The CW’s CRISIS Finally Tells The 'Last' Superman Story
Warning: SPOILERS for The CW's Crisis on Infinite Earths
The CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths event showcases several different versions of Superman, all pulled from parallel universes in the vast DC Multiverse (based on different Superman stories and media). Including a variation on one Man of Steel story that no fan ever thought they would see.
The parallal universe variations include the CW’s current Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and a Superman based on DC’s Kingdom Come storyline, played by Brandon Routh (reprising his role from Superman Returns). A third Superman, however, takes inspiration from a classic Superman comic book story that has never been adapted for TV – until now.
During the second hour of the Crisis event, a group of heroes wind up on Earth-167, the Earth where the fan favorite CW show Smallville took place. But once they arrive the heroes discover that the Clark Kent fans were hoping to see is long gone. The Clark that remains, the former 'Man of Tomorrow,' is no longer what he once was.
It seems that on Earth-167, Clark Kent (Tom Welling) gave up his powers a few years after becoming Superman. The exact story behind this power loss is unrevealed, but it seems Clark gave up his Kryptonian abilities willingly – and is embracing his superhero retirement by raising a family with Lois Lane (Erica Durance). This comes as a shock to Earth-38’s Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) who tries unsuccessfully to use Kryptonite against the former Superman – who promptly decks the bald supervillain, revealing that, even powerless, Clark Kent is still stronger than Lex Luthor.
While viewers were disappointed Welling’s Superman would not be taking a more active role in the Crisis storyline, most were happy that this Clark Kent got to enjoy his happy ending with Lois Lane. Few fans, however, realize this ending bears strong similarities with a classic Superman comic book from 1986, regarded by many as the “last Superman story.”
In 1986, DC Comics had wrapped up its original Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline, effectively wiping out decades of continuity and allowing its characters to restart their stories with a fresh slate. Some creators, however, felt the Silver Age version of Superman deserved to have one final story to end his adventures on a high note. Legendary comic writer Alan Moore and classic Superman artist Curt Swan teamed up to write this two-part tale, which appeared in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 under the title, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” While classified as an “Imaginary Story,” most fans regard this as the definitive end of the Silver Age Superman.
In the story, Superman finds his world has gone mad. His imperfect clone Bizarro, usually a well-meaning simpleton, is now a homicidal killer who destroys his home planet Bizarro World before committing suicide in front of Superman. Later, the Toyman and Prankster murder Clark Kent’s friend Pete Ross and also expose Kent’s secret identity to the world. Hoping to protect his surviving friends, Superman brings Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Jimmy Olson, Perry White, and Perry’s wife Alice to the Fortress of Solitude while he tries to discover the one behind the attacks. Once there, however, he gets a visit from the Legion of Superheroes, who hint that they have come to pay their final respects before Superman’s death.
Meanwhile, Brainiac manages to take over Lex Luthor’s body and teams up with the Legion of Super-Villains to fight their way into the Fortress. Jimmy Olson and Lana Lang temporarily imbue themselves with super powers and, together with Krypto the Super Dog, manage to take down several villains but are killed in the process. Ultimately, Superman deduces that the mastermind behind the carnage is the one classic villain who did not appear – Mr. Mxyzptlk. The imp then appears, revealing that after becoming bored with being a mischievous prankster, he decided to use his 5th dimensional powers for acts of pure evil. Transforming into an unstoppable otherworldly being, Mxyzptlk tries to kill Superman. However, Superman uses the Phantom Zone projector which tears Mxyzptlk in half as the imp tries to escape back to the 5th Dimension.
Angry that he resorted to taking a life, Superman willingly exposes himself to Gold Kryptonite which strips him of his powers. While the world believes Superman died, it later turns out that the powerless Superman secretly took on a new identity as Jordan Elliot (named after his father For-El) and married Lois Lane. Readers also learn Jordan and Lois’ infant son Jonathan has apparently inherited Superman’s powers. In the final panel, Jordan winks at the readers, reassuring them that he finally has his happy ending.
Given how Smallville’s powerless Clark Kent is now a happily married family man, could he be the television version of “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” While there are a few differences between the stories (Smallville Clark is raising a pair of daughters with Lois Lane instead of a son), Clark’s happiness at living an ordinary life perfectly mirrors “Jordan Elliot’s” contentment. If he did lose his powers under similar circumstances, however, it doesn’t bode well for Smallville cast members like Chloe Sullivan or Lana Lang – as “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” basically killed all of Superman’s friends and enemies (although Lex Luthor appears to be alive - and President of the United States).
Arrowverse fans who were hoping Welling’s Superman would play a more active role in the CW’s Crisis on Infinite Earths event should note that “Jordan Elliot” did make one additional appearance in the comics. In the storyline Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the modern Superman and Batman get a visit from a future Superman wearing a similar costume to the Kingdom Come Superman. This Superman helps reset a broken timestream and later reveals he was Jordan Elliot – temporarily repowered by the changes to the timeline, but now eager to be an ordinary man again.
Considering how often the timeline changes in the Arrowverse (we’re looking at you, Barry Allen!) it’s conceivable that such a shift could restore Tom Welling’s Superman to active duty for CW’s final Crisis on Infinite Earths episodes or a future crossover.