Comicbook: Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?

Given that this is a self-contained Imaginary Story that does not have a canonical impact on any Superman series, all spoilers on this page are unmarked. Tread carefully.

See ya, big guy. You'll be missed.

"This is an Imaginary Story... Aren't they all?"

Superman really hit his stride in The Silver Age of Comic Books, which introduced things like multi-colored Kryptonite, Supergirl, Bizarro, and the Fortress of Solitude. Even today, much of what the average person knows about Supes (not counting his death) comes from that period.

Then came the Crisis on Infinite Earths, a mega-event that reset the continuity of every DC title. Thus began the modern, John Byrne era of Superman which strove to be more "realistic." Realizing that Silver Age Superman deserved a grand finale, Julius Schwartz hired Alan Moore, and Superman ur-artists Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger (who was also best known for defining the look of Lois Lane, and his work on Shazam and the Captain Marvel Family tales), and made the last Silver Age tale—an "imaginary story." Published in September, 1986. For Moore, a lifelong Superman fan, specifically the Silver Age Superman, this story was the "final" Superman story. For many writers, its one of the greatest Superman stories ever written with Neil Gaiman claiming that the opening is the greatest triple entendre in comics and a goodbye to a Superman that existed in Moore's heart.

Daily Planet reporter Tim Crane comes to interview Lois Elliot (nee Lane) on the anniversary of the death of Superman. Lois tells the story in a Whole Episode Flashback.

After Superman's life has settled into an easy groove as all the villains lie low, he spends his time helping NASA with experiments. Of course, the villains then go berserk, attacking Metropolis in increasingly grisly ways. Superman takes his friends to the Fortress of Solitude, pursued by the Kryptonite Man, the Legion of Supervillains, and creepiest of all, an enslaved Lex Luthor, mind rape­­­d and taken over by the remains of Brainiac.

Superman makes his last stand, and survives by the skin of his teeth. He defeats Brainiac, but realizes there's one last villain: Mxyzptlk. Bored after spending 2,000 years as a mischievous imp, Mxyzptlk has decided to try being truly evil. Superman is no match for Mxyzptlk's godlike power, but thanks to a warning from the Legion of Super-Heroes, he's able to kill Mxyzptlk using the Phantom Zone projector. Appalled that he's violated his code against killing, Superman exposes himself to gold kryptonite (permanently robbing himself of all powers) and apparently commits suicide by exposure to the elements.

Back at the Framing Device, Tim Crane thanks Lois for her story, leaves, passing Lois's husband Jordan Elliot. It's revealed that Jordan Elliot is actually Superman and that he's in his retirement, happy to enjoy an ordinary life for once. Jordan, crazy in love with Lois, winks at the audience, enjoys a Happy Ending... and misses the fact that his infant son is exhibiting Super Strength.

That's the tale. As time went on, the fans rejected the modern era Superman, and the classic Silver Age trappings came back. However, the legacy of this story would continue to endure.

Just as this story was Silver Age Superman's "epilogue" following Crisis on Infinite Earths, a similar story has come in the wake of Final Crisis, Batman's "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?" The two stories are similar in presence, but while "Tomorrow" was a tribute to the Silver Age Superman (whose tenure is debated to last all the way to The Bronze Age of Comic Books; the Golden Age Superman, Kal-L would later return in Infinite Crisis), "Caped Crusader", which followed in the death of Bruce Wayne in Final Crisis, is a tribute/epilogue to all versions of the Bruce Wayne Batman, as told by the various versions of his allies and enemies. Both storylines, however, maintain a theme of renewal, "Tomorrow" sees the future of Superman passed onto the next generation, and "Caped Crusader" sees Batman reborn to continue his crusade against injustice.

