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The Death of Superman

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"The Death of Superman"
Superman75.jpg
Cover of Superman vol. 2, #75 (Jan 1993)
Art by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding.
PublisherDC Comics
Publication date
Genre
Main character(s)
Creative team
Writer(s)
Penciller(s)
Inker(s)
Editor(s)Mike Carlin
The Death of SupermanISBN 1-56389-097-6
World Without a SupermanISBN 1563891182
The Return of SupermanISBN 1563891492
The Death and Return of Superman OmnibusISBN 1401215505

"The Death of Superman" was a crossover event featured in DC Comics' Superman-related publications. The crossover, devised by editor Mike Carlin and writers Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway and Karl Kesel, began in December 1992 and lasted until October 1993. It was published in Superman, Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel, Justice League America, and Green Lantern. Since its initial publication, "The Death of Superman" has been reprinted in various formats and editions.

The writing teams conceived "The Death of Superman" after DC sister company Warner Bros. ordered them to halt production on a story in which Clark Kent (Superman) and Lois Lane would be married until the television series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman reached its wedding episode. During one meeting, Ordway jokingly suggested they should kill Superman; Carlin, reflecting on poor sales of the Superman books, decided it was the best option. The writers wanted the crossover to surprise readers and show Superman is not invincible.

"The Death of Superman" is divided into three parts. The first, "Doomsday!", chronicles Superman's deadly fight with the bloodthirsty monster Doomsday and concludes with his apparent death. The second, "Funeral for a Friend", depicts Superman's fellow superheroes and the rest of the DC Universe mourning to his death, ending with Jonathan Kent's heart attack. The final part, "Reign of the Supermen!", sees the emergence of four individuals claiming to be Superman and the original's return. "The Death of Superman" established a number of characters, including Doomsday, the Cyborg Superman, and Steel, who became recurring characters in DC publications.

When news broke that DC planned to kill Superman, a beloved American pop icon, "The Death of Superman" received unprecedented coverage from the mainstream media and caused a sensation. Issue #75, which features Superman's death, sold over six million copies and became the top-selling comic of 1992. Retrospective reviewers are divided, with some finding the story ambitious and influential, while others dismiss it as a publicity stunt. The story has been repeatedly adapted into various forms of media, including two novelizations in 1993 and a beat 'em up video game in 1994. A loose animated adaptation, Superman: Doomsday, was released in 2007. A second animated adaptation will be released as a two-part film, The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen, in 2018 and 2019.

Publication history[edit]

Background[edit]

Superman is a superhero appearing in American comic books published by DC Comics. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman in 1933 as a villain, but retooled him into a hero for marketing reasons.[1] Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 on April 18, 1938[2] to immediate success.[3] In 1939, he became the first superhero to headline his own comic book, Superman.[4] Superman's comics take place within a shared universe called the DC Universe, which also includes characters like Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Flash, among others. This allows plot devices, characters, and settings to cross over with each other.[5]

In 1985, DC launched Crisis on Infinite Earths, a crossover event that resulted in the DC Universe being rebooted. Writer/artist John Byrne re-envisioned Superman in his 1986 limited series, The Man of Steel. The following year, Byrne relaunched Superman with a new first issue and the original Superman series was renamed The Adventures of Superman.[6][a] The relaunch was a major success for DC[7] and The Man of Steel #1 became the bestselling comic book issue of 1986.[8] Byrne also wrote and illustrated Action Comics and worked on The Adventures of Superman with artist Jerry Ordway.[9] He spent two years on the Superman comics before leaving, becoming dissatisfied with DC's lack of "conscious support" for him and that the version of Superman which DC licensed for merchandising contradicted Byrne's representation of the character in comics.[10]

As a result of Byrne's departure, Superman group editor Mike Carlin had to assemble new creative teams to replace him. Ordway began to write The Adventures of Superman, while Roger Stern, who had recently finished a 12-year stint at Marvel Comics, took over Action Comics. Connecting stories also became harder due to the new, diverse creative teams, whereas Byrne had managed most of them on his own.[9] To control the consistency in stories, the teams regularly attended a "Superman Summit",[9][11] which started in 1988. A unique method of making the writers work together, the summit focused their attention on the next year's worth of stories. These meetings were often dysfunctional. According to Superman writer/penciler Dan Jurgens, "Generally, we all got in a room and toss around story ideas. A lot of times we disagreed, had some big fights, and the last person left standing was the winner and ultimately got their way."[12] Carlin recalled that often had to act like a babysitter for the 18 divergent, artistic egos crowded in one room. Often, the teams compromised.[12]

