Central to the origin of the Legion of Super-Heroes was the premise that the inspiration for the thirtieth-century teen-age super-hero club came from the twentieth-century exploits of Superboy. Regarded as “the greatest super-hero of all”, the Boy of Steel was inducted into the Legion in Adventure Comics # 247 (Apr., 1958). Four years later, the Legion graduated to a regular feature in Adventure, eventually taking over the lead and then the entire magazine. Adventure Comics would be the Legion’s home through the end of the Silver Age, and Superboy stayed for the whole ride, participating in nearly all of those adventures in the far-flung future.
The presence of the Boy of Steel, though, was a subtle reminder of a question never addressed or even mentioned throughout the series: what did fate hold for his adult self, beyond the present-day adventures we read about in Superman and Action Comics? Implicit in the thirtieth-century setting of the Legion was the fact that the full events of Superman’s life had already been recorded. From the Legion’s standpoint, it was ancient history.
Rare and tantalising hints were dropped from time to time. For example, we knew, thanks to Adventure Comics # 369 (Jun., 1968), that Superman would eventually marry. But to whom, Legion fans were never told, nor if his marriage would produce children.
Furthermore, the Legion tales curiously ignored the big question---why was there no Superman operating in the thirtieth century? The original Man of Steel may not have survived for a millennium, but he would have had descendants, wouldn’t he? What happened to them? Why was there no Caped Kryptonian protecting the Earth of the future?
Superman editor Mort Weisinger probably got a lot of letters asking these questions. Followers of the Legion in Adventure Comics tended to be quite vocal. And Weisinger was responsive to this. The Legion of Super-Heroes was more fan-interactive, perhaps, than any other series produced by DC.
So, if the readers wanted to know about a Superman in the thirtieth century, then, by gum, Mort was going to tell them.
To make sure they didn’t miss it, Weisinger made it the cover feature of Superman # 181 (Nov., 1965), introducing the Superman of 2965. This version was so different from the original man from Krypton, assured the cover blurb, that we “wouldn’t believe our eyes!”
As far as what had happened between the time of our Superman and that of his distant descendant, writer Edmond Hamilton zipped through all of that on the splash page:
Though Superman is the mightiest man on Earth, even he cannot live forever! Someday he will marry and have a son, Superman II, who will replace him and carry on as mankind’s foremost crusader for good. And so the torch of justice will be passed on through the ages, from father to son! But how will the Superman of 1,000 years from now differ from his great ancestor?
The Superman of 2965 is the twentieth in the Superman line, each of his nineteen predecessors having served his turn as the Man of Steel (much in the same way that Lee Falk's the Phantom was a hereditary calling). Physically, he resembles the original, but, as drawn by Swan and Klein, is not an exact double for the 1965 Superman. Actually, he looks more like the adult Mon-El we will see in Adventure Comics # 354 (Mar., 1967).
Superman XX possesses all of the original's powers, undiminished over the centuries. The difference is in his weakness. This Superman is immune to all forms of kryptonite; however, a chemical fall-out from an inter-galactic war a century earlier had settled in the seas of all of the planets. The now-tainted sea water is deadly to him. Even a simple splashing of sea water makes him stagger. A complete immersion immediately paralyses him and will kill him within minutes.
His secret identity is Klar Ken T5477, a reporter for the Daily Interplanetary News. By the time of the thirtieth century, printed news is obsolete. To keep up on current events, folks watch the ultra-news, beamed into their homes via holograph. As part of his disguise, Klar wears “telescopic spectacles”, routinely used by reporters of the day to aid in locating news.
His circle of friends includes colleague Lyra 3916. Lyra, a pretty brunette, is the Future Superman’s “Lois Lane”. However---in one of those “dramatic differences” from the 20th-century format---she despises Superman as a conceited oaf but carries a torch for Klar. A not-so-dramatic difference is Jay L3388, an eager cub reporter for the ultra-news service and Jimmy Olsen-analogue.
The reporters take their assignments from a computer editor called PW-5598. This computer was designed by Per Wye T7357, a descendant of Perry White.
This first story opens with the Superman XX being deputised by the Federation of Planets to act as a lawman with unlimited powers on all member worlds. This ceremony is a traditional one for each Superman in succession, no doubt extending from the similar twentieth-century event when the original Superman was made an honorary citizen of all member countries by the United Nations.
Though clearly, from other elements already in place, the twentieth Man of Steel has been operating as a super-hero for some time before this, the deputising ceremony marks the official start of his career. It symbolises the moment when he officially assumes the mantle of “Superman, champion of the universe”.
(For the record, his first mission as the Universe’s Hero is to stop a rogue planet from colliding with Earth and Mars. It takes him all of two panels.)
