“Ending Battle” (a play on the old phrase about how Superman “fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice,…and all that stuff”), is an 8-part story than ran through the 4 monthly Superman comics that were published in 2009. So it has 4 different writers, Joe Kelly, Geoff Johns, Joe Casey, and Mark Schultz. And four different artists, Derec Aucoin, Brandon Badeaux, Pascual Ferry, and Duncan Rouleau. Normally I’d say that so many different cooks in the kitchen is a recipe for disaster, but each of these writers brings their A-game to the story arc, and it flows seamlessly through each issue from beginning to end. If I didn’t look at the credits, I never would have guessed that it wasn’t written by a single author.
There will be heavy spoilers ahead.
The story arc is essentially the sequel to Joe Kelly’s classic story, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and The American Way?” from Action Comics #775, and helps reiterate why Superman does not kill. Ever. Not Under Any Circumstances. Not matter what “context”.
It begins as an action-mystery tale. Someone is violently targeting all the people who have been close to Clark Kent. First, a couple of supervillains named Master Jailer and Neutron attacked Pete Ross, who is Vice President of the United States (don’t ask), and his wife, Lana Lang (I said don’t ask), at the Washington D.C. Capital building. Superman arrives in the nick of time to save them.
Then a villain called The Atomic Skull attacks Johnathan and Martha Kent at their home in Smallville. Superman shows up and saves them too. Then Clark Kent’s High School football coach is chased by a costumed gang, until Superman shows up and stops them. The supervillain Quakemaster attacks Clark Kent’s dentist, but Superman saves him. The villain Hellgrammite attacks Clark Kent’s College Journalism Professor and, once again Superman saves him just in time. And it keeps going. Clark Kent’s Doctor, Accountant, Optometrist, and the librarian at his local Library are all attacked by Supervillains. Superman always manages to arrive just in time to save everyone, but things get worse when a group of supervillains launches an attack on the Daily Planet building, going after everyone who works there. Superman stops the villains but realizes that his luck won’t hold out forever as the danger seems to be escalating. So he arranges for pretty much everyone he knows and works with to be taken to a secure secret location, where they’re guarded by the superhero STEEL, while Superman tries to figure out who is behind all of these attacks (the villains all just seemed to have attacked the people impulsively, none of them can even explain why they did it).
Superman suspects that it must be Lex Luthor, who, at the time was President of the United States (long story, don’t ask). He finds Lex relaxing at a secret Island getaway, and confronts him. Lex admits that he has recently found out that Superman is Clark Kent, but swears that he is not behind the attacks on Clark’s friends. Superman doesn’t believe him at first, but then the members of THE ELITE, minus Manchester Black, show up, to attack Lex Luthor. Superman stops them, but they reveal that Manchester Black is behind the attacks, he’s been using his mental powers to force them and all the other villains to attack Clark’s friends and family. Now that he knows who is behind it, Superman prepares to track down Manchester Black, and one of the members of The Elites tells him that when he does find him “Do the right thing for once. Kill him.”
The action continues over the next few issues, with superman looking for Manchester Black, and getting attacked by multiple supervillains in the process. A Who’s Who of Superman’s rogue’s gallery makes an appearance. Metallo, Toyman, Silver Banshee, Bizarro Superman, Cyborg Superman, Mongul, Giganta, and many others. Even Mr. Mxyzptlk makes a brief appearance, although he’s not part of Manchester Black’s scheme. At one point all of the power in Metropolis is blown out, and the city is plunged into darkness. Lois takes this opportunity to sneak out of the safe house that she and the others were hiding in and goes back to her and Clark’s apartment. And Manchester Black is there waiting for her.
While Superman is fighting some other villains, we see Black terrorizing Lois, using his mental powers to make her think she’s a little girl getting abused by her father, and stuff like that. After Superman manages to round up all the villains and then finds out that Lois is missing from the safe house, he rushes home and he finds Manchester Black standing over Lois’ dead body.
Black taunts Superman and reminds him how he had the chance to kill him the last time they met, but he didn’t, and that’s why he’s back now. That’s what happens when you won’t kill a villain, they might return. He brags about how while Superman was able to save everyone else, he couldn’t save the one person he cares most about, his wife. He then dares Superman to kill him, and warns him that, if not, he plans to make this an annual event, coming around again and again to kill everyone Superman cares about. He mocks Superman’s moral code, saying it’s easy for a man like him to be all pious and righteous, but that’s not how the “real world” works. Sometimes you HAVE to kill, to protect people. There’s a fantasy sequence over the next few pages, where Superman and Manchester fight, and Superman kills Manchester with his heat vision, but Superman realizes that wouldn’t erase the pain or hate from his heart, and he would just be dishonoring the beliefs that he and Lois have always stood for. He says “Vengeance is not justice.”
Once Manchester realizes that Superman really won’t kill him, even after everything that happened, Lois stands up. She’s still alive, Manchester just used his powers to make her look dead, because he wanted to push Superman to try to kill him, just to prove that everyone will cross that line if they’re pushed hard enough (or, you could say, they would feel that killing is justified if you see it “in context”). But now that he knows that Superman would never cross that line, Manchester realizes that he was wrong and that Superman really is better than him. As Superman and Lois rush into each other’s arms and kiss, Manchester leaves, goes to a hotel and blows his brains out.
Like I said, each writer on this story arc did a great job, and they’re helped by having a great team of artists, there’s not a weak link in the bunch. This series gets a grade of:
I encourage every Superman fan, especially those who support the Man of Steel film, to read it. And then tell me again how Superman HAD to kill, and how that’s a better story than a Superman who sticks to his principles no matter what. Tell me that a story where Superman stands for true heroic ideals, and never compromises his morals, and always finds a better alternative to killing is boring.
Go on. Read it. I DARE YOU.