The story featured on the cover of the second issue of Superman I bought (but the oldest one I still own) was actually the second, back-up story in the issue. The lead story was a forgettable tale about a new “girl reporter” at the Daily Planet who begins scooping Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and even Clark Kent himself with what appear to be super powers — unfortunately, a fairly typical example of just how dull the most powerful superhero in comics could sometimes be under the editorial aegis of Mort Weisinger, probably the main reason why there are fewer 1960s issues of Superman and Action comics in my collection than you might imagine.
The real draw of the issue, justifiably granted the cover spot, was “The Superman of 2965!” — a tale that introduced a distant descendant of our own Man of Steel, who, despite the many intervening generations of interbreeding with ordinary (one assumes) Earthlings, still has all of his original namesake’s Kryptonian potency. The cover copy assures us readers that we won’t believe our eyes, because this future version is “so different from the original Superman of Krypton!” How different is he? Well, instead of having the civilian identity of Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, the Superman of 2965 is in reality… Klar Ken T5477, reporter for the Daily Interplanetary News! Instead of having black hair with a spit-curl, he has black hair and… no spit-curl! And instead of being romantically involved with fellow reporter Lois Lane, he’s involved with… fellow reporter Lyra 3916!
There actually is a slight twist to that last bit, in that while our own era’s Lois has traditionally been portrayed as being attracted to Superman, but seeing Clark as just a friend (at best), it’s the other way around for Lyra and Klar:
A thousand years, and our hero still can’t catch a break with the ladies. Poor guy.
Anyway, there’s still one more difference between the Supermen of 1965 and 2965 that’s worth mentioning, as it’s actually pretty significant (if also rather arbitrary) — namely, that while the 20th century Superman is vulnerable to the rare extraterrestrial mineral Kryptonite, his 30th century counterpart is weakened by proximity to a not-at-all-rare terrestrial substance — specifically, seawater. Which seems to be a pretty bad trade-off, all things considered, and an indication that the far future might actually be something of a letdown.
Elsewhere in the story, however, the future looks pretty rosy. Of course, to a reader in 2015, much of the gee-whiz portrayal of tomorrow’s wonders now comes across as quaint — the common fate of old science fiction stories whose extrapolations made perfect sense when they were first conceived, but have since been overtaken and superseded by later technological developments. For example, in the first scene of the story, university students are learning about the original Superman of a thousand years earlier by watching a videotape.
On the other hand, the people of 2965 get their current news by way of broadcast holograms that don’t require a receiver or screen, which still seems pretty plausibly futuristic to us:
Here’s another example of an extrapolation that seems amusingly antiquated now, not only because of how the futuristic technology is portrayed, but because of the assumption underlying the portrayal — the idea that the ultimate effects of technological progress will always be benign:
Yes, I’m sure we’re all impatiently waiting for the day when our judicial system will be completely under the control of infallible computers!
So just whose vision of a thousand years hence was this, anyway? Like virtually all the Superman stories of this era, “The Superman of 2965!” bears no creator credits.; however, the Grand Comics Database credits the artwork to the regular team of Curt Swan and George Klein, and the script to Edmond Hamilton. Though not very widely known today, Hamilton is an important figure in the history of prose science fiction literature as well as of comics, generally acknowledged as one of the primary originators of the SF subgenre known as space opera in the 20s and 30s. Though space opera has often critically disdained over the decades, there’s no question that today’s pop-culture landscape would look considerably different without it — there’d be no Star Wars, to cite perhaps the most obvious example — so, regardless of how little read his own stories may be these days, Edmond Hamilton’s work continues to have a significant impact.
But returning to Hamilton’s story in Superman #181– it ends rather abruptly, with a promise that Superman’s battle against the arch-villain Muto will be forthcoming in a near-future issue. And indeed that story would appear some seven months later, in Action #338 (June, 1966). Unfortunately, I didn’t buy that issue, nor did I pick up either of the following two appearances of the Superman of 2965 (or, rather, 2966, and then 2967). If you’re curious to know more, the Superman Fan Podcast blog has provided a good summary of the future Superman’s career; but for now, here are some cover scans I pulled off the Internet:
Speaking of cover scans — in this blog I’m trying to present these 50-year-old comics at their best, and for that reason I use the best-quality cover images I can find online (usually from the Grand Comics Database). However, on this occasion I think it might be worthwhile to share the cover of my own personal copy with you — just in case you have any idea that I am sitting on a treasure trove of pristine-condition collectibles:
Apparently, my younger self had a compelling need to utilize this cover’s “Superman” logo for something or other, leading him to mutilate his comic book. What did I do with the logo? I have no recollection whatsoever, today. But, I’m sure it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.