Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?
|"Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?"|
Superman #423 (Sept. 1986). Cover art by Curt Swan.
|Publication date||September 1986|
Action Comics #583
|Inker(s)||George Pérez, Kurt Schaffenberger|
|The Stories of Alan Moore||ISBN 1401209270|
"Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is a 1986 comic book story featuring the DC Comics character of Superman. Written by Alan Moore with help from long-time Superman editor, Julius Schwartz, the story was published in two parts, beginning in Superman #423 and ending in Action Comics #583, both published in September 1986. The story was drawn by long-time artist Curt Swan, in his final major contribution to the Superman titles, and was inked by George Pérez in the issue of Superman and Kurt Schaffenberger in the issue of Action Comics. The story was an imaginary tale which told the final story of the Silver Age Superman and his long history, which was being rebooted following the events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, before his modern introduction in the John Byrne series, The Man of Steel.
Moore wanted his plot to honor the long history of the character and to serve as a complete conclusion to his mythology. The story is a frame story set ten years after Superman was last seen, where Lois Lane recounts the tale of the end of Superman's career to a reporter from the Daily Planet. Her story includes numerous violent attacks against Superman by his enemies, the public revelation of his secret identity of Clark Kent and a number of deaths of those closest to him.
The story has been cited as one of the best stories of the character of Superman, and critics and audiences frequently choose it as one of the most memorable comics ever published. It is used as an example of how to close the long-time continuity of a comic book character. The story's legacy has endured with similar stories written as tributes to it. The title is a reference to one of the nicknames of Superman as the Man of Tomorrow, and was used in the title of another Superman comic book series.
The comic book, Action Comics #1, published in April 1938 by National Allied Publications (later renamed DC Comics), marked the first publication of the character of Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The comic quickly became a success, and its editor soon realized that it was because of the popularity of the character. In an unprecedented move at the time, National Allied Publications introduced a second comic book, Superman, exclusively featuring the popular character.
In the next few decades of publication, Superman underwent significant changes as a character, with new characters being introduced and changes in his history. Although the character was supposedly the same as ever, there were conflicting details of his origin by the early 1960s, including where he worked as a reporter and the fact that he was supposedly in two separate original teams of heroes, as an honorary member of the Justice Society of America and a full member of the Justice League of America, the latter of which included a number of heroes who had replaced the originals in the Justice Society. This conflict was resolved in an issue of The Flash #123, Flash of Two Worlds. The story introduced the idea of the DC Multiverse, which presented the idea that these original heroes from the Golden Age were from Earth-2, while the current generation of heroes were from Earth-1. This created an infinite number of worlds on which any number of conflicting stories could occur. This resolved the many conflicts in Superman's history at the time.
The multiverse, however, turned out to be too complicated. DC Comics wanted more readers for their comics and decided that they would ease the confusion of new readers by getting rid of the multiverse. They would accomplish this in the 1985 limited series, Crisis on Infinite Earths. DC decided that with the series they could reboot the history of many of its characters, including Superman, leading to the idea of a last in-continuity story for the character.
With the conclusion of Crisis on Infinite Earths, the fictional continuity of the Silver Age that had begun in the 1960s was closed. From October to December 1986, all of the regular Superman comic books were not published to allow for the publication of the limited series The Man of Steel which would reboot Superman's continuity. Outgoing editor, Julius Schwartz, decided to "make believe" his last two issues of Superman and Action Comics were the actual last two issues ever.
Initially, Schwartz wanted Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel to write the story as a way to book-end the character, however Siegel was unable to due to legal restrictions. So while at a convention, Schwartz asked British writer, Alan Moore, who had been developing the character of Swamp Thing extensively, to be the writer of this final story. Moore pored over the extensive history of Superman and created a roadmap that would complete the stories and characters. To draw the story, Schwartz chose definitive Superman artist, Curt Swan, who had been drawing the character in various publications since Superman #51 in 1948.
The story was originally published in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 (both Sept. 1986). The first half of the story, published in Superman, was billed as the comic's "Historic Last Issue" as it was retitled Adventures of Superman with #424.
The framing device of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is the tale of a Daily Planet reporter, Tim Crane, in the then-future year of 1997, paying a visit to former Planet reporter Lois Lane-Elliot, hoping that she, as the last person to have seen Superman alive, can shed some light on the mystery of the Man of Steel's disappearance ten years previous. The majority of the story is told in flashback, as Lois recounts for Crane the tale of Superman's final days.
Ten years beforehand, a period of relative peace had ensued after the majority of Superman's enemies had either died or vanished, Brainiac believed to have been destroyed two years prior, Lex Luthor going underground and The Parasite and Terra-Man having killed each other. Supergirl recently died from an unspecified reason.
