Comic books 09 Feb 2009 06:54 am
In anticipation of Neil Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?” (a two-part story running through Batman and Detective Comics this month, the first part of which hits comics shops this week), I reread Alan Moore’s “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” from 1986 or thereabouts. I remember being totally geeked on the story when I originally read it; my copies even have the autographs of longtime Superman artist Curt Swan and editor Julie Schwartz (who ended their long associations with the character with this story), signed at a comics convention sometime in the early ’90s.
I was considerably less enthused 23 years later, when the story mostly just made me sad. Since the two-parter was meant as the swan song (no pun intended) for the then-current version of Superman (who was still more or less the Silver Age updating of the hero), DC allowed Brit writer Alan Moore to blow up established continuity and kill off members of the supporting cast, knowing that “new” versions were on their way the following month when fan-favorite writer/artist John Byrne was scheduled to reboot Superman in the Man of Steel mini-series.
Over the course of two issues, Superman loses his secret identity; his best friend Jimmy Olsen and childhood crush, Lana Lang, are killed, but only after Lana learns that Superman has one true love and she isn’t it; Lex Luthor’s mind is ravaged by Brainiac, who uses his stiffening corpse to further his jihad against the Man of Steel; the Daily Planet crumbles; and the world loses its greatest hero. Moore opens his saga with a wonderful prologue, and his epilogue leaves the door cracked for optimistic readers to imagine a happier ending. But the material between is bleak, bleak, bleak.
I’m fast becoming a member of the school of thought that says it’s best to put long-running characters out to pasture without these kinds of continuity codas that eradicate what has come before. The classic Schwartz era of Superman didn’t really need a conclusion; I bet many of its readers would be happier imagining this particular Superman continuing to fight the never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way without, well, ending the battle.
I’m still curious to see what Gaiman does with Batman this month. I haven’t been following Batman’s regular title too closely, but I understand Bruce Wayne is dead, or at least as dead as comics characters can ever be. (Which is to say he’ll be back.) I don’t think DC is planning any huge continuity reboot for Batman a la Man of Steel, so Gaiman’s story may not have the same aura of finality as “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”, which makes it more appealing.