I write a lot of media tie-ins, books and stories based on existing properties from other media, mostly from the pages of comic books. I enjoy the challenge of taking a world usually presented in words and pictures and telling its story in words alone. Something about the process removes a large part of the suspension of disbelief a reader needs to bring to reading a comic book story, no matter how well done it is; words are words, but line drawings on a page take the story a step or two away from reality and make it that much more difficult to believe.
This was one of those itches. It's the prologue for a Superman novel, inspired in part by the literary qualities of Tom DeHaven's excellent IT'S SUPERMAN (Chronicle Books, 2005). I started playing around with it in October 2007:
Superman and all related elements © 2008 DC Comics
SUPERMAN: THE END OF TIME © 2008 Paul Kupperberg
SUPERMAN: THE END OF TIME © 2008 Paul Kupperberg
prologue/at the end of time
He was no stranger to loneliness.
His was a life begun in exile, a family destroyed, a child thrust into a world in which he never truly belonged, try as he might. A stranger in a strange land, made all the worse that it was a land populated by beings who looked so much like him but were not, finally, like him at all.
He was steel.
They were bone China, fragile translucent shells containing lives that broke so easily, wore out too soon.
Still he tried being one of them. Lived among them, loved them. Some of his foes tried exploiting that love, always a mistake, but others just mocked him. They, who were connected to humanity rejected the very bonds he would have given up everything to enjoy.
For all his brilliance, he never really did understand them.
Nor they him. They saw in him abilities far beyond their comprehension and did what humans have done since developing cognizance: they deified him and all those like him. Instinct gave them no choice but to put him on a pedestal above them...or fear him. They did that, too, he was convinced of that. But once they saw he meant them no harm, was in fact, benevolent, they recognized the wisdom of dampening their fear and doing nothing to antagonize him or his ilk. It was all so complicated, exhausting. Heartbreaking. It was, he could admit to himself now, here, at the end of time, the reason he chose, finally, to go. All the public pronouncements about his work being done on Earth, leaving mankind to guide its own destiny into the future, intergalactic age...
He still missed them, though he seldom thought of them anymore.
But when he did...
The images summoned by his mind’s eye made him smile. He forgot nothing, of course. Every moment of his life was stored somewhere, just waiting to be retrieved by any outside stimuli or, sometimes, when he was thinking of nothing at all, when he would just turn off his thoughts and drift, without care to time or destination, through endless nowheres, they would come up like some random shuffle of songs on the jukebox in Doc Parson’s soda fountain. Pete knew how to drop in the nickels and punch the keys in just the right combination to make the old contraption, its colored lights flickering as bubbles percolated lethargically through the plastic tubing on its weathered face, play a mélange of bits and pieces of songs on its dual-turntables that never failed to crack them up, Sinatra mixing with Hendrix fading into Pat Boone, jumping suddenly into Ozzie or the Who, and Pete would grab the nearest girl, usually Lana, and they would dance, trying to keep up with the music and laughing so hard as they breathlessly sang out the words, or at least something close to them...
That was a road he didn’t dare follow, not again. And surely not now. He had trod it before, past the endless, eternal sea of faces and memories, smells and sounds, the curse of perfection, at least where his memory was concerned, and found only sorrow and, at times, madness waiting at the other end. He would see...
Lana, on a perfect summer’s day in childhood, a day not long after the one in which he remembered realizing that she wasn’t just the kid down the road, a classmate and pal, but had, somehow, without his realizing it, become a…female. They had been playing softball all morning in the field out back from Mr. Snyder’s barn and she was laughing at something Pete said as they piled into the dim, cool interior of Doc’s on Main Street for something cold and sweet to quench their thirsts. Her startling red hair was tied back with a yellow ribbon in a ponytail and she wore white shorts, dirty white Converse high-tops and a gray Smallville High t-shirt that was plastered to her back with sweat stains from their hours under the Kansas sun.
He was holding the door for everyone else and as Lana filed by, filling his nostrils with her clean, sweaty, vanilla and jasmine and god only knew what combination of hormones and pheromones scent, she turned her laughing face and green eyes to him and winked and he felt his knees buckle, the more-than-pals feeling awakening with a scream. It made the breath catch in his chest and his heart to pound so loud and so hard that he thought the whole town could hear it. Later, years later, when their lives, intersecting circles that came into contact all too infrequently and often for all the wrong reasons, had reached the safety and comfort of platonic intimacy, she confessed that she too had found it difficult to breath when he was around and isn’t it funny that both of them, feeling as they did, needing only to reach out their hands to one another across the Formica tabletop at Doc Parson’s to touch happiness, could never find even that one-inch of courage to accept what they both knew was true.
Neither of them ever made the leap.
And later...later it would be too late.
...but for just an instant, a sigh of déjà vu, eternity was a summer day and a winking emerald eye...
And of such insignificant increments and fleeting moments are lives altered and histories rewritten.
Not that it mattered any longer. Doc and the jukebox were long gone.
As was Smallville. And Lana and all the women who followed her, though none had ever meant quite what the freckled face redhead had. Still, he remembered their names. Every one of them.
Everything was gone, gone so long that time had finally begun to run out, even for him. Had he ever really expected to outlive the universe? Maybe, once, before he learned all there was to learn and, among that knowledge, the certainty that all of time and all of space and the myriad, diverse threads that twisted around each other to weave the vast tapestry of the multiverse were linked. Time dribbled away to nothingness in everywhere, every universe calved from the same mother lode of energy, at the same time. He had long ago worked out the physics of the universe’s birth; knowing that, it was easy enough to calculate the antithetical event.
Yet still he wondered about that last instant, when all time and space was gone but for the last tick of the cosmic clock. The singularity would be unimaginable – the entirety of the cosmos compressed into a single space – time/space elongating as it approached this ultimate black hole. Would it continue stretching on into infinity, the distance to the event horizon decreasing by half, then half again. And again, dividing ad infinitum, forever forestalling the end? Nonsense science, he knew, but enough to make him think to ride time’s final instant into oblivion and see. Or join with the seething mass of heat and energy that would, when conditions were right and the cycle began anew, explode into new existence. But of course he wouldn’t. He still had much to do before he considered oblivion, labors that begin, paradoxically, when time ends.
Paradoxes and ironies. Love, hate, happiness, sorrow. All irrelevant now that there was no one left but him to appreciate or experience...anything. If a tear falls in a forest and no one is there to feel its pain, does a heart still break?
He allowed himself a small smile. As he always suspected: Sarcasm was the last thing in the universe to fall.
The last second came, but before memory was undone and all hope crushed under the weight of the universe, Lex Luthor shifted and was gone, back to when there was a future to look toward...
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