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Comic Book / Two for the Death of One

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"Two for the Death of One" is a Superman storyline which ran from Action Comics #534-541. Marv Wolfman wrote the full story, and art duties were distributed among Curt Swan, Gil Kane, Joe Staton and Irv Novick.

Superman gets suddenly and unwillingly dragged to XIVth Century England by his old enemy Satanis, who was battling his wife Syrene over the Runestone of Merlin the last time Superman saw him. After defeating and capturing Superman, Satanis reveals he was hurled into the past after being defeated by Syrene. Nonetheless, he devised a new scheme to steal the magic of the Runestone. Since he cannot touch the Stone directly because he would get burned to ashes, he will channel its energies into Superman and will take over his body, trusting that Superman will be resilient enough to survive while he absorbs the Stone's power.

Satanis proceeds to filter the Runestone's magic into Superman, but Syrene shows up to claim the gem back before Satanis can possess Superman. Both villains duel over Superman's body, and their magic spells pull Superman apart until splitting him into two Supermen, each possessing the half of their powers. Since the invulnerable Superman is the only one useful to their purposes, Syrene quickly teleports away with him, and Satanis sets to hunt her down after sending the useless twin back to his own time.

Back in the present day, Superman must deal with several threats despite his diminished power, and find a way to return to the XIVth Century. Unfortunately, Satanis has blocked off every avenue of time travel Superman knows of so he cannot interfere. Superman's only hope is finding some way to go back to the past before one of his enemies destroys his other half and claims the power of the Runestone of Merlin.

Tropes found in this storyline:

  • Accidental Pun:
    • The Superman stuck in the present tries to go back to the past via Barry Allen''s Cosmic Treadmill, but it does not seem to work. When Barry suggests trying again...
      The Flash: Once the treadmill's cooled off, we can try again.
      Superman: Thanks, Barry, but no, thanks. It'd be a waste of... time!
    • The Superman stuck in the past has spent some while trying to break the chains Syrene bonded him with:
      Superman: "These chains are starting to break! If I had my super-strength, this would be a... snap!"
  • Artistic License – History: When Superman gets dragged to 14th Century England, one of the villagers he meets wears a horned helmet, even though Dark Ages Vikings never wore horned helmets, let alone Middle Ages Englishmen.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Satanis and Syrene look to become gods by absorbing the powerful energies contained within the Runestone of Merlin. Syrene certainly feels like she is becoming a goddess as leeching off its power.
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Whatever: When both Supermen touch each other during the final battle, the mystic energies they had been irradiated with combine, forming a massive, giant energy Superman who attempts to destroy Satanis.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Satanis and Syrene agreed to a marriage of convenience, but they absolutely hate each other. Their interactions consist entirely of insults, taunts, death threats and magic fights to the death.
  • Badass Boast: Superman delivers one when he is dragged to the past.
    Superman: Your sorcery is good, Satanis, but not good enough. As long as I have my super-powers, magic spells aren't enough to stop me!
  • Big Damn Heroes: Satanis has possessed Superman's body and killed Syrene -or so he believes- and is about to declare victory when Superman's remainder half makes it to the past.
  • Been There, Shaped History: During the final battle, Superman gets smashed against The Sphinx's face, making him accidentally responsible for its missing nose.
  • Breaking the Bonds: The Superman captured and shackled by Syrene is invulnerable but lacks Super Strength, so he resorts to pull from his chains bit by bit until they finally snap.
  • Bring It: As Satanis fights his way into his wife's stronghold, he demands that she stops playing and does her best to kill him.
    Lord Satanis: "I tire of this, Syrene. What other conjurations have you prepared for me? Come on, wife— Do your best and be done with it!" (pause) "Fireballs? Is that your best? This is supposed to represent some manner of threat?"
  • Build Like an Egyptian: As battling Lord Satanis for the final time, Superman gets slammed into the Valley of the Kings. As he flies back to the battlefield, the Pyramid of Cheops is can be seen behind him.