DC's Paul Levitz liked the success of the interconnected Superman comics, so a fourth comic, writer Louise Simonson and penciler Jon Bogdanove's Superman: The Man of Steel, started.[9] While the teams believed the quality of the comics increased, they experienced a decline in sales,[9][13] primarily due to the popularity violent antiheroes like the Punisher, Lobo, Spawn, and Wolverine.[4][9][14] A new Superman comic was released every week,[6] each selling roughly 150,000 copies an issue—"a fraction" of bestselling comics like Spider-Man.[14] The Superman writing teams increased the romantic tension between Clark Kent (Superman's civilian identity) and Lois Lane in an effort to make the comics more appealing. Eventually, they had Kent propose to Lane and reveal he was Superman, and began to plan a storyline about their marriage.[13] According to Carlin, they planned the wedding arc between 1990 and 1991, and planned for it to happen in The Adventures of Superman #500 (June 1993). They also considered a "Death of..." story, but did not develop this in depth.[9]

Development[edit]

A middle-aged man with graying brown hair, a beard, glasses, and a Three Stooges shirt sitting at a table.
Jerry Ordway (pictured in 2012) jokingly suggested that DC should kill Superman

In 1992, while the Superman comics struggled, DC sister company Warner Bros. developed Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, a television series for ABC centered around the relationship between Lane and Kent.[13][11] One of the ideas that arose during production was the wedding of Lane and Kent. Although the series did not exist in the same continuity as the comics, Warner Bros. wanted the Superman brand to remain consistent across forms of media.[11] As a result, Carlin and DC president Jenette Kahn decided to put the wedding story on hold until Lois & Clark reached its wedding episode so the stories would coincide.[9][13] With the original storyline set aside in the comic, the teams needed new event to replace it.[13][11]

This disappointed the writing team, as they had to put aside a year's worth of story planning.[9] They flustered for ideas;[15] according to Simonson, they had to come up with something at the last minute.[11] When the writing teams were having trouble deciding stories in years past, Ordway had jokingly suggested that they should kill Superman.[9][13][15] The joke became a running gag in story meetings,[12] but when he suggested it at the 1991 summit, no one laughed. Simonson spoke up and said, based on her experience from editing X-Men comics at Marvel, killing major characters "show[s] just how much [they] mean[] — to his friends, family, enemies, to the whole world!"[9] Carlin decided to proceed with the idea.[15] In the documentary film Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman, Carlin recalled, "the world was taking Superman for granted, so we literally said 'let's show what the world would be like without Superman'."[16] Jurgens formally pitched "The Death of Superman".[17] DC allowed the project to proceed, which shocked Ordway.[18]

Prior to moving forward, Carlin asked Siegel if he had any concerns with the concept of killing Superman. Siegel felt it was "a good way to shake things up." The creative teams felt better knowing he approved.[19] Superman: The Man of Steel penciler Jon Bogdanove recalled the story "almost began to write itself, from the end backwards. It felt like a story that could make the readers care again, the way we had always cared about Superman."[18] "The Death of Superman" forced DC to cancel a non-canon, four-issue limited series that Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner were working on, as it also featured Superman's death.[20] The initial plan called for Superman to be killed in Superman #75 (January 1993) and resurrected in The Adventures of Superman #500, as both were milestone issues.[9]

Dan Jurgens in 2018

Jurgens created the concepts of a monster tearing apart Metropolis and an issue dedicated to a single fight separately from "The Death of Superman"; the teams decided to combine the ideas.[11][17][18] Carlin had rejected the fight idea whenever Jurgens brought it up, feeling it would not be effective without a good story.[18] The writers felt that Superman's foes relied too much on technology and intellect, and did not want to use an existing villain or his traditional weakness, Kryptonite. Thus, they decided that the villain who killed Superman had to take him on physically.[9] They chose to name this villain "Doomsday" after Carlin wrote the phrase "doomsday for Superman" on the whiteboard used for planning. They also wanted Doomsday to have a distinctive look and gave all artists a few minutes to create designs and voted for the one they thought was best.[11] Jurgens' design—a massive, muscular humanoid with bones ripping through his skin—won;[9][11] the works of Image Comics inspired it.[21] The writers did not feel giving Doomsday an origin was important.[11]

