Wed. Apr 24th, 2024

Why Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow Is The Best Comic

By Baiting Irrelevance Feb21,2024

Alan Moore’s 1986 magnum opus, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”, crafted in partnership with longtime Superman editor Julius Schwartz, is hailed as a cornerstone of the Superman narrative. Published across Superman #423 and Action Comics #583, this poignant two-part saga remains a timeless and deeply affecting exploration within the Superman mythos. Serving as a symbolic farewell to the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman, often referred to as the Silver Age Superman, it stands as a testament to Moore’s storytelling prowess and enduring impact on comic book history.

Framing the Narrative Through Lois Lane

By selecting Lois Lane as the narrator, Moore achieves multiple objectives. Through Lois Lane’s viewpoint, the narrative gains weight and poignancy, highlighting the gravity and heartrending nature of the unfolding events. As Superman’s foremost love interest, Lois becomes not only a witness to his vulnerabilities but also a conduit for the audience to perceive them for the first time. This narrative choice introduces an additional layer of sorrow and personal anguish to the tale.

Lois Lane’s integral role in Superman’s life since its inception imbues her perspective with a profound sense of history, serving as a poignant reminder of the vast legacy of the Silver Age Superman and the imminent end of an era. Moreover, given Lois’s profession as a reporter, her narration offers clarity and coherence to the complex storyline, replete with numerous adversaries, ensuring that readers can easily comprehend the intricate narrative intricacies.

Escalating Attacks

The escalating ferocity and relentless assaults directed at Superman serve several crucial functions in the narrative. These attacks transcend mere physical combat; each encounter exacts a toll on Superman’s psyche, gradually chipping away at his legendary invincibility and leaving him increasingly susceptible to future strikes. This gradual erosion of his iconic invulnerability forms the tragic essence of the story, underscoring the inherent vulnerability even within the most powerful of heroes.

Each antagonist symbolizes a distinct facet of Superman’s world. Luthor embodies the threat of intellect, Brainiac represents the menace of extraterrestrial invasion, Toyman reflects a distorted innocence, and Kryptonite Man serves as a poignant reminder of Superman’s singular weakness. When these diverse elements converge to assail him, it emphasizes the comprehensive nature of the assault on Superman’s very being.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow
Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow

The inclusion of Bizarro adds a layer of complexity to the narrative. As a twisted and destructive mirror image of Superman, Bizarro’s actions illuminate the hero’s enduring qualities of heroism and selflessness. His chaotic presence starkly contrasts with Superman’s unwavering commitment to righteousness, highlighting the indispensable role Superman plays in fostering a world characterized by hope and order. Bizarro’s rampage offers a poignant glimpse into the dystopian reality that would unfold in Superman’s absence, emphasizing the profound impact of his positive influence on the world.

The Swan Song: A Hero’s Demise

The final showdown and ultimate sacrifice hold immense power precisely because they diverge from the typical Superman narrative arc. Traditionally, Superman triumphs over seemingly insurmountable challenges. However, in this instance, it’s his gradual descent, his inability to secure decisive victories in each encounter, that magnifies the enormity of the struggle and underscores the starkness of his heroism.

The loss of these cherished figures symbolizes the unraveling of Superman’s support network, his world of safety and solace. This isolation renders him truly vulnerable. Yet, even as his strength wanes, he persists in the fight—a testament to his unwavering resolve. Consequently, his defeat transcends mere failure; it becomes an act of defiant heroism, resonating even more profoundly because of its unexpected nature.


Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” stands out because it doesn’t just end Superman’s life; it methodically dissects the icon by dismantling every aspect of his universe. This meticulous process compels readers to grapple with the fundamental qualities that have ensured Superman’s lasting appeal. It serves as both a goodbye and a homage to the Silver Age, all the while subtly prompting reflection on the timeless essence of Superman, irrespective of the era in which he is portrayed.

A Tribute to Comics’ Silver Age

The Silver Age of comics, especially Superman tales, boasted a distinctive style and atmosphere. From Superman thwarting Brainiac’s plans to shrink cities, to grappling with red kryptonite’s peculiar side effects, and encountering myriad alternate versions of himself, these were regular occurrences. Moore adeptly captures this inventive essence through the bizarre trials Superman faces, and the way they systematically dismantle him.

While threats existed, they seldom carried the grave seriousness seen in later comic eras. Silver Age narratives were more about adventure, infused with an underlying optimism that Superman could surmount any challenge. The sheer absurdity of certain villains and attacks reflects this playful quality. Characters like Lois Lane’s tenacity, Jimmy Olsen’s zany exploits, and even the antics of foes like the Prankster are intricately woven into the narrative, serving as reminders of the iconic supporting cast that defined that era.


