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The Reread Reviews — World Without a Superman

Continuing the four-week reread of the death and return of Superman, this week is part two, World Without a Superman. Spoilers below the cut, of course.

The Nostalgia November archive can be found here

world_without_supermanWorld Without a Superman comprises the eight-part “Funeral for a Friend” story along with two short stories and The Adventures of Superman #500, which acted as a finale to this story and the beginning of the next story, Reign of the Supermen (and was also Jerry Ordway’s last issue as writer of the series). I remember these comics as being better than they actually are. I didn’t read this story until a few years ago when I got this and the Reign of the Supermen trades finally and I enjoyed this one quite a bit — but I think that’s mostly in comparison to The Death of Superman. World Without a Superman tries to be meaningful and heartfelt, and it is… but it also suffers of its time, of the over-extended Superman cast and the idea that every superhero knows one another and is friends. It’s also horribly callous at time in ways that don’t seem real, while also mocks itself and the way that the entire death story was handled. Mostly, it fails, because it wants to make Superman’s death as big and impactful as something like Kennedy getting shot, but doesn’t deliver that sort of reaction in the pages of the book ever.

It’s always easier for me to focus on the negatives of something, that’s just how I am. In many ways, it’s easier to discuss and pick out negatives than highlight positives. The reasons behind failure stand out better than the reasons behind success — for me anyway. The biggest failure of World Without a Superman, though, is that it didn’t grab me emotionally. It was too busy, too concerned with the smaller character, too concerned with showing everyone’s reaction, filtering it through their unique perspective and problems to the point where I didn’t care. I don’t care about Bibbo or Gangbuster or the Cadmus Project or the other half-dozen characters that were transient and we all kind of half-remember. The elements that date this story suck the emotion out of it.

The serial nature of the story hurts it. An event this big would stop the lives of people for weeks, months… it would be all they thought about, all they talked about — or so we’re to believe. But, the need to come up with new drama to move the story forward. Superman dies, there’s drama over who gets the body, the body is buried, someone steals the body, there’s drama over the stolen body, the body gets taken back, the story ends with sightings of various Superman-like people, and the body is gone. The actual death of Superman and what it means isn’t given enough attention or weight. They try, they really do, but… it’s a hard thing to do well, to really nail, and the storytelling style of these creators, of DC at the time, wasn’t geared toward something as truly emotional and crushing as this would be. Heightened emotions work most of the time in superhero comics, but not for something this big — that requires you to pull back, to become less wordy, less obvious, mostly because people wouldn’t know what to say or think. There would be a lot more standing around, no one saying anything… but the storytelling style requires that we know everything every character is saying or feeling. It’s all told to us, very rarely do we just see it happen.

As I said, the context of the story hurts it. Something as big as the death of Superman should exist outside of continuity in many ways. It shouldn’t be tied down to shapeshifting alien Supergirl who’s dating the clone of Lex Luthor who’s posing as his Australian son or Ron Troupe or Guy Gardner, Warrior or Bibbo or Gangbuster or a specific iteration of the Justice League featuing the d-squad. It’s an odd criticism and one that I can’t really blame the creators for since they were writing a story within a specific context — what else were they supposed to do? But, at the same time, this story is about the people surrounding Superman and I don’t care about 90% of them.

The dispute over Superman’s body is somewhat lame/uninteresting. It fails prey to a lot of the stupid superhero story failing — characters that we know are important but no one in the world would actually respect/allow to do anything suddenly accompany the police and other officials on adventures. Lois Lane, plucky reporter lady is fun and all… but, seriously, they would have her thrown in jail for the shit she pulls.

But, at the same time, there’s an odd cynicism about this story. The number of times people utter phrases like “I know her fiance is missing and all, but does she have to be such a bummer?” is staggering. At the funeral of Superman, someone is selling a bag filled with the copy of The Daily Planet with Superman’s death as the lead story and a black armband… and Bibbo nearly takes his head off for trying to capitalise on Superman’s death. I liked that little jab at DC.

There’s an issue where the Justice League read Superman’s mail like he used to and it leads to them fixing the house of a family that were ruined because of Doomsday. That’s fine, but we also get one part where Wonder Woman tracks down on the dad/husband who left them a few months prior… and it’s an oddly conflicting scene. You always want superheroes to get involved, to solve real problems like this, to go to assholes who abandon their families and make them take responsibility — but, at the same time, it’s horribly simplistic and arrogant of her to just walk into their lives and tell him what he should do. What if he and his wife absolutely hate one another? Yeah, he left, but people get divorced all of the time — is Wonder Woman going to show up every time a couple breaks up?

Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book. But, it has a lot of glaring problems that make it a tough read to get through. By the end, I was skimming various scenes simply because, as I’ve said numerous times, I don’t care about Gangbuster or Project Cadmus…

Honestly, rereading this after the death of Steve Rogers and how that was handled… that’s how this should have been written.

22 Comments

If these stories don’t make you care about Bibbo, you have no soul. ;-)

Say, what happened to Bibbo, anyway? PLEASE tell me he’s not a Black Lantern… :(

Nice, honest criticism Chad. You’re right in that compared to DoS, this was a winner, but it is a product of its time with its mass of characters and simplistic approach. I do remember this, DoS and Return being the comics that absolutely hooked me on comics back then though, as I was new to the DCU and I just had to know who all these characters were.

I find this criticism to be a bit harsh, because, well, the story is enjoyable enough if you happen to like and/or care about the supporting cast. Not liking the characters isn’t tantamount to the creative teams not giving you a decent enough story, although I do agree with the commentary about the story being dated. It’s become quite dated, simply due to the fact that it was locked into that odd quagmire known as the mid-90s; frankly, I think we got a much better story than most of the other “events” of the decade that followed this one. I believe you mentioned it during the Death story (or perhaps one of the commentators did), but Roger Stern’s novelization really captured the pertinent emotional content of the story without having to worry too much about the minutiae of then-current continuity.

Tom Fitzpatrick

November 9, 2009 at 7:42 am

Back in the day, I was hoping (against all hope) that it would be “Life without Superman”.

Dammit, it didn’t work!

Isn’t the death of Captain America basically following this same pattern?

The character dies. There is a lot of reaction. People we don’t really care about (the entire SHIELD supporting cast) stand around talking about how they miss him. The body is stolen/cloned. Someone else is running around claiming to be Captain America.

I agree it is written better. But it is the same story, almost note for note. All they really needed to add was three more guys pretending to be Captain America.

garbonzo — There’s a feeling of shock to Cap’s death that isn’t captured here. A sense of scope, that it means something…

I think the conflict here is the fact that a specific era of Superman has come and gone, making it inaccessible to readers who were uninvolved with that period. If you were regularly reading Superman at the time, Chad’s criticism will hurt. If you weren’t, you’ll think he was dead on.

The Superman titles between when Byrne left (1988?) and when Loeb and Joe Kelly came on (1999?) had a very specific feel. You had a regular creative team with Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Karl Kesel, and a bunch of others. You had a very specific cast of the Daily Planet regulars, as well as the new additions of Ron Troupe, Bibbo (who, come on, was ON THE TIMM CARTOON), Project Cadmus, etc. Everybody ate at Dooley’s, drank Soder Cola, watched the Whitty Banter show, etc. Oh, and every book had a triangle on the cover. Like it or not, the creators tried very hard to give Metropolis a distinct feel with a recognizable cast. I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of it was very dry. On the other hand, I’ll also admit that it was very distinct.

For better or worse, all these elements were slowly phased out or altogether ditched when Loeb and Kelly came aboard. It’s inevitable whenever a new creator comes onto a book for the purpose of revamping a series: they ditch what they dislike and introduce what they want. Still, the Bibbos and Soders were a staple of the Superman line for roughly a decade, making it a significant part of Superman’s history. It shouldn’t be looked at with any more disdain than we would at Superman in the 40s as a crimebuster or in the 70s as a newscaster.

I get Chad’s point that this kind of story should transcend a particular era of Superman. I suspect he’s looking for something akin to “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader,” but without Gaiman’s metatext. On the other hand, the very notion of killing Superman with a big, grey monster that came out of nowhere probably epitomized trends in 90s comics, so maybe it SHOULD be locked into this period.

Wow Adam you nailed it.

Bibbo was last seen a few months ago in Superman . He was the bartender in the bar Altas was frequenting in disguise. So Bibbo is still alive.

Chad might hate most of these folks, but I love ‘em. I really, really miss the expansive, awesome supporting cast built up in these Super-books. Bibbo absolutely breaks my heart in this storyline. Definitely love me some Bibbo Bibbowski.

