Home for Old Super-Heroes
In the last post, we reviewed "The
Immortal Superman," in which our hero finds himself
marooned in the far future, having aged 100,000 years thanks
to a defect in a Legion time bubble.
Action Comics #386 (Mar. 1970) brings us part two of the
"Old Superman" saga as the Man of Steel is shuffled
off to an old folks' home for washed-up superheroes.
As we begin, Superman, unable to pierce the time barrier
to return to the 20th Century, resorts to traveling in the
one direction of time travel he can still manage; forwards.
Zooming another five centuries ahead "out of sheer
boredom," he arrives in future Metropolis, where he's
quickly accosted by sphere-shaped robotic sentries that
arrest him for breaking "Prime Directive A-7,"
under which "the use of any super-power in Metropolis
is strictly forbidden!"
Willingly surrendering to the authorities, Superman asks
why there would be such a law, and is told that it results
from a nasty incident that occurred 30,000 years earlier.
At that time, three "alien super-champions" settled
on earth and used their powers to aid mankind, until they
began fighting amongst each other and laid waste to Earth's
So apparently it was this incident that resulted in the
layer of deadly radiation encircling future Earth, making
it necessary to move the population of Metropolis into five-mile-high
skyscrapers. In the last issue, Superman attributed the
radiation to "atomic fallout" but now we know
better. One of the talking heads tells Superman that as
a result of this disaster "we finally decided to pass
Prime Directive A-7, outlawing all super-powers, a century
ago!" Which I suppose explains why the law wasn't in
place in the previous story, set 500 years earlier. But
you have to wonder why Earth officials would wait until
30,000 years after the incident to pass a law around it.
And you thought the U.S. Congress moved slowly!
Out of respect for Superman's legendary status, the authorities
release him without pressing charges. With flying now forbidden,
he takes a walking tour of future Metropolis and soon spots
the Daily Planet building. Inside, he finds things have
changed a lot over the millenia:
Oh come on now, traditional newspapers replaced by electronic
media? I'm all for imagination, but isn't that a little
far-fetched? And in only 33,000 years?
Visiting the Planet's "morgue," Superman hunts
up some historical tapes of 1970 to learn what happened
in the immediate aftermath of his disappearance from the
20th Century. It turns out that when Clark Kent also went
missing, people soon figured out the secret of his dual
identity, and Clark's old desk was turned into a sort of
shrine. Meanwhile his closest friends coped with his loss
by -- well, by refusing to get over it.
Okay, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White I kind of get, but I
have to say Lois Lane is pretty pathetic, marrying a Superman
lookalike. This gal is not exactly shaping up as the picture
of mental health.
Back on the "streets" again, Superman witnesses
what he thinks is an imminent car crash and flies to the
rescue, only to learn modern safety features have made his
"assistance" unnecessary, and oops, now he's broken
the law again by using his powers. As punishment, he's banished
to a nearby solar system, arriving at what turns out to
be a "retirement planet for aged super-heroes who have
outlived their usefulness." Wow, that's harsh.
The chief entertainment of these spandex-clad geezers is
watching videos of themselves in their prime, which strikes
Superman as pretty sad. But on the third day of his stay,
there's a lucky break as the Mayor of Metropolis shows up
with a desperate plea to the "senior champions"
for help. Their reaction is understandable -- take your
planet and shove it -- but Superman turns them around with
a rousing speech:
With his geriatric A-team in tow, Superman speeds to Earth
and, after first destroying the device which detects and
reports the use of super-powers, reports to the Mayor for
a briefing. He learns that what looks like a nearby skyscraper
is "secretly a storage silo for Nutanium -- the most
powerful explosive element in the universe!" (Mmm-hmmm...and
no doubt positioned right between a day care center and
a housing complex. Predictably, government is the one thing
that doesn't improve in 33,000 years). A "freak storm"
has created an electrical charge in the silo and started
a chain reaction that may at any moment lead to explosion.
Superman sets in motion a well-orchestrated team effort
to deal with the emergency.
Okay, back up a minute. There's no more Green Lantern Corps,
right? So what's powering that ring? Did the Guardians just
give them out like gold watches to retiring GLs once all
evil in the Universe had been vanquished? Is anyone else
even a little worried about the prospect of senility or
dementia developing in an old-timer who wears a freaking
Combining the substances collected by the other heroes,
Superman makes a super-alloy that his team uses to shield
the top of the silo. Then when the explosion comes it can
only blast downward, turning the silo into a rocket which
Superman guides into space, being careful to spin around
it at super-speed to keep the deadly nutanium from spreading
A grateful Earth sees the errors of its ways...
An odd moment there, as Superman pines for Lois. If anything,
this story gives another good reason -- maybe the best yet
-- not to marry her. If he does, one of three fates await
the couple; either Lois or Superman will lose the other
to violence at the hands of criminals, or Lois will grow
old and die while Superman looks on helplessly in a state
of perpetual youth. Given what he learns about himself in
this storyline, Superman should put aside all thoughts of
marrying an Earth woman, let alone the craziest one on the
planet. After all, as he sees from the history tapes, she's
perfectly willing to settle for a lookalike.
There's a fair bit of ageism going on here, as the "retirement
community" is portrayed as a literal prison. Note that
while this incident convinces the authorities to lift the
ban on super-powers, there's no promise that the "senior
champions" won't be carted right back to the Old Folk's
With this, writer Cary Bates completes part two of his
"Old Superman" epic, aided and abetted by penciler
Curt Swan and inker George Roussos, who make an efficient
if not terribly exciting team. Now Superman speeds off "a
few dozen centuries ahead" to the saga's conclusion.
I hope to have the review up faster than that.
PART 3 ->