The issues showing Superman's fight with Doomsday feature a "countdown" of panels: the first has four panels per page, while the second has three, the third has two, and the last simply comprises splash pages.[22] Inker Brett Breeding conceived this, as he thought it would increase the suspense and speed of the action. Furthermore, Jurgens had wanted to make an issue told through splash pages and the fight seemed like the perfect fit for this.[9] The story was partly an effort to show the horrible ramifications of a superpowered fight in a city,[23] as it "had to have consequences."[9] The final page of issue #75—a triple-page spread depicting Lane cradling Superman—took "an extraordinary amount of time" to create.[9] The writers wanted "The Death of Superman" to surprise readers, as they hoped to emphasize that Superman is not invincible and can be killed by something besides Kryptonite.[11]

The parts of the story chronicling the fallout of Superman's death did not take long to make, according to Bogdanove. He thought, as "the real meat of the story", these parts allowed them to accomplish their goal: explaining why Superman matters.[9] Ordway recalled the most exciting part for him was exploring what the DC Universe would be like without Superman and had fun writing about peoples' reactions to his death.[18] They did not intend for Superman's death to be permanent and kept this a secret. Simonson stated, "we had to sign nondisclosure agreements saying we couldn’t talk about it. We couldn’t reassure people that he was coming back.”[11] Carlin expected fans to know the death would be temporary[19] and in 2018 revealed he still could not believe many did not. However, they delayed all Superman comics for three months to create the illusion that he had really been killed because DC's solicidation cycle would have spoiled this.[9]

The media attention (see At release section) caused Carlin to delay Superman's resurrection beyond The Adventures of Superman #500.[20] Furthermore, the teams knew bringing Superman back here would be illogical. They held an emergency summit at a hotel in Terrytown, New York, where they plotted the final parts of the story.[9] The teams considered bringing Superman back harder than killing him, as they did not want to make fans feel like they had been cheated.[12] They decided to introduce a new version of Superman before bringing back the original, but the writers each had different ideas. Simonson suggested to let each writer create their own version of Superman, which not only solved the problem of what this new character should be like but also let the writers have independence after years of forced collaboration.[9] The Supermen were created using several existing characters (Eradicator, Superboy, Hank Henshaw, and John Henry Irons).[20] According to Bogdanove, they were interested in discovering "what makes Superman so super".[12] The Supermen each represent an aspect of Superman taken to the extreme.[24]

Action Comics writer Roger Stern characterized Eradicator as an "Old Testament" Superman who was more alien than human and compared his character to Jack Kirby's Silver Surfer.[24] Stern wanted Eradicator to be introduced in a way that readers would not be able to tell who he was until revealed.[9] Superboy was designed to be "an MTV generation" version of Superman, while the design of Henshaw (Cyborg Superman) resembles the Terminator. The writers based Irons (Steel), an "everyman as Superman", on the African American folk hero John Henry and the Marvel character Iron Man.[9][24] Additional replacements, including "Little-Boy Superman" and "Rock-Creature Superman", were created but not included. Even if their original idea was altered, each writer maintained a sense of individuality for their Superman.[12]

Issue #500 was Ordway's last issue, as he wanted to spend time with his family.[9] His contract was supposed to expire with issue #499 (February 1993) but he wanted to end his run on a "historical" note. He also hoped to use a character from The Sandman, Death, in issue #500 but was unable to do so because of an editorial mandate barring characters from DC's mature comics line appearing in mainstream books like Superman.[24] Karl Kesel replaced him afterward.[9] Because Jurgens did not want to simply use Superman's classic design when he was revived, he gave him long hair.[12] The teams also deepened the red and blue of Superman's costume to signify that things would not be entirely the same for him.[9] Superman briefly wears a black suit after his revival; this design came from a sketch Bogdanove made at a meeting.[12]

Publication[edit]

"The Death of Superman" is divided into a trilogy of arcs; the first is known as "Doomsday!"[25] The first reference to the story within the comics appears in Simonson's Superman: The Man of Steel #17 (November 1992); after the issue's story, Doomsday's fist is shown repeatedly punching a wall.[6] "Doomsday!" began the following issue, in which Doomsday is unleashed and begins to carve a brutal path of destruction across America.[11] Superman #75 (January 1993) contained Superman's fight to the death with Doomsday.[11] There were four variants of issue #75: a standard newsstand edition; a direct market edition; a collector's edition sold in a polybag with a black armband, poster, stickers, and a trading card; and a platinum edition.[6][20][26] The collector's edition cost more than the standard edition.[27] "Funeral for a Friend", which focuses on the immediate aftermath of Superman's death, began with The Adventures of Superman #498 in January 1993.[28]

