By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X
This is a Superman story that I had fairly high hopes for. Considering how the Superman title has been doing for the entirety of the New 52, almost anything could have made it better. Geoff Johns did a fantastic job on Superman: Secret Origin, so this collection virtually guaranteed to kick the Man of Steel back into gear.
Sadly, that didn’t happen.
Superman: The Men of Tomorrow takes a rather interesting premise and plays it well for a little bit before the whole thing crashes and burns halfway through. It starts with Superman encountering a blond-haired, super-powered ubermensch named Ulysses, a.k.a. Neil. He helps Supes take out a robot baddie, and soon they’re fast friends.
Neil was sent to an alternate universe by his Earth-bound scientist parents who believed that the world was about to be destroyed. Neil has now returned to Earth, apparently having sojourned in “Dimension 4” as a superhero in his own right. But all is not as it seems…
I honestly was psyched when we first got to know Neil. He looks all the world like a recreation of Jean Paul Valley, a.k.a. Azrael. I love that guy! He acts like him, has similar speech patterns, and even has the same long blond hair! Add the fish-out-of-water gags that he gets into briefly, and you could potentially have a funny, entertaining story.
Unfortunately for Neil, Johns takes more pages from Knightfall‘s book that I would have liked. In addition to casting a similar character in a Superman-doppleganger role, Johns tries to spin Neil as a maniacal killer. I don’t buy it at all. There’s no foreshadowing whatsoever that Neil was plotting and planning to stab Superman, and plenty to suggest the exact opposite. Neil’s character development was going one specific direction the whole time, and then it turned around in a way that makes absolutely no sense given the established context.
Superman himself is portrayed decently, in that he generally isn’t a total douchebag like he’s been depicted in the New 52. He actually treats Neil like a human being, unlike a certain billionaire playboy in a Batsuit treated a certain other mentally ill protege. He even goes so far as to visit him in jail! They have an interesting dynamic, in that Superman is (temporarily) partnered with someone who is very much his equal in terms of powers and skills.
One thing Johns gets right is how he manages to reset the Superman status quo. Clark had quit The Daily Planet to become a blogger alongside Cat Grant. In roughly six pages, Johns gets everything back to business-as-usual. There’s even the added bonus of Clark revealing a certain secretto Jimmy Olsen in the final issue. I would have loved to see Johns’ take on New 52 Lex Luthor, but I guess you can’t have it all.
The core problem with Men of Tomorrow is that it’s too big for its own good. We’re talking alternate dimensions, a Superman doppleganger with a messiah complex, an alien race bent on wholesale slaughter, and Alfred attempting to iron Superman’s cape. This is the sort of story that ought to be part of a crisis crossover, or at least a 12-issue miniseries. Plus, the story is just plain confusing.
To the regret of everyone involved, Johns does not succeed in writing a story that is fitting for his allowed run. It could have been great, but Johns failed to capitalize on Neil’s strong potential as a character, all exacerbated by an overstuffed plot. Superman stories are usually big in scale. But Johns has proven on Green Lantern, Aquaman, and even Superman: Secret Origin that he’s perfectly capable of making small feel big.
Image 1 from comicbookresources.com. Image 2 from dangermart.blogspot.com. Image 3 from comicvine.com.