DC has been putting the current leading bearer of the Superman mantle, Jon Kent, in the spotlight in recent weeks through a public examination of his sexuality and romantic life. At the same time, his dad, Kal-El, is departing for the dangerous and deadly Warworld - a planet-like space station populated by the worst warriors and criminals around - with his new team the Authority in tow.
And as all this is going on, DC is also updating Superman's classic slogan from the phrase "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" to "Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow," showing the publisher has a keen forward-looking eye when it comes to the Man of Steel.
With Jon Kent left behind as Earth's protector while Kal-El departs on a mission to depose the deadly Mongul, alien overlord of Warworld, DC also seems to be foreshadowing a more permanent shift in Superman's status quo - both for Jon Kent and his dad.
But what's actually coming for Kal-El, and how does his fate play directly into his son's career as Superman? And more importantly, how does DC seem to be setting up the future to repeat the past with a rehash of one of Superman's darkest days?
DC has been dropping some big hints about what to expect, and we think we have an idea where Superman's status quo may be headed - and you better believe it's a doozy.
What's going to happen to Kal-El Superman?
OK, we'll say it right off the bat (no pun intended): it looks like Superman is going to die in 2022, with Kal-El returning to the 'great big Fortress of Solitude in the sky,' and Jon Kent taking his place as the DC Universe's main (and perhaps only) Superman.
What leads us to think that? Well, DC has practically been telegraphing Kal-El's fate since all the way back in March's Superman #29.
In that story, 'The Golden Age Part One,' Jon and Kal-El aid STAR Labs in sealing a dimensional breach in space that puts out energy which harms Kal-El, but not Jon. It seems the breaches are being opened by none other than Amanda Waller, who is gathering data on Kal-El's weaknesses.
Jon warns his father that, while he was in the future with the Legion of Super-Heroes, he learned of his father's death, and that it would have something to do with the dimensional breaches.
However, Jon is able to protect his father from the final breach, which he believes is meant to cause Kal-El's death.
This leads Jon to question his father's fate - though there's a lot more to suggest Jon wasn't wrong about Kal-El's ultimate fate, even if he wasn't quite right about its cause.
Not least of these clues is the villainous Mongul noting that Kal-El "is dying" as he observes the two Supermen in the aftermath of the battle in which Jon predicted his father would fall - but more on Mongul in a moment.
What's the deal with Jon Kent Superman?
More recently, Kal-El left Earth behind, assembling a new Authority team to travel to Warworld and depose the space station's despotic master, Mongul. In his wake, he left Jon to be the Superman of Earth, giving his son his blessing as a hero - though Jon has already felt the struggle of trying to live up to his dad's legacy.
That said, DC seems to be setting up Jon as a long term replacement for Kal-El, at least on Earth.
The publisher has been putting more and more spotlight on the burgeoning Man of Tomorrow (maybe the most relevant of Kal-El's classic monikers, in Jon's case), first by highlighting Jon's blossoming bisexuality in mainstream media, which immediately sets the younger Superman apart from his father.
And of course, during DC Fandome, the publisher officially changed Superman's motto from its most widely recognized version of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way," to "Truth, Justice, and a Better Tomorrow" - a slogan seemingly designed specifically to match Jon Kent's superhero philosophy of trying to materially improve the world in ways only someone with the powers and profile of Superman can.
Jon will also put a new twist on one of his dad's classic rivalries in the upcoming Superman: Son of Kal-El 2021 Annual, in which he squares off with Superman's iconic archenemy, Lex Luthor.
All of this seems to be setting up Jon Kent as the true inheritor of his father's legacy as Superman, similar to the way Wally West became the permanent Flash when his uncle Barry Allen died in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
And not for nothing, Jon and Wally recently connected, with Wally offering to mentor Jon as the successor of one of the world's greatest heroes.
What is 'The Warworld Saga'?
Speaking of Superman's classic enemies, DC recently lent even more credence to the ominous nature of Kal-El's fate with an early look at pages from November 12's Action Comics #1036, the issue that kicks off Superman's mission on Warworld.
The publisher's accompanying text with the preview pages calls back directly to the last time Superman died, painting a fairly vivid picture of what readers should expect.
"['The Warworld Saga'] will likely be Superman's biggest, most challenging battle since he first crossed fists with Doomsday," DC warns. "And it's one that the future-visiting Jon has warned he won’t survive. (We weren’t kidding about that Doomsday comparison, folks)."
That seems to be DC flat-out admitting that they're about to kill the Kal-El Superman, harkening back to Jon Kent's future knowledge of his father's death - and even directly invoking Doomsday, the villain who killed Kal-El way back in the mega-popular 1992-93 event 'The Death and Return of Superman.'
And on that note, DC seems to be saying-without-saying that they'll be acknowledging that story's 30th anniversary in 2022, even stating in the Action Comics #1036 preview that 'The Warworld Saga' will be "one of the biggest Superman stories in decades."
Three decades, to be exact?
Maybe less directly important to note, but still somewhat interesting, is that the last time Superman led a coalition of heroes in taking on the entirety of Warworld was in the story 'Panic in the Sky' - the event that preceded 'Death and Return' in the first half of 1992, meaning that next year is also the anniversary of this lesser-known story.
And in that story, another Superman adjacent hero, the alien warrior Draaga who wore Superman's symbol in tribute to his ally Supergirl, died to save the Girl of Steel's life.
What's next for Superman?
'The Warworld Saga' is kicking off almost exactly one year since Phillip Kennedy Johnson, who writes Superman and Action Comics, began laying out how big the impact of the event will be since it was first teased back in December of 2020.
"It's no exaggeration to say it will change Superman's status quo forever and have a lasting impact across the entire DC Universe," Johnson said of the then unrevealed 'Warworld Saga' arc when he was first announced as taking over DC's Superman titles.
"Stay tuned, you will NOT want to miss what’s coming."
So how will Superman die? Since we don't have access to the LoSH's 30th Century history books, we can't say for sure.
And though our powers may be more in line with Batman's vaunted deductive reasoning than any kind of actual future sight, we think our detective work speaks for itself on this one.
It might just be time for us old-timers to dust off our black Superman armbands from when he died 30 years ago - and maybe all the speculation copies of Kal-El's original death sitting in dusty basements might just rise in value a few pennies each.
As DC gears up for the next epic event focusing on the Man of Steel, it's a perfect time to look back at the best Superman comic stories of all time.