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Comic Book / Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

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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, editor Julius Schwartz hired Alan Moore, and Superman ur-artist Curt Swan. The first issue was inked by none other than George Pérez 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 (née 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 typically dated to last all the way through The Bronze Age of Comic Books and ended with Crisis on Infinite Earths; 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:

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    A - H 
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It's set at least ten years into the future and the furniture looks futuristic.
  • Above Good and Evil: Played with. Mxy seems to treat stances on morality with the same weight as what he's having for dinner, in spite of being willing to commit to one for thousands of years.
  • 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.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Lex Luthor spends most of the story in complete agony and finally begs Lana to kill him, which she does.
    • Brainiac spends his final moments reduced to a pathetic crab-like little creature who can't even get close enough to touch Superman as rigor mortis sets in on Luthor's corpse. Even after detaching itself, all it can do is drag itself a few feet before collapsing and shutting down.
    • Bizarro, strangely enough, has never been more terrifying or more pitiable than he is here. In his desperate quest to become Superman's "perfect imperfect duplicate," Bizarro destroys his own planet on purpose (because Krypton was destroyed by accident), comes to Earth as an adult (because Superman came as a baby), kills lots and lots of people (because Superman never kills) and finally, because Superman is alive, kills himself with blue kryptonite. His last words are "Hello, Superman, hello."
  • Alien Geometries: Lois described the true form of Mxyzptlk as having "height, length, breadth, and a couple of 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.
  • And I Must Scream: Luthor's personality is consumed by Brainiac, who starts using his body as a living puppet. Eventually, he musters enough willpower to beg Lana Lang to kill him. She complies.
  • Aside Glance: This being one of the very last Superman stories from the Silver Age, it naturally ends with Supes' signature closing trope.
  • Anyone Can Die: Since it was the swan song of the Silver Age Superman, Alan Moore was given a free hand on who would die. As a result , most of Superman's supporting cast and all of his antagonists perish.
  • 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.note 
    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!
  • Batman Grabs a Gun: Despite having a strict no-killing policy, Superman uses the Phantom Zone projector to banish Mxyzptlk, knowing that he'll try to go back to the Fifth Dimension and tear himself in half.
  • 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).
  • Big "NO!": From Superman as he discovers the corpse of Pete Ross in the bigger package that was sent to him by Toyman and the Prankster that arrived at the WGBS studios.
  • 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.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Lois' new husband at the end is strongly implied to be a depowered Superman.
  • Brown Note: Lois says that just looking at Mxyzptlk's true form gave her a headache.
  • Buffy Speak: Lightning Lord calls the Brainiac-controlled Luthor the "Luthor-Brainiac thing."
  • 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.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Mxyzptlk, but Played for Drama. By his own admission he consciously chose to be pure evil out of sheer boredom, and the entire story showcases exactly how dangerous a pure evil Reality Warper can be.
  • 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 Clark Kent as the "real" persona, instead of being a facade Superman used when he wasn't fighting crime.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The trophy the Legion gives Superman — is actually a clue as to what he needs to do to beat the Big Bad.
  • 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 nutmeg brown hair with gray 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, and the Kryptonite Man was a minor villain who had appeared in a handful of issues, most notably in issues of Superboy as the Kryptonite Kid in the '60s and '70s.
  • 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 Guy Junior: After retiring from superheroics, Superman takes the name Jordan Elliot, which is clearly based on his dead father Jor-El.
  • Dead Sidekick: Bye, Pete Ross, Jimmy Olsen and Krypto.
  • Did You Actually Believe...?: Said verbatim by Mxyzptlk when he reveals his true monstrous form.
    Mxyzptlk: Did you honestly believe a fith-dimensional sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a derby hat?
  • Didn't Think This Through: A bit meta, but what else would you call it when an immortal all-powerful extra-dimensional being like Mxyzptlk is killed as a direct response to him bragging about how he's going to spend a few thousand years being unapologetically evil?
    • The Legion of Supervillains gloat about murdering Lana Lang to Superman's face(!), threaten to do the same to Lois, and are legit shocked when Supes lashes out with killing intent.
  • 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.
  • Distant Finale: Is considered the canon ending for the silver age Superman and is set over ten years into the future.
  • Double Meaning: "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-continuity story.
    • Another phrase which might have a double meaning is the characters from the future commenting that Superman never being seen again after facing his greatest foe. Aside from giving up the mantle of Superman rather than dying, the "Greatest Foe" could refer to either Mr. Mxyzptlk or to Superman himself now that he has broken his oath to never kill.
  • The Dreaded: Superman wonders, "Well, if the nuisances from my past are coming back as killers... what happens when the killers come back?" Lois knows he means Luthor and Brainiac, the most dangerous of his foes.
  • 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.
  • End of an Era: The entire point of the comic, and it's clear by Lois' narration that the era was winding down even before the events of the story. It starts with Superman returning to Earth after spending quite some time exploring space, as there's just not as much need for him anymore. Most of his old enemies have been defeated or gone underground, including Lex Luthor, Braniac had been destroyed (and would have stayed that way had Luthor not sought his remains out in the Arctic), the bizarre adventures of the Silver Age have stopped, and Parasite and Terra-Man have killed each other.
  • "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.
  • Evil Gloating: When he finally appears, Mr. Mxyzptlk gloats about killing Superman and proceeds to chase after him and Lois... instead of merely wishing Superman out of existence.
    Mr. Mxyzptlk: "Now, two thousand years later, I'm bored again. I need a change. Starting with your death, I shall spend the next two millennia being evil! After that, who knows? Perhaps I'll try being guilty for a while. Did you honestly believe a fifth-dimensional sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a derby hat? Would you like to see how I really look?"
  • Evil Plan: Mr. Mxyzptlk manipulates all Superman's villains into simultaneously attacking the Man of Tomorrow and his friends because he's grown bored of being a harmless trickster, and he wants to try to be evil for at least one thousand years.
  • 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 
    • When the time-traveling Supergirl from the past asks where her present-day self isnote , Superman tells her that she's "in the past."
  • Faking the Dead: Superman's greatest trick is telling the whole world that he's dead.
  • 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.
    • And by the fact that not only has he named his son after his adoptive father, he's renamed himself in tribute to his Kryptonian father: JORdan ELliot.
  • 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 — even though she's capable of teleporting and walking through walls, and therefore should have no problem getting through it. For that matter, walking through walls is Martian Manhunter's power too. Of course it's later justified when it turns out Mr. Mxyzptlk was maintaining the forcefield with his own sorcery, presumably canceling out any powers that could have breached it.
  • For the Evulz: Mxyzptlk enacts his scheme because he has decided that he's going to try being evil now.
  • 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!
  • Glad-to-Be-Alive Sex: Perry White and his wife Alice, who were estranged from each other at the beginning of the story, are among Superman's other friends who are sequestered in the Fortress of Solitude, to protect them from his enemies. An explosion causes a huge chunk of debris to fall from the ceiling, and would have splattered Alice if Perry hadn't pushed her out of harm's way. The couple swiftly make up, and also resolve to retire to Alice's room in the Fortress, to "make up for lost time".
  • Go Out with a Smile: The last thing Superman does is give Lois a smile.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Krypto tears out Kryptonite Man's throat, but all that is shown is a splash of green blood and Krypto biting down with a "SNOPF!"
  • 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: Did you honestly believe a fith-dimensional sorcerer would resemble a funny little man in a derby hat?

