Superman: Exile is a Superman storyline that ran through 1987.
During The Supergirl Saga, Superman was forced to break his one rule and execute three Kryptonian criminals. Despite Superman's best attempts, he couldn't put the act behind him - having attacked Brainiac in rage, scared out of his wits by his own mortality and being haunted by terrible nightmares wouldn't let him. Ultimately, during the Dominator invasion, Superman began sleepwalking—or rather sleep-vigilanting—as Gangbuster. Rattled by this revelation, Superman was going crazy and he couldn't trust himself anymore. After a few preparations, Superman made the decision to exile himself from Earth to protect the planet from his unpredictability. However, doing so would lead to a number of revelations for the Man of Steel, in particular his past.
This story would mark a number of first appearances, including the Post-Crisis first appearances of Mongul and Warworld, the first appearance of the alien warrior Dragga and the first appearance of the Kryptonian artifact the Eradicator. Part of this story would be adapted in the Justice League two-parter "War World".
This storyline provides examples of:
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Brainiac's powers evolve greatly during his Convenient Coma caused by the Gene Bomb.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality:
- The most "charitable" interpretation of Hfuhruhurr's philosophy, as he argues that bringing people together in the union grants eternal life, never acknowledging how some people might not want to give up their bodies to become stuck in jars for all eternity.
- While Mongul himself is just evil, Draaga's only real conflict with Superman is due to their contrasting codes of honor, as Draaga values honorable combat but his belief in the value of a warrior's death conflicts with Superman's refusal to kill.
- Book Ends: The first part of the storyline was called "Superman in Exile". The final part was titled "Superman on Earth".
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: When Superman faces Hfuhruhurr, he is outraged when the Word-Bringer doesn't initially remember their previous encounter on Earth.
- The Chosen One: It is revealed that Kal-El was the only Kryptonian who could leave Krypton because Jor-El had done work on his own genetic structure to ensure that his child wouldn't be born with the defect that prevented other Kryptonians from leaving their planet.
- The Exile: Superman, natch. He does so out of fear of his own sanity.
- Four Lines, All Waiting: Good grief, this story has them. Between Supes' time in space, the Intergang attacks, Matrix wandering Metropolis. There's even a sidestory where Luthor tries to get control of STAR Labs.
- Hallucinations: Superman experiences these when his oxygen supply is damaged during his flight through space.
- He Knows Too Much: Morgan Edge has Intergang put out a hit on Clark Kent after information about the group gets out before he left. They end up murdering some poor schmoe breaking in the same time the hitmen did and it's only after Matrix's appearance as Clark that everyone calms down. At least until Edge's boss, Darkseid, takes matters into his own hands.
- He's Back!: Superman's return to Earth is celebrated by many. Even Luthor realizes that a world without Superman is quite boring.
- Hope Spot: One issue sees Superman arrive on a lifeless planet with fields and plants that he can farm, intending to set himself up on this planet to live in isolation using his farming experience from childhood. However, after he spends a week or so tilling the land and preparing a small house for himself, this plan is ruined when the planet’s ecosystem is revealed to exist in a vast cycle where terrible storms basically destroy the existing environment and leave more barren dirt behind afterwards. With his X-ray vision confirming that this is a regular part of the planet’s life cycle, Superman leaves once again, bitterly musing that he should have known this ‘perfect’ landscape was too good to be true.
- If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him!: Averted in regards to Superman's choice to kill the Kryptonian criminals from an Alternate Universe. When the criminals promise to find their way to Superman's universe and do the same thing, he feels he has no choice except, as the representative of justice on the planet, to execute them through kryptonite exposure. When he gets back home the next story arc has him suffering a Heroic BSoD as he deals with the choice he made. As he explains to the alien Cleric near the end of the story, he comes to realize he didn't have a choice: he wanted to Take a Third Option, but realized that no court on Earth would even try them and even if he could have, they would have broken free and destroyed that Earth as well.
- Mark of Shame: Unlike the animated Dragga, who carves out Superman's shield on his chest to remind him of who refused to give him a warrior's death, the comic version of Dragga finds and wears Superman's shirt instead.
- Mr. Exposition: The Cleric provides this for Superman when he reveals some of Krypton's past, even revealing just why Superman was the only Kryptonian able to escape the planet's destruction.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The Cleric's efforts to liberate clones on Krypton led to the opposing faction using the Eradicator to contaminate all Kryptonian DNA so that they would be unable to leave their planet, forcing the Cleric to watch his Kryptonian followers die when they left to find a new world.
- My Greatest Failure: Superman and the execution of the Kryptonian criminals, the Cleric with causing the deaths of thousands of Kryptonians unwittingly.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: Basically applies to the man who broke into Clark's apartment and was killed by Intergang forces in his place. Small-time private detective Matt Stockton, hired by former LexCorp scientist Amanda McCoy, looked enough like Clark to pass for him in a dimly-lit apartment while he was wearing a heavy coat and hat.
- Powered Armor: Jose Delgado dons one in the style of Gangbuster as part of his recovery. However, the powered armor he receives from LexCorp puts him under the control of Lex Luthor until Professor Hamilton finds out how to extract the chip that gives Lex remote control.
- Self-Imposed Exile: This whole storyline is about Superman choosing to leave Earth because he thinks he's a danger to others after he was forced to kill for the first time. The Cleric helps him accept that he only went that far because he genuinely had no other choice in that situation, and it's time for him to return home as the champion he truly is.
- Space Whale: What Superman finds himself inside during one of his jumps through hyperspace, as he notices what appears to be a section of space without stars full of floating corpses.
- Take a Third Option:
- After Superman defeats Hfuhruhurr, he realises that he isn't sure what to do with his foe, as he obviously doesn't want to kill Hfuhruhurr but he can't imagine any court that would convict him. Hfuhruhurr's new creation, Eon, offers an alternative, the Union using Eon to keep Hfuhruhurr in check and prevent him from bringing any unwilling "recruits" into the Union.
- At one point, Superman and the Cleric talk about whether he could have done something other than kill the Kryptonian criminals. Superman reflects that he could have just left them to die on that now-dead Earth, or he could have taken them back to his own universe to stand trial, but in the second case, much like with Hfuhruhurr, Superman couldn't imagine how they could be convicted in any court given the unprecedented nature of their crimes. Even if he had attempted either option, Superman reflects how he couldn't be sure that Zod and the others wouldn't be able to find some way to restore their powers and come after him again.
- Time-Passage Beard: Superman grows one during his time in space, which he shaves off near the end of the story arc with the help of the Eradicator device.
- Worf Had the Flu: By the time he's captured by Mongul's slavers, Superman has exhausted most of his solar energy reserves, making it easier for Mongul's forces to capture him and leading to Mongul proving more of a challenge in a fight than he would have done.
- Xanatos Gambit: Luthor pulls one of these in the "Hostile Takeover" storyline in order to obtain STAR's psionics labs
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: The Cleric basically gives Superman this speech to help him get over his grief at the deaths of the Kryptonian criminals, assuring Superman that his only sins were in the cause of justice and he genuinely had no other choice but to kill in that case.