Graphic Novel Friday: Moore and Gaiman Hang Up the Capes

Yes, I saw The Time Traveler's Wife opening weekend, and I freely admit I enjoyed Audrey Niffenegger's novel. There, I said it. I'm a sucker for time travel stories.

So, it should come as no surprise that DC Comics' Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, where time travel plays an important role, is my favorite Superman story. This isn't a very shocking claim, however, as many fans will likely share the sentiment. After all, it is written by Alan Moore and serves as the "last" Superman story. Yet it was written in 1986, and there have been plenty of Superman stories since then. Confused? Let me explain....

In the aftermath of DC's mega-event, Crisis on Infinite Earths, the character of Superman was due for a "reboot," and as a gesture of goodwill, longtime Superman editor Julius Schwartz decided to construct a two-issue story that would tie up loose ends, satisfy fans of the Silver Age Superman, and pave the way for a re-launch. But who best to pen the story?

In former DC editor Paul Kupperberg's introduction (reprinted here from the 1997 collection), Schwartz recounts how his decision was essentially made for him:

"I happened to be having breakfast with Alan Moore…At that point, he literally rose out of his chair, put his hands around my neck, and said, 'If you let anybody but me write that story, I'll kill you.' Since I didn't want to be an accessory to my own murder, I agreed."

Penciled by legendary Superman artist Curt Swan and inked by George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? is the be-all-to-end-all of Superman stories. The Last Son of Krypton bids adieu to his friends and sworn enemies in a final showdown that reveals secrets and leaves only the most stoic of readers with dry eyes.

This slightly oversized hardcover also wisely includes two other Superman stories written by Moore, one involving Swamp-Thing, and another, For the Man Who Has Everything, with art by Moore's Watchmen collaborator Dave Gibbons, that is often cited alongside Man of Tomorrow as a must-read. A quick email to DC Comics confirmed that the stories herein have "been re-colored to match the original[s]," and they look vibrant, particularly the latter, especially in this slightly enlarged format--and especially when compared with previous reprints.

But why reprint these stories now? Well, lately Batman has been more morbid than usual, beginning with Grant Morrison's recent Batman: R.I.P., which then led to the Dark Knight's career-capping fate in Final Crisis. And so DC set out, in a self-referential homage, to give Batman a proper send-off as well in the appropriately-titled Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?, written by recent Hugo Award winner Neil Gaiman.  Released in July to pair nicely with the above, this too is presented in a deluxe hardcover, and is larger than the original issues.

In a fitting setting for a character born of violence, the last Batman story takes place at his funeral, with heroes and villains eulogizing the Dark Knight. Penciler Andy Kubert  offers nods to various Batman artists over the years, and Gaiman turns on the waterworks with a young Bruce Wayne reading a Goodnight Moon-esque book with his mother. As they say goodbye to various Caped Crusader staples ("Goodnight, Boy Wonder," "Goodnight, Batmobile"), the whole piece rapidly gains momentum and weight, particularly with an impressive morphing of the Bat-signal into an image I'll not soon forget.

Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? features a few other Batman stories written earlier in Gaiman's career, and while they can't be expected to measure up to his tribute, they are fun reads for curiosity's sake. Both Whatever Happened… collections are full of World's Finest nostalgia, and both usher the respective crime fighting careers into melancholic but fitting farewells.

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