Revisiting Crazy Ideas: Having Superman Age In Real Time
Having been around since 1938, Superman is the one character that has changed significantly since his debut. Having him age in real time is not a new idea, and the most commercially successful attempts have been John Byrne’s Generations trilogy and the pre-crisis Earth-2 Superman, which got older, although by the time of Crisis on Infinite Earths, was reaching the realistic limit of a human lifespan. Here, we are going to differ from John Byrne’s telling by not moving a single plot forward and just covering his legacy and the major plot points.
His career as Superboy dates back to the late 1910s, which makes for much more of a culture shock when he joins the Legion of Super-Heroes, as he moves from the 1920s to the 2960s. As he debuts in 1938, he is finishing up his time with the Legion and soon stops travelling forward in time, possibly due to some unforeseen adventure that lessens his level of power to the point that he can’t fly, only leap, and is not as strong or invulnerable in his Superboy adventures, especially with the Legion. Of course Superboy’s adventures with the Legion would be relegated to comics published in the 1960s, and that period will be the subject of a future article.
Among his first villains are the Ultra-Humanite, Lex Luthor, The Prankster, Toyman, Mister Myxztplk, the Wizard and con man J. Wilbur Wolfingham. His relationship with Lois Lane was antogonistic until the 1950s when she fell in love with Clark Kent after he lost all memory of his dual identity. On their honeymoon, she discovered his true identity and worked to restore his memory. (Action Comics #484) In the 1950s, Superman would strive to find a way that he could have children with Lois without harm to her. Most likely this will result in the birth of two children, as depicted in many “Mrs. Superman” stories in Lois Lane’s comic. This coincides with the arrival on Earth of Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, a fourteen year-old girl that goes into hiding while she learns to use her powers and a Kryptonian dog Superman’s father used as a test subject , Krypto, who the Kents take in as the family pet.
Going into the 1960s, we have Superman facing a new breed of villain, still with Luthor using advanced science against the Man of Steel, but also seeing the debut of villains like Brainiac, Bizarro, and Metallo. The stories feature a middle-aged Superman raising two boys with Lois. In an effort to provide his sons with a sense of their history he works with the residents of Kandor to explore Kryptonian history. His trips throughout the galaxy occur often as well, since his reputation on other worlds grew in the 1950s and 1960s. He also starts working with other heroes more often, especially with the Justice League of America. However, the friends he had surrounded himself with in his early days are aging and as the decade comes to a close, Lois is entering her late 50s, and his boys are entering their teenage years, with an older and wiser Superman working with Supergirl, now in her mid 20s to train his sons in the use of their powers.
The 1970s saw the level of Superman’s enemies continues to evolve with the Parasite, Intergang and Superman crossing paths for the first time with the New Gods’ enemy Darkseid. In this period, at least one of Superman’s children take up the costume of his father. Perhaps the other simply wants no part of a heroic life, and opts to live as normal a life as he can. John Byrne solved this dilemma with a pregnant Lois being exposed to Gold Kryptonite, but there can be any number of reasons, not the least of which being a desire not to pursue a life as Superman, especially after seeing the kind of effects Superman’s battles with increasingly powerful villains becomes, or a desire for a normal life after falling in love with a normal woman who fears the danger she and their future children could be in by their proximity. Nevertheless, he forgives his powers willingly letting his brother carry the mantle. The new Superboy has many adventures until the end of the decade when his father goes into semi-retirement to care for an elderly Lois. He is assisted by the former Supergirl, now calling herself Superwoman.
The 1980s see an increasing threat against the new Man of Steel, who in a moment of grief over the death of his wife is attacked by Mongul in a story reminiscent of 1985’s Superman Annual #11, “For The Man Who Has Everything.” Here it is Superman’s son and Superwoman who helps him, as the original Batman and Wonder Woman are no longer active. This story falls right before Kal-El suffers another loss in his cousin dying at the hands of the Anti-Monitor. Kal-El retires into seclusion in his Fortress of Solitude as his son continues to carry the mantle of Superman. Without having to retell stories of the relationships Superman has with Lois Lane, Perry White and Jimmy Olsen, writers become free to tell new stories and create new characters with a Superman that is legitimately half as powerful as the Superman of the 60s and 70s. His primary nemesis is an industrialist, much like the Lex Luthor created by John Byrne in Man of Steel, but he also faces both old and new villains., and sees a new Supergirl created from an experimental protoplasmic material. The original Superman is still touched upon, working in his Fortress to help solve humanity’s problems with Kryptonian knowledge he has recovered in his lifetime.
Then comes the emergence of the creature known as Doomsday. The new Superman faces him, trying to stop his destruction only to fail, but is saved from Death by his father, who sacrifices himself to stop Doomsday. No one knows what has become of the new Superman, who is missing in the aftermath of Doomsday’s rampage, and presumed dead as well. In the months that follow, we have the four Superman from “Reign of the Supermen”, including the young clone that would one day call himself Conner Kent. When the new Superman returns to stop the Cyborg Superman, a new chapter starts as he spends the last years of his career training the new Superboy. Within ten years, he retires with Conner Kent taking the mantle of Superman after a brief stay in the 31st century with the Legion of Super-Heroes. Today, Conner Kent is approaching middle age, in a relationship with the newest Wonder Woman, Cassie Sandsmark.
What does this retelling of Superman’s history have to tell us? Well, first that storytelling ideas are limitless when you start actually imposing some limits. Grant Morrison has already explored a world with Superman’s heirs in Multiversity and as I mentioned, John Byrne sought to tell a single story across decades in Generations. Once we allow our heroes to change, the possibilities become endless. What ever happened to that other son of Superman? Do his kids decide that they want to take up the family business? What about Lex Luthor’s legacy? Instead of telling the same stories over and over again, trying to recapture the magic of the Golden or Silver Age, we allow writers to tell new stories. If someone really wants to tell a story of the original Superman, then they can be told as a flashback, a lost story, but most importantly, time marches on and we see the effect the legacy of Superman has on those that carry the mantle, and the search for someone to carry it after Conner Kent retires.
What do you think? Leave comments below, and stay tuned for us to explore this crazy idea with Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Legion of Super-Heroes.