This week DC’s Future State event begins. For two months the publisher will offer readers a glimpse of possible futures for their full main line of titles. From Kingdom Come to The Dark Knight Returns, DC has a long tradition of presenting potential future paths for Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and the rest of the DCU, and many of those stories are considered to be the best of the best when it comes to showing what those characters have to offer. But there’s one far-future storyline for the Man of Steel that’s, to put it mildly, less well-known than so many others: Superman 2020.
Introduced by Cary Bates, Curt Swan, Joe Staton, Adrienne Roy, & Ben Oda in a back-up feature in September 1980’s Superman #354, the Superman 2020 series followed Superman III, the grandson of the original Superman, as he protected the floating city of New Metropolis. Superman III was a bit of an odd duck, eschewing one secret identity for multiple. In his first appearance, he “killed off” his original identity of college student Kalel Kent, and in future appearances he would masquerade as Jon Hudson, air traffic controller (for all of 2020’s flying car traffic, naturally), and as Lewis Parker, professional tennis player (and while you may think that Lewis Parker can’t lose because he has super-powers, he apparently turns his powers off psychically before his matches begin).
With future Superman 2020 stories written by Bob Rozakis and illustrated by artists including Alex Saviuk & Vince Colletta, Denys Cowan & Joe Giella, and Gil Kane, the series appeared as a rotating back-up feature in the Superman title six times (or seven, if you count the single Superman 2021 story), and aside from the futuristic trappings and the character’s miscellaneous secret identities, they were basically just Superman stories. Like much science fiction set in a far-off future from when it’s written, the Superman 2020 stories got a lot wrong about the actual 2020 that we’ve all just experienced. There are a few things, however, that the Superman 2020 back-up stories got right about the past year.
Nazis are still a problem
In his very first outing in Superman #354-355, the Superman of 2020 goes up against a group called the Purists, whose stated goal is to maintain the purity of the human race. The group sees New Metropolis, with its ability to travel out of Earth’s atmosphere, as the first step towards human/alien intermingling and breeding, with the son and grandson of the original Superman as evidence of its possibility. So they try to destroy New Metropolis and pin the blame on the Supermen so that humans will begin to distrust aliens.
So they’re clearly racists, but what makes them Nazis? That would be their group symbol, which is a modified Nazi swastika. The group members wear armbands bearing the symbol, and they salute each other with an arm-raised hand motion.
Unlike modern groups like the Proud Boys, the Purists included people of all genders and races in their group — they just had to be humans to join. So in that sense, you could say these Nazis are, comparatively, more enlightened than the ones that actually exist now.
Everyone communicates via video chat
As seen in Superman #354 and 372, in the world of Superman 2020, regular telephones have been replaced by Visi-Phones. In the former issue, the Visi-Phone appears to be a full-wall setup; in the latter story, the Visi-Phone is a portable, hand-held device that can be used anywhere.
Video communication is a staple of any future-set science fiction, from Back to the Future 2 to Star Trek, so it’s not a huge leap that it should be included here. Also, to be fair, services like Skype have been around for years now already. The difference is that the past year saw a marked increase in the use of video chat services, to the point that it’s become a part of every day life more than it ever was before. With everyone from business to schools going home-based due to the pandemic, services like Zoom and Google Meet rose in popularity exponentially in 2020, with the former becoming so ubiquitous that the Zoom brand name has become a verb. Which, frankly, sounds a lot snappier than “Visi-Phone.”
Speaking of the pandemic…
A deadly virus is blamed on a foreigner
Superman #368 features the final Superman 2020 entry — because it’s New Year’s Eve, and the residents of New Metropolis are ringing in 2021 in style. In the story by Rozakis, Saviuk, Frank Chiarmonte, Tom Ziuko, and John Costanza, New Metropolis descends from space to land in Megalopolis (the massive super-city formed by the merger of every east coast city from Boston to Baltimore, naturally), acting as the ‘ball drop’ that traditionally kicks off a new year. When the dome over New Metropolis opens, though, its residents appear to have been killed by an airborne virus, now released into the air of Megalopolis.
It turns out it’s another plot by the Purists (Superman 2020 only has one recurring villain, and it’s Nazis) to prevent the creation of future space-faring cities and protect the ‘purity’ of the human race. Luckily Superman was on-hand to neutralize the virus before anyone was actually killed, but as he tries to calm the citizens of Megalopolis, who begin to panic out of fear of the virus, the Purists instead proclaim that the alien Superman is the cause of the virus.
Not only are the Purists Nazis, they’re also QAnon conspiracy theorists.
News is available on-demand
Superman #372 presented “Kidnappers in the Sky,” the final story starring Superman III, and the only Superman 2021 story. The opening page of the tale by Rozakis, Kane, Ziuko, and Oda compared certain aspects of life in then-modern-day 1981 to 2021, including cities floating in the sky and traffic jams now taking place in the air as opposed to on the ground. The most crucial comparison, though, was in how people get their news; in 1981, it was via newspaper, TV, or radio, whereas in 2021 it’s projected on the dome above the city. “Citizens of New Metropolis will get their news anywhere in the city,” a caption reads, “at any time, with the mere push of a button.”
While most people now may not read their news from a projection on the dome over their city (in fact, very few cities on Earth have domes over them at all), they can certainly access news in with the push of a button – or the tap of the screen on their smartphone or tablet. The speed and availability of real-time news is a central component to many people’s everyday lives, and it’s also a key piece for this Superman III story.
The media is under attack
The main plot of “Kidnappers In The Sky” finds Jimmy Olsen, now the head of the Universe News System, held at gunpoint in his office by an assailant whose partner has kidnapped Jimmy’s grandchildren. The gunman demands that Jimmy run a fictitious news story about mining on the moon, as part of a plot to drive up the price of an otherwise worthless stock. What follows is a tense standoff between a dedicated, principled newsman and a criminal intent on spreading misinformation for personal gain.
Does that sound at all familiar?
At no point does Jimmy utter the words “fake news,” but even without that the parallels between the forty-year-old story and the media of today combatting the spread of false information are hard to miss. Luckily the story has Superman, who rescues Jimmy’s grandchildren, giving Jimmy the freedom to safely sock his attacker in the jaw. If only misinformation could be stopped so easily.
The seven Superman 2020/2021 stories are currently out-of-print, not even available to read digitally via DC Universe, which is a real shame. They’re fun, diverting stories that set up an interesting world that it would’ve been interesting to see explored more fully. Perhaps the Superman series of DC’s Infinite Frontier will fold in elements of these tales as part of the initiative’s “everything counts” credo. If nothing else, it’d be entertaining to see Jon Kent play tennis every now and then.
The eight-page Superman 2020 back-up stories appeared in the pages of Superman #354, 355, 357, 361, 364, 368, and 372.