Thursday, October 20, 2011

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

This is virtual back issue browsing. Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is a two part story that appeared in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583. Written by Alan Moore (yes, him again) with art by Curt Swan and inks by George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger. I have the original issues of this which I bought when they first came out but I haven't un-bagged them this time. Instead this is a trade paperback collection of the story along with Alan Moore's other Superman stories. I picked this up in Gosh comics in London, a trendy Soho comic shop upstairs with a pleasantly fusty back-issues section downstairs in the basement.

This is a love letter to Silver Age Superman stories. Published after Crisis on Infinite Earths which effectively destroyed the Silver age DC comics universe, it hit the stands one month before writer/artist John Byrne rebooted Superman in The Man of Steel #1. Editor Julius Schwarz was looking for a writer to tell Superman's final story and discussed it with Alan Moore at a comic book convention. Legend has it that Moore told Schwarz that if he let anyone else write the story Moore would kill him, so he got the gig! And then combine him with the definitive Silver age Superman artist and two legendary DC inkers and the result was a perfect storm of a comic.

The story is told by Lois Lane in an interview to mark the tenth anniversary of Superman's death. It recounts his last days when all his familiar foes returned but with a new and deadly intent. Superman's secret identity is blown and he is forced to gather all his friends and take them to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic. Along the way he will be visited by old allies and villains before a final confrontation with perhaps the deadliest of all his Silver age enemies.

Everything about this story is just perfect. It has moments of humour and moments of darkest tragedy, it even has Superman in tears. It is just a brilliant distillation of all that was great about Superman before the Crisis. And yet it was produced by a writer from Northampton. I've blogged before about how difficult it was to collect American comics in the 1980s, so how on earth did Moore manage to keep up with all of the Superman stories in the 1960s and 70s? However he did it the result is the best Superman story ever published in my humble opinion.

I wanted to revisit this book after recently re-reading Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman (art by Frank Quitely and colours by Jamie Grant). This was a twelve issue series that gave us another story of Superman's last days and the challenges he overcame before the end. Now every 25 years or so the DC comics universe gets a major overhaul or re-jigging . It happened in 1985 with the Crisis, and it has just happened again with a complete reboot that has seen DC reset all its comics to issue one with new stories told from the beginning again . It occurred to me that even though All-Star Superman ran from 2005 to 2008 it is the equivalent of Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? for the current DC reboot. Grant Morrison's story of  the end of Superman is the coda to the last 30 years worth of tales of the Man of Steel. There is, of course, nothing completely new in stories. If you observe one art form for long enough you will eventually see the same things come around again.

All-Star Superman is a lovely piece of work, although it doesn't quite hit the heights that Moore, Swan, Pérez and Schaffenberger achieved in 1985. Great comics.

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