Superman is inherently a science fiction character. His origin begins when this super-powered alien is rocketed from his dying world—a world more advanced than Earth in almost every single way. The Man of Steel has many adventures that fall within the realm of science fiction. He has allies from the far future, one of his biggest adversaries is an alien AI that likes to shrink entire cities, and he has a fortress filled with wondrous futuristic technology. Some of the best Superman stories feature the Last Son of Krypton fighting his way out of a sci-fi problem, including the one I’ve chosen to write about today. For my list of the ten must-read issues of Action Comics, I present to you one of the best science fiction stories to ever feature Superman: ACTION COMICS #300.
Action Comics #300 is written by legendary science fiction author Edmond Hamilton. Hamilton was known as a pioneer of the science fiction short story, and many of his stories ran in the anthology magazine “Weird Tales.” He even won the Jules Verne Prize for best Science Fiction Story in 1933. Edmond eventually found his way to DC Comics where he ended up writing STRANGE ADVENTURES, BATMAN and the LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. He also wrote several issues of Action Comics, and his story for issue #300, known as “Superman Under a Red Sun,” was a real standout.
In this issue, Superman finds himself in the far future—one million years in the future to be exact. He followed a ship flown by the Superman Revenge Squad that broke the time barrier, and as soon as he arrived in the year one million, his powers disappeared! This far in the future, Earth is now orbiting a red sun, meaning that our Man of Steel is now just a mortal man. The story in this issue looks at how Superman handles being mortal. No super punch is going to fix this problem.
Much like in the Justice League Unlimited episode “Hereafter,” Superman is forced to wander a world that he doesn’t know. He is required to confront his legacy and his purpose head on when he learns that humanity abandoned their home planet long ago, setting up the parallel that now Superman is a last son of two worlds: Krypton and Earth.
The story takes a haunting turn when Superman finds all of his friends. Perry White and even Mister Mxyzptlk greet him when he reaches the now desolate city of Metropolis, but none of them act like he remembers. The Man of Steel learns that Earth’s scientists left android versions of his friends behind as a tribute to Superman’s legacy. With no hope of a solution to be found in the city, Superman decides to make the long trek to his fortress of solitude, and the android version of Perry White decides to join him. In a turn that shows how truly lost he feels, Superman only allows this facsimile to walk along with him so he will feel less alone.
This is a story of how a character full of hope has to confront a world with none. Superman believes in humanity more than any other superhero in all of comics history, and he’s forced to challenge that belief when he wanders across a world that humanity has turned its back on. Hamilton uses this story to have Superman face the legacy of his mythos. Will Superman make a difference? He’s definitely remembered as the androids prove, but nothing Superman can do can save this bleak Earth.
Action Comics #300 is a geographical tale for Superman as well. His journey across this future Earth leads him to encounter several alien creatures. (Not true “alien” creatures, but future species of animals that now inhabit our planet.) Each location is a place from Superman’s history. When he wanders into the grim remains of Smallville, Superman remembers Ma and Pa Kent and thinks to himself how heartbreaking it is to see his childhood home in such a state of disrepair. As he marches forward across the ocean floor, he sees the decrepit state of future Atlantis, causing him to reminisce about his former girlfriend, Lori Lemaris. Every stop along his journey to the Fortress of Solitude gives him pause and almost breaks his spirit, but our hero continues on. Determined to make it back to his own time, resolute to stop this future from happening in the past.
In the end, Superman makes it back to the present by using a piece of technology from the bottle city of Kandor. This makes him a tiny figure, smaller than a person’s foot, when he arrives in current day, and he has to wait hours for the shrinking effect to wear off. The final panel shows Superman pondering whether that future is the “real” future and a wish that he’s never the last man on earth ever again.
With Action Comics #300, Edmond Hamilton has created a Superman tale with a real poetic quality. It juxtaposes Superman against a truly alien world, and yet, it’s the world he knows better than any other—the one he’s devoted his life to protecting. The Man of Steel’s biggest enemy in this story is his own determination and hope. It shows us how small one man seems against the ever-moving progress of the galaxy. Plus, it keeps Superman in his forever role as the outsider who always wants to belong. Seeing the Last Son of Krypton lose his family, his friends, and his planet for the second time to also become the “Last Man on Earth” is heartbreaking.
Can any of us ever make a difference if Superman can’t? I couldn’t tell you, but these great questions and philosophical story beats are the reason why Action Comics #300 is a must-read issue.
Jason Inman is the co-host of the DC All Access webseries. Look for him on Twitter at @Jawiin, and be sure to drop by next week for another of his must-read issues of Action Comics!