Provides Examples Of

  • Action Girl: Lana. And she does make a difference in the story where even Superman couldn't because the superpowers she gains aren't affected by Kryptonite. Though they can be removed by transmuting the elements in the treatment she took.
  • Alien Geometries: Lois described the true form of Mxyzptlk as having "length, width, breadth, and a couple other things," reflecting the long-established fact that Mxyzptlk is from the fifth dimension.
  • All Your Base Are Belong to Us: Several villains try this against the fortress of solitude, but none of them really succeed.
  • Almighty Janitor: In something of a literal sense.
  • And I Must Scream: Luthor... until he musters enough willpower to beg Lana Lang to kill him. She complies.
  • Anyone Can Die: Since it was the swan song of the Silver Age Superman, Alan Moore was given a free hand.
  • Babies Ever After: At end of the story, Superman lives an ordinary life with Lois and his son Jonathan.
  • Berserk Button: You shouldn't have killed Lana, Lightning Lord...
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Mxyzptlk.
  • Big Bad: Mxyzptlk.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Brainiac and the League of Supervillains in particular want very much to be Superman's greatest foe, but in the end look rather pathetic (Brainiac ditching Luthor's corpse and desperately trying to reach Superman in the midst of a total system failure, the League running back to the future with their tails between their legs after triggering Supes' Berserk Button).
  • Bittersweet Ending: For the whole Superman mythos. Pete Ross, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Krypto, Lex Luthor, and Supergirl are all dead and Superman chooses to retire and nullify his own powers after he's forced to use the Phantom Zone projector to destroy Mr. Mxyzptlk. But Clark and Lois have survived and can finally be together and all of the supervillains have been either killed, captured, or driven away. The future sequences show that Superman has left his mark and made the world a better place, while his son will presumably go on to be the hero of future generations.
  • Body Horror: The new Brainiac-Luthor "team" involves the latter forcibly possessing the former in such a way that Braniac is in full control whilst Luthor is fully conscious.
  • The Cameo: Several.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Earth's superheroes were too late and too weak to help Superman in his final battle.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The trophy the Legion gives Superman.
  • The Chessmaster: Mxyzptlk.
    • Also Brainiac, who controlled the middle of the comic as the visible Big Bad.
  • Clark Kenting: He pulls it once again! Tim Crane doesn't seem to recognize Clark Kent nor Superman behind Mr. Elliot's mustache and gray hair on his temples!
  • Continuity Porn: For the Silver Age. It's astounding how much Alan Moore manages to squeeze into one story while still creating a gripping and tense story.
  • Creator Cameo: Curt Swan, Jenette Kahn, and Julie Schwartz are all on the cover of Action Comics #583, waving goodbye to Superman.
  • Darker and Edgier: Invoked by Lois when Mxyzptlk appears.
    Lois: He didn't look funny anymore.
    • Compare this story to any other Silver Age Superman story. Let's just say it's made clear very quickly that this is final.
  • Dead Sidekick: Bye, Pete Ross, Jimmy Olsen and Krypto.
  • Dirty Coward: The Legion of Supervillains come from the future because there was going to be a great victory that day. Naturally they only fight when they are sure they will win and when they get scared they flee back to their time period.
  • Disc One Final Boss: The Luthor/Brainiac fusion.
  • Double Entendre: "This is an Imaginary Story... Aren't they all?", which can be taken several ways:
    • This is a What If? story, which DC used occasionally during the Golden and Silver Ages for Filler issues, and identified as "imaginary stories" to distinguish them from stories set in the (arguably loose, especially in the Golden Age) "official" series continuity. (The concept would later be revived at DC under the Elseworlds imprint.
    • This is a canonical ending to the original Superman tales before John Byrne's reboot.
    • All comic books are imaginary stories, so this non-continuity story is no less valid than any in-continuty story.
    • Later down the line, the final issue of DC Presents, which feature the Phantom Zone criminals and Mxy himself was described as the final/lost Pre-Crisis story and sorts of contradicts some of the events shown in Tomorrow.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Mr. Mxyzptlk's true form, which is also an Energy Being.
    Mxyzptlk: You didn't think a 5th-dimensional sorcerer really looked like a funny little man in a bowler hat, did you?
  • Eureka Moment: The Legion's gift to Superman, and what the trophy is holding.
  • The Everyman: Jordan Elliot, to Superman's utter delight.
  • Exact Words: I never saw Superman again.
  • Faking the Dead: Superman's greatest trick.
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: The death of Mr Mxyzptlk, whose humanoid Energy Being form is torn in half on panel, as he screams in pain and horror... Also, Lana Lang being fried by electricity from Lightning Lord.
  • First Girl Wins: Tragically. Although chronologically, Lana Lang is the first girl in the comics timeline though Lois Lane was always the first girl in the Superman stories. Superman tells Perry White that Lana was always the girl of his youth, but Lois was his one true love and the person he cared for as an adult.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator Lois tells the story in a Whole Episode Flashback.
  • For the Evulz: Mxyzptlk.
  • Genre Throwback: The cover of the first part is much like a very Silver Age Superman story that makes promises of such outrageous things that there is no way they could ever actually happen but the reader just has to buy it anyway... Except they all do!
  • Go Out with a Smile: The last thing Superman does is give Lois a smile.
  • Grand Finale: For Silver Age Superman.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Krypto, who manages to kill the Kryptonite Man before he can reach Superman, but is fatally poisoned in the process.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Luthor gains enough control to beg Lana to kill him to stop Brainiac. She complies.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Clark, I mean Jordan, got his wish. Jordan mocks Superman in the beginning of the story, proclaiming that the ordinary working Joe is the real hero, then when teased by Lois about really enjoying his life, Jordan remarks that Superman was deluded into thinking the world couldn't go on without him.
