Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern - The Death of Superman

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Superman dies in pointless slugfest with the enigmatic Doomsday. Is he gone for good?

Dec 28, 2001 (Updated Dec 28, 2001)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:The story finally ended.

Cons:After taking far too long to achieve the goal in a stupid fashion.

The Bottom Line: Only worth reading if you just need to know everything there is to know about how they killed Superman.

For whatever reason, the decision had been made to kill Superman.

I have seen some very contradictory "facts" and theories on what DC's exact motivations were in doing this storyline, and whether or not the editorial staff ever seriously anticipated that the event would become the subject of the huge media blitz that actually occurred. I won't go into that since I don't know the facts of the matter and I don't care. I will mention in passing that such media coverage as I saw (allowing for the fact that I was in South America when this storyline was originally coming out, and thus cut off from the bulk of U.S. media) suggested that a fair number of U.S. citizens actually thought Superman was going to be dead and buried and stay that way for a very long time, if not eternally. Anyone who thought that didn't have much experience in reading sensational false-alarm stories in superhero comic books - and, more to the point, hadn't thought about how much of DC's annual revenue must come from Superman materials in one form or another. DC coyly declined to commit itself on just when (or if) he might bounce back out of the grave, according to a news clipping my parents mailed to me in late 1992.

Naturally, the entire thing was announced in advance so that people would have plenty of time to rush down to the comics shop (or drugstore newsstand, or Waldenbooks comics display, or whatever) on the day the climactic issue was due to hit the stores. I heard that the first printing of Superman #75 did two surprising things at once: It both sold a million copies (that figure may be exaggerated but I heard it somewhere, once!) AND instantly became a collector's item, largely because some optimistic collectors each bought large numbers of copies of it, working on the theory that before long the Death of Superman comic book would be worth a small fortune.

(NOTE: I just ran a search on Ebay. Someone posted a copy of Superman #75, the issue in which he died, this copy allegedly still looking as good as new, for sale on Dec. 25 and though he's only asking $2.76 for it as a starting price, he has not yet received any bids at all. Someone else is offering another copy of this comic book, first posted on Ebay on Dec. 20, and thus far he's received precisely one bid in the past eight days, for one Euro, which Ebay states is about $0.88. Anyone who's been hanging onto a hundred copies of this comic for the past nine years on the theory that someday his stack of them will be worth a fortune has made a serious tactical error. It's a good thing I only buy new comic books one copy at a time, for my personal use, and not because I expect to cash in my collection and retire a millionaire at an early age.)

I didn't get around to reading the silly storyline until 1995, as I recall. I didn't pay any money for it; I happened to see that this trade paperback collection had made it onto the shelves of the local public library, so I checked it out. I had already seen the material that immediately followed the Death of Superman story, several months of continuity in four monthly Superman titles which ultimately led to his triumphant return (Omigosh! WAKE UP! I shouldn't have given away that surprise ending to the saga! I think half of you nice folks in the audience just fainted from the shock!).

Anyway, I read the silly thing. And just now, I reread it - having eventually purchased a copy at a sale for $3 for the sake of trying to have a complete collection of the Superman stories of the early 90s.


You know, if I were being paid to write a storyline to kill off Superman, at least for the next several months, let's say, I'd try to let him go out with dignity. I'd have him fall prey to some fiendishly clever plot designed by Lex Luthor or one of his other highly intelligent and resourceful enemies, possibly a magic-using bad guy (it's long been established that Superman's "invulnerability" isn't nearly as effective against magical phenomena as it is against conventional bullets and lasers and so forth). I wouldn't have him go toe-to-toe with a nearly mindless berserker until such time as they both fell over dead.

