Writer: Alan Moore
Artists: Curt Swan (p), George Pérez, Kurt Schaffenberger (i) Gene D'Angelo (colours)
Publisher: DC Comics
"This is an imaginary story... aren't they all?"
The two issues collected in this volume, Action Comics #583 and Superman #423, constitute the "last" Superman story, and were released at a time when DC's Crisis on Infinite Earths was rewriting company continuity in such a way as to sideline the Golden Age incarnations of many superheroes in favour of their more modern counterparts. This allowed Alan Moore the opportunity to give Superman's story closure of a kind that few ongoing characters ever achieve, reuniting many of Superman's classic foes and supporting cast members to present the final word on the iconic superhero who started it all.
The story's framing device sees a middle-aged Lois Lane being interviewed by a journalist in the then-futuristic year of 1997, as she recounts the story of the final days of the last son of Krypton. After Clark Kent's life begins to unravel at the hands of the Toyman and the Prankster, other classic Superman villains begin to crawl out of the woodwork in a final ditch attempt to rid the world of the Man of Steel. The continuing onslaught eventually leads to an epic showdown at his fortress of Solitude, and a bittersweet finale in which Superman is permanently put to rest. The ensemble cast allows Moore to revisit some of the most memorable elements of the Superman mythos, as well as including a number of guest-appearance from other significant DC heroes, and the result is a story which covers all of the aspects that a Superman fan could hope to see included in their hero's final tale and which feels rooted in a definitive, classic DC universe. This feeling is reinforced by the presence of artists Curt Swan and George Pérez, whose long history with the character gives the story a certain prestige and stature, and successfully conveys the sensation that a significant era has come to an end.
However, the book isn't without its flaws. It's surprising that there's such a small role provided for arc-villain Lex Luthor, who is overtaken by Braniac early on in the story and plays a very minor role in proceedings as a character in his own right. There's also a slight sense that the book is overly busy, as the desire to include all of the key members of Superman's supporting cast and all of his most recognisable villains leads to a narrative which feels more like a series of moments which need to be ticked-off, rather than an efficient, compelling and cohesive story. Then again, maybe I'm simply not well-versed enough in Superman lore to appreciate some of the subtleties of Moore's tale, or for the more nostalgic, fan-pleasing elements to appeal to me. Of course, this being Moore, the writing is still strong, and in addition to some great lines of dialogue (Bizarro's last words: "Hello, Superman. Hello.") there's a strong sense of impending doom and pessimism that hangs over the story, with a particularly touching scene seeing a tearful Superman contemplating his own mortality and the possibility that he will soon lose those that he loves.
As far as extra material goes, a few text pieces give us a potted history of the Pre-Crisis Superman, but they're fairly dry chronological rundowns of key events in the life of the Man of Steel.
With the growth in popularity of "final" stories like these (Marvel's "The End" series still seems to be chugging along happily), I'd be interested to see a writer tackle this kind of story today, as the change in the superhero landscape since the era of this book's original publication would surely make for a significantly different take on the last Superman story. However, this story stands as perhaps one of the last true Silver Age tales, and in the perpetual, timeless world of serial superhero comics, it's somehow satisfying to read a story with such an air of finality and closure. This is an above-average Superman story which provides a fitting end to the life of the original superhero, but now seems almost quaint, despite the originality and novelty of its then-innovative concept.
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