Paul, sitting in an armchair next to a shelf containing his collection of newspapers and magazines featuring superheroes, recounts his years of following the exploits of every age of superhero......
He narrates how he grew up during the Great Depression in Metropolis's Suicide Slum, reluctantly helping his delinquent friend Jimmy Mahoney collect protection money for a local mob, around the time the Crimson Avenger and other early superheroes make their debut. He is also on friendly terms with Jimmy's younger sister, Peggy. A year later, while walking through an alley, they witness those same mobsters being taken down by the original Atom (Al Pratt) and Sandman (Wesley Dodds). Paul warns the Atom in time just as a mobster is about to try and get the drop on him. The Atom thanks him and, out of gratitude, gives Paul his card to call him whenever there's trouble. That encounter would leave a great impact on Paul, who decides to seek out a more honest line of work, and becomes a paperboy for the Globe-Leader just as the Justice Society forms and other heroes begin to appear out of the woodwork. Jimmy, on the other hand, wants no part of it. Paul ends up idolizing the heroes of the Golden Age, and begins collecting and following their every move. He has another fateful encounter with a hero in the form of the Guardian and the Newsboy Legion, who save him from a group of punk kids trying to collect protection money as well. In high school, he begins dating Peggy and runs into Jimmy, who's now a member of a local mob run by Vandal Savage, only to end up on the run after the Justice Society takes the mob down. Paul then works his way through college, graduating at the top of his class. He and Peggy witness the end of the Golden Age after the JSA disbands in the early 1950s.
Paul, taking inspiration from his encounter with the Guardian, decides to become a police officer. After graduating from the police academy, he is partnered with John Jones (unaware Jones is the Martian Manhunter), and on one case, runs into Jimmy again, who has been working with a group of highwaymen that get taken out by the Blackhawks. After cornering Jimmy in a warehouse, Jones arrests him, and Paul vows to see that Jimmy learns his lesson after some time behind bars. This upsets Peggy greatly, causing them to break off their engagement for a month. Paul and Peggy later marry, and a few years later Paul becomes excited over the dawn of the Silver Age of heroes after witnessing Superman in action and the arrival of Batman. Later, Peggy gives birth to their daughter at the same time Wonder Woman makes her debut, which inspires Paul to name her Diana. All three watch as more heroes, including the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Aquaman, and the Martian Manhunter, make their presence known, and as they, along with Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, first form the Justice League of America.
Paul is assigned a new partner after Jones becomes a detective, in the form of Nelson Bell, who is skeptical of the superheroes. Paul continues to witness the energy and excitement of the Silver Age, from the debuts of Green Arrow and the new Atom, to the resurgence of both the kid sidekicks (who later form the Teen Titans) and super-villains to the debut of strange heroes such as the Metal Men and the Doom Patrol. He becomes even more excited after seeing a news story about the JLA teaming up with the JSA, who decide to come out of retirement. Meanwhile, he continues to visit Jimmy in prison and speak on his behalf at his parole hearings. Jimmy, by now, has thought back over the mistakes he made, and vows to reform. More heroes debut around this time in the form of Batgirl and Hawk and Dove, but then Paul, Peggy, and Diana witness the end of the Silver Age while on vacation in New York as they see the death of the Doom Patrol on national television.
As the Bronze Age begins, Paul notices how things have started to go in a darker direction (such as the Joker acting more maniacal and actually killing people, and the Spectre taking out his own brand of vengeance on even the most petty of crimes), while trying to reassure Diana that heroes are still heroes no matter what they look like (after witnessing the debut of Green Arrow's new look). Meanwhile, Jimmy is finally released on parole, and takes a security job at S.T.A.R. Labs. Paul confirms Jimmy's reformation during a battle between Superman and Chemo, after he learns that Jimmy evacuated the lab's staff on his own, saving nearly everyone's life in the process. More heroes debut as the years progress, including Captain Marvel, the new Doom Patrol, Firestorm, Black Lightning, and the New Teen Titans. Paul is surprised by Batman's resignation from the Justice League and his formation of the Outsiders, and even more surprised with the appearance of heroes such as the Vigilante (Adrian Chase), Ragman, and Blue Devil. In 1985, Paul has Jimmy, his wife Helen, and their son Ted over for dinner just as the Crisis on Infinite Earths begins. Paul is called into duty on the streets to help save civilians, and has Jimmy take the rest of the family down into the basement of their house for safety. He then joins with Nelson and the rest of the Metropolis police and bear witness to the chaos of the Crisis, as well as more heroes from all eras, some of whom people had never seen before, also helping in the rescue effort, unaware of the bigger threat to come.
