DC’s quartet of graphic novels collecting the early 1990s Death of Superman saga concludes here. When serialised DC kept the suspense up for almost a year, introducing possible modified versions of Superman in Reign of the Supermen. The title tells us that Superman is back, but is it as one of those substitutes? Well, the answer to that comes in the first few pages, so it’s no spoiler to reveal the Superman that returns is pretty well as he ever was. The clever part of the plot concerns who the others are, and their motivations.

The real Superman awakens recovered to a world where the claimants to his name are involved in scenes of destruction and carnage endangering the public, some more deliberately of ill intent than others. As with the previous book, the earlier printings of this collection left out two annuals. Beyond including those who would be Superman they’re largely irrelevant to proceedings, concerned more with introducing new characters in the hope they’d take off, and Loose Cannon, introduced by Jeph Loeb and Lee Moder briefly did. Think of him as DC’s Hulk.

Around a third of the way through the backgrounds of everyone are clear, but there’s a lot more explaining to do as the plot complicates further, and the sheer amount of words is immense by modern standards. They lead to crowded and ugly looking pages, even with Dan Jurgens (sample page), co-writer and one of the better artists drawing them. And talking of ugly, the returned Superman enters the mullet era, which was always a mistake.

More so than any book since the opening volume of this saga, there’s a continuous story (interrupted by the annuals). It’s superhero comics, so understandable that the plot continually inflates, but the assorted writers take it too far and spread it too wide in attempts to vilify the villains of the piece. The cast crossover into Green Lantern’s title to destroy his home town, setting in motion years of that character being abused, and although there are some surprises, the primary tension is generated through shock after shock. Eventually the story begins to drag, with too long spent artificially prolonging the climax. The best of the book is two well conceived final chapters. These not only tie up all loose ends by visiting everyone who’s played a substantial role in this and the previous three books, but have some innovative moments, not least a step into the occult.

Overall, however, The Return of Superman fails due to a creative staff not knowing where to draw the line, and that’s a shame. For considerable passages it’s dull or mindless, and in places plain poor. Anyone wanting to follow the continuity of the revived Superman should pick up Bizarro’s World, and anyone preferring most of the saga contained between two hard covers is directed to The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus.