Monday, February 20, 2017

Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?

writer: Alan Moore
penciller: Curt Swan
inkers: George Perez (part 1),
Kurt Schaffenberger (part 2) 
letterer: Todd Klein
colorists: Gene D'Angelo (original), Tom McCraw (collected)
editor: Julius Schwartz
cover: Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson
reviewers: "Bilingual Boy" and Dr. Anj

Mission Monitor Board:  
Superman; Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Invisible Kid (1), Brainiac 5, Supergirl

Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Krypto, Perry & Alice White

Bizarro, Brainiac, Lex Luthor, the Toyman, the Prankster, the Kryptonite Man, Metallo, the Legion of Super-Villains (Saturn Queen, Lighting Lord, Cosmic King), Mr. Mxyzptlk

Ten years after the disappearance of Superman, Daily Planet reporter Tim Crane arrives at the home of Lois Lane Elliot to interview her about the events leading to his disappearance. She gives him background information that the Parasite and Terra-Man were dead, and other villains were captured or destroyed. Superman was spending most of his time in outer space...and the extended flashback begins.
After one particular mission in space Superman came back to Earth to find that Bizarro had destroyed Bizarro-Earth and then hundreds of innocent people in Metropolis. As Superman watched in shock, Bizarro then killed himself.
Later that same week, the Prankster and the Toyman teamed-up to get revenge on Superman by torturing his friends until they found out his secret identity. They started with Honorary Legionnaire Pete Ross, who did happen to know Clark's secret. They then killed him. They blasted Clark Kent during one of his live television broadcasts, revealing his identity to the world. Superman quickly captured them, but they had no explanation as for why they had become more murderous.
At the same time, Lex Luthor found the remains of Brainiac near the site of Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Unfortunately for Lex, Brainiac, in need of a body, took control of Lex.
In Metropolis, Metallo created an army of cybernetic thugs who he lead on an attack of the Daily Planet. Because everyone knew that Superman had been Clark Kent, Metallo wanted to kill Superman's friends as some type of warped revenge. Superman magnetized the Daily Planet globe, using it to capture Metallo and his army. He took them to prison, then came back and brought all of his friends to the Fortress, afraid of what was happening. In a sure sign that something bad was happening, Krypto joined them there.
Kryptonite Man also returned to Earth at this time, and Brainiac/Luthor brought him along as an ally.

At the Fortress, several young Legionnaires arrived for a visit. They happened to bring Supergirl along, even though in "current" time, Supergirl had recently been killed during The Crisis. Superman was angry at them, but Brainiac 5 calmly reminded him that although his future is known to them, their future is known to him. Superman thinks that they have come because they know that he is going to be die soon. They give him a small statuette as a token of their affection, then leave as they start to cry. After the Legion leaves him alone, Superman breaks down and cries, as well.

Back in "the present", Lois' husband Jordan Elliot arrives and introduces himself to the Daily Planet reporter. Lois sends him out to make more coffee and to check on their son, Jonathan. Lois then continues the story.
After Superman destroyed the key to the Fortress, Brainiac, Luthor, and the Kryptonite Man arrived. They are joined by the Legion of Super-Villains from the future, who know from historical records that this is the day that Superman will be destroyed. They suggested to Brainiac to put up a force-field to keep out the Justice League, which he does. Superman and Krypto destroyed the villains' long-range weapons, but could not launch a full attack due to the presence of Kryptonite Man. Lois and the others knew that the siege on the Fortress was going to get worse, and tried to console each other.
Superman believed that he was going to die, so talked to Perry about his troubles. He told Perry about how he loved both Lana and Lois, but never wanted to put either of them in danger so never wanted to commit to either of them. Simultaneously, Lana and Jimmy independently decided to be of more help to their friend. Jimmy drank his serum to become Elastic Lad, and Lana bathed in a magic lake water to get temporary super powers.

