Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Superman #423, Action Comics #583) – Alan Moore

4 out of 5

So Crisis was happening, rebooting Superman, and respected and historic editor Julius Schwartz was off of ‘Superman’ and ‘Action Comics.’  But how to end it all?  And thus the decision… to end it all.  When discussing the logistics of this over lunch with Alan Moore, Moore laid down a demand to be the scribe; Schwartz agreed.  (I’m taking this from the foreword to a collected edition of this story…)

We open with part 1, drawn by Curt Swan, inked by Perez, with a Lois Lane of the future giving an interview to a current Daily Planet reporter about the last days of Superman for a memorial issue.  This ‘flashback’ tale continues over to part 2 (crossing over the two Superman books), Swan now inked by Schaffenberger, as Lois concludes recounting Supes ‘death’ (or disappearance), this framing story ending with a wink that tells us all ends well after all.

Moore’s confidence in jumping ahead and looking back without over-explaining the setup sells this tale and keeps it light, despite the relatively heavy story recounted by Lois, of the time when all of Supes’ major baddies decide to turn against him – unmasking him, killing his friends, laying siege to the Fortress – and finally, causing S to cross a line even he (especially he) is never meant to cross.  It’s a fun tale that lurches between loving mentions of the comic’s history and grand, traditional dramatics, but it’s also a bit hindered by the limitations of the pitch – big story, two issues.  Moore splits it at a good point, part 2 starting after Superman has gathered his closest friends at the Fortress to prepare for a siege, but the dropping bodies and twist found in issue 2 come too fast in relationship to the mystery of ‘why now?’ established in part 1.  And I realize Schaffenberger is a legend in his own right, but his loose inks over Swan art such a contrast to Perez’ detailed, assured inking that the second half of the story feels and looks hurried in comparison.  This is a billion years ago, but one more issue of lead-in might’ve helped to make this perfect; as is it tickles of something amazing, but gets a bit dodgy with its frequent ‘and now THIS’ moments in its latter half, which is too bad since the reveal of the mystery is pretty sweet (and has been re-used in its own, true-to-the-author way by Morrison for his JLA run).

Thankfully, Alan’s decision to bring it back around to a fun close makes it satisfying overall, which is the big takeaway, here: with only two issues, Moore moves us through some huge emotional thrusts, from the sense of tragedy of Superman losing all of his friends, to the seemingly conflicting and confusing happenings with Brainiac and Luther and the visiting Legion of Superheroes from the 30th century, to the human and celebratory wraparound featuring Lois and her husband.  Yes, there’s maybe a more perfect version of this that unravels over several issues, but that wasn’t really the mandate, and that wasn’t really the point: the point was to makes Supes’ world feel big and relevant and to close the backcover of its storybook in a conclusive way (even if it was only going to be reopened next issue), and that’s a very tall order for such a recognizable character… that Moore pulls off with what seems like ease.