by Starsky Hutch 76 and Immortalwildcat
Early November, 1985:
From the top of one of Metropolis’ few unscathed skyscrapers, Superman stared out at the street below him through the thick glass of the face plate of his lead-lined armor. Glowing green chunks of kryptonite still dotted the landscape even now. Its dust also still filled the air, though not to the extent it had when Mxyzptlk first dropped the remains of Argo City on Metropolis two weeks earlier. (*) It was still enough to force him to breath the antiseptic air of of his protective suit rather than that of his beloved city.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Phantom Zone: The Final Chapter,” DC Comics Presents #97 (September, 1986).]
He looked forward to the day when he’d be able to leave the suit in his fortress and fly through the sky of his city with the sun on his face. The suit was only supposed to be for emergencies, but that was pretty much every day now.
As his gaze drifted to the sky, he could see the assorted members of the Green Lantern Corps going about the clean-up of Metropolis. But could even their fantastic rings gather every speck of the substance so deadly to Kryptonians when even the very air seemed to be laced with it?
He was broken from this dismal thought by the approach of a large, hulking figure moving toward him. “I thought that was you. Yer not that easy to recognize without the cape.”
“It’s not that easy to miss a man in a lead suit, Kilowog,” Superman said.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Kilowog said. “Especially when it’s got that big S on it. With luck, you ain’t gonna need it much longer, anyways.”
“You have no idea how much I want to believe that,” Superman said. “Or what it’s like having your own city be lethal to you.”
“Most of us in the Corps got no home t’go back to, either,” Kilowog said. “So I know what it’s like to feel isolated.”
“That’s right,” Superman said. “I’d forgotten. I’m sorry.”
“Why?” Kilowog said. “That ain’t yer fault.” He looked out over the landscape and said, “Whew! That poozer really did a number on this place.”
“I know,” Superman said, clenching his jaw.
“I thought the imp was just supposed to be mischievous. This ain’t like no prank I’ve ever seen.”
“He has been cruel at times,” Superman said. “But even then the results disappeared in the end. This time, there was no tricking him into saying his name backwards and sending him home. So everything he did has been permanent.”
“Yeah,” Kilowog said. “First thing we’re doing is tryin’ to clean up the air and get rid of the kryptonite dust, so at least you’ll be able to breathe without a mask. It’s taking forever, but that ain’t the worst part of the job.”
“I know,” Superman said grimly, watching a truck sputter by slowly. “It’s the bodies.” The bed of the truck was packed with unmoving forms dressed in Kryptonian clothing. Their pale, lifeless skin held a greenish tint.
“I never get used to seeing that,” Kilowog said.
“The people of Rokyn will be glad to finally lay their dead to rest,” Superman said. “I’ve contacted Van-Zee, and he said that they’re building a memorial cemetery outside of their capitol for them.”
“It’ll have to be pretty big,” Kilowog said. “Right now, you’ve got a dead Argonite for every live Metropolitan. Pretty soon it’s gonna be more dead, considering how many people’re leaving every day.” He saw Superman grimace and said, “Sorry.”
“The mayor and city council agreed that the only recourse was to prepare them for shipment to Rokyn,” Superman said. “Under a yellow sun, dead Kryptonians don’t burn. Luckily, they’re also immune to most bacterias that cause decomposition.”
Kilowog laid a hand on Superman’s weary shoulder. “How are you holding up?” It was the question he dreaded most.
“I’ve had my fill of death,” Superman said. “Thanks to Mxyzptlk, I haven’t even been able to allow myself to grieve. If it hadn’t been for Superwoman and Lydia-7, I’d be dead myself.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman Family: Recovery.]
“The Supergirl from the far future. She’s here because her cities were destroyed by storms during the Crisis, and she didn’t feel she had anywhere else to go. Kara and I were the only other family she felt she had. I haven’t been able to call her by that title, though. Even if she has as much right to it. She is a painful reminder that Kara is gone.”
“I can understand that,” Kilowog said. They both fell into silence, looking out at the landscape of a city of both the dead and the deadly.