Upon returning from a government expedition in space, Superman reunites with old enemy Bizarro. Historically a harmless dunce who says the opposite of what he means, he changes his modus operandi to become a "perfect imperfect duplicate" of Superman, by first going on a killing spree (since Superman never kills anyone), deliberately destroying the Bizarro World and coming to Earth as an adult (since Superman's home planet of Krypton was destroyed in an accident and he was sent to Earth as a baby) and then committing suicide, via exposure to blue kryptonite (since Superman was, in fact, alive, Bizarro's twisted logic translated this into his having to be dead to be the perfect imperfect duplicate). His last words are, "Hello, Superman, hello." This darkening of intent is furthered when two past nuisances of Superman's, the Toyman and the Prankster, learn of Superman's secret identity from Pete Ross, whom they have tortured and killed, and during a live TV newscast, the "fearsome funsters" launch an attack that exposes Clark Kent's secret to the world.
Lex Luthor searches an unidentified snowy wasteland for the remains of Brainiac, who presumably died when his organic spaceship crashed (see Action Comics #545). Finding the android's seemingly inert head, Luthor claims it with the intent of disassembling it to learn its technology. However, he inadvertently re-activates the head, which quickly moves to take over Luthor's own body and motor functions. With the intent of avenging his own defeat at Superman's hands, Brainiac, now in full control over Luthor, moves to build a new ship and take the fight to Superman personally. Along the way, he stops to pick up the Kryptonite Man, who has also been compelled to seek out and destroy Superman.
After saving the Daily Planet staff from an assault by an army of Metallos, Superman takes his closest friends (including Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, and Perry White and his wife Alice) to his Fortress of Solitude for safety. Krypto joins them, having returned from deep space. At this moment, the Legion of Super-Heroes, including Supergirl—who, from an earlier point in her own lifetime, was visiting the Legion in the 30th Century when they traveled to her near-future—visit from the far future. The Legion bestows upon Superman a gift, a trophy of him holding the Phantom Zone projector inscribed "HIS SUPREME HOUR." Superman fears that the Legion is visiting now to pay their last respects before his death.
Action Comics #583
By the next day Brainiac and the time-traveling Legion of Super-Villains begin a siege on the Fortress, with Brainiac erecting a forcefield around it to prevent other heroes (including Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and others) from interfering. In the ensuing battle, Jimmy and Lana find inside the Fortress trophies of their own past dalliances with superpowers and decide to use these artifacts to aid Superman in this standoff. Lana is able to subdue the Kryptonite Man, while Jimmy successfully shuts down Brainiac's force-field generator. During this skirmish, Luthor is able to wrest back enough control of his body to beg Lana to kill him; she complies, snapping his neck.
Unfortunately, the Legion of Super-Villains is able to determine how these two ordinary humans were able to gain superpowers, and using that knowledge, they kill Lana. Jimmy is murdered by Brainiac, who is able to temporarily maintain control of Luthor's corpse. He then notes that his force-field is still keeping the other heroes away, despite the destruction of the device generating it. A nuclear bomb, launched by Brainiac, finally breaches the walls of the Fortress. The Kryptonite Man rushes in, almost insane in his desire to see Superman "turn green and die" at his hands; Krypto, sensing the threat to his master, attacks and kills the Kryptonite Man, but succumbs to a fatal dose of Kryptonite radiation in the process.
In the end, with Brainiac finally deactivated when Luthor's body goes into rigor mortis and the Legion of Super-Villains having fled back to the future due to Superman's apparent murderous rage at the death of Lana (screaming, "You hurt LANA?!"), Superman realizes that not all of his old foes have yet been accounted for and that the last one, Mxyzptlk, must be the villain behind all of this, as only he could have caused such bizarre events to occur. The extradimensional imp appears, with a darker color scheme and grimmer, more serious smile on his face, and claims credit for orchestrating the attacks, saying he has grown bored with simply being "mischievous" and now wants to see what it would be like to be "evil" instead. He then reveals his true form ("Did you honestly believe that a 5th Dimensional sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a derby hat?")—a giant purple, truly five-dimensional (as Lois puts it, “I can’t describe what Mxyzptlk then became. He had height, width, depth, and a couple of other things, too.”), vaguely humanoid shape—and begins stalking Superman through the ruins of his Fortress.