In May 1993, DC published a special issue, Newstime: The Life and Death of The Man of Steel, compiling fictional news stories about Superman's death and funeral.[25] Following "Funeral for a Friend", all the Superman comics went on the hiatus,[29] which ended with the release of The Adventures of Superman #500.[29] Despite the gap between the release, no time passed within the continuity of the comics.[24] Like Superman #75, collector's editions of The Adventures of Superman #500 came in polybags. One version had a translucent white bag with the red Superman logo, while another came in a black bag with a white logo.[29] The final part, "Reign of the Supermen!",[25] crossed into the larger DC Universe,[24] with the 46th issue of Green Lantern featuring a tie-in story.[30] The title of this arc references Siegel and Shuster's first Superman story.[9] "The Death of Superman" concluded in October 1993 with The Adventures of Superman #505, in which Superman returns to Metropolis.[31]

DC "aggressively" promoted "The Death of Superman". According to Vulture's Abraham Riesman, the company had financial incentives to do so, as comic book speculation was at its peak. Publishers like DC would designate certain comic book issues as significant, causing mint condition copies to be sold for more money.[11] For Superman #75, DC issued a press kit to stores with a cardboard coffin, stickers, and a poster.[32]

Collected editions[edit]

DC published "The Death of Superman" in three separate collected volumes from 1992 to 1993: The Death of Superman (ISBN 1-56389-097-6), which compiles the "Doomsday!" issues; World Without a Superman (ISBN 1563891182), which compiles the "Funeral for a Friend" issues; and The Return of Superman (ISBN 1563891492), which compiles the "Reign of the Supermen!" issues. The Death of Superman was released in time for the 1992 holiday shopping season[20] and, according to comics historian Matthew K. Manning, is the bestselling trade paperback of all time.[6]

In September 2007, DC released an Omnibus Edition of the story, The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus (ISBN 1401215505). It collects the entire story and features 40 pages dedicated to promotional materials, for a total of 784 pages. The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus also features cover art by Jurgens.

DC reissued "The Death of Superman" in four "New Edition" volumes in 2016: Superman: The Death of Superman (ISBN 1401266657); Superman: Funeral for a Friend (ISBN 1401266649); Superman: Reign of the Supermen (ISBN 1401266630); and Superman: The Return of Superman (ISBN 1401266622). DC released another collection, Superman: Doomsday, around the same time; it compiles comics that feature Doomsday's return (ISBN 1401266665).

Overview[edit]

Arcs[edit]

Title Issues Cover dates Writers Pencilers Inkers
"Doomsday!" Action Comics #684; The Adventures of Superman #497; Justice League America #69; Superman: The Man of Steel #18–19; Superman #74–75 December 1992 – January 1993 Dan Jurgens; Louise Simonson; Roger Stern; Jerry Ordway Dan Jurgens; Jon Bogdanove; Tom Grummett; Jackson Guice Brett Breeding; Doug Hazelwood; Dennis Janke; Denis Rodier; Rick Burchett
"Funeral for a Friend" Action Comics #685–686; The Adventures of Superman #498–500; Justice League America #70; Superman #76–77, #83; Superman: The Man of Steel #20–21 January–April 1993 Dan Jurgens; Louise Simonson; Roger Stern; Jerry Ordway; Karl Kesel; William Messner-Loebs Jon Bogdanove; Tom Grummett; Jackson Guice; Dan Jurgens; Dennis Janke; Denis Rodier; Walt Simonson; Curt Swan Brett Breeding; Doug Hazelwood; Dennis Janke; Denis Rodier; Rick Burchett; Mike Machlan; Ande Parks; Josef Rubinstein; Trevor Scott; Walter Simonson
"Reign of the Supermen!" Action Comics #687–691; The Adventures of Superman #501–505; Green Lantern #46; Superman #78–82; Superman: The Man of Steel #22–26 June–November 1993 Dan Jurgens; Louise Simonson; Roger Stern; Karl Kesel; Gerard Jones Jon Bogdanove; Tom Grummett; Jackson Guice; Dan Jurgens; M. D. Bright Brett Breeding; Doug Hazelwood; Dennis Janke; Denis Rodier; Romeo Tanghal

Characters[edit]

