Superman 423 – Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? begins

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Superman 423 (Sept. 86) contains the first half of the Imaginary Story that serves as the grand finale to the pre-Crisis Superman.  A true work of genius, by Alan Moore, Curt Swan and George Perez.

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The issue opens with the framing narrative, as a reporter comes to Lois Lane, now married, to discuss the final days of Superman.  With his death announced right at the top of the story, a mournful quality is present from the outset, and simply increases as the tale progresses.

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Lois begins the narrative as Superman returns from space to find Bizarro on a deadly rampage.  He has destroyed Bizarro World and everyone on it, and uses blue kryptonite to kill himself, right in front of Superman.

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A package arrives at the Daily Planet, and when it is opened, it released a number of Superman dolls, which attack Clark in front of everyone, burning off his clothes and revealing the Superman costume beneath.  This kind of thing has happened many times in the past, but in this story it actually works, and Superman’s identity is revealed.  The package also contains the corpse of Pete Ross, who was tortured to death to get the secret.

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Superman hunts down the Prankster and Toyman, the two behind the death of Pete, and though they get severely pummelled, they do actually survive this tale.

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Luthor is in the arctic, searching for the remains of Brainiac after his last battle with Superman.  Luthor finds Brainiac’s head, but is not prepared when the computer forcefully merges with Luthor’s body and takes control of him.

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The villains just keep coming, as an army of Metallos then attack the Daily Planet.  That location is clearly too much of a target. We also see Luthor/Brainiac seek out an recruit the original Kryptonite Man (the former Kryptonite Kid).

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But by far the heaviest part of the tale has no villains in it at all.  Rather, it consists of a visit by the Legion of Super-Heroes.  They bring with them a younger version of Supergirl, who is already dead in this reality.  Supergirl plays with Krypto, and makes a comment about how her “current” self must be out in space, or she would not be able to exist in both times at once.  The entire sequence just reeks of a final visit before Superman’s death.  There is also a painfully ironic bit, as he talks to Brainiac 5 about not letting people know about any bad future events that are coming, while we see Invisible Kid chatting happily with Saturn Girl.  Superman informs neither about the death and loss of child that both will experience.

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More than any of the attacks by his various enemies, it is the visit from his friends that drives him to despair.

The story concludes in the next issue of Action Comics.

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