Saturday, May 25, 2013

Nostalgia Review: Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow? 2

The end draws near, fittingly enough, in the series in which it began:  Action Comics, with a cover date of September, 1986.

...for about a month.

Action Comics, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
Written by Alan Moore
Art by Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger
Cover by “Swanderson” (Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson)
Edited by Julius Schwartz

We open, once again, in the future world of 1997, where Lois is taking a break from her interview to brew some coffee in some space-age, futuristic device, which, as far as I can tell, appears to be a condiment dispenser inside of a gigantic Pop-O-Matic bubble.
Our intrepid reporter – the one interviewing Lois, not Lois herself, as she has long-since given up chasing after stories – gives a quick recap of where they left off, presumably for the benefit of those readers arriving late.
In a nutshell, ten years prior, Superman’s many villains had returned and were worse than they had ever been, and Superman brought all of his friends to his Fortress of Solitude to keep them safe.
This recap is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Lois’s husband Jordan, a regular working class Joe who looks kind of like a more modestly attired Vartox.
Lois introduces her husband to the reporter, who is concerned that it might be upsetting for Jordy to hear him talking to his wife about you-know-who.
Jordy puts his concerns to rest.  “Nah!  I can live with it!  He weren’t nothin’ special.  us ordinary workin’ slobs, son…we’re the real heroes.”
Lois tells him, politely, to put a sock in his “God bless the working man” shtick and asks him to check on their sleeping son, Jonathan, while she gets back to her interview.
As we turn back the clock a decade we find Superman’s assembled friends, Lois, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry and Alice White, standing on a balcony watching Superman prepare for the inevitable siege, as he melts the giant key to the Fortress with his heat vision.
Inside, the tension mounts as the estranged Whites while away the time bickering.  Meanwhile, the Brainiac-Luthor team, with the Kryptonite Man along for the ride, finally arrive outside the Fortress.  The Kryptonite Man is ready for action, but Brainiac wants to be certain to plan for all eventualities.
One eventuality he hadn’t planned for is the arrival of the Legion of Super-Villains who have come from the future to participate in what history tells them is the predestined destruction of Superman at the hands of his greatest enemy.
Brainiac assumes that he is Superman’s greatest enemy, and asks the LSV why he should permit them to have any role in his assumed victory.  They argue that, being from the future, they know many things, such as the fact that the records show that all of Earth’s heroes came to the aid of its greatest champion in his darkest hour.  Grateful for this information, Brainiac deigns to allow them to stay, and places an enormous impenetrable force field around the Fortress to prevent any interference from the assorted do-gooders.
Inside the force field, Superman and Krypto wage long-distance guerrilla attacks on Brainiac’s weapons, though they’re unable to take out the force field projector, and they are rebuffed by the deadly radiation emitted by the Kryptonite Man if they get too close, and all the while Superman’s fellow heroes are locked outside, trying in vain to break through the impenetrable barrier.
As night falls, the battle comes to a pause, and we turn to the inside of the Fortress where a restless Superman seeks out Perry to discuss his fears about what seems to be his inevitable fate, and his regrets about what a mess he’s made of the lives of both Lois and Lana as a result of his own cowardice.
Elsewhere, a restless Jimmy Olsen finds Lana milling about in one of Superman’s trophy rooms, and the two learn that they both had the same idea.  Jimmy was seeking out a sample off the serum that, in the past, had given him the powers of Elastic Lad,, while Lana was looking for a sample of some strange radioactive waters that once temporarily conferred super powers onto her and Lois.
While Jimmy finds some suitable attire for them, Lana bathes in the waters and feels the power washing over, the most notable of which is super-hearing, which kicks in just in time for her to hear Superman confessing to Perry that while he loved Lana as a boy, since he became a man it’s been clear that there’s only one woman for him:  Lois.
Unaware that Lana can hear him, Superman insists that he will carry the secret of the full extent of his love for Lois to his grave, as never wants to hurt Lana.
Undaunted by this, Lana finishes suiting up and she and Jimmy prepare to make an assault on the force field generator.  She says to Jimmy, “We’re only second-stringers, Jimmy, but we’ll show ‘em…Nobody loved him better than us.  Nobody!”
The assembled villains are unprepared for the sudden attack, and while Lana bitch slaps the Kryptonite Man around prepares to take on Brainiac Jimmy gets to work on deactivating the force field generator.
However, she’s stopped in her tracks upon seeing the abomination that Luthor has become, until Lex manages to resist Brainiac’s control long enough to beg Lana to set him free.
She does so, with a super-powered karate chop to the neck.
With the new Brainiac-Luthor “team” dead in the snow, Lana turns to help Jimmy, but Saturn Queen scans her mind and determines the source of Lana’s power.  Cosmic King uses his power of transmutation to turn the radioactive source of her power into common salt, rendering her powerless, at which point Lightning Lord steps in and electrocutes her.
Jimmy cries out against them and asserts that they’re finished, as he has destroyed the force field, but then falls down dead as he’s shot in the back by Brainiac, who refuses to let a little thing like the death of his host body get in the way of his destiny.
Though Luthor’s head lolls unnaturally as his lifeless body lurches along, Brainiac insists that he can keep it moving long enough to achieve his goal.
The Kryptonite Man takes note of the fact that even though the generator was destroyed, the force field hasn’t fallen.  Brainiac is unconcerned about the reasons, believing that it is destiny itself stepping in to assure that he achieves his goal.
He fires a missile at the Fortress and blows a giant hole in its side.  Inside, Perry saves Alice from falling rubble, and she finds herself convinced that it’s time for them to put their differences aside.  Aww.
At this point, I have to mention that I’ve always hated Krypto.  The whole super dog thing is just…no.
That being said, we find ourselves presented with the only time the dog has ever been worth a damn:


The LSV decides to make its move on Superman, though once they mention that they killed Lana, in GOB Bluth fashion they realize that they’ve made a huge mistake as an enraged Superman lashes out at them with his heat vision.  A quick mind scan by Saturn Queen convinces them he’s not bluffing, and they decide to beat a hasty retreat back to the 30th Century.  Having history come alive, it seems, can be a lot scarier than you might think, especially when “history” is intent on getting revenge on you and is an unstoppable super-being.
Outside, Superman, with Lois in tow, faces off against Brainiac, who is no longer able to keep Luthor’s corpse moving.  Refusing to give up, Brainiac crawls off of Luthor’s head and takes several steps before finally giving in to the inevitable.
It seems that it’s all over…and yet,, somehow, it isn’t, as the force field remains in place.
Superman puts his super-intellect to work, mulling the situation over before finally coming to the inescapable conclusion.  He’s faced off against all of his major enemies.
All but one.
”There’s only one name missing, isn’t there?  I know you’re there, Mxyzptlk!  Come on out and show yourself!”
In a puff of brimstone, the Fifth-Dimensional imp complies, though he looks considerably less impish.
He explains that in his long, immortal life, he’s gone though many phases.  He spent thousands of years doing nothing at all, thousands doing only good, and, in his most recent phase, he spent thousands of years being an impish trickster.  He has now moved on to his next phase:  being evil.
Casting aside even the dark and distorted version of his usual form, he reveals his true self, a strange being of height, length, depth, and a couple of other things that Lois notes is difficult to look at.
Superman and Lois retreat to the Fortress, where Superman, knowing that he can’t win against a magical opponent, says he’ll try to hold him off as long as he can while Lois makes a run for it.  Lois calls Superman’s attention to the statue that he’s been carrying, the one given to him by the Legion.  More to the point, she draws his attention to what the statue is holding.
Leading Mxyzptlk on a chase, they end up in a room that contains thee screen that allows Superman to observe those Kryptonian villains imprisoned in the Phantom Zone.
”Time to die, I think,” Mxyzptlk says.
”That’s right, Mxyzptlk,” Superman says, as he steps out with the Phantom Zone projector in his hands.  “Time to die.”
As Superman presses the button to send Mxyzpltk into the Phantom Zone, Mxy cries out, “Kltpzyxm!” in an attempt to return to the Fifth Dimension,
The tension caused by the projector’s rays and the backwards-name safe word rips Mxyzpltk in two, utterly destroying him.
Lois expresses her relief that it’s all over, and that they can start to move on with their lives, but while she believes that Superman did what he had to do, the Man of Steel concludes that no one, especially Superman, has a right to deliberately kill.
He turns from Lois and walks towards a heavy door, ignoring her cries.  Opening the door, he turns to her, smiles, and walks inside.
The heavy, lead-lined door leads to the vault in which Superman kept a sample of Gold Kryptonite, a variety of Kryptonite that will permanently strip him of his powers.
Eventually, with the force field down, the other heroes are able to enter the Fortress.  When they force the vault open, they find it empty, as there was a secret passage leading out into the Arctic wastes.  They conclude that, powerless, he wandered out into the cold to die.
Back in 1997, Lois dismisses any rumors that Superman is still alive somewhere.  The interview concludes as Jordy enters with the no longer napping baby Jonathan.  As they say goodbye to the intrepid young reporter, we get a close-up shot of young Jonathan, who has a thick head of black hair with a  very distinctive spit curl…

He's not Superman's kid - Lois just had an affair with Dean Cain.

