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Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

Released in a Deluxe Edition hardback format to compliment Neil Gaiman’s farewell to the Caped Crusader, this collection of Alan Moore Superman stories is a pretty cool purchase, and one significantly better than the Batman equivalent it is published alongside. A fond goodbye to the Silver Age of Superman (and comics as a whole), it reads fantastically well in retrospect as a goodbye in many ways to the innocence of the earlier superhero four-colour tales. The fact that it’s accompanied by arguably an even better Superman story is just icing on the cake.

"I can't stand to fly..."

"I can't stand to fly..."

It must be lonely to be Superman. To be a modern god in the style of the Greek legends of old, atop an Artic Olympus. To have all that power and yet be unable to touch or feel or live as humans do. Despite the bright costume and the red cape, Superman is a tragic figure who hides his own sense of sadness behind his iconic symbol and feats of superheroism. Alan Moore is one of the few writers who grasps this aspect of the character, and this explains why Moore writes such fantastic stories. He would take that tragedy to its logical extreme with the character of Doctor Manhatten in Watchmen, but here he toys with the notion.

The title story, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, was intended to be the definitive goodbye story to Superman, and it still holds up today. All of a sudden the innocence of Superman’s little world is turned upside down as pranksters and second-tier villains become serial killers and sadists. The end of an era is approaching and Superman begins to wonder if he can save those closest to him from some bizarre force driving his opponents at him. Moore manages to balance the light and fluffy elements that defined the Silver Age (Krypto the Wonder Dog! The Legion of Superheroes!) with a darker twist. There is genuine darkness at the very edge of (and sometimes even on) the panel.

A Super Birthday?

Moore manages to do what he does well, mixing this ridiculous melodrama with human moments (in this story provided by Perry White and his divorced wife amid the chaos and carnage). Superman gets a few minutes of candid honesty and Moore manages to handle the Lana/Lois/Supes triangle much better than most other writers. Superman is a conflicted hero, he just hides it very well. The ending isn’t exactly a shocker, but it’s a nice ending and one that the character has earned, in a way. If this is the definitive end of Superman, Moore knows what the character deserves.

It’s a fond trip down memory lane, but never over-loaded with references. Moore uses dialogue well, so the visits from Superman’s old foes aren’t ever particularly jarring. The final reveal of the mastermind makes sense in context and the motivation is a cleverly ridiculous and illogical notion that fits the type of story Moore is trying to tell.

All Myxed up...

The two back-up stories are also two Superman stories written by Moore. The first is The Jungle Line, a Swamp Thing crossover. It’s solidly mediocre stuff – nothing too shocking or groundbreaking. It’s told in an interestingly weird sort-of-way and it’s nice to have a reference to the character’s origin thrown in. There’s an interesting sequence where the character dreams of the facets of his personality arguing over what to do as his death approaches – represented by their outfits. The disembodied Superman suit suggests that he is immortal and should fight it, but the disembodied business suit and glasses representing mild-mannered Clark Kent recommends acceptence of his fate.

The real gem of this collection – perhaps even more so than the title story – is For The Man Who Has Everything. It’s a Superman annual written by Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbins. It’s like a warm-up for Watchmen. The plot sees Superman trapped inside a fantasy where Krypton never exploded and he went on to live a normal life. In reality, he’s being consumed by a parasitic plant.

A murderous Bizarro? This must be Bizarro Bizarro!

The story deals with the same themes that eventually play out in the title story: for all his strength and powers, Superman wants to be normal. Deep down inside, he wants a normal life with a family and a home. Moore manages to slowly warp the fantasy and twist it, implying that not only should Superman be careful what he wishes for, but that he is destined to be a tragic figure forever. The ending jars somewhat with how Moore ended the headlining story, but arguably with good reason: this isn’t a final story, but an examination of the character. It’s also fun to see Moore play with the tropes of the superhero genre before throwing the toys out of the pram on his magnum opus.

Moore may well be the best Superman writer I’ve ever read. If you have any interest in the character, there is absolutely no reason not to pick up this Deluxe Edition now. It isn’t the high point of Moore’s back catalogue by any means, but it is one of the finest collections of stories you’re going to get for the character.

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