Alan Moore and Grant Morrison had it easy ending the Man of Steel. This isn’t to take away from the respective works, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and All Star Superman, but I mean it to simply be a statement of fact.
Whatever Happened is this end of the Silver Age universe pre-Infinite Crisis story where Moore was given the keys to lock up the shop before turning off the lights. These last minutes allowed Moore to deconstruct the hero, break his world and essentially give him the worst situation imaginable to see him end. By giving up his powers. Moore was given the incredible gift of ending this at the point where he wanted to, in a time that DC trusted writers a good deal more.
All Star Superman, which also ties into Morrison’s DC One Million had a similar situation. Morrison was given this ability to pick and choose what stories he had, what Superman had done – all in this referential manner that was in some ways the homage to Silver Age Superman that Whatever Happened couldn’t be. Morrison ended the series almost a decade earlier with the return of Superman, the reconnection with Lois and the ultimate crime of Solaris the Living Sun. And the story was great because Morrison was given this immense freedom with the characters and was given leadership.
But both of these may unfortunately overshadow the most real Superman end – Grounded. Grounded starts off horribly, it is in many ways a true reflection of the comic industry at the time. It is an ending loaded into a world with real and unfortunate continuity that was flawed. JMS was given a highly publicized story, set up the most unbelievable situation following another one that should have not happened and then passed the situation off to somebody who saved it – Chris Roberson.
Roberson took this angry and sick Superman who’d become distraught and angry and returned him to the hero that we need. If you start with Superman getting angry at reporters for questioning his actions – that isn’t Superman – he is a reporter! Superman ends up going and giving dozens of lectures and people hate him and – this story starts off as something I hated to read.
And then Roberson restored Superman – he reconnected him to the world that we should want to live in – not an overly gritty one where everyone has issues they expect Superman to solve. Superman starts responding to crimes realistically, he starts building a future and he sees this future come alive. The story doesn’t end – it goes on forever which is how Superman should end. There is always a way to save the world, there is always going to be a Superman because we need him. Roberson got this and was able to end the series (without knowing it) on such a high note. He ended with continuity, with adding a future, with setting up a better future and he did it playing with this strict universe. He had a difficult task and rose to it.
While Grounded is not the greatest Superman ending story – I think it stands as the greatest ending where there were rules that the writers had to play by, when the situation wasn’t fair and honestly I wish that it had been allowed to continue.