    • This is arguably the resolution of the Bronze Age Superman's entire character arc as the writers, attempting to make him more interesting, had been focusing for a long while on Superman's isolation from humanity and lack of true peers and companions. What had always stopped him from taking this step was the assumption that the world couldn't get along without him.
  • Locked Out of the Fight: Several of Superman's heroic allies come to help him in the final battle, but are kept out by a Force Field until it's all over.
  • Killed Off for Real: As an imaginary story, the body count is possibly the highest it will ever get in a Superman story: Terra-Man, Parasite(before the story begins), Bizarro (along with the bizarro world), Pete Ross, Metallo (possibly, if you take the dialog at face value), Supergirl (offscreen), Lana Lang, Jimmy Olsen, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, The Kryptonite Man, Krypto and Mr. Mxyzptlk.
  • Manly Tears: Supes is sobbing at the end of Superman #423.
  • Meaningful Rename: Jordan Elliot, the identity adopted by Clark after losing his powers.
  • Mercy Kill: Lana gives Lex one of these at his pleading.
  • Metaphorically True:
    • Lois isn't lying when she says she never saw Superman ever again after he walked into the Gold Kryptonite room.
    • Supergirl knows that two of her can't exist at the same time. Superman tells her that "Supergirl is in the past."
  • More Than Three Dimensions: Lois, in her narration, struggles to describe Mxyzptlk's reveal of his true form:
    It had height, length, breadth, and a couple of other things. [...] Looking at it made my head hurt.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Poor Lana. At least it was a Heroic Sacrifice, but still. . .
  • Mutual Kill: The Parasite and Terra-Man, two of Supermans most persistant Silver Age foes do not appear in the story. During Lois exposition opening about what things were like during Supermans final days, she mentions that the two had ended up killing eachother in a massive fallout.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: According to the older Supergirl, if you travel back to a time period where your past self is present, you become a ghost. Since the modern Supergirl died in Crisis on Infinite Earths, this doesn't happen, forcing Superman to make up an excuse.
  • Not Quite Dead: Apparently, Brainaic survived the loss of his body, so long as he could take over someone else's. In particular, Luthor's.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Everybody, really. Superman is deeply disturbed by this; when the nuisances of the past come back as murderers, what happens when the murderers come back? Special note to Toyman, Prankster, Bizarro, and Mxy.
    • Ironically, Toyman and the Prankster are murderers Post-Crisis.
  • One-Winged Angel: Mxy assumes his true form in the Final Battle ("Did you honestly believe that a 5th Dimensional sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a derby hat?" laughs the villain.) and being five dimensional, cannot be fully comprehended by earthlings; as Lois puts it, “I can’t describe what Mxyzptlk then became. He had height, width, depth, and a couple of other things, too.”
  • Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?: A variation.
    Hooker: I could break your heart for $50.
    Metallo: (Rips open shirt to reveal a grappling hook where his heart should be) I doubt it.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: What Brainiac resorts to with Luthor.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning
    Superman: YOU HURT LANA?!
  • Revenge: The main motive for the attack of the Metallos and Brainiac.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Saturn Queen and company decide to cut and run when Superman gets lethally angry.
  • The Siege: Superman's last battle was even referred to by Lois as The Siege of the Fortress of Solitude: Superman's last stand.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: The rare male variant, Pete Ross.
  • Super Empowering: Lana and Jimmy use devices in Superman's Fortress to give themselves temporary super powers to help Superman.
  • That Man Is Dead: Through Self-Deprecation.
    Jordan: Superman was overrated. Too wrapped up in himself. Thought the world couldn't get along without him.
  • These Hands Have Killed: After unleashing the Phantom Zone projector to destroy Mxyzsptlk, Lois comforts Superman and points out that its a clear Godzilla Threshold and that there really was no other way but Superman still feels the gravity of what he did, noting that he knew what he was doing and that he intended to kill him. It clearly changed him as a person as noted below.
  • Thirteen Is Unlucky: This comic book, dealing with the end of Superman, mentions 13 villains total, with the last one, "his greatest foe" pushing him to his end.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Subverted... and yet, played straight after a fashion:
    Superman: I broke my oath. I killed him. Nobody has the right to kill. Not Mxyzptlk... not you... not Superman. Especially not Superman.
    • Saturn Queen is shocked that Superman's not bluffing when he attacks the trio with heat vision after their murder of Lana Lang, noting he's prepared to kill.
  • The Trickster: Mxyzptlk remains one. He's just gone from Anansi to (post Face-Heel Turn) Loki.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Lana Lang.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Basically all the main villains end up being this for Mr. Mxyzptlk with the possible exception of the Legion of Supervillains (but again, only maybe). The most clear examples would be the Prankster and Toyman who weren't even able to explain why they acted in the way they did when confronted.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Mxy says that he spent the first 10,000 years of he existence doing nothing, the next 10,000 years being a benevolent being, and then the last 10,000 years being a prankster. He's decided that now he would just be plain evil. After that? He muses he'd probably spend the 10,000 years after his evil run being remorseful. All attributed to the fact that he has to find something to do being immortal.
  • You Are Too Late: Despite their best efforts, the rest of the world's heroes are unable to assist Superman in time, as Braniac's force field is blocking off the Fortress, even after his death. Once it falls, it's already too late.
  • Zeerust: Taking place in the far flung date of 1997, the fashion in the story is less futuristic/modern and more '80s. Lois Lane's dress in particular looks exactly like Bond Girl Lupe Lamora's.
    • Tim Crane wears a hideous "futuristic" 1970's leisure suit.

Alternative Title(s):

What Ever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow