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The Reread Reviews — The Death of Superman

Kicking off four week of rereading and discussing the death and return of Superman, we begin with the story that rocked the world. But — is it any good? Spoilers, of course (though, I suspect most people know how this one ends…)

The Nostalgia November archive can be found here

death-of-supermanThe Death of Superman was a seven-part story that spanned five titles in October and November of 1992, meaning I was nine at the time. I don’t really know if it affected me in a big way. I followed “The Reign of the Supermen” much closer, intrigued by that idea… the death itself… I was nine and I already knew that it wouldn’t last, that it wasn’t that big a deal. Want to be a cynic early in life? Read comics or watch wrestling — and I did both. I think the only part of the story I actually read was the finale in Superman #75 since that was the only part that my dad bought. He later bought the trade collecting the whole story and, when I read it, I wasn’t impressed. It’s not a good story, really just seven issues of the Justice League and Superman trying to take on Doomsday, a random character that debuts in the first part out of nowhere. If there’s anything about the story that makes it obvious that the idea of killing Superman came first and the story came second, it’s the involvement of Doomsday, a walking plot device if there ever was one.

In Superman: The Man of Steel #18, he breaks free from his little metal pod in a scene that many may remember from Kill Bill, Vol. 2 and has a great visual look with his green body suit, red goggles/lenses, and various tubes/cables, including one that keeps his right arm tied behind his back. I actually think the initial look of Doomsday is better than his full boned-spikes look. The arm being kept behind his back is a nice little gag since it sets up how monstrous and powerful he is from the get-go. He takes out the Justice League with one arm tied behind his back! Granted, the Justice League here is Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Maxima, and Bloodwynd, but still. However, there’s no character to Doomsday: he’s just a big monster that wants to destroy everything. He’s meant to be a force of nature, something beyond what Superman has encountered — but it’s almost the equivalent of Superman dying via tsunami, saving people from a natural disaster… there’s a sense of nobility there, but it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to as much emotional impact as it could have.

The idea of Superman encountering something that is his physical equal/superior without the mental faculties there is interesting since that’s the opposite of his normal slew of enemies… but it’s also boring. It’s seven issues of fight scenes, none of which are particularly inventive. Doomsday is built up so much that you have to question how Superman ever defeats him… or why didn’t he just toss him into space? Or, Doomsday is powerful enough to send Superman flying from a punch, but said punch doesn’t take off the Blue Beetle’s head (literally)? Nit-picking, I know, but…

When it comes to this trilogy, The Death of Superman is, by far, the weakest part. It’s a plot point, a transition from Point A to Point B. The storytelling is almost on autopilot until we get to Superman #75 where Dan Jurgens tells the entire issue in splash pages, a technique meant to give the issue a greater importance and sense of scope. However, it turns the issue into a brief series of pictures that don’t flow well, reminding more of trading cards that intend to tell a story than an actual comic story. There’s never a true sense of where the characters are or what’s going on since it’s just a series of static images with no context.

Sorry, not much to say here. Others may remember this being a big event, but it’s always just been another story to me. Characters die all of the time, it was inevitable that they’d get to Superman eventually. Next week, we’ll get into the real story as we look at what happens after Superman died.

42 Comments

I agree that what came after was much better (the Funeral for a Friend story especially was really good) but I read the Death of Superman at about the same age as you and I loved it.

I think having Doomsday be this unknown monster that doesn’t talk but just destroys everything in his path without any discernible motive works, because I don’t think that Superman’s death would’ve worked that well if someone from his list of enemies had done it.

The same way that they had Bane, another unknown at the time, break Batman’s back instead of a more recognizable guy on his Rogues Gallery.

Doomsday should’ve been a one-off,though. DC ruined it by having him come back on several occasions.

IIRC, the splash pages of tghe final issues was a countdown…..the 2nd to last issue was 2 pannels/page, the third to last had 3 and so on…

As you say, the big problem with the story was the idiot stick everyone got hit with. Superman just slugs him a lot. Hell, Guy could have just wrapped him a bubble and tossed him off the planet in one page if he hadn’t signed a contract with Jurgens saying he wouldn’t wreck the big story.

For those like me, who remembered when Superman could fly to the Fortress of Solitude, build a robot duplicate of Lois Lane, fly back and replace her with it, all during the instant when a gunshot caused the shooter to blink; Superman getting punched to death by The Hulk was just stoooopid.

Nice to see that someone else agrees.

But I did think that the gag of having Doomsday beat the Justice League with one hand tied behind his back was a stroke of genius.

I just reread this recently and I agree. The comics aren’t that good, however the novelization by Roger Stern is a great read. It goes all the way through the return but it even makes the death feel meaningful.

I was in college when I read this and really enjoyed it. Yeah, I knew he’d be back (I also grew up reading comics and watching wrestling), but I still thought this was a moving story; the helplessness of Lois & Jimmy, the failed efforts of a CLEARLY out-of-their-league Justice League, and decreasing number of panels on the page as we counted down to #75 all worked for me. It had a sense of scope that other books didn’t have then. Of course, I’m a pretty dyed-in-the-wool DC fan, so I might be biased…

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 1, 2009 at 8:17 pm

If you haven’t seen it Chad, there’s a good doco on the Superman: Doomsday animated movie DVD, with a behind the scenes retrospective on the death of Superman in the comics.
It’s quite good, although it does lack a little as it’s by DC, so everything is positive about the storyline, and it ignores the comic industries state at the time, which this storyline played a big part in.
But for just seeing what was going through the creatives mind, and a chance to see a writer and an editor cry on camera talking about Superman, it does the job.

For those like me, who remembered when Superman could fly to the Fortress of Solitude, build a robot duplicate of Lois Lane, fly back and replace her with it, all during the instant when a gunshot caused the shooter to blink; Superman getting punched to death by The Hulk was just stoooopid.

Not as stooooooooooooooopid as the guy with the power set you just described having for serious threats a middle aged fat mad scientist with no powers (Luthor), a middle aged fat guy with no powers and a few gimmicks (Prankster) and another middle aged fat guy with no powers and some gadgets (Toyman). Really, Doomsday was one of the best and least stupid villains Superman ever had. Which doesn’t mean he was any good, just that Superman’s normal villains are just that freakin bad.

Luthor only sucked like that pre-Crisis. Byrne’s reinterpretation as a shady businessman that Superman could never defeat because he could never be implicated in the crimes made him a perfect foil for the symbol of “truth, justice, and the American Way”. Superman knew he was dirty, but was honor bound to respect the system that made him untouchable. It not only made Lex a great villain, but gave Superman some much needed inner conflict.

have to agree the story was not a real good one in parts though loved dooms day beating the Jl with one hand behind his back. not to mention dooms day coming off as so powerfull that even super man could not with stand his destructive power. in the end fell flat. as for why guy did not try to zap him dooms day brute force was so strong it over loaded guys will power.

Scavenger — How did I not notice that? Yeah, the final four parts counted down via the number of panels per page (or spread over two pages for layout purposes).

FGJ — Never got that DVD… had little interest oddly, despite my fondness for this grand trilogy.

I saw the documentary FGJ is talking about. Much better than the comic or the movie.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 1, 2009 at 9:32 pm

FGJ — Never got that DVD… had little interest oddly, despite my fondness for this grand trilogy.

It’s enjoyable – not the best animated movie they done, but the quality on all of them is pretty high, so it’s still good.

That said, I got way too much of a kick out of how they heavily imply that Superman and Lois are screwing at the fortress of solitude, yet still hide it.
It’s more blatant than you’d expect, but they give a cover for you to explain to your kids – Lois walks around the fortress of solitude in a dressing gown, because she’s just had a warm bath, which she has their regularly, as it’s the only way for her to stay warm there.
Genius!

(Of course later you’ll have awkwardness explaining why they had a bath together – when both are smooching in robes – despite him not having told her he’s Clark, but you’ve gotta cross that bridge when you know they shagged anyway).

But I’d say grab it if you see it – I got mine pretty cheap.
The film is alright – the Kevin Smith cameo is hilarious if you’ve heard his scripting Superman story – but if you love/obsess over the comics, you need it for the doco.

The Death Of Superman: take the Lois & Clark tv show, add the need to fill a year of stories, and one joke from Jerry Ordway.

Yep, SUPERMAN #75 sucked, all right. One of my standards rants is to list two dozen ways Superman could’ve defeated Doomsday without breaking a sweat. Wrap Doomsday in anti-gravity metal and he goes floating off into space, for instance.