Paul is just awed by the number of heroes helping in the rescue, as well as the Barry Allen Flash's disturbing disappearance right in front of their eyes. Paul then goes to help a woman trapped under some debris and gets help from the Guardian, who for years he believed dead after being shot while in his identity as Officer Jim Harper (unaware that he was cloned by Project Cadmus). He tries to reintroduce himself to the clone, who he believes is Jim Harper, only for the Guardian to lie to him that Jim Harper is still dead. He then reminds Paul that they still have lives to save, and go their separate ways (with Guardian secretly congratulating Paul for the man he's become). Meanwhile, in the Lincoln's basement, Peggy hears something moving around upstairs. Jimmy decides to go check up on it, reassuring everyone that he'll be fine, until the foundation caves in on him while he climbs the stairs. Back in Metropolis, Paul and Nelson continue to aid in the rescue effort, and see the Anti-Monitor for the first time, watching as all the heroes fly in his direction for a final showdown. The skies turn back to normal as everyone breathes a sigh of relief, the Crisis finally over, but with the later confirmed deaths of many, including the Barry Allen Flash.
Paul reunites with the rest of the family at the hospital where Jimmy was taken to, and learn that due to his injuries that he will never walk again. After a period of rebuilding, things return to normal, with Paul watching a news report on the formation of the Detroit-era Justice League [an error, since they formed before Crisis on Infinite Earths], criticizing it for being a "third-string little league". For the first time in his life, he begins to question if the heroes know what they're doing, despite being reassured by Peggy. During the events of Legends, Paul and Nelson watch G. Gordon Godfrey (secretly Glorious Godfrey) being interviewed by Billy Batson. Paul takes an instant dislike to Godfrey, citing that if it wasn't for the heroes, then the Crisis would've been the end of it all. Just as Nelson is about to make a point, the two get called to don riot gear, as the entire police force heads out to confront Brimstone just as the creature attacks Metropolis. Despite being nearly incinerated, Paul and Nelson are rescued in the nick of time by the JLA, with Firestorm among them. The League makes a valiant effort against Brimstone, but his power is too much, and Paul and Nelson are awestruck when they witness it defeat the League with ease. After Brimstone disappears, Jimmy and Paul watch a news report about an angry mob ganging up on Robin (Jason Todd) and nearly beating him to a pulp. Jimmy is touched by this, hoping that Robin doesn't end up like him, crippled and bitter. Paul manages to reassure Jimmy that he'll always be there for him, no matter what. Later, he learns of Brimstone's defeat by the new Suicide Squad, now a team made up of both good guys and coerced villains; one of them, the original Blockbuster, is killed by the creature. Around this time, the president outlaws superheroes appearing in public, and the JLA disbands after Vibe and Steel (Hank Heywood III) are killed. Paul then witnesses Godfrey leading his followers at a rally in Washington D.C. to try and overthrow the government, along with backup in the form of Apokoliptan Warhounds and Parademons. He is thwarted in his efforts by a group of heroes made up of Doctor Fate, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, the Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (Guy Gardner), Black Canary, Changeling, Captain Marvel, and Blue Beetle (Ted Kord). They then decide to reform the Justice League, at Doctor Fate's invitation, something Paul sees as "legends reborn". Weeks after the event, Paul and Nelson are both promoted to detective, but things turn grim when they see a news report on the Joker being confirmed to have shot and crippled Barbara Gordon, to which Paul is shocked.
