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The 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 environment.

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 power ring?

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 outward.

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 home.

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 ->