We start out the story with a few pages of a green-gloved fist striking at a metal wall (of an airtight underground cell, as it turns out) over and over and over. Gradually the glove gets shredded and we see that the hand inside is an ugly shade of gray, with white bone spurs sticking out of the knuckles. They actually seem to be getting bigger as time goes by, as if growing quickly in reaction to the resistance the fist is meeting in the metal wall. When Doomsday (as he is eventually labeled) punches his way up to the surface, he is somewhere in the eastern United States (I gather from what happens later). He is wrapped up in a loose dark-green suite that covers all of him (except where the one hand is now bare) and has some sort of shiny metal cable wrapped around him several times that obviously has his right arm pinned to his side and used to have his left arm restrained as well. The implication would seem to be that he might have been in that underground cell for a really long time before he finally managed to get his left arm loose and start punching his way out. (How long? Beats me. Was he sedated for awhile and only recently woke up? Beats me.)

Let's have no nonsense about giving the villain any character development! His first spoken dialogue (immediately after killing an innocent little bird just for the heck of it) is, "HAH . . . HA HA HAA." That scintillating prose will be repeated (with minor variations) several times in this storyline. However, he also manages such erudite statements as "Bah", "Rrrrraagh!", "Hurf!", and "Grrrrrr!" (To be absolutely fair, I should mention that at some point he hears the name of the city of Metropolis mentioned on a TV broadcast and tries to repeat that name a few times, not very well. If any of his other comments were intended to be real words, I failed to notice.)

Where did he come from? Nobody knows. How did he get so strong? Nobody knows. Does he have any friends, now or in the past? Nobody knows. Why should we care about the answers to those questions? Nobody knows. (Are you detecting a trend here?)

Years later, his backstory was filled in - but at the time this material originally came out, in 1992, nobody had ever heard of him before or knew anything about him. In other words, Superman was beaten to death by an inarticulate berserker thug who was created out of thin air (as far as fans could tell at the time) just for the express purpose of beating Superman to death in his own special (boringly inarticulate and berserk) way. Feel free to search really, really hard for profound symbolical significance in all this - I didn't see any, but perhaps you'll do better.

At one point, when the Justice League America is hot on his trail (a path of fallen trees cutting across the middle of a forest - you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to follow these tracks), a heroine named Maxima is scanning ahead with her mental abilities and says, "I've found the creature! He's HATE -- DEATH and BLOOD LUST personified! Nothing more!"

She wasn't kidding. He wasn't a character in any real sense of the word; he was merely a plot device. He was so terrifyingly boring - excuse me, that must have been a typo (or a Freudian slip?). He was so terrifyingly destructive that one superhero finally used the word Doomsday in referring to him, and the name stuck. He couldn't even pick out a name for himself, poor guy!

The JLA hits him with all they've got long before Superman gets wind of events and shows up to help. Doomsday hits back. Guess who's pulling ahead in this fracas? Doomsday, of course. Oddly enough, at one point he gets a grip on JLAer Blue Beetle, who is fundamentally a normal human being in a blue costume with a few high-tech gadgets (kind of like Batman, except Blue Beetle is normally used for comic relief). Doomsday gets a grip on Beetle's neck, then shoves him head-first into the side of a steel oil tank, then smashes him head-first into a pipeline on the ground, then smashes him head-first into the steel tank again (they're standing in the middle of an oil refinery at the moment), then throws him flying through the air and none of his teammates manage to intercept him in mid-air and break his fall. He lands on his back. Ouch.

Now, let's consider this logically. Doomsday is (as we will see in a few more pages) capable of going blow-for-blow with Superman, who is proverbially more powerful than a charging locomotive. Unlike Superman, he shows absolutely no sign of having any trace of morals or ethics which would require him to pull his punches so as to avoid murdering enemies weaker than himself. With that in mind, all those head injuries suffered by the NOT-super-strong Blue Beetle should have left his head as a blob of jelly that no longer had an intact skull under the skin.