The Role of Nostalgia

Moore recognized the potency of nostalgia, particularly within a tale bidding adieu to a cherished comic book epoch. For enthusiasts nurtured on the adventures of Silver Age Superman, this narrative offers closure. Despite its sorrowful tone, the story dignifies their affection for that era by treating its components earnestly, rather than dismissing them as frivolous.

Even amidst Superman’s decline, his enduring heroism, empathy, and steadfast loyalty to his principles and companions remain prominent. This serves as a poignant reminder of the qualities that initially endeared readers to this rendition of Superman. Curt Swan’s artwork, synonymous with the Silver Age, grounds the narrative visually within that epoch. Those acquainted with his illustrations immediately sense a comforting familiarity, which helps temper the impact of the starkly divergent events unfolding.

The Power of Bittersweetness

The impact of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” lies in its poignant juxtaposition of a somber tone against the vibrant backdrop of the Silver Age. This contrast evokes powerful emotions:

Observing the decline of the beloved classic Superman prompts readers to confront their attachment to that rendition and to cherish all that it symbolized. Despite the story’s conclusion implying the demise of one iteration of Superman, it also suggests that the character’s essence—his unwavering ideals—transcends time. This bittersweet message infuses the narrative with hopeful undertones, even amidst its inherent tragedy.

Swan’s Style as the Visual Definition of Superman

Curt Swan’s career remained closely intertwined with Superman for decades, his artistic style becoming synonymous with the classic Silver/Bronze Age depiction of the character for many fans. Swan’s Superman is depicted as robust, square-jawed, and radiates an aura of unwavering confidence. This familiar portrayal stands in stark contrast to the physically battered Superman witnessed later in the story.

Swan exhibited mastery in conveying subtle emotions through his artistry. Through Lois’s expressions, viewers can discern her feelings of love, concern, and sorrow, enriching the emotional depth of her narrative. Whether capturing Luthor’s arrogance, Brainiac’s icy demeanor, or the twisted delight of Toyman, Swan’s characterizations imbue them with immediate visual resonance, particularly for those acquainted with Swan’s previous works.

Strengthening the Nostalgia Factor

In bidding farewell to the Silver Age, Swan’s art serves a dual purpose: it offers both solace and deepens the tragedy. Longtime Superman enthusiasts find comfort in Swan’s familiar style, which gently guides them into the somber narrative. The recognizable character designs evoke a sense of “home” that is gradually unraveling.

Witnessing the classic Superman, depicted in Swan’s reassuring style, fading away or confronting formidable adversaries elicits a profound sense of loss, heightened by the familiarity of Swan’s artistry. Swan’s art not only encapsulates the essence of the Silver Age but also becomes intertwined with its conclusion. The sight of his iconic Superman faltering serves as a poignant visual farewell to an entire era of comic book aesthetics.


Specific Examples of Swan’s Artistry

Swan’s art significantly enhances various moments throughout the story. The depiction of Superman, encircled by his conquered adversaries while confronting his amassed foes, is iconic—its poignancy deepened by evoking Swan’s prior illustrations of Superman in moments of triumph. Swan’s prowess shines in simple panels capturing intimate exchanges between Lois and Clark, their joy sharply contrasting with the impending tragedy looming on the horizon.

Even the typically cheerful Krypto is portrayed in a heart-wrenching state of decay and suffering, underscoring the gravity of the situation and Superman’s escalating desperation. In “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” Swan’s contribution transcends mere illustration; his art embodies the Superman being both celebrated and mourned, thereby becoming an indispensable element of the narrative’s emotional resonance.

Impact on Superman’s Continuity

This narrative decisively concluded the era of the Pre-Crisis Superman. As Crisis on Infinite Earths reshaped the comic book landscape, Moore’s tale provided a poignant farewell to this longstanding iteration while paving the path for a new beginning. Through the Silver Age Superman’s ultimate sacrifice, it emphasized the necessity for a refreshed interpretation. John Byrne’s “The Man of Steel” achieved success in modernizing the character, in part due to its alignment with the tonal shift established by Moore’s work.

Blueprint for Superhero Endings

“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” established several pivotal elements that continue to influence the conclusions of superhero narratives. Rather than disregarding older iterations as outdated or cheesy, Moore embraces the tropes of the Silver Age and imbues them with thematic significance. This respectful approach has since been emulated by writers seeking to craft truly impactful endings for iconic heroes.