Paul notes that this tragedy once again "changed the rules of the game", as the loved ones of superheroes were now becoming prime targets. The "noble" mystery man was now gone, and things were about to get worse. He begins to wonder how, if his daughter Diana (now a teenager) was harmed by a criminal of any sort, he wouldn't hesitate to kill him. Years later, he and Bell are at MPD HQ where they witness on TV Bane tossing a broken Batman off a roof [during the events of Knightfall]. The chief warns them to be on the lookout for anything similar going on in Metropolis. At the same time, the alien monster known as Doomsday emerges in the Midwest where it quickly takes down the Justice League (consisting of Guy Gardner, Bloodwynd [Martian Manhunter in disguise], Fire, Ice, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), and Maxima), until Superman arrives to help them. Meanwhile, Jimmy takes Peggy on a tour of S.T.A.R. Labs, where he notices her hand shaking and her pale complexion, suggesting that she and Paul see a doctor. In Gotham City, Jean-Paul Valley (the vigilante known as Azrael) has taken over as Batman and goes after Bane, while first wearing the traditional Bat-suit with armored gauntlets. Back in the Midwest, Superman catches up to Doomsday, who is thrown by Superman a great distance, until it lands 50 miles outside Metropolis. In Gotham, Valley engages Bane again, this time wearing his armored costume, and chases the strongman across town until finally defeating him aboard an elevated train that crashes into an abandoned building, where he leaves Bane for the cops. At the Lincoln house, Paul and Peggy call Diana into the living room to tell her something important. After visiting the doctor, it was revealed that Peggy has cancer. Peggy assures Diana that since they think they caught it early, there will be a lot they can still do at this stage. Just then, Paul's phone goes off, and when he learns why he's needed, he reluctantly heads over to downtown Metropolis to join the police force in confronting Doomsday while Superman's still fighting it. When Superman steps out of the way to move Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen away from the fight, Paul and Nelson distract Doomsday by firing at him with their guns. Superman then speeds back to finish off Doomsday once and for all, until both fall, still and unmoving. Ice and Bloodwynd arrive just to realize that they were too late, and Paul tells of how everyone felt once they saw that Superman, "the most honorable, most decent of us all", was dead.
The death of Superman hits everyone in the world hard, and Paul, along with his fellow officers, are present at the funeral in their dress blues. Meanwhile, he and his family learn from Peggy's doctor that Peggy has been responding well to all the treatments, and there may be a chance that she may recover from the cancer. Diana and Paul vow to support Peggy throughout this whole ordeal. Meanwhile, in Gotham, Bruce Wayne returns to the cowl to end Jean-Paul Valley's brutal term as Batman, and wins, with Valley disappearing in the course of their fight. In Metropolis, four super-powered individuals appear, each claiming to be a reborn Superman: Superboy (Conner Kent/Kon-El), Steel (John Henry Irons), Cyborg Superman, and The Eradicator. Paul and Nelson get called over to S.T.A.R. Labs to investigate the theft of an extraterrestrial exo-suit, a theft discovered by Jimmy. Nelson instantly believes that one of the four "Supermen" may be responsible. Meanwhile, a massive spaceship appears over Coast City. Eradicator sets out to destroy the spheres being deployed by it, when he is struck from behind by Cyborg Superman, who uses Eradicator's energy to trigger the spheres, causing an explosion that devastates Coast City and kills its entire population. The remaining spheres then begin construction of a new Warworld, with the ship, controlled by Mongul, as its heart. Back in Metropolis, Supergirl (Matrix), Lois Lane, Steel, Superboy, and Lex Luthor II (secretly the real one in a cloned body) witness the return of the true Superman, who, along with Steel and Superboy, set out to destroy the Warworld and take down the Cyborg and Mongul. Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) also arrives, intent on getting his revenge for Coast City's destruction [Coast City was his hometown]. The Supermen and Jordan, along with the revived Eradicator, confront the Cyborg, who inadvertently restores Superman to full power. The man of steel then seemingly kills the Cyborg. A few days later, Paul, Peggy, and Jimmy attend Diana's high school graduation, and she tells them that she intends to go to medical school to become an oncologist, so that she can help people like her mom, to which all three express how proud of her they are for that. Weeks later, Hal Jordan tries to rebuild Coast City with his power ring, to no avail, and with a reprimand from the Guardians, finally snaps and heads for Oa, wiping out all opposition in his way (such as the rookies who become the Lost Lanterns), including the Guardians' last attempt--a freed Sinestro (in actuality, a duplicate), whose neck is snapped by Jordan. Not even a plea from Kilowog helps, and he is seemingly killed by Jordan. Realizing he crossed the line, Jordan walks into the Central Power Battery without looking back, and absorbs the entirety of its power, allowing him to become fully possessed by, and taking the name of, Parallax.