  • Casual Time Travel: A plot point. So that Superman can't travel to the past and interfere with his plan, Lord Satanis sabotages every time-travel method known by Superman: his own Kryptonian powers, the Legion of Super-Heroes' Time Bubble, The Atom's Time Pool, The Flash's Cosmic Treadmill... But there're so many ways to time-travel in 'The DCU'' that Superman eventually finds out about a time machine he knew nothing about: Rip Hunter's Time Sphere.
  • Complexity Addiction: As soon as Syrene absorbs the magic of the Runestone of Merlin, she becomes powerful enough to transform Satanis into a bug and crush him beneath her boot. However, she wants to kill him painfully after making him feel powerless; so she toys with him, gloats, and then summons a rain of meteors.
    Syrene: "Do you know the utter joy of total power? I could turn you into protoplasmic slime if I so wished! But I believe watching you painfully die will be far more satisfying."
  • Deal with the Devil: After being cast into the Hell by Syrene, Satanis makes a deal with the Devil to escape.
  • Doppelganger Link: Superman is magically split into two duplicates who can send telepathic messages to each other.
  • Drunk on the Dark Side: Syrene starts absorbing the Runestone's power and ascending to a higher plane of existence, and she completely delights in the feeling of godlike power.
    Syrene: "The power insinuates my body. And it feels so very, very good. I see things, Satanis, things I've never imagined. Worlds and planes... levels within levels... realities so far beyond any ever seen by man. I see myself a goddess over planets not yet born. It is wonderful, Satanis... inspiring... and almost impossible! All that can be is within my very grasp! All ready to be taken. All ready to be plucked!
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: As dueling with Satanis, Syrene blows up a planet located beyond the orbit of Pluto with but a thought.
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: During the final battle Superman gets blasted across half world and randomly crashes into, of all places, the face of the Great Sphinx of Giza.
  • Enemy Mine: When Satanis realizes his power is not enough to beat Syrene, not even after taking over Superman's body, he asks Superman's subsumed consciousness to awaken and help him fight her.
    Satanis: "It is no use. I fight... But my powers are not nearly great enough! Superman, whatever part of you that can still think and resist... I call to you now! Aid me now, venerable foe— Or both of us shall surely perish!"
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Syrene is a despicable, power-hungry sorceress, but she really loved her father Ambra. After gaining quasi-omnipotence, her first action is to attempt to kill his murderer.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Satanis cannot understand why Superman would use his power to protect innocents instead of lording over them.
  • Evil Gloating: Syrene claims the power of the Runestone and instead of destroying Satanis at once she starts gloating about killing him slowly and painfully while casting low-level spells to play with him. Before she can drop a meteor swarm on his head Satanis has figured out he can survive if he takes over Superman's invulnerable body.
    Syrene: It is over! The power filtering through Superman's body has killed him while making me the greatest sorcerer who has ever lived. And now, my dear husband, to deal with you! My father, Ambra, possessed the fabled Runestone created by Merlin, but you killed him to take the Stone as yours. But before you could claim it and before he died, he sent the Gem hurling into the past. Well, now I have reclaimed my family heritage. The Stone and its powers are mine! And with it I shall kill the man who slew my father!
  • Evil Sorcerer: Lord Satanis is an extremely powerful, power-hungry and evil sorcerer. Over the course of the story, Satanis makes a pact with the Devil himself, kills innocent people because they were kind to him, enslaves a whole village just because he can, and duels with his wife Syrene -another mighty and despicable sorceress herself- over a source of magic power which would let him gain omnipotence and become humankind's supreme ruler.
    Lord Satanis: "Like the gullible fools they are, the people of this village nursed me back to health when they should have killed me as the agent of the Anti-God that I had sworn to become. Only these fools had seen me weak and helpless, and so I paid them back for their kindness... by summoning forth the great poisonous serpents which were mine to control."
  • Evil Plan: Lord Satanis intends to absorb the Runestone of Merlin's powerful magic in order to become omnipotent and rule everything since the beginning to the end of time. But since he cannot touch the Stone, he abducts Superman so he can filter its power through Superman's invulnerable body and into his own. Such an act would kill Superman, but why should Satanis care?