Four promotional images for "Reign of the Supermen!" Clockwise from top left, Eradicator, Steel, Superboy, and Cyborg Superman
  • Superman (Clark Kent) is a brave, kind-hearted superhero with a strong sense of justice, morality, and righteousness. He is the last remaining resident from the planet Krypton; his father, Jor-El, sent him to Earth in a small spaceship before the planet exploded.[33] He has incredible powers, including the abilities to fly, use x-ray vision, and super-strength.[34]
  • Jonathan and Martha Kent are Superman's adoptive parents who found him after his spaceship crash-landed on their farm. They raised him from his youth with a strong sense of morals and encourage him to use his powers for the betterment of humanity.[33]
  • Lois Lane is a reporter for the Daily Planet, a newspaper based in Metropolis.[35] She is an ambitious woman who is strong and opinionated.[36] As Clark's fiancée, she knows he is Superman.[9]
  • Jimmy Olsen is a photographer for the Daily Planet. He is close friends with Superman and designed a watch which emits a high-pitched signal only he can hear.[37]
  • The Justice League International (Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Maxima, Fire, Ice, and Bloodwynd) is a team of superheroes who defend the world from catastrophic threats.
  • Supergirl is a being made from a protoplasm who comes from an alternate reality in which Superman was killed. She possesses powers similar to Superman's but can also shapeshift.[38] She attempts to help Superman when Doomsday attacks.
  • Lex Luthor is the head of LexCorp, a business that dominates much of Metropolis. He is wealthy, power-obsessed, and intelligent. He is also Superman's archenemy, viewing him as a threat to humanity.
  • Guardian is a skilled fighter with enhanced strength and reflexes. He is excellent at gymnastics and deduction, and defends himself with a golden helmet and shield.[39]
  • Doomsday is an ancient Kryptonian monster who, after escaping from his ancient prison, carves a murderous path of destruction across America.[11] He can easily heal from damage and develop resistance to injuries, making him a deadly threat to Superman.[40] His name comes from Booster Gold comparing his rampage to end times.[11]
  • Professor Hamilton is a former employee of S.T.A.R. Labs and Superman's scientific advisor. He is a brilliant inventor, having designed and built devices such as a force field generator.[41]
  • Bibbo Bibbowski is a former boxer who admires Superman. When Doomsday attacks, Bibbowski assists Hamilton and Superman in their efforts to stop him.
  • The Supermen are four individuals who claim to be Superman, each representing a different moniker or trait he is associated with.
    • Steel represents Superman's nickname "the Man of Steel" and wears a suit of armor and wields a hammer.
    • The Cyborg Superman represents Superman's nickname "the Man of Tomorrow" and has augmented Kryptonian technology.
    • Superboy represents Superman's residence in Metropolis and is a reckless teenage clone of him created by the genetic engineering corporation Project Cadmus.
    • Eradicator represents Superman's status as "the Last Son of Krypton" and is a visored, energy-powered alien.
  • Mongul is the ruler of Warworld, a space empire where citizens are entertained by gladiatorial games. He is an enemy of Superman who is much stronger than him and invulnerable to harm. He can also teleport and use telekinesis.
  • Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) is a member of the Green Lantern Corps and a former fighter pilot. He gets his powers from a special ring that allows him to channel will power to create objects out of light.

Synopsis[edit]

Doomsday emerges from an underground bunker and encounters the Justice League International. He easily defeats them, but Superman arrives and the two fight across the country.[42] Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are sent to cover the battle for television, while Lex Luthor dissuades Supergirl from joining the fight and convinces her that she is needed in Metropolis. Doomsday sees a commercial for a Metropolis wrestling competition and heads for the city.[43][44]

Superman throws Doomsday on the mountain housing Project Cadmus, but this does not stop him from reaching Metropolis.[44] Supergirl rebels against Luthor and goes to Superman's aid, but a single punch from Doomsday knocks her to the ground. Professor Emil Hamilton and Bibbo Bibbowski fire a laser cannon at Doomsday, but it does not harm him.[45] Doomsday and an exhausted Superman fight and strike each other with so much force that the shockwaves from their punches shatter windows. At the struggle's culminating moment in front of the Daily Planet building, both lay a massive blow upon each other, killing Doomsday and mortally wounding Superman. In the arms of a frantic Lane, Superman succumbs to his wounds and dies. Jimmy, Ice, Bloodwynd, and Guardian are also present at the end, with Jimmy bitterly photographing Superman's fall.[46]