Is this what happened? No. Why not? For the plain and simple reason that Superman was the only hero scheduled to drop dead in this storyline! Letting any other poor fool get slaughtered would only distract people from that central idea! (Look at the title of this collection if you don't believe me. It doesn't say "The Death of Superman AND a zillion other poor fools for good measure.") Thus, Blue Beetle is injured terribly but is rushed to a hospital and will eventually make a complete recovery. Likewise, in due time his JLA buddies (Guy Gardner, Booster Gold, Maxima, Fire, and Ice) are all eventually taken off to the hospital as well as a result of broken ribs, concussions, and other nasty-sounding (but ultimately curable) injuries. None of them are supposed to be as physically strong and invulnerable as Superman, but none of them died (or were even permanently crippled) in the course of going a few rounds with Doomsday. Their mysterious teammate Bloodwynd was also battered in the fight but was capable of departing under his own power to recuperate, preferring not to let hospital staff examine him up close and personal. Supergirl (the-post Crisis version; her powers are not identical with Superman's since she's not a blood relative) tried to help out near the end and one punch from Doomsday turned her into gray protoplasm (don't worry - that's her natural appearance, as it happens. She got better). Other people in Metropolis tried firing various super-weapons at Doomsday and did little more than annoy him. But no one else was declared dead before we reached the main event.

The climactic comic book, Superman #75, was a series of splash pages (meaning each page was one big panel instead of several smaller ones - with the final picture of the story being a two-page spread) in which Superman decides to not hold back any longer, in any way (he normally has this firm moral code against deliberately killing sentient beings, you see, but I have to admit that Doomsday's status in that regard is open to argument). Given that they are now duking it out in the heart of the great city of Metropolis, with innocent bystanders in all directions, this was a good time to get serious about things. To make a stupid story short, they beat each other to death. Doomsday collapses first by a hair, and Lois Lane has just enough time to hug a badly battered Superman and assure him that he's saved everyone before he dies in her arms. He doesn't seem to have lost gallons of blood or had his spinal cord severed or his heart ruptured or any other specifically fatal injury; it just seems to be the cumulative effect of all the trauma his metabolism has endured in this slugfest.

There are some problems here. Such as the fact that I've seen Superman and other heroes (various incarnations of the Justice League, for instance) work together to fight other nigh-unstoppable super-powerful menaces in the past, and win (usually by using brainpower to do something clever instead of meeting brute force with brute force and hoping for the best). Or the fact that most of the other really powerful heroes on DC's mainstream Planet Earth didn't seem to pick up on the massive media coverage of this Doomsday rampage in time to rush over to the Metropolis area and help do anything about it (Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and some other real heavyweights you may not have heard of if you aren't intimately familiar with the DC Universe). But DC had its corporate heart set on seeing Superman end up dead in a classic case of Mutual Assured Destruction, and that was exactly what happened!

Now that you've read my review, there is absolutely no need to read the book. Really. As I said, I only bought this copy (at a reduced price) because I didn't like having that hole in my collection. The only interesting character in this story who underwent any interesting changes was Superman, and his interesting change was dropping dead, and he eventually got over it. Actually, this was one long excuse for setting things up for some stories that were actually rather interesting (but collected in separate volumes) as the world tried to adjust to life without a Superman, including a lengthy funeral service for him, and then just as people were making some progress in that direction, they had to turn around and adjust to the sudden simultaneous emergence of FOUR possible "Supermen" who might or might not have come "back from the grave" in various odd fashions! Those stories were actually rather good at times; if you could ignore the stupid method they had selected for getting the big guy killed in the first place. But the stupid method fell so far short of what might have been done that I can't go higher than one star when we reflect that this is the original comic book superhero we're talking about here.

The Statistics:

According to the collection of covers reprinted on the back cover of this volume, the stories which are reprinted in their entirety in this book were originally published in late 1992 as (in chronological order):

JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #69 (second series - the team is now in its third consecutive comic book series)

Writers contributing to this nonsense were Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern. Pencillers were Dan Jurgens, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, and Jon Bogdanove. The editor officially in charge of the Superman titles at the time was Mike Carlin.

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