In the latest edition of Comics to Read Before You Die, Jessie Robertson looks at Superman: For Tomorrow…
Superman Vol.2 #204- 215 (June 2004- May 2005)
Written by Brian Azzarello
Penciled by Jim Lee
Inked by Scott Williams
The now famous image you see above has been printed on numerous t-shirts, publicity materials and so forth and is the companion piece to Batman’s statuesque pose above Gotham City, only at night-time. The images have nothing to do with the story but only to further highlight the fundamental differences between these two heroes and why they work at the poles of the DC universe, the yin and yang to encompass all that’s between their ideologies. For Tomorrow further stretches that goal with Superman turning to a different source for guidance. The best Superman stories seem to show him delving internally, and this one is no different. One of the main characters in the story is Father Leone, a priest who just received news he is dying from cancer. Superman is also dealing with a severe fate, having just experienced a “vanishing” (see The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta; also a HBO series). Superman realizes his potential, and what fate that puts him in, to be a savior, but when people disappear with no known source or cause, it leaves him helpless; a feeling no Kryptonian should have. His conversations with Father Leone serve as the existential backbone of this tale, exploring the similarities between Superman and God himself, and why one works in mysterious ways and one forges ahead and keeps to the mission statement: to save as many people as he can while maintaining his own power, keeping it in check so he doesn’t sever the trust he’s built with the people of Earth. Superman is fundamentally not like God, which he realizes, because he’s always held accountable for his actions, or non-actions, and if not by the citizens of Earth, then from himself, his harshest critic.
A lot of sciency stuff happens here, with a second vanishing happening, Superman tracking the source to a military base in undefined faux-Middle East, and running into a mysterious man who works for a secret organization that wants to control the supposed device that activates these vanishings. When Superman himself becomes a victim of it, we’re transported to a paradise that it turns out Superman created himself to be a bastion of hope and survival should anything happen to the people of Earth. It’s Superman’s fail-safe to ensure Earth, his home, doesn’t become the next Krypton. Superman reunites with Lois there (who was one of the original victims) and also meets General Zod, a Kryptonian military fanatic that Superman jailed in a negative area prison named the Phantom Zone (just like in the original “Superman” Donner movie.) Zod escaped that prison and wound up in Superman’s world and did what he was born to do; kill. He takes over the paradise with military tactics and uses the Vanishing to replenish his troops. His goal is to find Superman and make him pay for what he’s done to him. It’s a cycle of death and war Superman tried to negate by creating this peaceful, perfect world where you can pick luscious fruit from any tree and a place where his parents still live (as robots he built). But, even here, nothing is perfect; Zod becomes the snake in Superman’s Eden and he’s forced to fight.
Father Leone has an interesting arc in the book and I can see people not caring for who it turned out; I wasn’t crazy about it either, but it all serves the narrative which puts Superman into another position to make the hard choice. Leone is experimented on and turned into a killing machine and begs Superman to kill him (as he’s dying anyways) but Superman makes the choice not to be a God-type figure and spare his life, even though Leone (as Pilate) attacks him. Leone sacrifices himself (in a way) to give Superman that choice and make it stand, instead of forcing his hand. Superman also faces a lot of flak from his teammates in the Justice League, especially Wonder Woman, who understands and chastises him for his creation of a world that should never be but also fears for his safety if he should happen to self-exile himself into it, not knowing the consequences. It brings up the notion that Superman, while not deemed to be a God, also is not deemed to be a martyr, because the world needs him to direly, which Diana tries, even by force, to push upon him.
The story is complicated, sometimes convoluted but with a strong message and great internal struggle with Superman and his motivations. But, the artwork is the star of this book. The famous Jim Lee (at this point nova-hot off his Batman: Hush work) brings the same sharpness and definition to this story. Lee gives you all the classic, muscular Superman you could want, the rich Metropolis environments, the big set piece fight scenes, the window into Superman’s heart through his eyes, the amazing (and curvy) classical beauty of Lois Lane, and so much more. Lee kills it with this book (although not having as many cool characters and situations as Batman: Hush), there’s still plenty to go ga-ga over here.
This is a tremendous story, and probably one of the best Superman tales out there, so if you’re fan of the big blue boy scout, and haven’t checked out Superman: For Tomorrow, don’t wait….for tomorrow (yeah that was just bad and corny.)
Thanks for reading!
Next time, we lose the super powers and just get super real!