Sunday, June 19, 2011

Superman's Dead


Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?: Deluxe Edition, written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons, Rick Veitch, Kurt Schaffenberger, George Perez, Murphy Anderson and Brian Bolland (1984-86; collected 2009): Once upon a time, in the farflung past of 1985, DC Comics decided to streamline their comic book universe by putting all their heroes on one Earth, rather than the half-dozen they then occupied. In the aftermath of this, a number of heroes got new, substantially revised origins. One of those superheroes was Superman. The Superman of Earth-One, who'd been kicking around since the late 1950's, would be no more.

Alan Moore (Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell) was just then beginning to reach the height of his popularity in 1986 when he begged then-Superman-titles editor Julius Schwartz for a chance to write the last adventure of the Silver and Bronze Age Superman. Longtime Superman penciller Curt Swan would draw the two-issue story, with inks from super-hot artist George Perez, longtime Swan collaborator Murphy Anderson, and longtime Superman family penciller Kurt Schaffenberger.

In 48 pages, Moore and his artistic collaborators got to tell the last Superman story...sort of. Thereafter, the Superman titles would cease publication for a few months and then return with new writers John Byrne and Marv Wolfman telling stories of a 'new', less powerful, younger Man of Steel.

DC seriously pissed off Alan Moore in 1987, resulting in him never working for the parent company again. And so DC has packaged and repackaged Moore's 1980's output for decades, milking a long-deceased cash cow quite handily. This time around, DC packaged together the last Superman two-parter with the two other Bronze Age Superman stories Moore wrote -- the Superman Annual double-length story "For the Man Who Has Everything" and the Superman/Swamp Thing team-up "The Jungle Line" -- into an oversized hardcover package. It's a lovely package, reproducing the art at close to the size it was actually drawn.

All three stories are terrific adventures of the Man of Steel, causing one to wonder what would have happened had Moore accepted DC's offer to write a rebooted Superman full-time. Moore refused on the grounds that he couldn't imagine his outre sensibilities being able to sustain a viable Superman book without major weirdness creeping rapidly in. Maybe he was right, though it's nice to dream.

The core story here -- "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" -- takes us to the then-future of the late 1990's. A reporter for the Daily Planet has come to interview retired and married reporter Lois Lane on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of Superman's last battle with all of his enemies. Superman disappeared thereafter, and has been presumed dead ever since. What follows is one of those nice counterpointed stories Moore did so well -- Lois's narration gives us her reaction to the events, while the art and dialogue occasionally shows us things Lois didn't know about, or at least couldn't have known about at the time.

Sometime in the 1980's, Superman and the other heroes of the world had, if not eliminated crime, at least curbed superhuman crime enough that Superman was in semi-retirement. He returns from a space mission for NASA to discover Metropolis under siege by...Bizarro-Superman, a hitherto harmless, defective copy of Superman who lived on his own, weird, cube-shaped world. But now Bizarro has come back as a genocidal killer. And this is just the beginning, as former nuisances like the Prankster and the Toyman come back as homicidal maniacs. What happens when the big guns -- especially Brainiac and Lex Luthor -- return?

And so Superman fights his last, weird battle in the North, at his Fortress of Solitude, trying to keep his remaining friends and loved ones safe while under attack by all his remaining foes. The Legion of Supervillains from the 30th century appears to inform the other villains that this is Superman's final stand -- he will be destroyed by his greatest foe, though history doesn't record who or what that foe is. An impenetrable force field surrounds the fortress, preventing the league of heroes who've arrived to help Superman from being able to offer that help.

All in all, this is a great Superman story, expertly told. Moore manages to throw in almost every Superman villain, trophy, knickknack and ally over the course of 48 pages without making things seem overcrowded, and without resorting to several pages of Basil Exposition. On the waste snows, in the ruins of the Fortress, surrounded by the bodies of dead friends and dead foes, Superman will meet his end. Highly recommended.

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