Sucked? I don’t know that it sucked. It typified the post-Dark Knight Returns, pre-JLA need for everything to be “relevant” without the concern for accompanying quality. (I think we’re now back in that phase.) Image comics was still new, Marvel was dominating what was left with X-Men product, and DC was struggling to be relevant beyond the bat-books.

This story is good as a period piece. It certainly touched off the trend of DC destroying all their products with the understanding that they’d be better afterward. (It largely worked, IMO.) A year or two later, Batman was broken, Hal Jordan went crazy, Wonder Woman was fired, Aquaman became a pirate, and the universe was destroyed along with the Legion of Superheroes. But everything came back (sans Hal, who was replaced with a younger but appropriate counterpart) a little less mediocre.

An aside: Is it just me or is the ONLY redeemable feature of most if not all animated Marvel or DC direct to DVD movies (NOT the TV shows) and even some of the movies the accompanying documentary about the character?

On topic, I remember buying the death (after RESERVING IT) on a snowy day and being underwhelmed and confused, as I had read few Superman comics at that point. I also have the newspaper (Newsday) from Long Island which featured this as a cover story.

Luthor only sucked like that pre-Crisis. Byrne’s reinterpretation as a shady businessman that Superman could never defeat because he could never be implicated in the crimes made him a perfect foil for the symbol of “truth, justice, and the American Way”. Superman knew he was dirty, but was honor bound to respect the system that made him untouchable. It not only made Lex a great villain, but gave Superman some much needed inner conflict.

For Batman, someone like that is a great villain. For Daredevil, sure. For a guy with Superman’s power level plus the resources available to him as an investigative reporter? Lame. Lamer than the mad scientist even. This is not to say Doomsday is a good villain. Just that he’s no lamer than any of Superman’s other villains when it comes to posing a credible threat to him. The only reason we give Luthor a pass is because he’s traditional and he’s an icon.

For a guy with Superman’s power level plus the resources available to him as an investigative reporter?

I think you grossly over-estimate the power of investigative reporters. You can publish as many stories as you want, but people will just call you biased, and they’ll go one doing whatever they want. People believe what they want to believe. If the point of Superman stories is just to find someone who can punch as hard as him, then Superman stories aren’t very interesting. To me, Luthor shows that sometimes you can’t win with just raw power. Sometimes you need brains.

To me, Luthor shows that sometimes you can’t win with just raw power. Sometimes you need brains.

I agree. But someone like Doomsday shows sometimes all the brains in the world aren’t enough. Sometimes you need raw power. That’s the reason I can’t understand why people scoff at Doomsday for being a badly suited villain for Superman when they love Luthor. Both Doomsday and Luthor share the same fundamental deficiency, they are rogues who only engage half of the hero’s skill set. Superman is the ultimate melding of brains AND brawn. Luthor is pure brains, no superpowers. Doomsday is pure brawn, no brains. So at the end of the day they’re the same thing: half of Superman. That’ why I can’t see why one is deemed so much worse than the other.

I’ve always thought what Superman needed is a good archnemesis that is a suitable mix of brains and brawn, instead of his usual either/or villains.

Superman is the ultimate melding of brains AND brawn.

I guess it depends on what you mean by “ultimate”. I don’t think that Superman has, or at least should have, a ‘superheroic’ intellect in the way that Luthor or Batman has. Although the sticklers might say that super-speed would necessarily allow some super-intelligence, I think that Superman should just have a regular intelligence, not stupid but not super-intelligent. In that way we have the contrast of just brains (Luthor) versus just brawn (Superman). I could see how a super-athlete like Ozymandius or Kingpin – the ultimate self-made men – might be a better archnemesis, but I don’t have a problem with Luthor. That being said, I haven’t read Death of Superman, but I don’t have a problem with Doomsday in theory, if not perhaps in execution.

The problem is that any credible threat to Superman would almost certainly have the power to vaporize the planet. DC has spent decades building up Superman as the most powerful hero EVA that any villain that could reasonably match him would be an unstoppable death machine at any point when Superman wasn’t around. You see this constantly in early issues of the JLA, so much so that they actually addressed it in the letters column: How do you write a villian that Superman has troubling handling who also doesn’t melt Aquaman in the first three panels?

