The origin of the greatest character ever has been told multiple times, with everything from John Byrne’s Man Of Steel to Smallville to Superman The Movie to the Man Of Steel movie all getting a kick at the continuity. And yes, these are some of my favourite versions.
Very few times have we witnessed the closing out of the character. The last reboot, launched after the Flashpoint crossover, capped off an era of greatness that whimpered out the door. No effort was really placed into that send-off, which is a shame DC must live with.
But the previous relaunch, a way back in the mid 1980’s, had the decency to follow a truly excellent Superman coda. When DC announced the complete overhaul coming with John Byrne’s Man Of Steel miniseries, they also planned a two part story, written by industry legend Alan Moore, called Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?
Editor Julius Schwartz also tapped longtime Superman artist Curt Swan to draw and another industry legend George Perez to ink. DC wanted a tribute to the iteration, and they marshaled so much talent, Superman regulars and relative newbies to Kal-El, in order to cap off an ongoing narrative dating back to about the early 1960’s.
Our imaginary tale begins with a time someplace in the future, when a reporter is interviewing Lois Lane about the days of Superman. Lois is now a married suburban mother of two who tells of how, once upon a time, so many of Superman’s enemies had been defeated or died. When returning from a space mission, Kal-El encounters a demented Bizarro, whose rampage ends in tragedy. This is the start of a downward spiral with mythology shaking consequences for the Man Of Steel. By the end of the first part, so much has been destroyed and decimated of his life, that the added pain of a surprise visit makes the knife twist harder.
The second act brings an epic battle to protect all that Superman holds dear, with resolutions and recriminations all around. Events you never ever dreamed would happen occur all throughout, with tears flowing all round. DC wanted an epic ending here, and they most certainly got one. The last few pages provide more shocks and sums up an ending fans still talk about.
Being an Alan Moore story, and one according to folklore he begged to write, we get not only a Superman tale with very adult themes and concepts, we also get a valentine to the Silver Age of this venerable character. For every horrific occurrence, seen and implied, we still get the sense of some of the innocence of this time period. Moore straddles the line with his fiction that so many other writers can not even imagine existing.
For a long time Superman fan, not many times have I seen runs of the character that take this approach, instead mostly DC just hits us with messy emo mopey guy or massive damage to lure us in. The era just after this started very impressively, but they water down the magic as they hit the millennium. It is a shame that this story, considered a classic to so many, is never held up as an example of what a Superman story could be.
Innocence and maturity mixing like magic. A fitting goodbye to the era.
…is currently reading Wordstruck by Robert MacNeil.
P.S. This post is one of several I hope to do this year to celebrate the 75th Birthday of Superman. Happy Birthday Kal-El! Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
P.P.S. Superman Man Of Steel opened last Friday, June 14th 2013. For an indepth look at the creation of this landmark movie, check out Jeffrey Taylor’s columns.