  • Evil vs. Evil: Satanis and Syrene, two evil and power-hungry sorcerers, fight each other over a cosmic keystone.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Lord Satanis was cast out of Hell and into a medieval town after a long battle with Syrene. Being on the brink of the death, he was found and nursed back to health by the townsfolk whom he killed as punishment for seeing him weak. Extra points for summoning poisonous snakes to do the work.
    Lord Satanis: "Like the gullible fools they are, the people of this village nursed me back to health when they should have killed me as the agent of the Anti-God that I had sworn to become. Only these fools had seen me weak and helpless, and so I paid them back for their kindness... by summoning forth the great poisonous serpents which were mine to control."
  • Fighting from the Inside: Satanis, who has taken over the body of the invulnerable Superman, is about to kill the super-strong half, when the Superman whom he has possessed starts fighting him actively. Seeing he cannot use his full power while Superman is resisting him and turning his own spells against him, Satanis leaves his body.
    Satanis: "What? The half of Superman, the one I have possessed— cries out? It's fighting me, resisting me! I won't allow it!"
    Superman: You... cannot stop me! There past... days... I... have been claiming more control..."
  • Fireballs: One of the spells used by Syrene to delay Satanis while she absorbs the power of the Runestone are giant, red fireballs which leave a trail of orange blazes in their wake.
  • Fleeting Demographic Rule: This isn't the first time Superman has been split in two, and it was not the last one: The Amazing Story of Superman Red and Superman Blue (1963), Superman Red/Blue (1997) and Superman Reborn (2017) are some of the storylines which have used and recycled that particular plotline.
  • Get Back to the Future: One of the Superman "twins" remains trapped in the fourteenth century until his other self manages to go back to the past and they merge back together.
  • Grand Theft Me: Satanis takes Superman's body in order to fight Syrene.
  • Historical In-Joke: As battling Satanis in the 14th century Superman is smashed into the Sphinx's face, which makes him responsible for its missing nose.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Syrene casts a barrage of fireballs to stop Satanis from breaking into her fortress, but he deflects them towards the castle's walls. The ensuing explosion causes a gap in the wall, allowing him to step into the place.
  • Just Between You and Me: As soon as Satanis gets Superman magically bound and brought to his presence, he divulges his plan to absorb the power of the Runestone of Merlin by using Superman's body as a superconductor.
  • Just Toying with Them: After becoming an all-powerful sorceress, Syrene sends tongues of flames towards Satanis. Satanis channels them back to her, but Syrene dispels the fire easily and warns she is merely testing him... for now.
    Syrene: But, my dear, I was merely testing you... playing with you... teasing you before I dispense with you altogether!
  • Karmic Death: Syrene tried to invoke it: since Satanis killed her father to seize the power of the Runestone, she absorbed its power to kill him with it. Still, Satanis allies himself with Superman to save his life.
    Syrene: You slew my father to gain control over the Runestone, but now I possess it! The power which you so craved shall now be the very power which kills you!
  • Kill It with Fire: Subverted. Syrene attempts to burn Satanis alive several times, but every time he deflects her attacks while warning he cannot be killed by mere fire spells.
    Syrene: The Stone and its powers are mine! And with it I shall kill the man who slew my father!
    Satanis: Not with flame you won't!
  • Make My Monster Grow: As fighting in a limbo dimension, Syrene makes herself grow until she can hold a planet with both hands.
  • Meanwhile, in the Future…: It happens every time the story cuts between the Superman trapped in the past and his half stuck in the present.
    Narration Box: While, five hundred years before...
  • Medieval Morons: Fourteenth century English villagers are depicted as superstitious dullards who mistake Superman with a demon and shout "Demons!" and "Witchcraft!" every time they see something slightly unusual.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The Runestone of Merlin is a large glowing red gem which is a source of ultimate magical power coveted by villainous sorcerers Satanis and Syrene.
  • Monumental Damage: The nose of the Great Sphinx of Giza gets crushed into dirt during the final battle between Superman and Lord Satanis.
