What Has Come Before
The story opens in the present as the Utopian officiates at Johnny Saturn’s funeral. In an extended flashback sequence, the Utopian tells his fellow mourners how he first encountered Johnny Saturn. While flying high overhead, Utopian watches Johnny singlehandedly take out a group of criminals. Johnny questions the team leader, Manny: where is your boss Dr. Synn, Johnny Saturn’s archenemy? The Utopian decides that Johnny is using excessive force, so he breaks up the interrogation, and the two heroes get into a slugfest. The battle is interrupted when, elsewhere in the city, Dr. Synn blows up a subway terminal. As the Utopian rushes to the disaster scene, Johnny Saturn breaks into Wissenschaft Industries, a subsidiary of Synn Tech, Dr. Synn’s company. Johnny puts the question to Dr. Wissenschaft, but the mystery man is forced to leave hastily when a group of armed cyborgs arrives on the scene. Meanwhile, Detective Gregory Buchanan visits the city morgue to collect information on Dr. Wissenschaft’s latest victim, another homeless man. After the bombsite cleanup, the Utopian gathers Staff of Life, Tilt, Hotfoot, and Madame Fishnet, all members of the Squadron Premiere, and they invade Johnny Saturn’s cheap hotel room. Johnny Saturn is shirtless, and he is contemplating the framed picture of a young woman. In the moments before battle, the Squad sees that Johnny Saturn is covered with scar tissue, and piles of empty pill bottles around the room hint at the old mystery man’s painkiller addiction.
The Squadron Premiere attacks Johnny Saturn, but he quickly turns the tables on them and kicks them out of his apartment. Meanwhile, Dr. Synn blows up a sidewalk café; there is a picture of a young woman is in Dr. Synn’s wallet, the same young woman that Johnny Saturn was contemplating in issue one. The Utopian, now alone and nursing his well-bruised ego, seeks out Johnny Saturn later that day to finish their fight. Utopian finds Johnny helpless, immobilized by pain as he waits for his medications to take effect. Johnny Saturn has no intention of fighting again, and the Utopian learns that Johnny’s body has suffered tremendous punishment in his years of vigilante work. Their conversation is cut short by the sound of a careening semi truck smashing its way along the street, pulling a hydrogen semi-trailer behind. The truck is driven by Dr. Synn, who intends to blow up the Spire City Government Center. Hauling Johnny Saturn into the sky, flying in pursuit of the careening semi, the Utopian drops Johnny Saturn on the back of the tanker as the flying metahero flies ahead to evacuate bystanders. Johnny breaks into the truck cab, and he and Dr. Synn fight savagely, spilling a great deal of blood between them. Johnny Saturn manages to divert the truck from its target, and it rams into an old bridge abutment, exploding with incredible force, vaporizing Johnny Saturn and Dr. Synn instantly. Back in the now, the Utopian concludes the funeral service, and a mysterious woman waits till everyone is gone, and she takes the picture of the young mystery woman from among the tokens left at Johnny’s monument.
Johnny Saturn’s soul floats to heaven, and he is met there by Turiel, the Angel of Noble Failures. Johnny is offended by being labeled a failure, and punches out the angel and dives back toward the Earth plane with Turiel in pursuit. Johnny Saturn re-enters his body in the moments before the explosion that killed him, and he leaps to shelter. Johnny Saturn falls a great distance, into the world of the Mole people (Spire City’s homeless population), where he is discovered by Matilda Hillock. Meanwhile, Dr. Synn arrives in hell: he is not impressed, and he uses the local ectoplasm to clothe himself. Norghiel, the Demon Lord of Thoughtless Cruelty, arrives to usher Dr. Synn to his eternal punishment, but Dr. Synn consumes the surprised demon and takes on his hellish powers, after which the demonic doctor heads for the earth plane. Dr. Synn arrives back in Spire City, and he tests his newfound powers by frying some bystanders and then toppling a skyscraper. Just as he’s gearing up to do some real damage, Dr. Synn is attacked from above by the entire Squadron Premiere. Concurrently, beautiful woman named Persephone suns herself on her private beach when she is disturbed by reports of Johnny Saturn’s death. She orders her personal jet readied for a quick flight to Spire City. Back in Spire City, the Utopian relaxes with his significant other, Lewis, when they are surprised by Persephone’s arrival to their apartment through Forced Perspective Space. Utopian learns that Persephone is Johnny Saturn’s wife, and hers was the picture the old vigilante carried with him. She is convinced Johnny is still alive, but she needs Utopian’s help in finding him. Detective Greg Buchanan raids one of Dr. Wissenschaft’s illegal cybernetic labs, and arrests the old villain. Greg’s doubts and depression begin to eat at him as he realizes that Wissenschaft will be free within the hour and all Buchanan’s efforts to stop the old monster have been fruitless.
