When it comes to Superman original artwork, it simply just not come much better than this SUPERB title splash page by comic book legendary artist John Byrne (pencils and inks). This was the third and final part to the thought provoking “Supergirl Saga” for the story entitled, “The Price.” This story is likewise very special and rather rare, due to the fact that it was not only written and penciled by Byrne, but the artwork in this issue was also inked by him as well, finishes which are so seldom found in his vast volume of work. The entire tale, save for this title splash and the last page of the story, was illustrated by Byrne in double page spreads, giving it a very epic and grandiose presentation that testifies to the importance and care for which Byrne expressed in his farewell story for this title.
This sensational title splash features a heroically iconic shot of Superman, the first, foremost and greatest of all superheroes standing tall, stalwart in his full Kryptonian glory. And yet, he stands all alone in silent somber contemplation – a grim resolve upon his brooding visage. Byrne’s unnerving narrative sets the cryptic tone, “The COLD is so INTENSE I feel it even through my invulnerable skin. The SILENSE is so ABSOLUTE not even my Super-Hearing can penetrate it. The cold of deep space. It is the silence of DEATH…” And thus, begins this tale of the desperate war between the champions of life, led by the Man of Steel himself and the denizens of destruction and death – The Phantom Zoners, which consist of native Kryptonian’s General Zod, Quex-Ul and Zaora. Superman, along with Supergirl and Lex Luther, lead the charge against this terrible trio, who had just committed mass genocide by murdering five billion humans. Luther perishes in the conflict and Supergirl is reduced to a helpless form of melted protoplasmic matrix, leaving Superman to stand all alone against three enemies bent on the total annihilation of life and goodness. After stripping the Phantom Zoners of their great superpowers with Gold Kryptonite, Superman, at last realizes what must be done to put an end this terrible threat once and for all, even though the very thought of it is Anathema to him. Standing before his three archfoes, Superman pronounces, “What I must now do is harder than anything I have ever done before. But as the last representative of Law and Justice on this world, it falls to me to act as Judge, Jury…and Executioner.” The Man of Steel then exposes the trio to Green Kryptonite…slaying each of them as they desperately protest, plead and screen in utter terror. And, Superman weeps. Thank God that this entire saga took place in the Pocket Universe.
After burying the Phantom Zoners bodies, Superman returns to the Earth of his own universe with Supergirl and puts her care into the hands of Pa and Ma Kent. Superman then flies off in silent solitude to reflect over these tragic events and what he was forced to do to ensure victory. Byrne ends this saga with Superman’s intimate thoughts, “Strange to think of five billion humans going about their everyday lives, oblivious to the annihilation of their doppelgangers. And strange, too, to know that in their eyes I am still Superman, still untarnished Champion of Humanity. When I know that from now on things can never truly be the same again…”