By Adam Murdough
Editor's Note: This article contains some spoilers pertaining to recent Superman comics.
Heís been called "The Man of Tomorrow." Ever since his debut in 1938, the core of his appeal has been, even more than the incredible powers that earned him the better-known sobriquet "The Man of Steel," his ability to embody human horizons, to fire the imagination, to speak to the hopes and fantasies of the readers of his published adventures in a powerful and direct way. His raison díetre is to solve problems, overcome obstacles, vanquish enemies, and generally do anything that we cannot, but that we wish we could--the unspoken, hopeful subtext being that everything he can presently accomplish, the rest of us might also, in some distant, shining tomorrow.
Today, with seventy yearsí worth of "tomorrows" tucked under that yellow belt of his, Supermanís status as the ultimate figure of superhero wish fulfillment remains secure. But he hasnít earned his privileged place in the annals of superheroics without undergoing a few changes along the way. After all, it is important for a Man of Tomorrow to stay one step ahead of the ever-changing times. Although the irreducible essence, the "spirit," of the character has remained more or less unchanged since the Golden Age of Comics, the very nature of that essence (i.e., Superman as personification of wonder, achievement, and hope for the future) has made it necessary for Superman and every element of his legend to adapt to the tastes, sensibilities, concerns, aspirations, and desires of every successive generation of readers at each point in his history.
True, all long-lived fictional characters need to change with the times, but Supermanís association with the future has caused him to have an exceptionally troubled relationship with his own past, and therefore to experience arguably more "revisions" than any other character (with the possible exception of Batman and Wonder Woman, the other two-thirds of DC Comicsí "Trinity" of flagship characters). Ironically, in order to remain universal, Superman has had to endure near-constant change on the level of the particular. Sometimes this change is gradual and subtle, occurring by small degrees over a period of years; other times it is forceful and abrupt, almost cataclysmic, the most notable example being the from-scratch reconceptualization of Superman and of his entire history implemented by writer/artist John Byrne in 1986, in the aftermath of DCís epochal reality-bending super-saga, Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Now, on the eve of his seventieth anniversary, Superman finds himself at a singular crossroads, with one such "crisis point" in his never-ending evolution, the landmark Infinite Crisis miniseries, behind him and another looming close on the horizon in the form of this yearís Final Crisis. As our way of celebrating this yearís Super-milestone, Comics Now! Magazine presents a look at the current crop of Superman comics that have fallen between the "Crises," in the eye of the cosmic storm that the DC Universe has become in the past few years. Think of this as a "State of the Kryptonian" address, a summation and analysis of the events, trends, highlights, and creative decisions that will likely define the Superman of this unique interregnum period for the comics historians of tomorrow.
Superman in Infinite Crisis
In the months leading up to the Infinite Crisis event, Superman had fallen on some dark times. Within the space of a year, Superman was menaced not once, but twice by the mysterious high-tech villain "Ruin," who turned out to be one of Supermanís old friends who had turned against him. Superman was possessed by the evil "god of vengeance" Eclipso, for at least the second time in his career. And, in the four-part "Sacrifice" story, which served as an indirect lead-in to Infinite Crisis, Superman fell under the mental control of former ally Max Lord, who caused Superman to hallucinate the deaths of his wife and friends and tricked him into beating Batman nearly to death, until Wonder Woman was forced to kill Lord to free Superman from his influence. By the time Infinite Crisis actually began, Superman had been possessed, betrayed by an old friend, and possessed by an old friend, and he was understandably rather shaken by the whole ordeal. Riddled with insecurity and guilt, believing himself to be a danger to himself and others, questioning himself at every turn, Superman had lost his direction.
Of course, there were some observers here in the real world--not least among them DC Comicsí Executive Editor Dan DiDio--who felt that Superman had "lost his direction" well before Infinite Crisis began to take shape. In fact, one of DC editorialís stated goals for the Infinite Crisis series was to rejuvenate and refocus the "Trinity" of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, to put them back in touch with those qualities that had made them appealing to readers in the first place, to grant them a dramatic break from the turmoil and angst of the recent past and an opportunity to start afresh. The intensification of the Trinityís personal problems in pre-Infinite Crisis issues of their respective ongoing titles served to drive home DCís point that the Trinity needed "fixing" (a point with which many fans agreed, though others may have felt that DC was overstating its case a bit), and to underscore the supposed necessity of the fresh start that Infinite Crisis promised to provide.
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