  • Never Found the Body: At the end of their battle, Satanis -still occupying Superman's body- fires an energy blast at Syrene and she disappears without a trace. Satanis is convinced that he has killed her and refuses to listen when Superman tells she is not dead. Later, Superman reveals he tweaked Satanis' spell without him noticing so it sent Syrene to the future instead of destroying her.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Satanis and Syrene's magic war had split Superman into two "twins". When both Supermen face Satanis for the last time, the magic energies surrounding them merge into a giant energy Superman who attempts to kill Satanis. Satanis swiftly destroys the magic monster, but his spell reverts the original one which split Superman in two entities.
  • No-Sell: After absorbing the Runestone's energies, Syrene tries to burn Satanis to ashes. Satanis merely sends her tongues of fire back to her, but Syrene calmly snuffs them out, showing she is just toying with him.
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now!: When Syrene steals untold magic power, Satanis possesses Superman's body to even the odds, and declares nothing can stop him now. Syrene disagrees, though.
    Satanis: "Well, my wife, your plan to destroy me has failed! I not only have my own sorcerous powers, but Superman's invulnerability as well! Nothing can stop me now!"
    Syrene: "We shall have to see about that, Satanis!"
  • Our Hero Is Dead: Issue #539 ends with Clark Kent dead when Syrene exposes his split duplicate to the Runestone's magic. The next issue reveals they were "only" almost dead.
  • Planet Destroyer: Satanis and Syrene were already extremely powerful sorcerers before fighting over the Runestone of Merlin, a source of ultimate magic. After absorbing its power, Syrene becomes gigantic and tries to swallow Earth whole. Previously she blew up a planet beyond the orbit of Pluto and hurled its remains at Satanis.
    Syrene: Behold! I simply reach starward and point to that inhabited planet beyond the orbit of Pluto! Where there has been a tenth world in this solar system, now there are only nine!
  • Plot-Irrelevant Villain: Jackhammer's only purpose is to pad the story by keeping Superman too preoccupied with his antics to look for a way out of his predicament, caused by the real Big Bad, during two issues.
  • Pocket Dimension: At some point, Lord Satanis and Syrene fight in a very barebones pocket dimension created by the latter. It consists of several uninhabited planetoids.
  • Power Crystal: The Runestone of Merlin is a huge red gemstone glowing and bursting with immeasurable magic power. It is coveted by rival sorcerers Satanis and Syrene -daughter of the original custodian-, who seek to gain omnipotence by absorbing its powerful energies.
  • Power Loss Makes You Strong: Jackhammer makes short work of Superman during their first clash due to his lost invulnerability, forcing Superman to rely on his brains to defeat Jackhammer during their rematch.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner:
    • Syrene summons a group of Hell snakes to destroy Satanis, but he slays them quickly.
      Serpent 1: "Your wife wants you dead, Satanis!"
      Serpent 2: "She will do anything to she must to insure her full power."
      Lord Satanis: "The Serpents of Satan! I commanded you once!"
      Serpent 3: "Syrene now controls our destiny!"
      Lord Satanis: (before frying them) "Then your destiny is death!"
    • Superman manages to go back in time and face Satanis, and he opens their final battle with the next line:
      Superman: "Return my other self to me— Now! Or, so help me, I'll see you remain buried!"
  • Punched Across the Room: Superman punches Satanis so hard that Satanis gets buried into the ground, and one mountain crumbles down onto him.
  • Reality Warper: After absorbing the Runestone's powers, Syrene can alter reality.
    Syrene: "Do you forget Syrene's power is beyond imagination? I possess Merlin's mystic Runestone! Whatever my mind conceives— becomes frightening reality!"
  • Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Satanis and Syrene can summon animals, but they only ever summon snakes. Satanis summoned a nest of vipers to kill some poor villagers who offended him, Syrene summoned giant -literally- infernal snakes, and she even transformed the ground under her husband into a humongous snake which swallowed him whole.
