Superman and Pa Kent battle for their lives in the great beyond, as “Funeral For a Friend” reaches it’s conclusion in Adventures of Superman #500.

Adventures of Superman #500

Writers: Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Karl Kesel, Dan Jurgens
Pencilers: Tom Grummett, Jon Bogdanove, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens
Inkers: Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, Denis Rodier, Brett Breeding
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterers: Albert De Guzman, Bill Oakley, John Costanza

After three long months, Adventures of Superman made its roaring return. Clocking in at an incredible 64 pages (with or without ads depending on the version you bought) of content, this issue came in three versions: a newsstand edition you could find at grocery stores, convenience stores, and the like, a direct market edition only sold in comic shops, and a special platinum edition.

The newsstand edition had a green cover by Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood, with Superman and a fatigue-wearing Pa Kent surrounded by the Cleric, the Eradicator, Blaze, and Kismet. It’s a beautiful cover, but so is the one by the issue’s writer, Jerry Ordway, that was on the bagged direct market edition. That one is a beautifully painted cover of Superman reaching out to Pa Kent, with a removable translucent overlay that peeled off to leave just Superman reaching out to the reader. The big draw of the Direct Market edition was that all the ad pages were replaced with additional cut story pages.

Of course, not even this issue was collected in its entirety in the 2007 omnibus, but the things that were and weren’t included are much more varied than previous issues. While 14 pages are cut from the issue, several of the direct market bonus pages were included for the first time in a collected edition, as they were left out of the original trade paperback.

The issue opens right where Superman #77 left off, with Pa Kent flatlining. We cut back and forth between the emergency room, and what appears to be the afterlife. As doctors and nurses struggle to save Jon’s life, he encounters his son. Clark is led away by two robed individuals and Jon flies after him. Meanwhile, stepping out to get a coffee, Ma Kent is surprised to find that Lois got on the soonest flight she could to be with Martha.

As it has been all along, the Gangbuster plot is the first casualty of the incomplete omnibus. And in fact, this would have been our first ad break if you sat yourself down with that version of the comic, a full-page splash of Jose swinging down from a fire escape. That’s something all the bonus pages have in common: they’re all full-page splashes. This sequence has Gangbuster breaking up a drug deal, and like we’ve seen in previous issues he’s being much more violent than he had been in the past, something that’s been strongly hinted will get him in trouble. And in fact, this time it does, as one of the men he’s attacking is an undercover officer and Jose finds out there’s a warrant out for his arrest. He’s winged by a bullet as he flees and dives into Hob’s Bay in the middle of winter.

Thus we return to the afterlife, and the further into it he goes, the foggier Pa Kent’s memory for why he’s there in the first place becomes. Though the picture is serene, colored in bright overexposed colors, everywhere around him is the death he’s seen in his life. His army unit torn apart in a tropical clearing, his brother Harry after falling into a thresher. Just death everywhere. To prevent him from continuing his search, Jon is attacked by a man with deeply shadowed eyes, who evaporates when he strikes him.

There’s a slight break in this story as we head back to Metropolis, and take three short scenes in the “Turtle Boy” saga. Jimmy Olsen’s been avoiding taping the show. Vinnie Edge asks Cat to get him in the studio, but not before sexually harassing her. Uncle Oswald’s cellmate is watching a rerun of Turtle Boy and gets electrocuted for his troubles. And Jimmy himself is struggling with the knowledge that his two best friends may very well be dead.

Back in the stylized afterlife, the scene shifts to cornfields from the tropical jungle. Jon plummets into a hole, as he did as a child, and is tossed a rope by a spectre that sounds like his long-dead father. But instead of his father, Jon finds himself face to face with Blaze, not quite as defeated as we thought she was at the end of “The Blaze/Satanus War.” She offers Jon help, in exchange for his soul, and he throws himself back into the hole.

It is here that Jon encounters Kismet. Once again Tom Grummett draws some absolutely stunning pages of Pa Kent tumbling through the cosmos that make up her body and head. She clears his head and reminds him of his quest before she blinks him to the afterlife version of Krypton.

It is here that he finally encounters his son again, being carted along by traditionally-garbed Kryptonians while the Cleric that Clark met in space proselytizes. Clark’s cape is draped on the front of his body to mimic the robes of the Kryptonians. As Pa fights to gain his son’s attention, his own perceptions of the Kryptonians change to robed harbingers of death. As several of them hold Jon back, the Cleric’s procession marches on.

Finally, Pa is able to snap Clark from his haze, and he sees the demons for what they are, dragging him to an afterlife to which he didn’t belong. It is here where Grummett delivers two fantastic back-to-back splash pages of Superman fighting back against the wraiths, who have become eldritch nightmares of teeth and tentacles.

As Clark flies Pa away from the light and back to the void that leads back to life, Jon convinces Clark that he can still go back as well. But before they can take the leap together one last temptation appears for Clark, in the form of Jor-El. But in the end, it’s his true father that saves him, and they tumble into the void together.

It is at that moment that Pa wakes up, claiming that both he and Clark have returned. On Lois’s flight home, passengers witness a flying red blur, and she takes a moment to hope, before bringing herself back to earth. However, TV’s in the airport are awash with Superman sightings. One that smelled funny but rescued a kitty from a tree. A smaller-than-expected Superman who rescued a jogger from a cab hit and run. A man who saved a baby from a tenement fire. One who stopped a nuclear meltdown. And finally, one who left a woman’s attacker dead when he saved her. Lois and Henderson visit Superman’s tomb to discover an empty casket, and it looks like Superman has indeed returned.

The issue proper ends with the words “The Beginning.” And indeed it is one, but it is also an ending. After seven years, this would be Jerry Ordway’s final issue of a Superman book for quite some time. He was the only one left from the initial Post-Crisis relaunch and he’d helped to establish the wonderful supporting cast and environment of Metropolis, but now it was time for him to step away. And what a swan song this issue was, a fitting encapsulation of the world he’d helped shape for nearly a decade.

Personally, this issue holds special memories for me, because while I can remember bits and pieces of reading the other issues on the floor of my bedroom, I distinctly remember purchasing this one at a convenience store on the way to our family lakehouse for the first time that year. It was going to be a weekend of working to get the cabin ready for the summer, but I would find minutes to slip away and read this issue over and over again, after all, I was not yet nine years old, so who could really blame me.

And while that is the end of the main story, each of the four Superman book teams also was given four pages to tease their upcoming books. The first is Simonson and Bogdanove introducing a plot with superguns and the albino woman selling them, as a large Black man digs out of rubble. The next is Stern and Guice with a more violent Superman, who stops an attempted carjacker with a heat blast and leaves him broken in an alley. The next is the new Adventures of Superman team: writer Karl Kesel joining ongoing penciler Tom Grummett. Their story is the escaped Cadmus clone, only he’s not yet fully grown: Enter Superboyman. Finally, Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding introduce a Cyborg Superman by having him remove the monument laid for him in front of the Daily Planet. Each of the reveals got a full-page spread and left you wanting more. The funeral was over, the Reign had just begun; and after the long wait for this issue, the next four would all arrive in just two weeks.

Miss any previous entries in The Never-Ending Battle? The early entries can be found at Comfort Food Comics, while more recent ones can be found here at The Beat.