With Lois' help, Superman suddenly realizes the significance of the trophy given to him by the Legion of Super-Heroes, and threatens Mxyzptlk with the Phantom Zone projector. Upon seeing this, Mxyzptlk panics and says his own name backwards, which sends him back to his own dimension; at the same time, Superman activates the projector, sending Mxyzptlk into the Phantom Zone. Torn in two between dimensions, Mxyzptlk dies with a horrific scream. Since he has broken his own code never to kill, Superman, in penance, voluntarily enters a chamber containing a sample of Gold Kryptonite—which permanently strips him of his powers—and disappears into the Arctic wasteland. When the other heroes enter the remains of the Fortress, they find only Perry White, his wife, and Lois still alive. Superman's body is never found, and it is assumed by all parties that the powerless hero died in the Arctic.
After the interview is over and Crane leaves the Elliot residence, it is indirectly revealed that the mechanic Jordan Elliot (a reference to Superman's father, Jor El), Lois' husband, is Superman. He is without powers and living as an ordinary man with Lois and their son Jonathan, who is likely named after Jonathan Kent. Lois' words on the Man of Steel's final fate, "I never saw Superman again", is now understood to mean the man who emerged from the Gold Kryptonite chamber was no longer superhuman. He seems to prefer the life of a normal man, finding great pleasure in his job as a car mechanic and stating, "Superman was overrated. Too wrapped up in himself. Thought the world couldn't get along without him." At his feet, his son Jonathan playfully squeezes the coal in his hand. Opening it he stares gleefully at a large, glimmering diamond. The final image is of Jordan delivering a classic "Superman" wink to the reader, as he and Lois continue to "just live happily ever after."
The story was originally reprinted in 1997, in trade paperback format. In 2006, DC pulled the original trade paperback from the market and inserted it, along with Batman: The Killing Joke, into a revised edition of Across the Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (now titled DC Universe: the Stories of Alan Moore). The initial printing of this collection omitted the introduction essay at the start of the story, though this was corrected with later printings of the collection.
In 2009, DC Comics re-released the story again as a stand-alone hardcover. The new version collected the original story as well as additional Alan Moore penned Superman material: Superman Annual #11 (featuring the classic "For the Man Who Has Everything" story) and DC Comics Presents #85, which features a team-up between Superman and Swamp Thing. The 2009 edition features a cover drawn by Brian Bolland after Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson's Action Comics #583 cover.
- Superman: "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" (trade paperback, 47 pages, 1997, DC, ISBN 1-56389-315-0)
- DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (trade paperback, 2006, Titan ISBN 1-84576-257-6 DC ISBN 1-4012-0927-0)
- Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Deluxe Edition Hardcover trade paperback. Released on July 8, 2009.
The ending of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? has been cited as one of the most memorable moments in DC Comics history, and one of the most memorable "imaginary stories." The deaths of Bizarro and Krypto are considered some of the best moments in comic history, while the plot is generally considered one of the best by Moore.
The story is generally positively viewed. The blog "Girls Gone Geek" described the story as "sometimes touching, sometimes haunting and sometimes entertaining," and "a great read, whether you're a fan of hardcore or a casual player who only know the basics about Superman." and "that the level of poignancy achieved by Moore is rare in history - because the medium does not usually allow it to be achieved." A public vote of the users on the website "Comic Book Resources," named it the 25th best storyline in comics of all time.
Many Superman writers who worked with the character after the story cite it as a favorite of theirs in Superman's history. J. Michael Straczynski, who claimed that if he could only write one character for the rest of his life, it would be Superman, called the story the greatest Superman story ever. Scott Snyder also claimed the story to be among his favorites, while George Pérez claimed that although he was only the inker in the story, it was one of the best moments of his career.
Alan Moore revisited many of the themes of the story in the comic Supreme, originally created by Rob Liefeld as a pastiche of Superman, during the 1990s. Upset with the rebooted Superman by John Byrne, Moore decided to work with Supreme on many of what he believed were the core elements of Superman.
The story's title was homaged in Neil Gaiman's 2009 Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?. Writer Grant Morrison, at the time, was placing many of the Silver Age elements of Batman's history back into continuity. Similarly to Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, there was to be a change in status quo of the Batman titles where the original Batman, Bruce Wayne, had apparently been killed and was being replaced by Dick Grayson. Gaiman's story was meant to serve as a memorial to the original Batman and was set at Batman's funeral. Similarly to the Superman story, the Batman story appeared in the two main Batman titles at the time, and were published in a month before a short break on all Batman titles for the publication of a limited series (Batman: Battle for the Cowl).
- In the Superman/Batman comic book series, an older Superman from a future timeline appears wearing the same costume that Superman wore in Kingdom Come. In 2005, at the closing moments of the "Absolute Power" arc in Superman/Batman, with the intervention of Metron, the future Superman manages to change the timestream and with it, he becomes Jordan Elliot, ready to live happily ever after.
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