  • Required Secondary Powers: Lord Satanis and his sister Blaze are playing magical tug of war with Superman - and accidentally split him into two people, each with only some of Superman's powers. One has flight and super strength. The other has invulnerability. Their magic spell would flood him with enough magical energy to kill him, so they need the invulnerability to process it. They did not need the other one, so they leave him in the present and go back into the past. Now vulnerable, this superman cannot fly supersonic, or lift anything as heavy as a car without extreme pain.
  • Sharing a Body: Satanis takes over Superman's body to fend off Syrene's magic attacks. He does not intend to share his vessel, but when Syrene proves to be more than he can handle, Satanis has no choice but to give Superman's soul partial control back so they can fight her together.
  • Shooting Superman: When Superman lands in the fourteenth century, a group of villagers mistake him for a demon servant of Satanis and try to bludgeon him to death with their construction tools. Seeing it does not work, another villager thinks his whip will succeed where picks and shovels failed, and he is shocked when it does not.
  • Storming the Castle: Satanis forces his way into Syrene's fortress to stop her ritual.
  • Swallowed Whole: During Syrene and Lord Satanis' second battle, the former creates a humongous snake which swiftly and happily guzzles the latter down its throat.
  • Take Over the World: Satanis plans to obtain ultimate magic power and become the ruler or everything.
    Superman: "Another illusion, or are you the real Satanis?"
    Lord Satanis: "Lord Satanis, Superman! The ruler of future-Earth... And soon to be the ruler of all time!"
  • Tempting Fate: After having apparently destroyed Syrene, Satanis declares no one can stop him now, let alone Superman. Cue Superman's remainder half choosing that right time to make his appearance.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs!: Satanis demands to be called Lord Satanis, and he is visible peeved at the fact that Superman clearly cares nothing for his "title".
    Superman: "Another illusion, or are you the real Satanis?"
    Satanis: "Lord Satanis, Superman!"
  • Time Travel: Superman is forced to travel back to the past. Then he is split in two twins, one of which is sent back to the present. The Superman stuck in the current century must find a way to travel back to the XI Vth century before Satanis or Syrene kill his "twin" and gain immense power.
  • Tornado Move: At the start of the final battle, Satanis hurls a barrage of giant boulders at Superman, who has not recovered his invulnerability yet. So, he ricochets the boulders away by creating a whirlwind.
    Superman: "No! Those boulders flying at me— They could kill me! I can be super-strong, but my invulnerability has been absorbed into Satanis. But, if I can create a super-fast whirlwind, use wind-force to ricochet those rocks away before they perforate me— Did it!"
  • Tunnel King: The Mole tries to bring the Daily Planet down by digging through the steel beams supporting the building.
  • Twin Telepathy: As they are split, both Supermen can send telepathic messages to each other.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Lord Satanis never takes Superman or any of his enemies seriously, even though they have prevailed against him over and again. Ironically, he accuses Superman of underestimating him.
    Satanis: "I have not forgotten your powers, Superman, but it seems that you underestimate mine! That is not your first mistake in dealing with me, my mortal friend. But I do promise it shall be your last!"
  • Virtue Is Weakness: Lord Satanis firmly believes that Might Makes Right, and he derides Superman as a fool for protecting people instead of lording over them.
    Superman: You killed them? Just like that? Satanis, you're filth!
    Satanis: Hardly, Superman. I am simply one who acknowledges his destiny. I am one who hungers for power and will do whatever must be done to sate my cravings! But you could never understand that, could you? You possess great powers, yet you squander them away helping mindless dolts who could never appreciate what you do for them.
  • The Worf Barrage: Syrene blows up one planet and hurls the resulting debris at Satanis. Though, Satanis takes over Superman's invulnerable body and easily tanks the meteor storm.
  • You Killed My Father: Syrene is not only driven by her thirst for power. She also wants to become powerful enough to kill Satanis, the man who murdered her father Ambra.
    Syrene: My father, Ambra, possessed the fabled Runestone created by Merlin, but you killed him to take the Stone as yours. But before you could claim it and before he died, he sent the Gem hurling into the past. Well, now I have reclaimed my family heritage. The Stone and its powers are mine! And with it I shall kill the man who slew my father!