Facing their imminent deaths and the likely destruction of their planet, desperate parents load their infant son into a small life pod and launch it away into the far reaches of the universe in a frantic effort to save the life most precious to them. It’s a familiar story to Superman readers, but, as is often the case with Geoff Johns’ work, the expected becomes something very different as the story unfolds.
Neil Quinn’s parents are disenchanted military scientists who want to create a better tomorrow, and their work at the secret Ulysses Corporation seems like the opportunity to do that, right up until the moment that a lab accident threatens not only the lives of everyone involved with Ulysses but the entirety of the human race. Desperate to save their son, the Quinn’s use Ulysses technology to launch their baby into the fourth dimension. Years later, Neil Quinn returns to Earth, a planet he believes has been destroyed, in an unexpected collision of past and present. Known to his adopted world by the company name on his life pod, Ulysses, Neil appears now as a super-powered near demi-god. Shocked to learn that his parents are still alive and horrified to learn that his home world is filled with violence, suffering, and inequality; Neil rejects Superman and his attempts to help Neil see the good in humanity, and instead, Messiah-like, he offers a small portion of humanity a chance of redemption. But redemption often requires sacrifice, and some offers are too good to be true. Peace and prosperity can come at a terrible price, and the desperate people of Earth who flocked to Ulysses’ transport ships may become the offering that allows peace to continue in the fourth dimension. Only Superman can stop Ulysses’ attempt to save his adopted world at the expense of his birth planet, but is even the Man of Steel enough to stop the rampage of a vengeful god?
The Men of Tomorrow is both a dark and hopeful story. Even as Ulysses, perhaps rightly, asserts that Earth is “lost in a pit of depravity,” Superman refuses to accept that humanity is beyond hope and redemption. His belief in humanity’s ability to discover and build a brighter tomorrow remains strong. This is a Superman for the twenty-first century, hardened by all he has seen and experienced, tempered by loss, and yet still committed to helping humanity find its path toward a better future. Even at its darkest, flickers of brightness exist, like young Jimmy Olsen, inspired by Superman’s selflessness and determination to make a difference, using his parents’ ill-gotten fortune to help those less fortunate.
The art here is a brilliant complement to the story, adding mood, detail, and depth to the unfolding events. The color palette of the Ulysses storyline is muted, with dark reds, deep blues, rich blacks, and dark grays—not depressing, but somber. Yet, as the story moves into the epilogue, the art brightens in tone and color to capture and affirm Superman’s optimism and encourage the reader to believe as well. Romita’s Superman is at once both familiar and unique; his look is not just darker, but older. His familiar costume appears more armor-like, not aggressive but prepared for conflict, and his features are more chiseled, giving him an aura of maturity and experience. He has been tempered by life, but nevertheless he remains the hero that generations have admired.
DC doesn’t rate The Men of Tomorrow, but it is likely appropriate for most teen collections and would also appeal to adult readers equally well. It’s a story that could serve as a good introduction to the modern Superman mythos or that can be enjoyed by long-time fans of the Man of Steel. The violence is fairly standard for mainstream superhero comics, though Ulysses’ attempt to sacrifice millions of souls to save his adopted planet could be problematic for some readers. There are mentions of secret organizations, and there is a harsh scene in which a man’s body is being manipulated zombie-like by mind-control implants.
Geoff Johns rarely disappoints, and he definitely is on his game here. The Men of Tomorrow is a fresh look at an old hero, a thought-provoking look at humanity’s present and its future which begs us to answer the question of just who is going to save us now?
Superman: The Men of Tomorrow
by Geoff Johns
Art by John Romita Jr.
DC Comics, 2016
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