Superheroes as Senior Citizens
If we’re to believe those TV commercials for sunbelt retirement communities, growing old is non-stop conga line of carefree living and frivolity....cleverly disguising the fact that getting old stinks!
As children, the gripes and groans of aging parents and grandparents suggested that getting old was no picnic, yet it was the spectacle of Senior Citizen Superheroes that really drove home the grim reality that "all things must pass away". Witnessing perpetually young superheroes reduced to feeble oldsters got a child thinking about his or her own mortality, in a way older real-world relatives never could. In other words, if Superman could grow old...kids could too, right?
Senior Superhero stories typically took two broad approaches. The first approach was through "imaginary stories" that depicted an elderly version of the hero tottering around in the far future. More often than not, the futuristic super-senior was portrayed as a feeble, marginalized figure, like Superman on the cover of Action Comics #251 (1959).
Note the long white beard, the universal indicator of advanced age, perhaps dating all the way back to Rip Van Winkle himself.
Speaking of that legendary figure, Batman #119 (1958) finds a tattered “Rip Van Batman” standing in the shadows while witnessing the grown-up Dick Grayson as Batman, accompanied by a new (and very blond) Robin.
Meanwhile, Action Comics #270 (1960) shows Superman (sans beard) as a forgotten “has-been”…with Lois still busting his chops for not marrying her.
Perhaps it was Superman’s status as the patriarchal “granddaddy” of superheroes that inspired so many Old Superman covers, as another Action Comics story features an aged Superman of the far future. This time around, the story spanned a whole three issues…quite a rarity for DC Comics at the time.
Action Comics #385 (1970) kicks it off with a 100,000 year old Superman who, while “mightier than ever”, yearns for death’s sweet release. “When will I die?”, despairs the immortal Man of Steel.
The next issue finds Superman in “The Old Heroes Home” (actually a Retirement Planet), along with an assortment of fellow oldsters, such as “Electroman”, “Atom King” and even an ex-Green Lantern. No word on who the coot with the cane was. As you can see, nursing homes of the far future are every bit the exciting, stimulating environments they are today.
The final chapter of this depressing trilogy depicts a one million year old Superman close to death, with what appears to be a 1950’s television camera attempting to revive him.
Next up in our Geriatric Parade is either an incredibly buff Santa Claus or a really old Superman on the cover of Superman #416 (1986).
Lest we think DC cornered the market on futuristic senior superheroes, Marvel features an elderly (and decidedly NON-feeble) version of the Hulk in the two-issue Future Imperfect mini-series (1993).
Taking the concept of the “old curmudgeon” to an entirely new level, this alternate future version of the Hulk, also known as “The Maestro”, conquered Earth following a nuclear war (which had also killed most of the planet’s superheroes).
The second and much more common approach to Senior Superhero stories was to instantly age the hero through artificial means, usually with some kind of super-science or magical curse.
Falling victim to a Skrull aging ray, Marvel’s oldest super team became just that on the covers of Fantastic Four #212-214 (1979).
Back in Flash #157 (1965), the Scarlet Speedster is instantly aged 100 years by….a top? Admittedly not as compelling a threat as, say, the aforementioned Skrull Aging Ray.
On the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #387 (1994), Spidey's long-time foe (and AARP member) The Vulture literally steals the best years of the wall-crawler's life.
According to General Douglas MacArthur, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away”, as Ol’ Wing Head demonstrates on the cover of Captain America #296 (1984).
Even the tiny Ant-Man felt the aches and pains of instant aging, as an angry scientist unleashed an aging ray to punish those who forced him into early retirement in Tales to Astonish #43 (1963).
Thor #186 (1971) finds the Thunder God rapidly aged by Hela, the shapely personification of death.
I’ve gotta say, of all the perks of godhood, a hottie from a cosmic Mardi Gras parade escorting you to Valhalla must have ranked near the top of the list. Don’t fight it, Thor!
In Justice League of America #249 (1986), "Time Has Run Out" for the so-called "Justice League Detroit" version of the team. That title turned out to be strangely prophetic, since this legendarily unpopular incarnation of the League came to an end after arch-villain Despero killed or crippled most of its members a few months later.
Meanwhile, Captain Marvel, Mary and Cap Jr. face “The Menace of Old Age” in The Marvel Family #69 (1952). Hey, join the club, Marvels!
“Super Senior” returns on the cover of Superman #250, this time around the victim of the “branding iron” of outer space cowboy Terra Man. Yes, you read that correctly…an outer space cowboy (but that’s a topic for another day).
Not even Superman’s supporting cast was safe from the threat of premature aging.
Formerly known as Superman’s Girlfriend, “Auntie Lois” is now the target of Superman’s breezy condescension on the cover of Lois Lane #40 (1963). Naturally, the scheming (and still hot) Lana Lang steps out with the Man of Steel for a theatre date, leaving the elderly Lois alone….typing.
Earlier that same year in Jimmy Olsen #66, a mysterious “Cabinet from Krypton” (actually a magical Mr. Mxyzptlk gag) ages Superman’s pal into an old man, while transforming Perry White into Mickey Rooney, and Lois into…a cat?!
Finally, on the cover of Superboy #184 (1972), a vengeful Madame Sinestra threatens to age the young hero into the frightening 1960’s comedienne Phyllis Diller.
So, the next time you spot a grey hair or feel that dull ache in your back, take comfort in knowing that even superheroes have suffered the ravages of aging. Of course, unlike the super-folk, we can't reverse the effects of aging with assorted rejuvenation rays, youth serums or magic pills.
Or can we?