The framing device of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" is the tale of a Daily Planet reporter, Tim Crane, in the then-future year of 1997, paying a visit to former Planet reporter Lois Lane-Elliot, hoping that she, as the last person to have seen Superman alive, can
The framing device of "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" is the tale of a Daily Planet reporter, Tim Crane, in the then-future year of 1997, paying a visit to former Planet reporter Lois Lane-Elliot, hoping that she, as the last person to have seen Superman alive, can shed some light on the mystery of the Man of Steel's disappearance ten years previous. The majority of the story is told in flashback, as Lois recounts for Crane the tale of Superman's final days.
Ten years before, Superman's secret identity was revealed when villains decided to simply start assassinating everyone associated with the Man of Steel. Two famous, if minor, past nuisances of Superman's, the Toyman and the Prankster, learn of Superman's secret identity from Pete Ross, whom they have tortured and killed, and during a live TV newscast, the "fearsome funsters" launch an attack that exposes Clark Kent's secret to the world. This darkening of intent is furthered when Bizarro, historically a harmless dunce who says the opposite of what he means, changes his modus operandi to become a "perfect imperfect clone" of Superman, by first going on a killing spree (since Superman never kills anyone), deliberately destroying the Bizarro World (since Superman's home planet of Krypton was destroyed in an accident) and then—taking the "opposite" theme to its logical conclusion—committing suicide, via exposure to blue kryptonite (since Superman was, in fact, alive, Bizarro's twisted logic translated this into his having to be dead to be the perfect imperfect clone).
While this is going on, Lex Luthor is searching an unidentified Arctic wasteland for the remains of Brainiac, who presumably died here when his organic spaceship crashed (see Action Comics #545). Finding the android's seemingly inert head, Luthor claims it with the intent of disassembling it to learn its technology. However, he inadvertently re-activates the head, which quickly moves to take over Luthor's own body and motor functions. With the intent of avenging his own defeat at Superman's hands, Brainiac, now in full control over Luthor, moves to build a new ship and take the fight to Superman personally. Along the way, he stops to pick up the Kryptonite Man, who has also been compelled to seek out and destroy Superman.
After saving the Daily Planet staff from an assault by an army of Metallos, Superman takes his closest friends (including Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang, and Perry White and his wife) to his Fortress of Solitude for safety. Krypto even joins them here, having returned from unspecified adventures in deep space especially for the occasion. At this moment, the Legion of Super-Heroes, including the recently-deceased Supergirl (who was visiting the Legion in the future at the time they took this trip), pay a visit from the 30th century, to bestow upon Superman a gift—a trophy of him holding the Phantom Zone Projector inscribed "HIS SUPREME HOUR"—in what is clearly, though Brainiac 5 pointedly denies it, a token of farewell.
True to Superman's fears, by the morning Brainiac and the time-traveling Legion of Super-Villains have begun a siege on the Fortress, with Brainiac erecting a forcefield around it to prevent other Earth-based heroes (including Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain Marvel, and others) from interfering. In the ensuing battle, Jimmy and Lana find inside the Fortress trophies of their own past dalliances with superpowers (a sample of Jimmy's old "Elastic Lad" serum and the costume Lana wore when she was briefly the "Insect Queen"), and decide to use these artifacts to aid Superman in this standoff. Lana is able to subdue the Kryptonite Man, while Jimmy successfully shuts down Brainiac's force-field. During this skirmish, Luthor is able to wrest back enough control of his body to beg Lana to kill him, hoping to take Brainiac with him when he dies— she reluctantly complies, snapping his neck.
Unfortunately, the Legion of Super-Villains is able to determine how these two ordinary humans were able to gain superpowers, and using that knowledge, they kill Lana. Jimmy is murdered by Brainiac, who is able to assume temporary control of Luthor's corpse. He then notes that his forcefield is still keeping the other heroes away, despite the destruction of the device generating it. A nuclear bomb, launched by Brainiac, finally breaches the walls of the Fortress. The Kryptonite Man rushes in, almost insane in his desire to see Superman "turn green and die" at his hands; Krypto, sensing the threat to his master, attacks and kills the Kryptonite Man, but succumbs to a fatal dose of Kryptonite radiation in the process.
