Comic Book / 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.

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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, editor Julius Schwartz hired Alan Moore, and Superman ur-artist Curt Swan. The first issue was inked by none other than George Perez and the second issue was inked by 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, it's 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.


Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? provides examples of:

  • 13 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.
  • Above Good and Evil: Played with. Mxy seems to treat stances on morality with the same weight as what he's having for dinner.
  • 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. She's also much more willing to snap Luthor's neck and rob Brainiac of his host than Superman probably was.
  • 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.
  • Back for the Finale: All of Superman's friends and enemies. Superman even lampshades this, in order to ascertain who the true Mastermind is. He figures out it is Mxyzptlk, because he is the only Silver Age villain not to make an appearance yet.
    Superman: Bizarro, the Prankster, the Toyman, Metallo, Brainiac, the Kryptonite Man, the Legion of Super-Villains... There's only one name missing, isn't there? ... I know you're there, Mxyzptlk! Come out and show yourself!
  • Berserk Button: You shouldn't have killed Lana, Lightning Lord...
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Mr. Mxyzptlk is the Trope Codifier here, as he proves to be a serious threat in spite of his reputation as a ludicrous nuisance.
  • Big Bad: Mxyzptlk turns out to be behind all the conflict.
  • 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 former forcibly possessing the latter in such a way that Braniac is in full control whilst Luthor is fully conscious.
  • The Cameo: Several.
  • Canon Immigrant: Jonathan would become the son of Clark and Lois 30 years after this story was published as the new Superboy.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: Earth's superheroes were too late and too weak to help Superman in his final battle.
  • Characterization Marches On: And possibly Foreshadowing, too. This was the first time Superman openly admitted I Just Want to Be Normal. John Byrne's Superman depicted as the character being Clark Kent, who has a secret identity of Superman, instead of the other way around.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The trophy the Legion gives Superman.
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Mxyzptlk orchestrates several events to get Superman's enemies to attack the Man of Steel with greater ferocity than before.
    • Also Brainiac, who controls 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.
  • Color-Coded Secret Identity: When Jordan first appears, he is wearing a blue jacket—the same as Superman’s signature blue (though no red). When he appears again at the end, he is wearing a gold shirt, like the gold Kryptonite that took away Superman’s powers.
  • Continuity Porn: For the Silver Age. It's astounding how much Alan Moore manages to squeeze into one story while still keeping it gripping and tense. For example, the source of Jimmy and Lana's powers were obscure even in 1985.
  • Creator Cameo: Curt Swan, Jenette Kahn, and Julie Schwartz are all on the cover of Action Comics #583, waving goodbye to Superman.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Superman is spared the pain of choosing between Lois and Lana when Lana meets her unfortunate end at the hands of Lightning Lord. At least it was a Heroic Sacrifice, but still...
  • 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 is set up as the main threat before Mxzyptlk is revealed to be behind everything.
  • Double Entendre: "This is an Imaginary Story... Aren't they all?", which can be taken several ways:
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Superman may have lost many of his friends and allies, but all of his enemies are now either dead, imprisoned, or have made the wise decision to leave him alone. In addition, he gets to settle down and start a family with Lois under a new identity.
  • Eureka Moment:
    • The Legion's gift to Superman, and what the trophy is holding, turns out to be a clue on how Superman can win the final battle.
    • Also, Superman's realization that Mxyzptlk must be the mastermind, as he is the only villain not to appear yet.
  • The Everyman: Jordan Elliot, to Superman's utter delight, is as normal and unremarkable as any other person.
  • Exact Words: I never saw Superman again.note 
  • Faking the Dead: Superman's greatest trick is his own death.
  • 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: 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.
  • Foreshadowing: Jordan Elliot's true identity is hinted at by his son's name: Jonathan.
  • Forgot About His Powers: The Kristin Wells version of Superwoman is one of the heroes trying to break down the forcefield around the Fortress of Solitude. She's capable of teleporting and walking through walls but it's later revealed Mr. Mxyzptlk was maintaining the wall with his own sorcery.
  • For the Evulz: Mxyzptlk enacts his scheme for shits and giggles.
  • Fully Absorbed Finale: For the Silver-Age Superman, and in Alan Moore's opinion, Superman period. As he noted in later interviews and as confirmed by Neil Gaiman, Moore wrote this fully with the intention of it being the "last Superman story".
  • 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: This story serves as the final ending for Silver Age Superman, as it has many of his greatest enemies defeated for good and concludes with him earning his happy ending.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Krypto, who manages to kill the Kryptonite Man before he can reach Superman, but is fatally poisoned in the process.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Luthor’s search for Brainiac in order to study his alien technology results in Brainiac instead taking control of Luthor.
