The Death of Superman (2016)
Reprints Action Comics #18-20, Adventures of Superman #496-498, Superman #73-75, Superman: The Man of Steel #17-19, Justice League America #69, Newstime: The Life and Death of Superman
Written by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern
Art by Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Rick Burchett, Doug Hazlewood, Dennis Janke, and Denis Rodier
There was no comic book event more prominent and more hyped in 1992 than the Death of Superman. I was eleven years old and was very aware of it from nightly news reports adding to the media frenzy around the pending death. I didn’t get to read the title at the time due to not having much disposable income, but I did hang around the comic books rack at Kroger, loitering & reading while my mom shopped. The opening chapter in the larger nearly year-long storyline is not the best part of the story, but you can’t skip it without losing some critical context. The Death of Superman is arguably a much too long fight scene spread out over multiple issues, a conflict that could have been resolved in a couple of books.
A bunker buried deep beneath the Earth erupts as the beast Doomsday smashes his way to freedom. The mute creature begins paving a path of destruction, striking out at anyone or thing that crosses his path. Doomsday first goes against the Justice League and makes quick work of them, leaving Blue Beetle in a coma, Guy Gardener, a broken mess, and the rest overclocking their powers and running in fear. Superman becomes aware of the attack and rushes into the fray, trying but failing to mitigate the collateral damage. Doomsday is unlike any physical threat he’s ever faced. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen watch from the sidelines, covering the story for the planet. Both Superman and Doomsday eventually succumb to each other’s blows, and with one final clash, they drop dead to the ground. The Man of Steel has fallen!
Rereading this collection took me back to a specific era of DC Comics, where Dan Jurgens had a significant influence on Superman and Justice League America. The roster of that team would likely confound a casual reader because there are no A-tier characters beyond Superman. This JLA continues the tradition of Giffen & DeMatteis’ obscure character run. The JLA of this book consists of Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardener (wielding Sinestro’s yellow ring), Fire, Ice, Maxima, and Bloodwynd. As I said, these aren’t household names, while most people imagine the Super Friends when they think Justice League. I have a lot of personal love for this line-up, but it is definitely an odd menagerie of lesser-known characters.
Another element that will probably throw some readers for a loop is Lex Luthor, Jr. & Supergirl. We don’t have the bald-headed criminal mastermind of popular memory, but a red-maned and bearded youthful Luthor with a shape-shifting Supergirl on his arm. In regards to this odd Supergirl was that the cousin of Superman was wiped from continuity in the wake of 1985’s Crisis event. She would be restored later in the 2000s, but in the meantime, John Byrne introduced an alien shapeshifter, Matrix, who identified as female and admired Superman, making herself appear to wear a variation on his costume.
This young Luthor is actually the classic villain. He has developed cancer from continually wearing a kryptonite ring, and learning its radiation can hurt humans over a long time. Luthor set up a plan faking his own death in a plane crash and having his brain harvested. A pair of trusted geneticists created a younger clone body and implanted Luthor’s brain inside, allowing him to show up in Metropolis, claiming to be the estranged illegitimate son of the businessman villain. Luthor Jr took over LexCorp and all its affiliates and sold himself as an ally to Superman and a defender of Metropolis. The reader was privy to his inner thoughts, where he constantly ruminated on a chance to kill his nemesis. Supergirl, believing this was a different person, ended up in a romantic relationship with Luthor Jr., and the fallout of that would happen a little further down the road.
One of my criticisms of this story is the lameness of Doomsday. He is a blank slate onto which nothing is ever added, and he’s just a giant punching machine. This serves the core purpose of the story to kill Superman and kick off a longer, more exciting story. If they had left things there, it would be okay, but ever since this event, Doomsday has been continually trotted out as if he’s a vital piece of Superman’s rogues’ gallery. He simply isn’t, even when they later tried to tie the monster’s origins to Krypton to add relevance. It wouldn’t have hurt to make him the creation of a Brainiac or Luthor to add some meatier stakes to the story. But we have gotten through this story and are moving on to brighter territory starting with Funeral For a Friend, up next.