As her powers "turned on," Lana's super-hearing allowed her to hear Superman talking. She heard him admit that although he loved Lana as a boy, as a man he was completely in love with Lois. Lana is then even more determined to help him.
She and Jimmy manage to turn off Brainiac's force-field, and in a bizarre confrontation with Lex, he begs Lana to kill him. Unfortunately, she is then murdered by the Legion of Super-Villains and Jimmy is killed by the dead but animated Luthor/Brainiac.
Although the force-field has been turned off, the Justice League still could not get in to help their friend. Brainiac then decided to nuke the Fortress, and blew a huge hole in the side of the mountain. Perry White and his wife, Alice, facing certain death, try to reconcile. The Kryptonite Man led the attack on the Fortress, but he was met by Krypto. The Dog of Steel sacrifices himself to save his master as the two combatants kill each other.

The Legion of Super-Villains fly into the Fortress, but they made the mistake of telling Superman that Lana and Jimmy were dead. Superman goes crazy with rage, and the criminals from the future retreated to their own era like rats.
Superman and Lois venture out to the scene and found the dead bodies, including the expired Brainiac Luthor corpse. Confused, Superman thinks long and hard on the situation. Suddenly, he realized that the power behind the chaos had to be Mr. Mxyzptlk. The imp himself then appeared, explaining that because he's immortal, he had grown bored being a mischievous elf. Mxyzptlk had decided that he was going to spend the next 2,000 years being evil instead.

As they listened, Lois happened to glance at the statuette that the Legion gave to Superman. She realized that it was of him holding a Phantom Zone projector, and points this out to him. They then rushed back into the Fortress and warmed up the projector. Mxyzptlk followed, but when he realized what Superman was trying to do, Mxyzptlk attempted to escape to his home dimension instead. Mxyzptlk is caught in the Phantom Zone beam just as he tried to de-materialize, splitting in half and killing himself.
Superman told Lois that he could not live with himself now that he had broken his vow never to kill. He said good-bye to Lois and calmly walked into the chamber where he stored Gold Kryptonite.

Lois tells the reporter that when the Justice League arrived they found a hidden tunnel from the Gold Kryptonite chamber leading out into the harsh wilderness of the North Pole. They believe, and then tell the world, that Superman depowered himself and then died in the sub-zero Arctic as penitence for his actions against Mr. Mxyzptlk. The world never saw Superman again.

The interview ends, and the reporter leaves. Jordan brings in their son Jonathan, who has woken up from his nap. As his parents discuss the legacy of Superman, little Jonathan appears to take a piece of coal and press it into a diamond.

I have to say, right up front, that I love this story. The first time I read it I fell in love with it, and love r-reading it every few years.

Now, I understand that this is one of those stories that divides fans: you either love it or you hate it. I was not a huge Silver Age Superman fan, so maybe that explains why I love it. I did read enough Superman/Action Comics stories to know who all of these characters are (except Perry White's wife; this is the first and only time I have ever seen her). And I read enough Superman reprints in the Seventies and Eighties to be familiar with the "imaginary story" theme, prevalent in the Silver Age Superman mythos. The precursor to "what if" or "Elseworlds" at DC, "Imaginary Stories" were responsible for some really good stories (as well as some truly bad ones). What if Superman actually married Lois? What if Superman actually married Lana? What if Lex Luthor actually murdered Superman? Things like that. This story, as the "last" Superman tale before the post-Crisis John Byrne "re-boot," falls into this category. And as a possible "end" to the Silver/Bronze Age Superman, I think it's fine.

Even if you're not a big fan of this story as an event, you have to admit it is a well constructed story. It has a definite beginning, middle, and end. And it definitely has more of an emotional punch than your average comic-book story. It begins with the death of Bizarro, which, okay, is not necessarily a big deal. It follows with the murder of Honorary Legionnaire Pete Ross, which definitely IS a big deal. As soon as I read that scene, and the revealing of Superman as Clark Kent, I knew I was in for a story unlike any I had ever read before.