In what later comes to be called “The War in Heaven,” the demonic Dr. Synn slays more than half the Squadron Premiere in a horrific aerial battle. One Squad member, Symphony, turns and flees, abandoning his teammates to death. Deep beneath the city, Doc of the Mole People patches up Johnny Saturn’s extensive injuries, because the Mole People believe that Johnny might be their savior from the mercenary soldiers that keep kidnapping them. Turiel the Angel shows up invisibly and guides Doc’s hands in patching up Johnny Saturn. Doc and Matilda take Johnny Saturn to Elysium City, and he learns that that Dr. Wissenschaft preys on the Mole People, using them as test cases for various cybernetic appendages. Johnny makes a surprise attack on a small group of mercenaries, and he turns three of them over to the Mole People, and he lets one go on the understanding that he will deliver Johnny’s threats to Dr. Wissenschaft. In the city above, Detective Greg Buchanan visits Spire Java, and when he enters the restaurant he surprises a young robber. The robber is underaged, and Greg’s depression deepens as realizes that this kid will be in and out of the overburdened juvenile system quickly. That evening, Buchanan reaches rock bottom, sitting on the floor in his empty apartment and binge drinking. The demonic Dr. Synn, now giant sized and smashing through downtown Spire City, kills numerous heroes, including Madame Fishnet. Staff of Life has been dogging Synn during his rampage, but she has not been able to harm him. In the demon’s wake, Staff of Life lands next to Madame Fishnet, whom Staff loved almost as a mother would have. Musclebound digs out of the nearby rubble, and Hyperspace and Captain Barometer arrive on the scene as Staff of Life’s staff announces that it has pinpointed the demon’s energy signature, and now she can damage Synn. Persephone and the Utopian find the giant Dr. Synn, and Persephone freezes Utopian in the air when he learns that Persephone is not only Johnny Saturn’s wife, but Dr. Synn’s daughter. At Persephone’s urging, Dr. Synn uses his demonic senses to search for Johnny Saturn, pinpointing his location deep beneath the city. Dr. Synn rushes off to destroy his enemy, and Persephone and Utopian follow. In the catacombs beneath Spire City, Persephone and Utopian loose Dr. Synn’s trail, but they join forces with Staff of Life, Musclebound, Hyperspace, and Captain Barometer. Unknown to the heroes, they are guided in their search by Turiel the Angel.
Johnny Saturn, now King of the Underworld, sits in judgment of his rag-tag subjects. The demonic Dr. Synn materializes, and everyone but Johnny runs. (Unseen by the hero or demon, Turiel the Angel also arrives in insubstantial form.) The angel whispers into Johnny’s ear what the he should do, so Johnny Saturn circles Dr. Synn as if in studied admiration. As vain as ever, Dr. Synn puts his vengeance on hold while Johnny appraises him. Meanwhile, feigning lameness, Johnny has been helped in his circumference by his staff, scraping the floor and closing a circle around the demon. Turiel pours power into the circle, and Dr. Synn suddenly is trapped, contained within the magic circle! Persephone and her allies, Staff of Life, Captain Barometer, Musclebound, Hyperspace, and the Utopian make a spectacular entrance, only to find the Johnny Saturn has trapped the demon apparently on his own. Musclebound, overcome with unsatisfied vengeance, rushes into the magic circle to fight Dr. Synn, yet the muscled metahero is ripped to shreds by the demon’s claws almost immediately. The magic circle begins to waver under Synn’s onslaught, so Johnny Saturn gathers the heroes and commands them to fire their powers off in one sustained blast. Dr. Synn resists this intense barrage for a moment, and then he is shredded into a pool of gore. The heroes celebrate, and Johnny Saturn and Persephone are reunited. Unseen to everyone but Persephone, the mortal and very human Dr. Synn extracts himself from the chopped up demon’s vat of viscera, and Synn escapes. (When all the heroes blasted the demon, Persephone lent her strength too, but with the unspoken intention of freeing her father from the demon’s form, not destroying him.) The Utopian offers Johnny Saturn a place in the Squadron Premiere, but the old mystery man declines, and the two heroes shake hands amicably. Turiel, Angel of Noble Failures, announces that Johnny Saturn is no longer a failed hero, and thus it is no longer the angel’s responsibility to take Johnny back to heaven. Smiling, the unseen and insubstantial Turiel leaves, flying back to heaven and leaving the heroes to their victory. Greg Buchanan, still drinking in his empty apartment, has a revelation. Greg hires the Tailor to build him armor, while Greg trains furiously. Soon there is a new Johnny Saturn in Spire City, and Manny and his C-Blockers are the first to be assailed by an implacable foe, Greg Buchanan, now known as Johnny Saturn II.