The world is stunned and traumatized by Superman's death.[28][47] Luthor provides a mausoleum in Metropolis in his honor, saying that if he could not kill Superman, then the least he wants is to bury him. His funeral is attended by nearly every superhero, as well as some supervillains and Bill and Hillary Clinton.[48] Every hero is wears a black arm band featuring Superman's logo. After the funeral, Project Cadmus steals Superman's body from his mausoleum to clone him, but Lane and Supergirl recover it.[49][50] With Superman gone, the crime rate rises and the costumed heroes of Metropolis rise to fill in as protectors.[51] A number of heroes, including a team funded by Luthor, try but are insufficient.[47][51]

Jonathan Kent takes Superman's death the hardest. One night, while reading a newspaper story Lane wrote in honor of Superman, Jonathan begins to feel responsible for his son's death and has a heart attack in his wife Martha's arms.[52] While in a coma, Jonathan meets Superman in the afterlife and convinces him to come back, before reawakening. Coinciding with this is the arrival of four men—Steel, the Cyborg Superman, Superboy, and Eradicator—who claim to be Superman and Lane's discovery that his grave is empty.[53] Steel and Superboy are disproven as the original Superman,[54][55] but the Cyborg and Eradicator both seem to recall memories he had.[56][57] Hamilton tests the Cyborg and concludes he is the real Superman.[57] In actuality, Eradicator stole Superman's body and placed it in a regeneration matrix in the Fortress of Solitude, drawing on his recovering energies for power.

A powerless Superman, wearing a black costume, escapes the matrix. The Cyborg helps Mongul destroy Coast City and they begin to build Engine City, an effort to recreate Mongul's home planet Warworld, in its ruins. Superboy asks Steel to help him fight the Cyborg. Superman and Supergirl join the two and travel to Engine City. The Cyborg launches a missile at Metropolis with the intent of destroying it and building a second Engine City in its place, but Superboy manages to stop the missile before it strikes. Hal Jordan returns from space to find Coast City destroyed. Devastated, Jordan immediately attacks Engine City and defeats Mongul. Meanwhile, Eradicator joins the fight and shields Superman from Kryptonite gas. The gas kills Eradicator and passes to Superman, but, as it evolved in Eradicator, allows him to regain his powers and defeat the Cyborg. Supergirl uses her powers to reconstruct Superman's original costume and they return to Metropolis.

Reception[edit]

At release[edit]

As DC did not reveal that Superman would be revived at the end of the story, many fans believed "The Death of Superman" had permanently killed Superman, a beloved American pop icon.[11] Thus, the story attracted unprecedented coverage from the mainstream media; NPR reviewer Glen Weldon stated "news outlets like Newsweek, People, and New York's Newsday pounced upon the 'story.'"[4] This sensation was partially caused by it being a slow news day.[32] Mark Potts (The Washington Post) speculated the event was simply a publicity stunt, but nonetheless was interested what a world without Superman would be like.[14] The story made the front page of Newsday.[19] Details of "The Death of Superman" hit the media before DC wanted them to[27] and the company's publicists were not ready to talk about it when it appeared in Newsday.[32]

Saturday Night Live (SNL) parodied "The Death of Superman" in the eighth episode of its eighteenth season. The sketch depicts Superman's funeral being attended by the cast of DC and Marvel Comics. Black Lightning (Sinbad) tries to enter the funeral, but no one knows him even though he claims to have taught Superman how to fly. Den of Geek named this the best of SNL's superhero-themed sketches.[58] Siegel met with Carlin to tell him that "The Death of Superman" impressed him.[18] Gerard Jones speculated that the phenomenon may have been due in part to the poor ending to the relatively recent Superman film franchise.[19]

The attention caused "The Death of Superman" to become an unforeseen success. Comic book retailers ordered five million copies of Superman #75 in advance, and many people who had never read comics bought the issue hoping it would become an expensive collector's item.[4] DC shipped between 2.5 and 3 million copies of the issue when it was released on November 17, 1992 and it sold out across America. Some stores had one-per-customer limits on the issue to avoid mobs[19] and lines of customers longer than a city block.[27] Issue #75 brought in a total of US$30 million during its first day on sale[59] and ultimately sold more than six million copies,[4] making it the bestselling comic book issue of 1992.[60] The month of release, sales from Superman #75 doubled DC's market share.[23]

