Adventures of Superman #16 came out this week, a brilliant story by Joe Keatinge with an all-star artist lineup including Ming Doyle, Brent Schoonover, and others. And it is the perfect sort of story for an anthology series like this. It is a philosophical look at the character of Superman, reviewing a variety of time periods of the Man of Steel, while showing that the core of the character is basically immutable. And as such, it is a rare joy.
Growing up, there used to be special anniversary issues for titles which reached a certain number. Detective Comics #500 had a slew of stories including a look at a different universe where Thomas and Martha Wayne live, answering the question 'Must there be a Batman?'. It is brilliant. In Superman #400, Jim Steranko does a Superman story with overwhelming messianic overtones. It is fantastic, rejoicing in the then 75th anniversary of Superman.
This story, 'Strange Visitor', would fit right in with those classics. It is beautiful and sad and joyous.
And it makes me once again lament the fact that this book is going away.
There is a framework story with art by Ming Doyle which runs throughout the book, leading into the different peeks at Superman. In that far flung future, Kamandi is leading the last survivors of Earth off the planet before it explodes. Before leaving he needs to say goodbye one last time to Superman.
It leads into his telling a humanoid cat Rathotis all about the Man of Steel. We see a very classic-looking Superman teaming up with Batman and Dracula to fight Frankensteinian monsters. It is a very retro sort of story and it shows in the costumes and art.
And yet, even then we see Superman's optimism. We hear him say 'there's always a way!' There is always a way to triumph over evil. There is always a way to win.
Staying in the that time period, we see that humanity has moved forward because of Superman. His existence has made people dream to be more, to go farther, to become something better. As a result, a Kryptonite-fueled rocket is scheduled to take astronauts deep into space. Unfortunately, something happens and the rocket disappears.
Rather than give up hope, Superman looks at a vanishing rocket not as a tragedy but as a mystery. He refused to give up hope.
Now in a nice wrinkle, Keatinge has the characters in the story age around Superman who remains young.
Kamandi continues to lecture his co-pilot about Superman. Rathotis seems to be cynical, not buying into this legend. I wonder if Rathotis is supposed to represent the current comic reader, weaned on grim and gritty milk and fed nonstop violence to the point that nothing else tastes right.
But Kamandi isn't wavering. He talks of how Superman (now garbed in his Silver Age costume, complete with dotted inking) could have conquered, slaughtered, or become corrupted. But that isn't Superman who remained true to who he is.
"It's in this that his true purpose lies."
I don't know if any two panels convey my thoughts about Superman better than these. This is who Superman is. Who he should be.
It is perfect.
Time moves forward. Superman is wearing a modern age costume. And Lois has aged accordingly.
The world is celebrating Superman's anniversary and, as usual, he is uncomfortable with the attention.
And then Lois says everything that I think of Superman as a reader. He is everything 'we should become'. He is loved ... as a person ... as an ideal.
It is why a floating aloof Superman, avoiding his cousin, and willing to kill, just doesn't work. Because who should aspire to be an aloof, disaffected, killer.
We see more brief excerpts of this life until finally we are billions of years into the future, a time when the last human is dying. It is only Superman, and all his incarnations, which are keeping the entropic universe intact, saving lives until the end.
Again we here the true strength of Superman ... his optimism that things can get better, his eternal hope.
The Super-sentries, the various Supermen in existence all meet for one last time, observing a massive Superman balled up, holding the universe together. It is a powerful image.
I also love how the Supermen use Roman numerals to indicate who they are. Of course, Superman MCMLXIII (1963) would be a bug-headed version, a perfect representation of the Silver Age.
We have heard about the never-ending optimism, the immutable truth of Superman, the love and inspiration.
Here, Superman sees a vision of Lois one last time. She says more of the simple truths of Superman. He will always be the Man of Steel, the amazing stranger from the planet Krypton, but also ... and maybe most importantly ... the boy from Smallville. Because it is those human roots that make him relatable, make him more Man than Super, make him someone we can be inspired to be like.
We can't change to courses of mighty rivers. But we can help people.
And yet, at the end of time, at the end of one universe and the birth of another, he is still a hero.
The missing ship from the beginning is found, in some dimensional fold, and finally rescued by Superman. That alone would be a great ending for a great story. But Keatinge goes farther.
Listen to those words, given the New 52 revamp of the DCU, as it seems to comment on the darker nature of the DCnU.
"I can't promise what this new universe will bring.
I can't promise it will be familiar.
I can't promise it will be safe.
But despite all this I swear to you - no matter what happens, no matter what this new home holds for us, I promise -
I will never leave you."
I got chills reading this.
Again, the immutable goodness and heroism of Superman is touched on.
And yet, the unfamiliar, unsafe new universe awaits. And the new 52 DC Universe is still unfamiliar to me. It is a violent world, unfriendly, with heroes who don't like each other. A place where Lex is a hero and Superman is hunted.
It is wrong.
At least this book existed. It was a place where creators, for the most part, understood who Superman is and what he should be doing.
I cannot praise this story enough. And I thank all the creators involved, especially Joe Keatinge. This whole issue felt like a love letter to a classic Superman. And I swooned along.