But it’s also a problem is regular book. Guys like Zod should have torn the planet off its axis by now, in the thirty seconds Superman was using to deal with a hurricane in Sri Lanka. Superman’s ridiculous outmatching of virtually his whole rogues gallery is one of the bigger suspensions of disbelief in comics, moreso even than the eyeglasses thing.

Also, the Death of Superman read a lot like Marvel’s Maximum Carnage. It was a mindless punchfest that never really even pretended to have a plot. Not necessarily an automatic condemnation, but not really my thing.

Every time someone asks “Why didn’t Superman just throw him into space?” (which is a lot), I’m compelled to ask…not out of snark, but genuine curiosity:

Exactly what part of the story led anyone to believe that Superman could get a good enough hold on Doomsday for a space-throw without getting a bone spike shoved through his head?

Bernard the Poet

November 2, 2009 at 3:09 am

Any way you slice it, this was poor.

A Despero clone crash lands on Earth and beats up the Justice League, then he beats up Superman, but by then, the Justice League have got up again, so he beats them up again, but by then, Superman has got up again, so he beats him up ….again, and so on and so forth for seven long issues. It was the worst type of lazy writing.

I think DC missed a trick in not having Luthor kill Superman. As T has pointed out, Superman’s arch-nemesis often looks a little overmatched and this would have been an opportunity to raise the stakes in subsequent battles – if he’s killed him once before, maybe he can kill him this time.

I’ve always thought a well written Braniac should be Supes (suck on that Byrne) number 1 villain. Smarter & possibly stronger. He should’ve been the one to take him down.

Is this the Docu u talking about
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2Ryl31T4lw?

Sorry if the link dont work search Requiem and Rebirth: Superman Lives
on youtube

This whole story (especially World Without a Superman) is actually the only time I’ve found Superman comics genuinely interesting.

I think the story worked for me because of the intensity; Doomsday is established right off as a threat that Superman can’t take his attention off of for even a second. Every second he spends going off to STARLabs, the Fortress of Solitude, Cadmus, wherever to find a solution, that’s a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand people dead because Doomsday is that fast and that brutal. Superman is literally the only line of defense, and there’s a certain honesty to that idea that worked for me.

But I will agree, it could have been told in much less than seven issues, and it is the weakest part of the trilogy. (I was surprised at how moving it was to see President Clinton delivering the eulogy. At the time, it felt gimmicky, but going back, it was really affecting. Then again, I could just be a sentimental sap. :) )

My problem with Superman’s battle with Doomsday was that it was too long. Supes had *plenty* of time to find something or someone that could help him to at least pull him away from Metropolis. Now if Doomsday had just popped in the middle of the city and started killing people, THEN his sacrifice would have been believable. But they just couldn’t save the story for one issue, could they?

Still, the scenes of the bloodied Superman, dying in Lois’ arms, his last words being not about himself but about the safety of everyone else, where VERY touching.

I always hated the actual moment of death. Even when I was 12 it bugged me – Doomsday is basically fine, then Superman lands one incredibly weird looking, awkward punch while he’s half dead, and then Doomsday’s dead? Yeah, even when I was 12, I was way too analytical about stupid crap that didn’t matter.

Part of the problem was including that version of the Justice League and then not explaining where everyone else was. Where were the Marvels? Wonder Woman? Hal Jordan? John Stewart? J’onn J’onzz? The fight was shown being broadcast nationally. There are so many uberpowerful guys in the DCU, who should have seen what a difficult time Superman was having, and none of them showed.

They certainly made time to attend the funeral.

I agree that the whole “Doomsday can send Supes flying across the state with a punch, yet can slam his fist into Ice’s midsection without splattering her, or hit Beetle in the head without taking it off” made suspending one’s disbelief difficult at best. However, I just had a thought….what if that crazy green straight-jacket he was still wearing dampened his power somehow? Yeah, it’s not written in, which is just lazy on the part of the writers, but if taken into context could explain much.

That said, a Green Lantern ring at the original power set it was capable of in the early Hal Jordan issues should have been able to completely disintigrate Doomsday, so even with his “willpower being overwhelmed”, Guy should have been capable of so much more damage. The league was written WAYYY weak for this fight, and I never liked that.

BTW, for the record-who WAS Bloodwynd anyway? That issue had someone saying something like “OMG, Bloodwynd is really…” and then Doomsy interrupted. The only other JLA I bought around then was the Funeral For a Friend issue, so I never found out wth was going on there.