I guess I have the opposite reaction; I don’t give two deuces about the whole Captain America storyline. But I dig a good chunk of the 90s Superman output.

How did Bruce/Batman grieve/react to all this?

Never really been all that interested in actually reading the Death of Superman (although articles and columns about it have always intrigued me) but was always curious about this considering their dynamic.

Part of the reason I didn’t enjoy the Superman books very much back then – and part of the reason the Loeb/Kelly/Schultz reboot in ’99 did work for me (for a while, at least) – was because by this time, there were soooo many subplots, and tertiary plots, and backburner stories involving clone-Lex and alien-Supergirl and Ron and Lucy and Perry’s heart problem and Cadmus and Guardian and that the lead character felt almost incidental to his own books.

Chad, I hope at the end of this, you do watch the Superman: Doomsday animated DVD – it’s what happens when you strip away all the subplots and focus on what this story would look like with a lean beginning, middle and end, and involved only the most important supporting characters. Whether you’ll like it or not is a whole other matter, but it’s worth a try as an addendum to reading these three books.

The death of Superman in itself was a fun read that plotholes that you could drive a freight train through… There was some great things that i did enjoy, Luther smashing a chair on Doomsday because Superman was his to kill & things I really hated, the whold Gangbuster bit. But overall when I first read this I was just getting back into comics so I really found it enjoyable then but now as rereading myself I find it not nearly as fun as it seemed then… your assesment was pretty good…At the end of the day I did enjoy it more than the death of Captain America just becuase it’s Superman…I mean c’mon it’s freakin Superman

FunkyGreenJerusalem

November 9, 2009 at 4:41 pm

Honestly, rereading this after the death of Steve Rogers and how that was handled… that’s how this should have been written.

Yeah, but they didn’t want to end up with what’s happening on Cap now, where I don’t want him back.

Bucky Barnes is waaaaaaaaay more interesting.

Dr. Chaos:

Bruce was way too distracted by the Bane storyline at the time. His back hadn’t been broken yet, but he was already sending Jean-Luc out with Robin, sometimes even in a Batman costume.

Bruce did go to the funeral, however. He stayed out of sight until he caught a Middle-Eastern suicide-bomber about to blow up a bunch of Middle-Eastern dignitaries attending the service. He told the terrorist that in Superman’s memory he would handle the scum the way Superman would have, raher than his own way.

Otherwise, we saw no other reaction from Bruce.

Ha! You mean Jean-Paul, not captain Picard.

Mybad

Picard as Batman would’ve made “Knightfall” waaaay more awesome.

“World Without Superman tries to be meaningful and heartfelt ,and it is…but” “Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book. ” Except for these two brief, none-too-revealing sentances (well, one sentance and one sentance fragment) everything else is an outright pan. Which raises a question. Chad, if, despite the book’s many, many, many, many “flaws”, on balance, you still “liked” it, then WHAT THE HELL DID YOU LIKE ABOUT IT?????

Please understand, if you’d said you didn’t like it, then I wouldn’t have anything to say to you except, “I disagree” (whcih wouldn’t be worth typing up). But by claiming you liked it and doing notihng but listing its “flaws” you’ve written a very poor review. “It’s always easier for me to focus on the negatives of something, I’m just that way” is no excuse. EVERYBODY’s that way. A good reviewer should be able to point out a story’s strengths as well as its flaws if they liked it. That’s not to be “nice” or “positive” but to be fair and accurate. I don’t think I’m expecting too much if I expect some positive criticism from a story you claim to like.

I won’t be reading your review of “Reign of the Supermen” (yeah, I know, big relief). I have no desire to see one of my favorite stories torn to shreds by you, and at this point, it’s all but inevitable you will. Not because it deserves it, but because the opinions you’ve already expressed indicate how you’ll react to it. “Reign” has many of the same “boring” supporting characters you don’t care about, Project Cadmus is prominent so you’ll want to skim through that, and I’m sure you’ll find all sorts of “flaws” that will be the only subject of your review. There’s no suspense in wondering whether or not you like “Reign” if the only difference is whether or not you say, “Don’t get me wrong, I liked it, but…”

Honestly, I can’t say why I liked it. I admire the ambition of the story, that they really tried to follow through with what would happen if Superman died. It’s an inoffensive read… I think I liked the idea of it more than the execution.

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