    I - N 
  • 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, er, 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.
  • Ironic Echo: An immediate example. When Mxyzptlk tells Superman, “Time to die,” Superman repeats the same words right back to him and then shoots him with the Phantom Zone cannon.
  • Karma Houdini: The Legion of Super-Villains, opportunistic assholes that they are, travel back in time to take part in "the assured destruction of Superman". In the course of the conflict, Cosmic King depowers Lana Lang, rendering her helpless, and Lightning Lord fries her to a crisp. All because she tried to defend her beloved friend. Later, Lightning Lord has the sheer BALLS to not only taunt Superman about this, but simultaneously threatens to do the same to Lois Lane. Clark understandably is not amused by this, and unleashes a beam of heat vision that burns Lightning Lord's arm. His partner, Saturn Queen, sees in Superman's mind the intent to kill, and all three choose discretion as the better part of valor, fleeing back to their own time. Despite killing the hero's childhood friend and former love interest, these three cowardly bastards escape scot free, with no comeuppance, unlike every other villain in this story. Granted, it isn't known what happened to them after they fled back to the 30th century, so it is conceivable that they were met with some kind of punishment after their forced retreat.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Long Last Look: Superman gives Lois one right before walking into the Gold Kryptonite room.
  • 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.
    • Krypto attacks Kryptonite Man, who screams that Krypto will die if he continues to attack. Krypto doesn't care.
  • 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.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Superman can now see radio waves and track them to their source.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: The flashback is set a few years into the future with nothing futuristic bar Super Science that would appear in a modern day Superman comic anyway.
  • Not Quite Dead: Apparently, Brainiac 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.

    O - Z 
  • 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 a fifth-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."
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Sillier villains like Bizarro, Toyman and The Prankster killing people twigs Superman into realising that something strange is going on.
  • 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.
  • Oxymoronic Being: Brutally deconstructed. For all his "backwards" ways of doing things, Bizarro wasn't completely opposite to Superman as everyone claimed, just a flawed form of him with a contrarian morality that lived in a copy of Earth with many details deliberately reversed; as Lois mentions, the Silver Age version never managed to actually hurt anyone before he settled on Bizarro World for good. When Mxyzptlk compels him to become a true antithesis of his foe — a living being who never kills and found an adoptive world in Earth, the planet he came to as a baby — Bizarro destroys his adoptive world, comes to Earth (his true planet of origin) as an adult, murders dozens of people, and commits suicide.
  • Portal Cut: Happens to Mr. Mxyzptlk when he tries to teleport at the same time as Superman sends him into the Phantom Zone.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: Brainiac resorts to taking over Luthor's body. Also deconstructed, because while it works fine while Luthor's alive, when Lana kills him, eventually rigor mortis sets in and Brainiac shuts down after ejecting from 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 manner 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.
  • 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.
  • Teleport Gun: Superman kills Mxyzptlk with the Phantom Zone projector.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill:
    • Averted, to much regret:
      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.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: During the course of the story, Superman loses in quick succession his secret identity, his family, friends and dog, his Fortress and finally his powers. At the end, though, he's allowed to marry Lois. As Alan Moore puts in the introductory text: "All the things he had were taken from him save for one."
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Legion of Supervillains, very nearly. Come on, Lightning Lord, you just murdered Superman's oldest and closest friend. What did you think he'd do, arrest you?
  • The Trickster: Mxyzptlk remains one. He's just gone from Anansi to (post-Face–Heel Turn) Loki.
  • Two First Names: Lois' husband Jordan Elliot—which subtly foreshadows his true identity.
  • 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 his 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.