Guy Garnder wasn’t a Green Lantern at the time. He had that leather jacket and yellow ring…

Bloodwynd was a real character, but the Martian Manhunter was also posing as him for a period because of mind control.

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By contrast… when Magneto pulled Wolverine’s adamantium out it made a lot more sense. There’d been years of build-up, Magneto is THE X-Men villain and, hey, yanking the metal off a guy’s skeleton is right up Mags’ alley.

I can’t believe Luthor gets so little love. I think he is a perfect arch-nemesis for Supes. Of course he can match Supes in strength or powers, but he doesn’t have to. As it has been pointed out It is almost impossible to create a character that can go punch for punch, eye laser to eye laser with the Man of Steel. The character would be too powerful. The beauty of Luthor is he plays on Supes true weakness: his humanity and his morals that was instilled in him by the Kents. (Of course I think this is also his major strength and the reason he doesn’t go all Squadron Supreme on the world.) Luthor is an amoral brilliant manipulating mastermind. He doesn’t need muscles he can hire muscles he can built muscles and he can keep his hands clean. And secretly we love him cause like Batman he is just a normal guy who goes toe to toe with a god. I would never call Superman a super genius. He is brawn; Bats is brain. I always think of Supes as the jock in school that everyone liked who instead of sticking your head in the toilet like the other jocks beat up the guys who stuck your head in the toilet. Luthor on the other hand is that guy who should of been your friend, he is smart, he likes the same things, but he is rich and popular so he treats you like crap. You hate him but secretly you want to be him.

Bernard the Poet

November 3, 2009 at 5:37 am

I love Luthor as well – particularly the one in the purple and green jumpsuit. He has the brains and the tenancity to do or be almost anything he wants. But rather than rest on his laurels and live a happy and contented life, he chooses to fixate on the one thing he can never do – defeat Superman. He has been comprehensively beaten on countless occasions over the last seventy years, but he just won’t give up. Despite the fact that the alien has god-like powers and he has none, he will not bow down. He is the very epitome of the human spirit. He is the type of person who climbed Everest or marched to the South Pole. He’s a hero.

On the other hand, we have Superman. Everything has come so easy for him – superpowers, loving family, adulation of millions, etc, etc.

So, yeah, I love Luthor, but that means I always find myself rooting for the (supposed) bad guy and that doesn’t make for a very satisfying comic.

I agree with mostly everyone in terms of story content. It doesn’t hold up well, and it wasn’t so fantastic to begin with. However, Superman #75 is probably the most polished Dan Jurgen’s art has ever looked. I recall it being far more detailed than usual for him, and to re-read it, it still impresses. He’s a servicable artist on his current Booster Gold run, but not a far cry from his early to mid-90s heyday, which wasn’t anything spectacular. However, he maxed out on that issue of Superman.

@Chad: Spot on about Guy, I was going to mention the difference but ran out of time on my lunch break. Guy was wielding Sinestro’s ring at the time, correct? Which was pretty much the equal of Jordan’s ring, so should be able to do the same things.

Fortunately for Doomsday, DC powered the rings down quite a bit from the Silver-Age “Can do ANYTHING as long as you have the willpower to make it happen” schtick. Otherwise, ol’ Grey and Gruesome would have been disintigrated by Guy, end of story.

Then again, Guy is no Hal (nor John either for that matter).

2 thoughts. from someone around the same age as you when all these comics came out

1. in regards to blue beetle. i’ve thought the same thing about batman for years, lol

2. dude it was huge. and when i was a kid i don’t remember reading about superheroes dying. it became pretty common after that, because obviously it sells comics. and come on it was Superman dying, a character who’s been shown invunerable for more than 50 years. a character who most thing is the most powerful fictional being to ever exist. it’s easy to write it off now. but dude it was on the news, in a time when comic stuff rarely made mainstream tv.

The Death of Supes didn’t do much for me as I only read #75, none of the issues leading up to it.

But the Reign of the Supermen that came afterwards I really enjoyed (only the Cyborg Superman and Eradicator one’s).

I still don’t understand why DC let Supes keep the mullet when he returned from the dead, it was already waaay out of style even by then!

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Sure, this story is nothing but a big slugfest, but I thought it was reasonably well done. My biggest disappointment is that we find out nothing about Doomsday.

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