It’s hard to escape the big themes of Futures End. I spent the first month or so of these series of posts going over and over them again. I’ve tried to shift away from them in recent weeks, but… there isn’t much else is there? It’s all ‘What does being a superhero mean?’ and ‘Technology kills humanity.’ The slow circle of this seems to be drawing towards the true model of superheroism in the Nu52DCU: Superman. After all, it seems that he’s Cyborg Superman in five years.
First appearing in the second issue of Futures End, this Superman is clad in a full helmet that obscures his face along with a suit that shows no skin. It’s a marked change from one of the few heroes that operates without anything concealing any part of his face. Part of what makes Superman so iconic, loved, and trusted is that he’s so open. He doesn’t have anything to hide. Here, though, he may not even be the same man for anyone knows. From the initial images for September’s Superman special, it seems that he’s hidden himself because he’s partially machine in some way. Judging from his conversation with Jason in this issue and his flat, direct speech patterns, whatever has happened to him has affected his personality as well.
He refers to both Jason and Ronnie by their last names. His speech patterns are fragmented and without any nuance. He doesn’t request, he orders. All niceties are gone. He reminds me a little of Rorschach in the way that he speaks in his interaction with Jason. While he saw him confront King Faraday last issue, that was a situation where a colder tone was appropriate and didn’t stand out from the way that Superman normally talks. Here, he’s clearly changed. There’s also a lovely allusion to the idea that Superman caused the power surge that ruined the transporter experiment Jason was assisting prior to Superman’s arrival: “Too bad. Have you ever asked yourself if this is a good thing? The downside might dwarf the upside.” It doesn’t seem conversational, especially on the heels of questioning if Jason used Justice League tech to help build his transporter. It’s a clear message: stop or you will be stopped.
That sort of intervention isn’t Superman’s usual style. Technology has changed him and, while we can sense that it may be for the worse, his warning also implies that he thinks what’s happened to him is a bad thing. Technology has tainted the greatest superhero. Maybe it was necessary; maybe it was an attack on Superman that failed. We don’t know yet, but the message is clear. Given the sight of the Brother Eye-possessed Superman even further in the future, the idea that he’s already partway there is disturbing.
Unsaid, though, is the ‘upside’ that relates to the other big theme of Futures End: if Superman’s human-looking visage has been destroyed, does that mean that he’s always Superman? Could this be a post-Clark Superman that we’re looking at? And, if so, is that another reason for his coldness and his expanded willingness to interfere directly with the evolution of humanity? He’s even more divorced from humanity, more willing to view himself as apart and, possibly, above. He doesn’t care what the issues are between Jason and Ronnie, he wants Firestorm active again. The trivial wants and whims of humanity are immaterial next to the never-ending battle. Without his humanity, he no longer puts on a costume: he wears armour, the constant warrior, eager for his fellow warriors to join him. His demand for Firestorm to return has an almost vindictive, mean tone in that light: if Superman has to sacrifice his personal life and humanity to be a nonstop superhero, everyone else does, too.
It makes me wonder: how long before he stops hating technology and begins hating humanity?
Is this really Superman anymore?