven.  In the epilogue, the character in questions was explicitly revealed to be Kal-L, now having found a measure of peace with the realization that there WAS a way out of this reality – but that he wasn’t going to use it just yet…

It would take a new crisis, Infinite Crisis (2005-2006), to finally push Kal-L to escape the paradise dimension into the current DC Earth.  Distraught over the failing health of his wife, angered at the dismal state of affairs in the reality he had sacrificed so much to save and manipulated by a deranged Alex Luthor and Superboy-Prime, Kal-L smashed his was free of the dimension to take an active hand in restoring “his” reality.  Alex eventually succeeds in re-creating Earth-2 (actually a mere shadow of it), and shunts Kal-L and Lois Kent there.  Kal-L is dismayed to learn returning his wife to her home has no effect on her ailing health and she dies in his arms (Infinite Crisis #5, April 2006). 

  

Following a conflict with our reality’s Superman, Kal-L realizes that Alex and Superboy-Prime have used him, as they pursue their own selfish goals at the expense of all reality.  Joining forces with Superman and the DC heroes, Kal-L arrives too late to prevent the death of the “true” Superboy and the collapse of Alex’s artificial infinite Earths into yet another redefined reality (Infinite Crisis #6, Mar 2006).  Even with Earth’s history subtlety redefined and the birth of 52 parallel universes, the threat of Alex and Superboy-Prime were not yet over.  Alex leads a literal army of villains against the Supermen in Metropolis, while Superboy-Prime left Earth intent on destroying all reality.  After helping lead the heroes in turning back the villains, Kal-L and Superman pursued Superboy-Prime across the universe.  The duo eventually catch him, flying him through the heart of a red sun.  The three Kryptonians crashed to the surface of the planet Mogo, stripped of their powers by the red sun rays.  In the ensuing battle, Superboy-Prime savagely beat Kal-L to death, before being defeated by Superman. 

In his final moment, Kal-L realizes that the memory of Lois and himself will transcend even death, a subtle reminder to readers, that in fiction, great stories never disappear.  With the name of his wife passing his lips, Kal-L of Earth-2’s Krypton died. 

In the aftermath of the Crisis, Lois and Kal-L’s remains were returned to Earth, laid to rest under unmarked graves…

….

…until the Blackest Night fell….

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Comments

  • Eric Lindberg

    Eric Lindberg Jul 15, 2009 at 3:52am

    Nice job, Fletch. I never knew the bits about him meeting a time-traveling Superboy or the Wizard erasing his memories for a while. Very informative.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Jul 15, 2009 at 6:56am

    Eric - I said exactly the same thing about the SUPERBOY story to Fletch just after I edited this one. Gonna have to grab those issues next time I do some online back issue buying. Great article as ever Fletch!

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