Almost immediately after the murder of Pete Ross we are faced with more darkness, as Metallo and his horde attacks Superman via his friends and co-workers. Every time I read how Metallo attacks Lois and calls her "an alien loving tramp" I get a lump in my throat. As someone in a mixed marriage myself, I have heard this type of sentiment several times in my life, either here in the US about my wife, or in Japan to my wife about me. To read it in a Superman comic is's like a slap in the face. Of course "the bad guys" would attack Superman and Lois (and Jimmy, and Lana, etc) with this type of hate. Of course they would. But I never encountered this type of racism in any other Superman story, and it punches me in the gut every time I read it here.

Then we get more and more gut-punches. The noble sacrifice of Krypto brings a tear to my eye every single time I read it. Likewise, the noble sacrifice of Lana and Jimmy, who know they are utterly out-classed but are willing to risk their lives for their friend....this is emotional stuff. You really can understand why Superman loves these people, and how much they love him.

What I would really like to talk about today, however, is the three plus pages dedicated to the Legion of Super-Heroes and to the Legion of Super-Villains. In the early Sixties Lightning Lord, Cosmic King, and Saturn Queen appeared in several Superman stories. In fact, they made their debut in Superman #147 as foes of Superman. For their first few years they were more active in Superman's era than they were against the Legion. So I find it perfectly acceptable that the LSV would show up here. I especially like the reason they give for showing up: they read about the siege at the Fortress in their history books and want to take away some of the glory. Who here hasn't imagined using a time bubble (or the Tardis?) to go back and witness some historical incident? This is what the Villains do, and although they play a part in the murder of Jimmy and Lana, when facing a cornered Superman  they show their true colors and run off with their tales between their legs.

As for the Legion of is not a coincidence that besides the three founding members and Brainiac 5, the other Legionnaires visiting Superman are Invisible Kid and Supergirl. 
Of course, the emotional strain on Superman upon seeing his recently murdered cousin is terrible. Superman pulls Brainiac 5 aside to chastise him for the Legion's cold-heartedness. He challenges them to admit that they are not just "historical figures," but flesh and blood. Yet Brainiac 5's response is equally emotional. He reminds Superman that the time-paradox goes both ways; as the Legion knows how and when Superman and Supergirl are going to die, Superman knows full well that, for example, Lighting Lad and Saturn Girl are going to get married, and that Invisible Kid is going to be murdered by Validus. The point is driven home to long-time Legion fans when the camera pans to Invisible Kid and Saturn Girl as Brainiac 5 speaks.
Then, to make it even more painful, we see that Superman realizes his friends are actually there to say their good-byes. Before Brainiac 5 can explain his way out of that situation, we are reminded that he and Supergirl were a couple, and that Superman is not the only one having to deal with the death of Kara. I especially like how the first panel of this page shows Krypto literally flying with joy; then by the third panel, darkness and gloom surrounds Brainiac 5.
"......As if he'd been crying." 

The Legion then flies off, leaving Superman an emotional wreck.

I like how Lighting Lad, traditionally the most emotional of the Founders, has only one line in this story. I imagine him fighting to keep up his composure as he sees Superman for the last time. And I like how Invisible Kid is little more than a prop in this story. His place could have been taken by Ferro Lad, I suppose, but I think the scene has a deeper meaning by including Invisible Kid, a hero whose death was also a great shock at the time.

And here's our time paradox question: clearly the Legion give Superman a statuette of him holding a Phantom Zone projector because they knew that was how Mxyzptlk was killed. But did they mean to give him that particular clue, or was it an unintentional clue? If they did know, how or why did they know that Superman needed that gentle hint? It is a puzzlement.

Anyway, if you are a fan of Silver/Bronze Age Superman or the Legion, you owe it to yourself to pick this trade paperback up. It's definitely worth the price of admission. It might be just an imaginary story, but, after all....aren't they all?

Now let's here from fellow Legion of Super-Blogger and Supergirl fan, Dr. Anj!

Hey all, it's Anj from Friday reviews on this blog and Supergirl Comic Box Commentary

I touched upon this scene with Supergirl over on my own site here so feel free to head there for my bigger thoughts. 

