The Death of Superman
DC Comics, $14.99, color, 160 pages
Writers, artists: Various
Collecting Action Comics #684, Justice League of America #69, Superman #74-75, Superman: The Man of Steel #18-19 (Dec 92-Jan 93)
I disliked this story when it first came out, and time has not made me like it more.
This new re-colored version has a blurb on the cover reading "The Best-Selling Graphic Novel of All Time!" Um, as opposed to Watchmen? Or virtually any Walking Dead collection? I think not.
And why should it be? It's a terrible story. Rarely has it been more obvious, in all the comics I've read in my life, that a story's ending was written first and everything that came before it was twisted to make the ending happen. And worse, the ending was a gimmick.
I'll be the first to tell you that nobody at the time this story came out believed Superman was really going to die. Nobody. Well, the media went bananas, but comics fans said "ho-hum" for the most part. Our hope was that at least it would be an interesting story.
Which was not to be. First, the antagonist -- Doomsday -- was a Hulk knockoff. He couldn't even talk, for Rao's sake, so there wasn't going to be much more than hitting going on.
And, boy, was there a lot of hitting! Hit, hit, hit. People fall down. People get up. Hit, hit, hit. People fall down. BO-ring.
Especially since some of those people had powers that weren't hit-based, and could be called upon to do something that at least would offer variety. Green Lantern could have done power-ring stuff! (Well, technically, it was Guy Gardner during his Yellow Lantern phase, but still.) Blue Beetle could do science stuff! Maxima had a space army she could call on!
But, no. Hit, hit, hit.
Even Superman, with all his powers, could think of nothing more to do than hit. And hit. And hit some more, when the first hitting didn't work.
Why not throw Doomsday into the sun? Why not put him in orbit ... around Jupiter? Why not suck all the oxygen away from him, or cook him with heat vision? In short ... WHY NOT DO SOMETHING BESIDES HIT HIM, WHICH IS CLEARLY NOT WORKING?
These were the thoughts running through my head, along with "I guess the whole point of this is to get to Metropolis, where Superman and Doomsday will both die in front of The Daily Planet, so we can have a dramatic moment with all the supporting characters around." Which, of course, was exactly the plan, and exactly what happened. And since it was so obvious, I can't imagine it entertaining a third grader. I mean, after all, the name of the story was "The Death of Superman," and it was already in all the papers, so, you know, the ending was not much in doubt. The rest was just padding.
Other annoyances include Superman thinking at one point "this is something I must do alone!" And .... why, exactly? Aren't we all taught from childhood that teamwork is better than solo efforts? And, honestly, wouldn't it work better if, say, Yellow Lantern restrained Doomsday while Superman waled the tar out of him? So, you know, Superman wouldn't stupidly throw his life away? (Notwithstanding that Yellow Lantern could ALSO throw Doomsday into the sun, but apparently didn't think of that, and instead ... him him.) Also, if push comes to shove and only Superman can save the day in this situation, doesn't that imply the the Justice League is superfluous in this, and maybe all, situations? Doesn't Superman's decision that only he can face Doomsday negate the very concept of the Justice League? Except as cannon fodder -- which, you know, is exactly what they were in this story.
I could go on in this vein for some time, but it feels like picking on an underclassman, so I'll stop. I'll just say, in summary: This is a bad story, badly told, and with an ending everyone knew would be un-done as soon as possible. It should never be reprinted, except as a cautionary tale for today's creators on how not to make comic books.
I'm afraid the Superman of the early 90s always seemed a bit of a dullard to me anyway. They were still working through how Byrne had depowered him considerably, which probably meant that he used his brawn rather than super-brains or application of really extra-ordinary powers. (I don't think Superman at this stage could fly to the Sun or to Jupiter unaided, or without oxygen.) Also they were still influenced by Dark Knight Returns where Clark is a government stooge compared to Batman whose cynical intelligence meant he knew the real story. That leaked into the mainstream comics big time, and Superman was often hoodwinked by shadowy CIA/military types.
There was also something going on where they didn't want to highlight the wonder or imagination of superhero comics, so we got grim'n'gritty, struggling heroes and a lot of thuggish violence.
I've slowly collected a huge stack of early 90s Superman comics, but every time I sit down to read them I never get far. They are so prosaic, and Superman keeps getting circles run around him by 2nd grade foes. Two words: Kenny Braverman!
It did take Morrison's JLA to make Kal Super again, as far as I can see, and to quietly reinstate Superman and Batman as a partnership of equals who were worthy of each other's respect. Which partnership Waid exploded with his Batman Protocols as soon as Morrison left.
Anyway, back to Death of Superman, I think its fair to say that World without Superman, and Return of Superman were pretty good stories that kinda made up for how lunk-headed Death of Superman was. Good multi-character superhero soap-opera anyway.
I admit it...I was one of those media types that hyped it up good.
I got a copy still in the bag, slit it open live on the air, and then described the contents to the listening audience in this college town. I told them which comic shop had copies still available, and that the supply was limited.
They had sold out within the hour.
I hated the story of the Death of Superman, but man, did I ever love the Reign of the Supermen. I bought the trade of that story because I remembered it so fondly. I love how it led right into the Green Lantern story where Hal Jordan went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. I loved that we got Superboy out of it (the modern version, that is), that we got Steel out of it, and that they made good use of Eradicator and Hank Henshaw--and the fact that Henshaw became a long-lasting character who somehow became more of a Green Lantern presence in the long run.
Kirk G, I'm glad you got to enjoy the moment. It sounds like fun!
This storyline, plus Reign of the Supermen and whatever came out after that was the only time I ever really consistently collect Superman. I didn't always like where Death of Superman went, but even then I found it kind of compelling even with all of its flaws. I did hate the "hit it and if that doesn't work hit it harder" thinking Clark went for.
The thing I hated most? Booster Gold losing his equipment from the future. So he now had depowered, clunky armor that he got fitted out with. Just terrible.