Paul recalls on how calling those years a time of turmoil would be the understatement of the century. Despite the return of the true Superman and Batman, Hal Jordan had gone rogue, leaving a path of destruction and death that could never be equaled, and then vanishing for some time [Paul's story from there glosses over the events of Zero Hour for some reason]. Meanwhile, as Paul informs Nelson of news regarding Peggy's cancer being possibly in remission, the two witness a battle between the new Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner) and Major Force on TV, just after Force murdered Rayner's girlfriend Alexandra DeWitt. Shortly after, a news bulletin comes on reporting of a spacecraft heading towards Metropolis harbor. Paul and Nelson head out with some of the force, and get there just as the ship's pilot, a female alien named Dusk, comes out. Superman and members of the [1994 incarnation] of the Legion of Super-Heroes (consisting of Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Brainiac 5, Spark, Ultra Boy, Ferro, and Inferno) arrive and take her to be questioned. Gathering a large group of heroes together, she warns them of the arrival of the Sun-Eater, urging them to evacuate the planet, lest they all witness the Final Night. The heroes vow to stop this from happening. Paul and Peggy watch the eclipse from their home, as their daughter Diana drives up. Peggy states that if it really is the end of the world, then they'll face it as a family. All three go inside, where Paul turns on the television to a news report about Lex Luthor agreeing to help the heroes take down the Sun-Eater. Not long after, Green Lantern is sent to launch a probe designed by Brainiac 5 to receive the energy from force-fields constructed to contain the Sun-Eater. Superman volunteers to pilot the ship to deliver the force-fields, and writes a letter to Lois Lane before he goes to do it. When he arrives at the hangar, he is told that Legion member Ferro took the ship instead. Just as Batman asks what to do next, Hal Jordan (as Parallax) materializes in the room, offering to help. Batman, distrustful, tells him to back off, but Hal insists, stating that he is doing all he ever wanted to: setting things right. Ferro launches and detonates the force-fields, to no avail, and is about to be roasted alive until he is saved by Jordan. Jordan teleports him to Earth, and then proceeds to enter the heart of the Sun-Eater, using his power to absorb that of the entity. As he is doing this, he utters the oath of the Green Lantern Corps for the last time. He is successful, at the cost of his own life, and the sun shines again. Meanwhile, Paul checks in on Jimmy, who is in rehab to get himself walking again. The two of them talk about the missing exo-suit stolen from S.T.A.R. Labs, and Paul assures him that they're still looking for it, despite the case being moved into the cold case files. Months later, Paul and Nelson go to check out another lead on the exo-suit, when they witness an invasion of demons from hell, led by the Spectre, possessed by the renegade angel Asmodel. Paul and Nelson call for backup, and at the same time, the newly-reformed JLA, along with Orion, Mister Miracle, Firestorm, and Zauriel arrive to fend off the demons. Their efforts are met with little success, as Asmodel uses the Spectre's power to turn Superman into salt, bind Firestorm in the chains of hellfire, and turn Green Lantern into petrified wood. Just then, the newly formed Sentinels of Magic (made up of Alan Scott as Sentinel, the Phantom Stranger, Zatanna, Ragman, Madame Xanadu, Doctor Occult, Deadman, Raven, and Sebastian Faust) arrive to turn the tide. Zatanna, Madame Xanadu and the Phantom Stranger undo the spells on Superman, Green Lantern, and Firestorm, while Captain Marvel arrives to help aid in the battle. Zauriel and Raven open a portal to Heaven, where they, along with Alan Scott, Wonder Woman, and Mister Miracle go to seek a soul to bond with the Spectre and drive Asmodel out. Paul and Nelson nearly end up in the crossfire, until Batman saves Nelson from a demon that was about to decapitate him by throwing an iron batarang. The team that went to Heaven comes back with the soul of Hal Jordan, much to Batman's chagrin, and despite putting up a good fight, is turned into glass and shattered, until the new Doctor Fate (Hector Hall) revives Jordan. Jordan then leaps into the Spectre and drives Asmodel out, fully bonding with the spirit of vengeance. Hal then vows to change the direction of the Spectre's mission, from one of Vengeance to one of Redemption.