The four bestselling issues of 1993 were Superman-related.[61] The first installments of "Reign of the Supermen!" were within the top five bestselling comic books for the month.[62] Each installment of the story received a second printing.[20] Valiant Comics timed the release of Bloodshot #1 to the release of #75, and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter #1 to the release of The Adventures of Superman #500 to take advantage of the high traffic and boost sales. Both books included fancy cover enhancements to attract customer's attention.[63] However, many retailers say The Adventures of Superman #500 was the beginning of a decline in the comic industry. Retailers and distributors were stuck with unsold copies.[27]

In later years[edit]

Some commentators have retrospectively dismissed "The Death of Superman" as little more than a publicity stunt to give the Superman comics a brief surge in sales.[4][18][29][64] Indeed, each series' sales immediately declined following Superman's resurrection.[4] Most fans knew the death was only temporary,[32] but those who did not felt they had been deceived.[11] "Worst Episode Ever" (2001), the eleventh episode of The Simpsons' twelfth season, mocks this frustration in a scene in which Nelson Muntz holds the comic The Death Of Sad Sack and declares "this better not be another fake-out".[65] Wizard compared the phenomenon to the New Coke debacle, in which The Coca-Cola Company updated the formula to its signature drink before quickly changing it back after negative publicity, leading to rumors that the company simply did so in an effort to spike sales.[24]

ComicsAlliance writer Chris Sims believes that most people bought Superman #75 just to see Superman's death,[22] while Weldon speculates its sales were propelled by hopes it would become valuable.[6] Sims recalled that when he worked in a comic book store in 2009, some customers were shocked that DC was still publishing Superman comics, as they did not read the story's conclusion.[22] Many of the customers who showed up to buy issue #75 were former readers looking for nostalgia, according to University of Iowa professor Matthew Pustz.[26] Investors in Superman #75 could only sell first printings for cover price a few months after its release.[21]

Generally, DC writers have denied "The Death of Superman" was a publicity stunt. Jurgens, for instance, stated he did not anticipate the attention.[17] Stern believed the sensation was caused only because it was a good story: "The word got out on a slow news day, and the media storm that followed was greater than anything we could have hoped for. But it was all thanks to the story's power."[18] Paul Levitz said DC had no reason to think the wider public would care because they killed Superman in stories before.[23]

Despite these accusations, many view "The Death of Superman" favorably. Sims called the event DC's greatest success of the 1990s and one of the definitive Superman stories, noting while killing off an important comics character was not an original idea, "The Death of Superman" was more ambitious and had a greater legacy.[22] Steve Morris (Comics Beat) also thought it had a major impact, with "strong storytelling and a simple, if well-done, central narrative."[66] Morris said the story was well planned, especially considering that it could have easily misfired.[66] Brian Salvatore (Multiversity Comics) believed the story was effective and "present[ed] some pretty compelling arguments for why Superman is the greatest superhero of all time, without ever really coming out and saying that." He also praised the characterization, forcing Superman to rely on pure instinct.[67]

On the negative side, Bob Chipman (The Escapist) described the event as a "dumb story full of crappy characters embodying almost all of the worst trends of dreadful 90's comics,"[68] and lamented its influence on subsequent Superman films and on comics in general.[69] Chad Nevett (Comic Book Resources) called the story boring and jumbled, comparing issue #75 to "more of trading cards that intend to tell a story than an actual comic story."[70] Morris did criticize its subplots (calling them nonsensical) and felt Doomsday was terribly designed, disagreeing with Sims that it was a definitive Superman story.[66] Salvatore felt it had missed opportunities and criticized the Justice League's role in the story, comparing them to punching bags. Both Salvatore and Nevett thought Doomsday came out of nowhere,[67][70] and Nevett joked he was a "walking plot device" rather than a true villain.[70] One of the story's pencilers, Curt Swan, disliked it because he thought it "came out of the blue. There was no build-up, no suspense developed. Superman had no foreboding of some force out there that would conquer him. It all occurred too quickly."[24]

Legacy in comics[edit]

"The Death of Superman" had an immediate effect on DC's comics.[4] DC timed a similar event featuring Batman, "Knightfall", to happen shortly after "The Death of Superman". This was followed by the deaths of Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and the Flash.[4][6] Green Lantern's event, "Emerald Twilight", in which he turned into the villain Parallax, ties to events that occur during "The Death of Superman".[13] Marvel Comics published the Spider-Man "Clone Saga" as a response to the media attention "The Death of Superman" garnered. It featured Spider-Man having a baby, which Marvel believed would appeal to news outlets.[23] "With the industry in freefall," wrote Weldon, "it didn't matter much ... that death/disabling stunts offered only brief sales spikes."[4]