Jordy sets Jonathan down to play next to the coal bin, because apparently that’s how people heated their houses in 1997, and tells Lois about his day, while Jonathan idly plays with a lump of coal.  Lois comments on how much “Jordy” seems to enjoy all this “normal stuff,” and mentions on how he was pretty hard on Superman earlier.
”Superman was overrated,” Jordy says, “and too wrapped up in himself.  He thought the world couldn’t get along without him.”
Jonathan, meanwhile, can be seen dropping a diamond into the coal bin.
As the happy couple heads to bedroom, Jordy closes the door and gives us all a knowing wink.


Next time:
Every ending is a new beginning or some shit.
Some Thoughts:
One thing that really impressed me about this story was the fact that Moore could make such effective use of a lot of the sillier aspects of the Silver Age, such as Krypto, Elastic Lad, the assorted crazy ways in which Lois and Lana sometimes developed super powers, and, of course, Mr. Mxyzptlk.
As much as I’ve never been a fan of Krypto, I’ve never much cared for Lana Lang, either, to put it mildly.  To put it less mildly, I’ve always thought she was a total waste of a character, though I didn’t start to actively hate her until I started watching the “Smallville” TV series.
In any case, I always viewed her as a second-rate Lois, who was distinguished only by the fact that she had red hair, called people “luv,” and was just generally terrible.  Seriously, she was like all of the worst character traits of Lois gathered together and amplified.
That being said, I had tremendous affection for her in this story, given her willingness to sacrifice herself even after having it confirmed that Superman would never love her the way he loved Lois.
I was further impressed by the fact that when Lex begged her to kill him, she didn’t hesitate to do what needed to be done.  One has to assume that, even with all that had happened over the years, she still retained some affection for the man who had been her friend when they were young, so it had to have been a difficult decision to make.
As much as I love this story, I can’t say that it doesn’t have any flaws – the whole “workin’ man” thing with “Jordy” was a clear case of someone protesting too much, and the fact that the baby was named Jonathan also served as another major indicator of the answer to the question in the story’s title.
Additionally, while it packed a rather strong emotional punch to see Lana sacrifice herself after learning about Superman’s true feelings, I have to say that there’s no way that it could have come as a shock to her.  Even setting aside that Superman frequently demonstrated that Lois was the woman he loved, there had been stories prior to this one – in fact, I just re-read one recently – in which Superman did explicitly tell Lana that he would never love her the way he loved Lois.
I can let that slide, though, as this was, after all, an imaginary story.
As for the final fate of Lex Luthor, I find it challenging.  After all, one would assume that his all-consuming hatred of Superman would have driven him to do whatever it took to see his enemy dead, including being Brainiac’s meat puppet.
What was it that drove him beg for death?  Did he find something even stronger than his hatred for Superman – the desire to be free – or was he so selfish in his hatred of Superman that he couldn’t allow for his death to come by any hand other than his own?  Or rather, by any will other than than his own, given that, had Brainiac succeeded, it would have been Luthor’s hand that dealt the death blow.
As much as I love this story – and many others from this and earlier eras – there’s a lot about Silver Age Superman that I’m not particularly nostalgic about.  I do, however, feel a certain nostalgia for some of the characterization of Luthor that was presented over the years.  Sure, the basis of his hatred for Superman was silly, though ultimately the “He made me go bald!” angle was embellished a little further to make it so that Superman, as Superboy at the time, was responsible for destroying what would have been Lex’s greatest scientific achievement, but it was that singular focus that made him interesting.
After all, apart from his monomaniacal desire to kill Superman, Lex was, at his core, not really evil.  Sure, he was willing to do just about any evil thing necessary to achieve his goal, but he wasn’t evil for the sake of being evil.
There have been a lot of really good interpretations of the character since then, but no one has ever quite brought that same of pathos to the character.  Morrison came close in All Star Superman – a comic that is even more of a love letter to the Silver Age than this – and I have to say that I have a particular fondness for that take on the character, but even so, while that story made reference to it, there was never as clear a demonstration of what a tragic loss it was for the entire world that Lex was so consumed by hatred as there was in the best stories of the Silver Age.
Of course, that was only in the best stories of the Silver Age, and let me tell you, there were plenty of stories that didn’t even come close to being the best.
This story, while technically taking place in what is now known as the Bronze Age, definitely has its place in the company of the best.

The Art:
This time around Swan was assisted by another Superman veteran, Kurt Schaffenberger.  I like Schaffenberger a little more than I liked Swan, and it was only fitting to have the two of them working together on this, but I kind of wish that other Super-artists had been brought in to contribute to this story.  It certainly would have been warranted.
I actually think it would be interesting for DC to put out several new editions of this story with variants featuring a bunch of different artists reinterpreting the original script.  Honestly, it seems like just the sort of naked cash grab that DC would be up for (*Cough!*Before Watchmen*Cough!*), but it would also legitimately be cool.
Just a thought.

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