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Comic Book / The Trial of Superman

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The Trial of Superman is a Superman story arc released between late 1995 through early 1996. Taking place concurrently with the DC event Underworld Unleashed, Superman is abducted by a group of aliens known as the Tribunal, judging Superman on the crimes of his ancestor which would have kept Krypton's natives unable to escape the doomed planet. Finding the charges to be bogus, Superman escapes prison with a group of inmates and goes on the lam, traveling from planet to planet on his quest to find his way home. Meanwhile, Alpha Centurion, Supergirl, Steel, Superboy, and the Eradicator join forces to locate and recover the Man of Steel. Will they be able to save Superman from his fate?

This comic contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Superman complains about being labelled a criminal, his fellow prisoner Leeya, whose species feeds the males to their newborn children, compares her species traditions to that of Superman's ancestor causing Kryptonians to be unable to leave their dying planet. Superman protests that he can't be held responsible for what his ancestors did, only to find himself unable to answer when Leeya acidly asks if that means he thinks that she can be held responsible for what her ancestors believe.
  • Back for the Dead: Minor villain Massacre is reintroduced as another prisoner on the Tribunal's planet and ends up beaten to death. He'd come back in a few years.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Tribunal Prime is the main overarching villain in the story. He assigns the Cyborg Superman to capture Superman, but he turns out to be a Dragon with an Agenda and eventually puts his own plan into motion.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Superman is freed to return home with the "sentence" of carrying out his neverending battle for truth and justice. However, Mope had to sacrifice himself to save Superman, and the stress of the events takes a serious toll on Clark and Lois' relationship, which would contribute to their temporary breakup months later.
  • Death Equals Redemption: Even after learning the truth about Mope, Superman says he ended up dying a hero after giving his life up.
  • Defector from Decadence: Pollux and Ternion gradually start questioning whether they're truly on the right side, both from Superman's conviction of his innocence and Prime's increasing ruthlessness. They eventually turn against him.
  • Deus Exit Machina: Superman's abduction in this story causes him to miss out on the events of the Underworld Unleashed crossover.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • Mope dies expressing regret over his actions and praying that he will fine some sort of forgiveness for his actions as a thief in whatever next life there is, as well as expressing some relief that he was at least able to save Kal.
    • Realizing that his escape attempt has been thwarted and the guards are going to shoot him on sight under orders, Prime calmly accepts his fate.
  • Grand Theft Me: Tribunal Prime takes over the Cyborg Superman's body in his final attempt to capture Superman.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Mope takes Superman's place on the rocket aimed for Krypton.
  • Joker Immunity: Cyborg Superman is last seen getting sucked through a black hole. He'd end up in the Marvel Universe, and return to the DCU no worse for wear following the events of the Green Lantern/Silver Surfer crossover.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Tribunal Prime starts employing increasingly dastardly methods, from employing a known a supervillain known for causing a mass genocide, to mind-raping and taking over the body of said supervillain, and engaging in Cold-Blooded Torture.
  • Karmic Death: Tribunal Prime ultimately ends up being declared guilty by the other two members of the tribunal for his actions and is killed by guards during his escape attempt.
  • Motive Decay: Tribunal Prime gradually moves away from following the Tribunal's decrees and just wanting to finally get Superman killed, no matter what depths he has to sink to. It gets to the point that he starts rooting for the Cyborg Superman to succeed after he takes over the planet, even though if he wins he'll kill everyone there in the process.
  • Red Herring: Throughout the story, Alpha Centurion begins acting suspiciously, and noticeably never appears at times when the Cyborg Superman does, suggesting that he's an alias the villain is using. It turns out Centurion is innocent.
  • Save the Villain: Superman reluctantly saves the Cyborg Superman's life when the defenses of an alien ship nearly kill him, even though doing so leads to his recapture.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: After Tribunal Prime asserts that Superman will still be executed, he finally gets fed up and gives a massive talking down to the Tribunal, telling them they can take their laws and shove it.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: The reason Superman is put on trial in the first place - the Tribunals believe that the sins of the fathers are forever visited on the sons, and so Superman must pay for his ancestor's crime.
  • Time-Passage Beard: Over the course of the story, Superman begins growing Perma-Stubble.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Superman saves the Tribunal's entire planet from extinction? Tribunal Prime simply asserts he's still guilty and will still face execution.
  • Unishment: When the Tribunals finally wise up about how unfair they have been to Superman, they compromise by sentencing him to a life of "Atonement." Namely, since Superman has dedicated his life to the Neverending Battle for Truth and Justice, they order him to continue it, knowing full well that Superman wants nothing more than to do so.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left: When he realizes Pollux and Ternion are serious about his judgement, Prime tries to escape the planet. He doesn't make it.