Paul recounts how the headline following that incident may just be his favorite, due to the irony of how despite Metropolis experiencing an actual demonic attack, the newspapers claimed it was all a mass delusion. He calls it astonishing that people have the ability to convince themselves of something when they don't wish to face the truth, citing the Spectre as an example of this. Some believe he's an emodiment of the Lord's Wrath, others believe he's a fake; Paul says that it's just a matter of whether or not one believes in an afterlife. He cites his own uncertainty, though hoping there is one so he can reunite with Peggy, who had succumbed to the cancer. Noticing the snow falling outside, he begins to recall the holiday season he spent with Peggy, Diana (now a practicing oncologist at Metropolis General), and Diana's boyfriend, Stanley Dover. Just as they're hanging the decorations on the Christmas tree, Diana gets called back to the hospital, saying she'll be back as soon as she can. As she leaves, Peggy accidentally drops one of the ornaments. At the hospital, Diana meets with her patient, Dr. Jenet Klyburn (a scientist at S.T.A.R. Labs), who immediately guesses that her test results were positive: she has cancer, a diagnosis Diana was about to make. Diana affirms that since they caught Klyburn's cancer early, they will be able to treat it, and assures her that they will do everything they can. Paul then recounts how at the same time, while Elongated Man was out on patrol with Firehawk, he gets an urgent call from his wife, Sue Dibny. He raced home as fast as he could, but found he was too late, and that Sue had been brutally murdered. Sue's funeral, according to Paul, was second only to that of Superman's, with the only difference being that, due to her humanity, she would not return just as easily. The entire superhuman community turns out, along with a lot of ordinary people as well. Both had been touched in some ways by the Dibnys. Despite his fondness for the Elongated Man, Paul had his own troubles to deal with, once he and Peggy visit the doctor who confirms that her cancer is back, and very aggressive Because it is now in her bones and marrow, it is virtually untreatable, save for a few aggressive treatments. Peggy declines these, stating that if it's her time, she's not going out with a bunch of tubes sticking out of her, and that she will face it on her own terms, making what little time she has count. On the walk back from the hospital, Paul tries to maintain a positive attitude about the situation, with some difficulty. While passing by a newspaper box, with the headlines about Sue Dibny's burial, Peggy offers to buy one for Paul's collection. Paul declines, a tear streaming down his left cheek, saying that it's too painful for him at a time like this. Peggy reassures him that they'll get through this. Paul reveals to this day, that paper is the only hole in his collection.
