Happy New Year to all! Just in case my fellow old timers didn’t already feel old enough, this post takes us back to a time when 2020 was the far-flung future!
I had to do my research the old-fashioned way for this post, as Google kept pointing me toward the potential release of a new Superman film this year. So I had to hit the long boxes and after a while I began to doubt my own senses. Was my memory mistaken? Did I have the wrong year? Was there ever really a “Superman 2020” back-up series or could I be confusing it with something else? Maybe the 300th anniversary issue that came out in ’76? A few years back I would not have been the least bit uncertain, but at this point in my life I felt compelled to check.
…Nah, that one was 2001, as you can see. That’s what I figured—so I’m not completely senile.
Finally it turned up. The series didn’t run very long, just six stories across fourteen issues, all published from late 1980 to late 1981. Those issues were:
Superman #354 (Dec. 1980)
Superman #355 (Jan. 1981)
Superman #357 (Mar. 1981)
Superman #361 (Jul. 1981)
Superman #364 (Oct. 1981)
Superman #368 (Feb. 1982)
Superman #372 (Jun. 1982)
The first two installments of “Superman 2020” (issues 354, 355) were done by Cary Bates and Curt Swan; the third (357) was by Bob Rozakis and Denys Cowan; and the next three (361, 364, 368) were by Bob Rozakis and Alex Saviuk. The story from issue #368 was set on New Year’s Eve, 2020, and at the end further adventures were promised for “Superman 2021,” but there was just one—in Superman #372, by Rozakis and Gil Kane.
The premise was that we’d be following the adventures of a new Superman, the original’s grandson, forty years from the then-present. (That’s right my fellow geezers—1980 was forty years ago. Let that sink in.) Right off the bat, the timing feels off. Assuming the then-present-day Supes got married and had a kid immediately, said kid would have been born in late ’81, and would have needed to have a kid himself by 1998 (when he would have been sixteen/seventeen) to get Superman’s grandson to college-graduate age by 2020.
But let’s not dwell on the timeline. The key here is that we’ve got three Supermen: the original (Superman I), his son (Superman II), and his grandson (Superman III). They make this fairly clear in the intro to every story so as to avoid confusion—for example, take a look at the opening page of the story from Action #364:
You’ll notice all three Supermen are like identical twins, distinguishable only by the amount of gray in their hair. Also, the wives of the two elder Supermen are never identified and barely even referenced. For the record, Superman’s son is named Jorel (no hyphen) Kent and the grandson is Kalel (again, no hyphen) Kent.
Now if Supes wanted to keep his secret identity safe, naming his kids after his Kryptonian family is pretty stupid, but the text rationalizes this by saying these names became very popular baby names because Superman himself is so beloved. The point does become somewhat moot anyway by the third page of the first story (Action #354), when Kalel Kent fakes his own death, declaring, “My secret identity has outlived its usefulness! I’ve decided I won’t limit myself to only one alter ego all my life like Dad and Granddad have! Instead, Superman III will be a super-hero with multiple identities!” A fun twist but more than a tad impractical. Still, I appreciate the idea of doing something different with this iteration of Superman.
Naturally, the most entertaining part of this series is how far off the depiction of the future is from the reality of the actual 2020. Of course we’ve got the obligatory laser pistols in place of conventional guns and flying cars (called “aero-mobiles”). Kalel even finds work as a traffic controller under the name Jon Hudson, where his supervisor, Melodee Sellers, quickly becomes the love interest. The city itself also flies—“New Metropolis” (or “New Met” for short) is a domed city that floats in the sky above the earth. Such floating cities are deemed a potential solution to Earth’s overpopulation problem. Oh yeah, and apparently all of the eastern seaboard has merged into one gigantic megalopolis.
We also get some funny future slang. “Pulsations” is a slang word that indicates someone is telling the truth; “roycer” is slang for a wealthy person; “ten-er,” is slang for a perfect 10 on a scale of 1 to 10; and “krazbit” is apparently slang for “darn.” (This last one is probably derived from “shazbot,” courtesy Mork from Ork. We can assume Mork and Mindy was a much bigger ratings hit on television in this alternate timeline.)
Sadly, there’s one prediction that was all too accurate. Superman III’s primary antagonists are this group calling themselves the “Purists.” They’re out to get Superman because of their opposition to humans cross breeding with aliens.
Of all the things to predict correctly, they had to hit on this one. Ugh.
The stories themselves are no great shakes but fun nonetheless—I’ll try and squeeze in a post on Iron Man 2020 in the next week or two to partner with this one. Enjoy the new year everyone.