To put it briefly, I find this a very poignant, heartbreaking scene every time I read it. From a Supergirl perspective, this is a very young Kara (based on costume and enthusiasm) who is just bright and cheery. Superman has to hide his grief of seeing his (then) dead cousin. And the quick explanation for why this Supergirl can materialize in the present is so touching. Superman isn't lying. This Kara is in the past.

For me, there is something about that first panel in the bottom row of the last page that strikes me. Looking at Supergirl from the back somehow adds to the feelings of the scene. It's like she isn't there for us fully, she is beyond us, out of reach.

It's still pretty hard to read this scene, even now that Supergirl is back and more popular than ever. That shows just how powerful Moore's writing and Swan's art is here. It still resonates.

Thanks for letting me jump in Russell!

Science Police Notes:  
  • The date Tim Crane interviews Lois Lane Elliot is August 16, 1997. 
  • Lana Lang first wore her Super Lana outfit after bathing in a magical lake in Lois Lane #21
  • "The Justice League" here refers to Batman, Robin, Martian Manhunter, Green Arrow, and Hawkman, as well as long-time Superman/Action Comics supporting characters Vartox and Superwoman and Captain Marvel. 
This trade-paperback reprints the original stories from Superman #423 and Action Comics #583.


  1. One of my all time favorite Superman stories, if not one of my favorite comic stories period! In tying up the pre-Crisis stories, there is so much history packed in that it could easily have become cluttered and confusing, but it plays out so beautifully, so perfectly, blending so many's simply amazing!

    1. Agree 101% !

      This was what made comic books so great and the best memories of the 1960's tying a great artist of the era with one of the top writers of the 1980's !

  2. I have a lot of admiration for this story, but I honestly have a bit of a problem with Superman being so hung up on his vow that he'd deny the Earth...or the universe...his powers and abilities. Seems a bit selfish to me. But it's beautifully executed, nonetheless.


  3. I feel like kind of a dunce for never noticing it before, but I only just now realized the significance of Superman's new name. JORdan ELliot? Clever.

  4. That is clever! I hadn't noticed that, either!

  5. Still love thist story, but I sort of have the opposite complaint of the Franklins. I mean, I know that the gold K vault and its reason for being in the fortress were a well-established part of silver/bronze age Superman lore, and can certainly forgive Moore for realizing that that is the only established way to really do a 'last superman story' without killing him off, but still...

    A story in which the protagonist has no choice but to kill is not a silver/bronze age Superman story. I'd go on to argue that it's not a Superman story at all, subsequent stories to the contrary. The entire point of the character is that he always finds a way to do the right thing, and that killing is never the right thing to do. (Well, unless you're a sentient robot. But that's a whole 'nother rant.)

  6. Well, you've already mention the whole business with Supergirl and the Legion, especially Invisible Kid. Equally "tear jerking" was the sight of Vartox cradling the body of Lana Lang. Lana killing Luthor was also a brilliant stroke as they had known each other since school days, addressing each other by their first names. Luthor, unlike Braniac, has displayed, on rare occasion, a "soft side" and probably has a fair regard for an old acquaintance like Lana. Her killing him is as much an act of mercy as anything else.

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  8. Love this story, it's deconstruction done right; it takes everything away from him and by doing so shows how much these things mean to both him and us.

    Of the scenes that really got me Lana killing Lex makes perfect sense. She's not a hero wrapped up in oaths, she's a normal person with powers in a desperate situation. She does it because it needs to be done and she knows Kal won't without tearing himself apart. It's terribly human and sad and heroic.

    The death of Krypto is sad but fits. What better way to go out than choosing to defend his master? Far better than just becoming a forgotten part of his past (Fry's dog still haunts me).

    The use of the Legion was bittersweet, that panel showing Brainy haunted by his knowledge of Kara's death just crushed me.
    But ultimately the Legion's appearance is one of optimism, providing the clue that lets Kal prevail and that perfectly encapsulates what they represent.

    All this with suprisingly emotive artwork from stalwart Curt Swan & beautiful inks by Perez & Schaffenberger. It was a fitting capstone for the Silver Age Superman.