The story strips away Superman’s powers and advantages, yet it underscores the enduring strength of his ideals and spirit. It demonstrates that even in defeat, a hero’s values remain their defining characteristic—a lesson that has resonated throughout numerous character arcs since. Superman doesn’t capitulate without a struggle. This emphasis on defiance in the face of insurmountable odds, even when the outcome seems inevitable, adds profound emotional resonance to a character’s conclusion, and has become an expected component of a poignant superhero farewell.

Superman animated series
Superman animated series

Continued Resonance with Readers

As time progresses, there’s a growing recognition and fondness for the aesthetic and storytelling style of the Silver Age. For readers nostalgic for that particular era of comics, this story carries even greater significance. Its examination of heroism, sacrifice, and legacy transcends its connection to Superman, resonating with readers on a fundamental level, irrespective of their familiarity with the character.

Alan Moore’s reputation for insightful and sophisticated comic book storytelling is well-established. While “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” may be considered an earlier work compared to his later acclaimed hits, its exceptional storytelling and profound thematic depth ensure its enduring relevance.

Further Considerations

It’s worth considering how creators occasionally miss the mark when referencing or trying to emulate the tone of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” While it’s tempting to emphasize the story’s darkness, overlooking its sincere celebration of the Silver Age often results in grim parodies rather than respectful conclusions. Merely killing off a hero or upheaving their world lacks impact on its own. Moore’s narrative endures because of the meticulous dismantling of Superman’s essence and what it reveals about his resilience.

A Must-Read for Superman Fans

While this narrative marks the conclusion of a distinct era of Superman, it doesn’t demand an extensive prior understanding to be appreciated. Moore’s adeptness lies in furnishing sufficient context within the story itself for readers to become emotionally invested. Less concerned with specific continuity, the tale delves into the essence of Superman: his unwavering heroism, compassion, and capacity to inspire. Newcomers are offered a potent distillation of Superman’s core attributes. For those intrigued by delving into older comics, this narrative serves as both an enticing glimpse into the Silver Age and a poignant farewell to it, potentially motivating them to seek out those classic tales.

Man of Steel
Man of Steel

Why it Resonates with Longtime Fans:

For individuals who were raised on the Silver Age Superman, this narrative reaffirms the unique charm of that rendition. It earnestly embraces the inherent goodness and lightheartedness of that era, even within a somber narrative framework. Instead of coming across as dismissive or irreverent, this tale grants Silver Age enthusiasts a satisfying sense of closure as their beloved portrayal of the character receives a fitting farewell. It underscores the timeless qualities that define Superman. Despite being stripped of everything, his unwavering values remain intact, serving as a poignant reminder of why he has been cherished for generations.

Thematic Depth and Emotional Complexity

The narrative’s focus on Superman’s gradual deterioration and the psychological toll of the onslaughts transcends typical superhero storytelling. It prompts readers to ponder concepts of bravery, vulnerability, and self-sacrifice with greater depth and nuance. Despite its moments of heartache, the story ultimately exudes a sense of optimism. Superman’s unwavering determination to persevere until the end instills a lasting sense of hope in the reader, underscoring his enduring importance as a symbol. For many readers, this marks their first encounter with Alan Moore’s literary prowess.

The narrative showcases his adeptness at melding superhero conventions with a sophisticated literary flair and philosophical underpinnings, imbuing the tale with layers of complexity that linger long after the story concludes. “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” serves as a masterclass in deconstructing a beloved character while reaffirming the reasons for their enduring appeal. This fusion of thoughtful narrative craftsmanship and profound emotional resonance solidifies its position as a cornerstone of Superman literature, resonating with a diverse array of fans.


FAQ for “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
What is “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” is a two-part comic book story arc written by Alan Moore with art by Curt Swan. It was published in “Superman” issues #423 and “Action Comics” #583 in 1986.
What is the story about?
The story is set in the Silver Age continuity of Superman and serves as a “last Superman story” before the continuity reboot that followed in the wake of “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” It depicts the final days of Superman as he faces a series of deadly threats from his most formidable adversaries.
Why is this story significant?
“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” is highly regarded for its emotional depth, poignant storytelling, and its exploration of the essence of Superman. It is often considered one of the greatest Superman stories ever told and has had a lasting impact on the character’s mythology.
How does the story fit into Superman continuity?
While “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was published as part of the Silver Age continuity, it serves as a conclusion to that era of Superman comics. It provides a sense of closure for fans of the Silver Age Superman while also paving the way for a new era of storytelling.
Is prior knowledge of Superman comics necessary to enjoy this story?
While familiarity with Superman comics and characters enhances the reading experience, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” can be enjoyed by readers of all levels of familiarity with the character. Alan Moore provides enough context within the story itself for readers to understand and appreciate the narrative.
Frequently Asked Questions

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