Superman #200 Review

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

Reviewer: John Babos
Story Title: The Last Superman Story

Written by: Steven T. Seagle
Primary Pencils by: Scott Mc Daniel
Primary Inks by: Andy Owens
Guest Artists: Jon Bogdanove (pg. 1), Tom Grummett and Nelson (pg. 2), Dan Jurgens and Kevin Nowlan (pg. 3), Gene Ha (pg. 11-12), Phil Jimenez and Andy Lanning (pg. 15-17), Talent Caldwell and Jason Gorder (pg. 34), Mike Deodato (pinup), Leinil Lu (new Krypton and new Metropolis pin ups)
Colored by: Tanya and Richard Horie
Lettered by: Comicraft
Associate Editor: Tom Palmer Jr.
Editor: Eddie Berganza
Publisher: DC Comics

Deja Vu

Superman #200 marks the philosophical and literal end to fifteen-plus years of Superman continuity. By the issue’s end, everything you thought you knew about the Man of Steel is revisited, reimagined, refurbished, revamped, and rebooted…but not how you might think. This is all part of the culmination of the Futuresmiths saga that has been running through the title for some time now.

DC has touted this book as many things, but it is clear that the most accurate way to describe is to use an old comic book adage: Superman #200 is “an end and a beginning” for the Man of Steel.

Men of Steel

In interviews on the subject, and by calling this tale The Last Superman Story, DC Editor Eddie Berganza compares it to Alan Moore’s revered “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”, the 1986 two-parter that also marked the company’s conscious end to almost 50 years of Superman continuity. However, purists will tell you that the Golden Age (GA) and Silver Age (SA) Supermen were different – one occupying Earth 2 and the other Earth 1 respectively. So, to be accurate, it is fair to say that Alan Moore’s tale was a send-off for the “traditional” Superman – as there were far more similarities between the GA and SA Supermen than differences.

This historical Man of Tomorrow was reimagined in John Byrne’s much-loved and much-maligned Man of Steel (MOS) mini-series. This Modern Age (MA) series deliberately and methodically retilled the soil upon which Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster planted the seeds for Superman in the 1930s. Many things stayed the same, but an almost equal number changed, more so than any other Superman reinterpretation before it. Superman was now the sole survivor of a very different, but equally doomed, planet Krypton.

In 2003, DC’s launched Superman: Birthright (BR) a limited series originally intended to be DC’s Ultimate Superman — a reference to Marvel Comics “Ultimate” Universe comic book line of retooled heroes for the continuity-allergic. However, as they often do, plans changed and BR was released with no explanation, no fanfare, and no “Ultimate” or “Elseworlds” logo. Readers, many of whom were enjoying an entertaining Birthright yarn, were left with many questions about how this new origin for Superman “fit” with what they already knew of the hero. The BR saga takes liberally from the SA origin, aspects of the Man of Steel’s MA beginnings, parts of the Smallville television series, and stirs in its own sensibilities. What we’re left with is a Superman stew that tastes familiar, has some unique spices, but, to some, is also less filling.

Superman #200 goes a long way to make this stew somewhat easier to digest, but also throws in a few unexpected and quite bland chunks of…Tofu (my less-than-subtle humorous poke at Superman’s new found vegetarianism from the pages of BR).

Boldly Going….

The Last Superman Story of Superman #200 opens with our Man of Steel traveling through the ether of his various divergent origins, guided by the Ghost of Christmas-Future…a.k.a. a nano-organic literal Man-of-Steel from the future. This is what the future holds for Superman…he becomes more machine than man.

However, as his mechanized future self reveals, in their travels through the time stream — passing Superman’s GA origin, his MOS origin, and his Birthright beginnings — “… in my future an agent of evil has cast time into flux, leaving it malleable — causing these variants of the past…”

So there you have it, my friends. The Futuresmith menace, and their soon-to-be-revealed benefactor, have left time / continuity open to change. This is the toehold DC has made to, perhaps, make long-time Superman fans accept a potential in-continuity explanation for making Superman’s BR origin the definitive origin for the Man of Tomorrow.

So, is Superman #200 the conduit through which DC asserts the preeminence of BR?

Yes and No.

… Where We’ve Been Before

Superman #200 resolves the Futuresmiths saga, reveals who their benefactor is and who the Cir-el Supergirl really is. The issue ends with a nod to BR’s Superman origin, sorta, (I didn’t expect the ending) and sets up next month’s Strange New Visitor saga (since I knew this was going to be the next arc, I should have expected the issue’s ending).

In the tradition of World Without Superman, the next arc will introduce readers to a new Man of Tomorrow — Mr. Majestic, DC sister line / Wildstorm’s homage to Superman. The character is a lesser-known hero, created a few years ago, but has been under the radar for some time now.

Word is, after the Strange New Visitor tale, and the eventual return of the “real” Superman, Majestic may stick around the DC Universe proper. The character may also be part of DC’s upcoming JLA spin-off title JL: Elite. DC has yet to officially confirm or deny this.

Shooting from the Lip

I’ve been chatting with some fans on the DC Message Boards (MB) about this anniversary issue. I think my initial gut-feelings are best captured in my first comments after reading issue #200:

Its always tough to write timestream / alternate reality / Hypertime / etc…stories. Superman #200 is also a tough read for older fans and I imagine new fans as well. Its timestream mechanics are difficult o grasp unless you’re willing to read it over a few times. Through these “mechanics,” we also get a new explanation of what the Phantom Zone is — that was a nice touch.

Overall, while Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow was also an alternate reality tale, it was focused less on the timestream mechanics and more on the inter-personal dynamics of the Superman family and its rogues. The Last Superman Story tries too hard to be like Alan Moore’s revered tale, but doesn’t find its own voice. The story in Superman #200 is very plot-driven vs. character-driven, I think. And the character moments we do have, particularly around Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, are so unrecognizable from what we know about these characters that I don’t think readers care if they are in jeopardy or not. The characterization of the “Big 3” [doesn’t] ring true.

Seeing the various artists on the book was welcome and…. if DC is making BR [Birthright] the new origin, I am happy that the seeds have been planted in #200 for that be [with an] in-continuity [explanation].

[Is] Superman #200 an interesting read? Sure. Is it an anniversary-worthy tale? I’m not that convinced.

I think the team did the best job it could under the circumstances and I appreciate their efforts. It was an entertaining yarn that felt hurried and confused at some points, but makes a better Elseworlds tale than an in-continuity story.

Final Thoughts

Killer coffee — no, really — is (the plot device) used by the Futuresmiths to covertly implant nano-technological-organisms in humans in an effort to take over the world… BWAHAHAHAHA…. (Sorry, I’m still exorcising the memories of the Formerly Known as the Justice League mini-series). So, be warned friends — imbibing that steaming cup of liquid caffeine may ultimately lead to the demise of civilization as we know it!

Seriously though, anniversary issues by their very nature bring new readers and estranged readers (back) to the fold. Issue #200 will turn off new readers and reassure the estranged readers that they made the right call dropping the book in the first place.

The granddaddy icon of the comics industry deserves a much better fate than the one dished out in Superman #200.

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