Review

Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941

Written by Jonathan Lethem and Edited by Greg Sadowski

Everything has a beginning, and everything has an end…generally speaking. Comic fans are well aware of Superman’s beginnings. He was believed to be the sole survivor of a planet facing doom, whose parents sent him off in a last-ditch effort to give him a chance to live and do good with his life. He landed on Earth and was adopted by a human family. His species had attributes like superpowers on our planet, and he dedicated his life to using those powers to protect the people of Earth.

But Alan Moore was tasked in 1986 with writing an “imaginary story,” the “last” story of Superman, unofficially moving forward in time and giving Superman an end. The two-part story Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is collected for the first time in the hardcover edition to coincide with the release of Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?
 
Moore created the “last” Superman story not by directly telling of his demise in the present, but moving forward to a point where the world has already become one without a Superman. A statue stands in memorial to his service on Earth, and things seem to be getting along okay following his legacy. A journalist named Tim Crane, from The Daily Planet, arrives at the home of Lois Lane…or Mrs. Lois Elliot, as she is now married to a middle-aged guy graying around the sides. Crane is writing a story called “The Last Days of Superman” and asks Lois to recount the end of Superman’s story.
 
In the flashback tale, Superman returns from a mission in outer space to find pure carnage on Earth, seemingly carried out by Bizarro Superman. Others are involved, though. Clark Kent is exposed as Superman, and loved ones pay a big price due to the revelation. This unfolds into a much larger plot featuring a veritable who’s who of Superman’s friends and foes. The legendary hero is forced into making a decision that isn’t characteristic of Superman and seemingly walks off into the sunset for good. That’s it as far as the reporter knows, but Moore leaves the readers with a little something extra, a wink.
 
Moore handles the entire story with respect for the Superman franchise and fills it out with plenty of references to the character’s history. With his skillful writing, it becomes not only an interesting “what if” finale for the Man of Tomorrow, but a walk down memory lane of Superman history, a testament to the character and a great farewell that lets readers in on something special.
 
This is enhanced by the fact that if anyone’s interpretation of Superman was the one for the history books, it would be that of Curt Swan. Every character and every scene is incredibly detailed by Swan. The action is dynamic and engaging, but all the while it has a classic feel to it, thanks in part to the traditional color palette and also because this Deluxe Edition is reprinted on the old style of paper and ink, rather than the modern glossy pages.
 
The Deluxe Edition includes two more stories by Moore—“The Jungle Line” and “For the Man Who Has Everything.” The first takes another character Moore was famous for resurrecting, Swamp Thing, and puts Superman in his realm. An alien spore actually inflicts Superman with an illness that could kill him, and it’s up to Swamp Thing to aid him in his time of need. In the latter, several other DC characters come to visit Kal-El on his birthday, only to find him incapacitated by some sort of plant attachment. Both stories are entertaining reads.
 
It’s a nice collection, produced in the same manner as its Batman counterpart, so the two will look quite good on the shelf together. Under the dust cover, the hardcover book is done with a nice black cover with an imprint of the Superman “S” in the center. For old fans or new, Moore’s story still resonates today, and even the most skeptical of Superman fans will find a few entertaining stories to read in this collection.

Reviewed by William Jones on July 24, 2012

Supermen! The First Wave of Comic Book Heroes 1936-1941
Written by Jonathan Lethem and Edited by Greg Sadowski

  • Publication Date: February 15, 2009
  • Genres: Graphic Novel, Superhero
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
  • ISBN-10: 1560979712
  • ISBN-13: 9781560979715