In 1986, in the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC chose to reboot Superman’s continuity, initially helmed by John Byrne. While this gave the popular Byrne an opportunity to revise Superman’s origins, it also allowed DC the opportunity to remove silly elements from the Superman mythos. Superman was once again “the Last Son of Krypton,” while Superboy, Supergirl, Krypto, the bottled city of Kandor, and other elements were removed altogether. The result was a Superman whose stories were still often silly but whose origins were more respectably science-fiction than ever before (except, perhaps, in Richard Donner’s 1978 movie).
After Byrne’s departure in 1988, Superman continued to evolve. In 1990, Clark Kent became engaged to Lois Lane, who soon learned Superman’s identity. Superman had sold well in the 1980s, but in the 1990s, he was increasingly seen as out-of-touch with the darker stories that had become popular in comics. In 1993, with sales flagging, Superman died in a massive publicity stunt, initially returning as four separate characters before the real Superman was revealed to be none of the above. This long storyline had much to do with the popularization of Doomsday and the Cyborg Superman as major new Superman foes. Sales shot up wildly, and the Superman family of titles proliferated to their highest point ever. But sales soon began declining again. In late 1996, Clark and Lois finally wed in the comics, a historic moment tying into their wedding on TV’s The New Adventures of Lois and Clark.
In late 1999, DC announced a new team for its Superman titles, helmed by writer Jeph Loeb, who had recently written the mini-series Superman for All Seasons. Loeb put Superman into psychotherapy, reintroduced Krypto, and revised Krypton to align it more with its happy Silver Age depiction — the first major change to Superman’s origins since Byrne’s 1986 retelling. In the pages of Superman / Batman, Loeb reintroduced a Supergirl from Krypton, delighting fans. While that title sold well under his tenure, the Superman titles sold less well. After Loeb’s departure, many talented writers followed, but few would return Superman to his earlier place as DC’s sales leader. One exception was 2004-2005′s “For Tomorrow” storyline, although its popularity was due to artist Jim Lee, rather than any renewed love of Superman. In 2006, the core Superman titles were reduced to two for the first time since 1989 — although the number of titles starring auxiliary characters (e.g. Supergirl) remained greater. Talented creator after talented creator proved unable to reverse this course, despite trying to capture attention by retelling Superman’s origins every few years (in contrast with how long Byrne’s origins had stuck).
In 2011, DC relaunched all of its titles, including Action Comics, with a revised continuity that undid Superman’s marriage. The story begun by Byrne in 1986 had lasted 25 years. It had changed direction, as well as creators, and revised itself as it was going, especially in its second half. It was certainly a story that ended in a very different state than it began. But for all of its flaws, it was a single, sprawling story.