The characters established during "The Death of Superman"—Doomsday, Steel, Superboy, and the Cyborg Superman—all became recurring characters in DC's comics. Superboy and Steel both received their own ongoing series after the story's conclusion[6] and Steel appears in a self-titled film (1997), portrayed by Superman fan Shaquille O'Neal.[71] Eradicator received a limited series.[9] Superboy remained a fixture of the DC Universe until he was killed in Infinite Crisis (2005–2006).[6] The Cyborg Superman became a recurring enemy of Superman and Green Lantern.[6] Doomsday's origin story was explored in Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey (1995)[11] and the character returned in later storylines, most notably in "Reign of Doomsday" (2011), which heavily references "The Death of Superman" and features Doomsday hunting down the Supermen.[72]

In 2011, DC relaunched its entire comics line in an initiative called the New 52, which revamped the DC Universe and erased certain events. Superman was altered considerably, being shorter-tempered and no longer in love with Lois Lane.[73] However, "The Death of Superman" remained intact in the new DC Universe.[74] To coincide with the release of the animated Death of Superman film in 2018, a 12-part webcomic series titled The Death of Superman began, written by Louise Simonson and illustrated by Cat Staggs, Joel Ojeda, and Laura Braga, among others. The first parts chronicle Superman's actions hours before Doomsday kills him, while later parts explore Jimmy Olson's actions at the time and the aftermath of Superman's death.[75]

Adaptations[edit]

Stern wrote a novelization of "The Death of Superman", The Death and Life of Superman, in 1993 (hardcover ISBN 0-553-09582-X; paperback ISBN 0-553-56930-9). A young adult book was written by Simonson under the title Superman: Doomsday & Beyond and released at the same time as the hardcover of Death and Life. It features cover art by Alex Ross (ISBN 0-553-48168-1).

A video game based on the story, The Death and Return of Superman, was developed by Blizzard Entertainment and Sunsoft and released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and 1995 for the Sega Genesis. The Death and Return of Superman is a side-scrolling beat 'em up in which the player controls Superman, Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, and the Cyborg Superman as they attempt to save Metropolis. Nintendo Life's Dave Cook considered it the game that "finally [gave] Superman the video game justice he deserves in what is undoubtedly one of his most celebrated stories"[76] and IGN's Greg Miller called it one of his favorite games and said it was what inspired him to become a video game journalist.[77]

In the wake of "The Death of Superman", Warner Bros. acquired the rights to produce Superman films. It hired Jon Peters to write a script for a sequel to Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. The film, called Superman Reborn, would have heavily borrowed from "The Death of Superman", including the fight-to-the-death between Superman and Doomsday. However, Warner Bros. disliked the script due to its similar themes to Batman Forever (1995). Later script rewrites altered the story considerably and the film ultimately never came to fruition.[78] Superman Lives, another canceled Superman film that would have been directed by Tim Burton, started as an adaptation of "The Death of Superman"; Warner Bros. executives believed it was "the key" to revive the franchise.[79][80]

In 2007, an animated adaptation, Superman: Doomsday, was released direct-to-video.[81] Superman: Doomsday is only loosely based on "The Death of Superman"; to fit it within a 75-minute runtime, the story was condensed and greatly altered.[82] The film was a commercial success[6] and started the DC Universe Original Animated Movies line of direct-to-video releases.[82][83]

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) draws narrative elements from "The Death of Superman". In its climax, Lex Luthor uses forbidden Kryptonian genetic engineering projects to combine General Zod's corpse with his own DNA, causing Doomsday's creation. Using a Kryptonite spear, Superman stabs Doomsday, but Doomsday stabs Superman in return with a bone spur emerging from his right wrist, resulting in both combatants dying.[84]

In 2017, DC announced a two-part animated adaptation, The Death of Superman (2018) and Reign of the Supermen (2019), to be released as part of the DC Universe Original Animated Movies line.[85] The new adaptation is more faithful to the original story; according to DC's Tim Beedle, it is "much less condensed and will include many of the fan-favorite moments from the story that were left out of Doomsday."[82]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ This lasted until 2006, when The Adventures of Superman returned to the Superman title and the 1987 comic was canceled.[6]

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External links[edit]