He then recounts how the superhuman community began a manhunt for Sue's killer [the events of Identity Crisis], with the Titans taking on Plasmus and Warp; Blue Beetle (Ted Kord), Mister Miracle (Scott Free), and Doctor Fate (Hector Hall) routing Firefly and Scorch; the Outsiders cornering Heatstroke; and the JSA tracking down Doctor Phosphorus. In the end, Paul and Nelson, while eating in a diner, learn that Jean Loring, ex-wife of Ray Palmer (the second Atom), was the murderer, in an attempt to win back Ray. While Nelson notes that at least Loring is in the loony bin, Paul adds that he feels sorry for Ralph Dibny most of all. Paul then gets a phone call from Peggy, who wanted to check up on him. After hanging up, Nelson gets a call regarding the long-missing exo-suit, and the two of them head for Metropolis National Bank. Once there, they discover that the man who stole the suit is using it to commit a robbery, until he is stopped by Superman, who also saves Paul and Nelson from ricocheting bullets. Superman strips the armor piece by piece off of him, leaving the criminal to be arrested by the two detectives. Four days later, while Paul is taking care of some paperwork at HQ, he gets a call regarding Peggy's condition that sends him running straight to the hospital. Once there, he meets up with Diana, who informs him that Peggy took a turn for the worse and collapsed on the kitchen floor. When Paul asks what she's doing for her, Diana lets him know that she's making her comfortable, which is all they can do, since it looks like that it's time to say goodbye. At her bedside, Peggy says her final goodbye to her husband and daughter, saying they have given her a wonderful life, and that she has no regrets. With that, she finally closes her eyes forever.
Her funeral, Paul recalls, was small and private, with only himself, Diana, Stanley, Jimmy and his family in attendance He didn't invite many of her friends, as they wanted them to remember her as she'd lived. He takes the next month off from work to mourn, while at the same time, the Martian Manhunter finds himself under attack in the city streets by the nanotech cyborgs known as O.M.A.C.s [taking place during the events of Infinite Crisis]. In the same instant, at S.T.A.R. Labs, he had returned to duty and was helping Nelson inspect the recently-returned exo-suit, along with Dr. Klyburn and Jimmy; they had kept the added-on arsenal for future emergencies. Dr. Klyburn then tells Paul that she owes a huge debt of thanks to Diana for helping to put her own cancer in remission, while apologizing for his loss. Paul then tells Jimmy he owes him an apology for suspecting him of the theft of the suit, to which Jimmy says that he might have suspected himself as well. Nelson then gets a call about the O.M.A.C.s appearing and attacking, and how the chief wants every available officer out there to contain the chaos. Just as Paul is about to leave, Nelson is revealed to be one of the victims of the O.M.A.C. Project, as he transforms and begins to destroy the facility. Paul tries to convince Nelson to fight his programming, until he is forced to shoot him, to no avail. Just as the Nelson O.M.A.C. is about to kill Paul, it is shot in the back by a missile fired from the exo-suit, now piloted by Jimmy. Jimmy manages to finish off the O.M.A.C., but not before the cyborg fatally wounds Jimmy, who falls to the floor, just as the fallen O.M.A.C. transforms back into Nelson. Paul rushes to Jimmy's side and removes the suit's helmet, assuring him that they'll get help. Jimmy, dying, reminds Paul that he always owed him for getting him paroled and asks him to tell his wife and son that he loves them. He muses how he finally got to wear the suit, and walk again, if only for a minute. With his last breath, Jimmy says how good that minute felt. Paul, greatly saddened, takes out his police badge, studies it for a moment, and then tosses it aside. Later, he retires from the force.
Just as he's about to recount what happened several months later and reach for another article, he is stopped by a nurse named Hyacinth at the retirement home he lives at, where he had been recounting his story the entire time. She tells him that it's time for him to go to sleep, to which he reluctantly agrees, despite him saying that there's more to tell. She tells him that it's the exact same story every night, and that she's heard it so much she knows it by heart. He claims it's all true, to which she also agrees, if it's as true as those told by other residents. As she tucks him in after he takes his pills, she reminds him of the visit by Diana and her family tomorrow. Hyacinth, on her way out, muses that at least he still has his dreams, to which Paul, drifting off to sleep replies "And what dreams they were, Peggy darling. What dreams they were.....". We then see on his nightstand, in a clear plastic case, the card given to him by Al Pratt all those decades ago, with the note "To Paul--With thanks for saving my life!--The Atom".