    Brainiac: Greetings, Lex Luthor. Your body, mind, and vocal cords all now belong to me. I welcome you to the new Brainiac-Luthor team.
  • Humanoid 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?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Killed Offscreen: Lois mentions the Parasite and Terra-Man killed each other in a fight. Talk about a story that could have been told from that fight!
  • 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.
  • 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 puts Lex out of his misery 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:
    Lois: It had height, length, breadth, and a couple of other things. [...] Looking at it made my head hurt.
  • Mutual Kill: The Parasite and Terra-Man, two of Superman's most persistant Silver Age foes do not appear in the story. During Lois exposition opening about what things were like during Superman's final days, she mentions that the two had ended up killing each other 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 and Prankster (who murder Pete Ross and out Superman's secret identity) as well as Bizarro (who destroys Bizarro World on purpose and goes on a killing spree to try and carry being Superman's opposite to its logical extreme) and Mxy (who turns out to be why all of Superman's enemies have become worse than they acted before). Ironically, Toyman and the Prankster are murderers Post-Crisis.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Mr. Mxyzptlk's reaction to Superman holding the Phantom Zone Projector is one of pure terror, which is why he attempts a Villain: Exit, Stage Left! by saying his name backwards to go back to the fifth dimension. It gets him murdered by Superman.
    • The Legion of Supervillains are understandably horrified when Superman is enraged by discovering that Lightning Lord killed Lana Lang and opt to escape his wrath by fleeing back to the future.
  • 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.
  • Portal Cut: Happens to Mr. Mxyzptlk when he tries the teleport the same time Superman sends him into the Phantom Zone.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Brainiac resorts to taking over Luthor's body.
  • Reality Warper: The reason why Mxy becomes Superman's most dangerous foe, he more or less triggers Random Events Plot that upset the Silver Age status-quo, with harmless villains like the Toyman and the Prankster getting gritty violent reboots, Bizarro becoming an Omnicidal Maniac, Superman's identity exposed in a random banner and of course the coalition of villains that lay siege at the Fortress of Solitude.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning
    Superman: YOU HURT LANA?!
  • Revenge: The main motive for the attack of the Metallos and Brainiac is to get even with Superman beating them so many times in the past.
  • Sand In My Eyes: Saturn Girl says that “some 20th century virus” is causing her eyes to water.
  • 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.
  • Superpowerful Genetics: Lois' son squeezes a lump of coal until it becomes a diamond, implying that his father is Superman in disguise.
  • Temporal Paradox: (Possible) Ontological example. Lois and Superman realize that the Phantom Zone projector was their only hope of defeating Mxyzptlk because of the statuette they received from the time-traveling Legion of Superheroes. However, the Legion likely knew to do this, because Lois survives and gives an account of the Legion’s assistance, which the Legion then learns about a millennium later. So Lois' survival depends on the Legion going back in time, but the Legion going back in time depends on Lois' survival. It is possible there is an original timeline where Superman figures out to use the Phantom Zone projector without the Legion’s assistance. Yet, if that’s the case, that means the Legion traveled back in time just to give Superman a totem with the exact right clue, even though they expect him to die in the Arctic right after.
  • 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.
  • There Was a Door: Superman flies through the wall of the base of Toyman and Prankster. Since they had just murdered one of his oldest friends you cannot blame him for wanting to find them as soon as possible.
  • These Hands Have Killed: After unleashing the Phantom Zone projector to destroy Mxyzptlk, Lois comforts Superman and points out that it's 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.
  • 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.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's set at least ten years into the future and the furniture looks futuristic.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend:
    • Lana Lang.
    • Pete Ross gets tortured and killed.
  • Unmasqued World: In the future, everybody knows that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person.
  • 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.
  • Villain: Exit, Stage Left!:
    • The Legion of Supervillains retreat to the 30th century when they realize that Superman is prepared to kill them for murdering Lana Lang.
    • When Superman aims the Phantom Zone projector at Mxyzptlk, the fifth dimensional being attempts to escape by saying his name backwards, only to be torn in two from being sent to the Phantom Zone and the fifth dimension at the same time.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Mxy says that he spent the first 2,000 years of he existence doing nothing, the next 2,000 years being a benevolent being, and then the last 2,000 years being a prankster. He's decided that now he would just be plain evil. After that? He muses he'd probably spend the 2,000 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.

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