Superman #75 (second printing)
DC Comics (January, 1993)“Doomsday!” WRITER/ARTIST: Dan Jurgens FINISHES: Brett Breeding COLORIST: Glenn Whitmore LETTERER: John Costanza ASSISTANT EDITOR: Jennifer Frank EDITOR: Mike Carlin
We all know this story by now. The writers of the various Superman books got together and decided to explore what the world would be like without Superman, if he died. How would the people react? What would the world be like? Nowadays, heroes dying and coming back happen so often its become a cliché. The impact is lost because we know they’ll be brought back. Even those once thought untouchable like Bucky and Barry Allen aren’t allowed to stay dead anymore, so we know the headliners who have had their own television shows and movies are not going to be killed off. We even knew it back then. The question is whether this issue retains it’s power after all of these years, arguably the death that led to shock deaths, usually of lesser-used characters granted, that have become the norm in superhero comics.
I think it does. Jurgens and his team didn’t just write a shock death. It was part of a story arc. Superman’s death meant something, as it leads to a storyline exploring a world where Superman sacrificed himself to save everyone. (I wonder if this is where the Jesus analog started?) This wasn’t intended just to shock people. It was still pretty rare to have heroes die at this point. That helped give the story a weight that has been lost over the years with other heroes being killed off. If I had read the rest of “Death Of Superman” beyond leafing through a few comics this might have even more weight, but while these are splash pages each one has meaning to it. We’re supposed to feel every punch by Superman and Doomsday, but we’re also supposed to feel for Lois and the Kents as well as the rest of Metropolis and the few Justice Leaguers in attendance. Lois crying over Superman’s body means something. It isn’t a throwaway death like so many, and it isn’t about pushing some character far higher than he should be like the Sentry’s. This is a character who meant a lot to us readers as well as the characters and this was a way to explore that rather than a shock death to get into the paper. Or maybe it was just approached better than death is now.
This comic is an example of hero deaths (even ones we know will be reversed…was Black Goliath ever resurrected? Was he a Skrull?) should be approached. This wasn’t a throwaway. Like Barry Allen and Supergirl before him, Superman goes down in an epic battle of high stakes and the death has weight and meaning instead of just showing off that people die in combat or to shock the readers for a temporary reader boost (which I don’t think even works anymore). I hope someday I’m able to get the full storyline, but as a consolation prize I have a prose adaptation of the entire death/return event and that works for now.