Shortly thereafter, we learn that the 30th-century Superman's Fortress of Solitude is a satellite in orbit around the Earth, shielded from prying eyes by a cloak of invisibility. However, a page or two later, two criminals find a way to penetrate that shield and evade most of the snares set for intruders, before being nabbed by the Man of Steel. After that, Superman XX moves his citadel into the centre of Earth's sun.
This eight-page tale simply sets the stage, and no doubt, Mort was hoping it would whet the readers’ appetites. Apparently it did, since the Future Superman’s first real adventure appeared the following year, in Action Comics # 338 (Jun., 1966). For those who came in late, the Superman of 2966 (moved up a year to maintain the thousand-year separation) was introduced thusly:
Hopping heroes! What kind of Superman story is this? Can this future-age city be Metropolis? And that flying guy doesn’t look like our Man of Steel! Well, no wonder! He’s the Superman of 2966---a direct descendant of the Caped Kryptonian! And the villain? Just turn the page and meet . . . “Muto---Monarch of Menace!”
The original Man of Steel fought Lex Luthor. Superman V’s greatest foe was Vyldan. The Superman of 2966 had for his arch-enemy---Muto, a dwarfish, yellow-skinned mutant. Muto possessed an oversized cranium which held an enlarged brain, capable of various mental powers.
Despite his freakish appearance, Muto was an Earthman. Two decades earlier, the current Man of Tomorrow’s father, Superman XIX, intercepted a comet with a small, solid nucleus. The comet was on a collision course with an inhabited world, and in order to save those lives, the nineteenth Action Ace smashed the nucleus to atoms. However, the tremendous energy released opened a space-warp to another dimension, a warp which sucked a space-cruiser into it. On board the trapped ship was a pregnant Earth woman who gave birth while in that alien dimension. As a result, the baby was born with an inhuman appearance and incredible mental abilities.
The infant, now grown into the adult Muto, blames his hideous mutation on the earlier Man of Steel. But he’ll settle for killing the son.
Surrounding himself with a band of alien lieutenants, Muto lands on the Weapons World, where the Federation of Planets confines devices too dangerous for the universe’s safety. Superman XX tracks Muto to the Weapons World, but the villain’s mental powers, combined with his access to the deadly weaponry, results in a pitched battle. As the combat sways back and forth, it becomes clear that Muto is a much more formidable foe for the 30th-century Superman than Luthor or Brainiac ever was for his ancestor.
It also quickly becomes obvious that sea water is a much more constraining weakness than kryptonite ever was. Unlike kryptonite, sea water exists in some form almost everywhere, and with his mental powers, Muto has little trouble finding some to use against Superman. He can even condense the moisture in clouds into a paralysing sea spray.
Their battle rages on, jumping from planet to planet, until finally, on a civilised world, Muto uses his mind-over-matter power to create a tidal wave of sea water. While trying to save lives, Superman is engulfed by the wave and submerged, immobile and dying.
In a clever trick of turning Muto’s own trap to his own benefit, the Superman of 2966 frees himself from his watery would-be grave and takes off after his foe. Muto has used the respite to return to Earth where he savages the populace with the devices he stole from the Weapons World.
Once again, the battle is joined, but, this time, the various sea-water traps prepared by Muto are less effective. Superman has taken the precaution of outfitting his belt with flying jets that trigger automatically whenever they are dampened by water. The jets fly the Man of Tomorrow clear of Muto’s water tricks.
After fighting across the breadth of the Earth, Superman XX and Muto come to a showdown on a polar ice cap. Before Muto’s mental powers can melt the entire cap, deluging the Man of Steel in so much sea water even his jets could not save him, the hero springs a trap of his own. With his super-powers, he recreates the circumstances that opened the original space-warp to the dimension in which Muto was born. A new warp opens, and the villain is irresistibly drawn back into the alien dimension.
Over the course of the series, the readership was given fascinating glimpses into the history of Superman. On the splash page of the first story from Superman # 181, is displayed a pavilion of statuary honouring the Supermen of past generations. Interestingly, the statue commemorating the original Man of Steel lists the years of his birth and death as "1920-197_", with the last digit of the year of death obscured. That means that the original Superman was, at most, a mere fifty-nine years of age when he died.
Other aspects of the Superman dynasty were revealed:
• Dave Kent was exposed as Superman IV when he had to go into action in his civilian identity to save a jet-train from crashing, an incident he could have avoided had he noticed the weak point in the railing.
• Superman VII had his identity as Kanton K-73 revealed by his own son, when the toddler tore open his father's shirt with his own super-strength, revealing the super-suit underneath to house guests.
• The costume worn by Superman XX is the original one woven by Ma Kent out of Kal-El’s baby blankets. Indestructible and immune to wear, it has been passed down from generation to generation.
The Superman of Tomorrow made one final appearance, in “The Danger of the Deadly Duo”, from World’s Finest Comics # 166 (May, 1967).