In the end, with Brainiac finally deactivated when Luthor's body went into rigor mortis and the Legion of Super-Villains having fled back to the future, Superman realizes that not all of his old foes have yet been accounted for—and that the one missing name, Mxyzptlk, must be the villain behind all of this, as only he could have caused such bizarre events to occur. Sure enough, the extradimensional imp appears, with a decidedly darker color scheme and grimmer, more serious smile on his face, and claims credit for orchestrating the attacks, saying he has grown bored with simply being "mischievous" and now wants to see what it would be like to be "evil" instead. He then reveals his true form ("Did you honestly believe that a 5th Dimensional sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a derby hat?"), a giant purple energy construct of vaguely humanoid shape, and begins stalking Superman through the ruins of his Fortress.
With Lois's help, Superman suddenly realizes the significance of the trophy given to him by the Legion of Super-Heroes, and threatens Mxyzptlk with the Phantom Zone projector. Upon seeing this, Mxyzptlk panics and says his own name backward, which sends him back to his own dimension—at the same instant, Superman activates the projector, sending Mxyzptlk into the Phantom Zone. Torn in two between dimensions, Mxyzptlk dies with a horrific scream. Since he has broken his own code to never kill, Superman, in penance, voluntarily enters a chamber containing a sample of Gold Kryptonite (which would permanently drain him of his powers), and disappears into the Arctic wasteland. When the other heroes enter the remains of the Fortress, they find only Perry White, his wife, and Lois still alive. Superman's body is never found, and it is assumed by all parties that he wandered into the Arctic wasteland, powerless, to die.
After the interview is over and Crane leaves the Elliot residence, it is indirectly revealed that Jordan Elliot, Lois's husband, is in fact Superman himself—now without powers and living the life of a typical middle-class suburbanite with Lois—meaning he did not in fact die in the Arctic, although exactly how he did survive is never revealed. They have a child, Jonathan, that has apparently inherited Superman's strength (he is seen crushing a lump of coal into a diamond), and possibly his other powers. The final image is of Jordan delivering a classic "Superman" wink to the reader, as he and Lois prepare to "just live happily ever after."
Issues in storyline are unknown.
Items: None known.
Vehicles: None known.
Weapons: None known.
- "Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" is a DC Comics trade collection of the final issues of the Pre-Crisis titles Superman (Volume 1) #423 and Action Comics #583, featuring the character of Superman. Written by Alan Moore, pencilled by long-time Superman artist Curt Swan, and inked by George Pérez (Superman #423) and Kurt Schaffenberger (Action Comics #583), the tale incorporates the Mort Weisinger-era style but has a distinctly modern twist. It is intended to close the book on the original character's history prior to The Man of Steel relaunch by John Byrne, and was Swan's final major contribution to the series, though he would later occasionally return for special occasions.
- The story's name is a reference to the backup stories published in DC Comics Presents from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, which revisited various long-unused Silver Age characters; these stories were all titled "Whatever Happened to (x)?"
- When originally published, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?" was presented as if it were indeed the last Superman story - because, as far as this version of the character was concerned, it was precisely that. The first half of the story, published in Superman (Vol. 1) issue #423, was even billed as that magazine's "Historic Last Issue" (which was accurate in a sense, as that magazine would be retitled Adventures of Superman effective with issue #424, but subsequently retitled back to its original title Superman with issue #650 in 2006).
- Regardless of DC's editorial intentions, this "final" Superman story was presented by DC as being an "Imaginary Story", a Silver Age convention, revived especially for this occasion, that served to tell "What If?" stories that would have been considered series-killers if they were to happen in the "real" continuity of the comic. Thus, it is debatable whether or not this story should be considered canonical with the Superman series as it existed pre-Man of Steel reboot.
- The story opens with a brief legend that ends thus: "This is an Imaginary Story... Aren't they all?"
- Superman's new identity pays homage to both of his fathers; not only is Jonathan, his son with Lois, named after his adoptive father (Jonathan Kent), but his own new name, Jordan Elliot, harkens back to Jor-El, the name of Kal-El's Kryptonian birth father.
- In 2005, the closing moments of the "Absolute Power" arc in Superman/Batman established that this Superman is an analog/variant of the Kingdom Come Superman. With the intervention of Metron, the Kingdom Come Superman managed to get the timestream changed and with it, he became Jordan Elliot, ready to live happily ever after.
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