Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (comics)

Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Curt Swan, Dave Gibbons
Collects: Superman #423, Action Comics #583, Superman Annual #11, DC Comics Presents #84

Alan Moore is a guy I don't like to talk about much. Part of that stems from the fact that much of his body of work is filled with what are widely recognized as classics. They've been thoroughly dissected over the years. There's nothing more to say.

The other part comes from the fact that I don't think highly of him anymore. He very much reminds me of John Byrne; bitter, angry and holier than thou. At some point, it's so bad you don't even want to think about them anymore.

But occasionally, you read one of those "classics" and start to feel like everyone is seeing something you're not.

The lead feature of the book is Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow. This is considered downright legendary. I've seen nothing but praise for it over the years. Yet, now having read it, it kind of pisses me off.

Essentially written from the start to be the last story of the Silver Age Superman - you know, the guy who regularly engaged in Superdickery - Moore takes that premise to a deadly extreme. As always, this is well written, because Moore is just one of those guys who could write in his sleep. But well written and well thought out aren't always mutually exclusive. For a capstone of the Silver Age version of Superman, it feels so utterly out of step with those sensibilities. It's so utterly dark in every way.

One look at Silver Age Superman tells a pretty simple story. It's the time period where Superman would randomly get a new power. One that shot rainbow beams that make a miniature Man of Steel. Or when he'd play cruel pranks on his friends. Or the occasions he'd back in time with Batman only to accuse him of being a witch and nearly get the guy killed because that's just what best friends do.

This story? It's like a pall has been cast over it. Everything in Supermans life has come full circle, almost as if to say goodbye. This is about the point where everyone starts dying.

Yeah, Alan Moore pretty much slaughters Supermans entire supporting cast in this, which is one reason it's almost baffling no one ever raised an eyebrow. There's the admittedly heartbreaking scene where Krypto dies defending his master from the Kryptonite Man. Lana Lang snaps Lex Luthors neck right around the time she learns Superman could never love her. Lana and Jimmy Olsen both die because why the hell not? Even Mr. Mxyplkt gets all up in the murderin' business. The goddamn interdimensional imp.

This all, of course, meant to close the book on a guy for whom a regular adventure consisted of trying to trick Jimmy Olsen into thinking no one knew him.

By the end, all the doom and gloom that seems to signal that Superman is going to bite the big one is for nothing, really. Superman gets his happy ending. Which he absolutely should; there's no other way the book should end. But why the hell did everyone tangentially connected to Superman need to become so much worm food to do it? Why does a story soaked in the blood of beloved characters feel it can get away with a cutesy wink and nod?

Short version is that it feels inauthentic. Like an endgame suited better to some cynical, 90's take on the character. Not the guy who wiped out crime and ended up with so much free time he basically had fun pranking people half the time. The craft is there, of course, but I'm not sure I see what everyone else does. Maybe it was just a sign of the times; looking back, a fair number of the most popular work from this time period seem awash in cynicism.

All that said, damn if Curt Swan doesn't draw the hell out of it. He's considered one of the definitive - if not THE definitive - Superman artists for a reason. This was, I believe, his last major project on Superman and he goes out with a bang.

Much like the Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader collection, this edition collects the writers other stories on the character. This includes a story depicting Swamp Things first real meeting with Superman. The other is another Moore story everyone considers a classic, "For the Man Who Has Everything".

Despite essentially being extras, these were the stories that made the slog worth it. While I don't feel WHTTMOT is all it was cracked up to be, For the Man Who Has Everthing was every bit as great as I expected. I recall the Justice League animated series did an adaption of this one, sans Robin. Turns out it was pretty faithful. The Swamp Thing story is very good as well, though not quite as remarkable.

I guess if you really like Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, you should definitely get it in this format. You won't find better. Me? Yech. I know most people feel differently, but, well, I call the scoring section "My Opinion" now for a reason.

My Opinion: Skip It

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