Superman: Past and Future
Superman trapped under the red sun of a future Earth! The Superman of Tomorrow! Lois Lane on Krypton! And…General Jimmy Von Olsen of the Third Reich? These are among the stories included in this collection in which either Superman (and related characters) travel through time or in which the stories are set in the future. This volume includes stories written by Superman creator Jerry Siegel, science-fiction writer Edmond Hamilton, and Elliot S! Maggin with art by such notables as Wayne Boring and the great Curt Swan. Originally produced between the 1940s and the 1980s, many of these stories have previously been reprinted , but there are several that are appearing in a collection for the very first time. Found in this collection are:
“The Impossible Mission” from Superboy #85 (1960), written by Siegel, with art by George Papp. Superboy travels back to 1865 in the hopes of preventing Lincoln’s assassination. In this story, time travel is shown by Superboy smashing through calendar pages with the year written on them.
“Autograph Please” from Superman #48 (1947), created by Siegel and John Sikela. This charming tale has Superman helping a wheelchair-bound boy win an autograph contest by getting the signatures of historical figures. And yes, the story hints that he did get John Hancock’s John Hancock. This story is notable for being the first one in which Superman travels through time under his own power.
“Rip Van Superman” from Superman #107 (1956), written by Batman cocreator Bill Finger with art by Boring and Stan Kaye. After being exposed to radiation, Superman goes into a coma and doesn’t wake up for 1,000 years. In 2056, he finds a world in which everyone has superpowers and robots do all the work. But there are still bad guys (and don’t worry, Superman gets back to his own time).
“Superman Under the Red Sun,” originally from Action Comics #300 (1963) and by Hamilton and Al Plastino, is perhaps the best-known story in this collection and was the “cover picture” for the recent Showcase Presents Superman Vol. 4.While fighting the alien Superman Revenge Squad, the Man of Steel is trapped a million years into the future, a time when Earth’s sun has turned red. He finds himself powerless on a world populated only by weird creatures and, oddly enough, androids based on his friends and foes (and again, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that he gets back home).
“Jimmy’s D-Day Adventure” from Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #86 (1965) is a great example of Silver Age silliness. Leo Dorfman, Curt Swan, and George Klein tell of how Jimmy finds some footage of Hitler standing with a man who looked just like him and, wanting to get to the bottom of things, gets a “time bomb” from his friend Professor Potter and travels back to 1944. Circumstances lead him to pretend to be “Private Von Olsen,” who has the ability to predict the future. He continues to do so (only predicting defeats of course; Jimmy’s no traitor) and gets several promotions, until he meets Hitler, who makes him a general. But Jimmy being Jimmy and this being the Silver Age, he’s about to get into even more trouble.
That same year, Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #59 told of “Lois Lane’s Romance with Jor-El” in a story by Hamilton and Kurt Schaffenberger. Finding a way in which Krypton could have been saved, Lois goes to Professor Potter, who has upgraded from time bombs to actual time machines (still, it’s better than how Batman used hypnosis for time traveling). She visits Krypton, where she gives the information to Superman’s future father, Jor-El. But when she gets ready to return to Earth to “tell Superman the happy news”—somehow not realizing that if Krypton doesn’t explode there won’t be a Superman—she finds that the time machine is not working. Now stuck on Krypton, Lois figures that if she “can’t marry the son, how about the father?” and sets her sights on stealing the still-single Jor-El from his future wife, Lara. Ah, the Silver Age.
Four stories by Hamilton, Swan, and inker George Klein recount the adventures of Superman XX, the Superman of 2965. These stories, which appeared in Superman #181 (1965), Action Comics #338–339 (1966), and World’s Finest #166 (1967), do not involve time travel but instead star Superman’s descendent, who is carrying on the family tradition. As Klar Ken T5477, he is a reporter for the Daily Interplanetary News,which has its own version of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White, though the latter is a computer. This Superman is just as powerful as his ancestor, but his weakness is sea water instead of Kryptonite. His main foe in these stories is the evil Muto, and in the World’s Finest story, he teams up with a future Batman to fight the “deadly duo” of Muto and the descendent of the Joker. While these stories take place 1,000 years in the future, the people are not like those in “Rip Van Superman” and there is no indication that there is a Legion of Super-Heroes. The latter omission is odd, considering that many of the people involved in these stories also worked on the Legion’s adventures.
“Costume, Costume—Who’s Got the Costume,” by Maggin and Swan with inking by Bob Oksner, also takes place “1,000 years in the future,” but this time the differences are explained. This story from Superman #295 (1976) was from the period in which Julius Schwartz was editing the Superman titles and Clark Kent was a television newscaster along with writing for the Daily Planet. The mysterious “Father Time” sends Superman into a strange future where primitive humans live in a ruined Metropolis. The future bears a strong resemblance to the one shown in Jack Kirby’s comic Kamandi,in which intelligent mutated animals rule the world.
Also from the same year and creative team (with additional writing by Cary Bates) was “Superman 2001” from the 300th issue of Superman. This was an “imaginary story”—a predecessor of DC’s later “Elseworlds” tales—in which the infant Superman arrived “today” and was an adult in the “far off” year of 2001. It is always fun to see how past writers predicted the future, especially when those “future dates” are already in our past. The story predicts that in 1990 a woman will be president and supersonic planes will take off from floating seaports and that in 2001 there will be 3D television and a “super-city” stretching from Boston to Washington D.C. However, they did accurately predict that technology would allow there to be a 24-hour news network.
The final story, “The Last Secret Identity,” from 1983’sDC Comics Presents Annual #2 (by Maggin, Keith Pollard, and Mike DcCarlo), features Kristen Wells, a history teacher at Columbia University in the year 2862 who travels back in time to discover the secret identity of the mysterious Superwoman. While this is Wells’ first appearance in a comic book, she previously appeared in Elliot S! Magin’s 1981 original Superman novel Miracle Monday.
There are a number of time-travel stories left out of this volume, including when Jimmy Olsen was the “Red-Headed Beatle of 1,000 B.C.” and the Superman 2020 stories of the early 1980s. But this is a great collection of stories that are appropriate for any age. As the Showcase books are reprinted in black and white, it is good to see these stories in color for a reasonable price. “Superman Under the Red Sun” is better for letting the readers actually see a red sun.