This story revealed that another of the Future Superman's foes was that era's Joker, who, like many in the series, was descended from the original, twentieth-century version.
Readers found out that there had been a dynasty of Batmen too, and for centuries---at least through the fifteenth generation---a Superman-Batman team had fought evil throughout the galaxy. But Superman XX has no Caped Crusader for a partner. The father of the current Joker had killed the nineteenth Batman at a public ceremony by gimmicking the dais to explode.
The blast had also killed several spectators, including Batman XIX's wife and the rest of his family.
A few pages later, we learn that the slain Masked Manhunter had a son. An infant at the time, he had been too young to attend the ceremony. And with his parents dead, there was no-one to tell him of his crime-fighting heritage.
After the boy---Bron Wayn E7705---grows into a man, he makes a pilgrimage to Wayn Manor, situated on his family’s private asteroid. There, he accidentally discovers the entrance to the Batcave and learns of his lineage. Swearing vengeance on the nineteenth Joker, Wayn E7705 undertakes a period of intense training to become the next Batman.
In addition to his physical and mental development, the new Batman has a utility belt crammed full of futuristic devices to help him in his vendetta. The belt is outfitted with powerful mini-jets which enable him to fly; a molecular diffuser which allows him to pass through solid objects; an invisibility beam; a brain-wave tracer; a feature-adjustor capable of altering his appearance; and "all sorts of scientific detective equipment".
Instead of a Batmobile, Batman XX travels in "the Batship", a sleek, swift spacecraft adorned with a sweeping bat-silhouette on the nose.
Realising that the route to finding the killer of his parents is through his son, the current Joker, the Batman of 2967 seeks out and teams up with the Superman of 2967. Complicating matters is the fact that Superman XX’s arch-foe, Muto, has escaped from the other dimension and has partnered with the Murderous Mountebank.
“The Danger of the Deadly Duo” is primarily a 30th-century Batman showcase. The Caped Crusader easily deduces where the Muto-Joker team will strike next, and the new World’s Finest Team has them on the run from the get-go, primarily due to the presence of Batman and the gimmicks in his futuristic utility belt. After forcing the fleeing crooks down on a planetoid bombarded by constant electrical storms, Superman XX makes quick work of Muto, even though the big-brained villain flees into a cavern dripping with sea water. The Man of Tomorrow simply slams repeatedly into the rocky ground overhead, forcing Muto to escape the cave before it collapses and crushes him. As Muto emerges, Superman places an encephalo-helmet on his noggin, deadening the mutant’s super-powerful brain waves.
Meanwhile, Batman XX has it out with the son of his parents’ killer. An awesome figure of vengeance, the Future Masked Manhunter determinedly shrugs off every weapon the Joker brings to bear. Once he gets his hands on his prey, the Batman of 2967 beats him savagely, demanding to know where the Joker’s father is. With one last trick, the Joker stuns the Batman and makes a desperate attempt to kill him.
It backfires. Perhaps the father has escaped the Batman’s justice, but not the son.
In creating a thirtieth-century Superman, Mort Weisinger raised as many questions as he answered. It is difficult to reconcile the existence of a Man of Steel in the same era, down to the year, as the Legion. There are the minor discrepancies between the two series, such as the 30th-century Superman’s “Federation of Planets”, as opposed to the Legion’s “United Planets”. But the biggest problem is the inability to account for the presence of the other during times of crisis.
Especially in the Legion series over in Adventure, where there were plenty of occasions when Metropolis or the entire Earth faced overwhelmingly dire threats---the approach of the Sun-Eater, the onslaughts of Mordru and of Computo the Conqueror, the invasions of the Khunds and of the Dark Circle. It stretches credibility to explain the 30th-century Superman’s failure to show up in each case by saying he was away on a space mission each time.
Curiously, after examining the fans’ comments on the Future Superman stories, I found no-one addressed this or asked other obvious questions---where was the Legion when Muto was wreaking havoc on the Earth? Or, why didn’t Superman XX help out the Legion on such-and-such a case? At least, not in the letters that Mort allowed to see print.
The failure to tie the 30th-century Superman with the 30th-century Legion was a remarkable lack of attention to continuity for Weisinger, especially this far along in his reign as editor of the Superman mythos.
For several months in 1971-2, DC expanded its comics to forty-eight pages and filled out the extra pages with reprints. During this time, the first three Future Superman stories were reprinted, but not before Weisinger’s relief, Julius Schwartz, inserted a convenient change. He backed up all future time references by five hundred years. Thus, the Superman of 2965 became the Superman of 2465, a good five centuries before the birth of the Legion of Super-Heroes.
It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it provided Julie with some wiggle room, in case somebody asked.
As far as I could find, nobody ever did.