Funeral for a Friend (2016)
Reprints Action Comics #685-686, Adventures of Superman #498-500, Justice League America #70, Legacy of Superman, Supergirl and Team Luthor Special, Superman #76-77, and Superman: The Man of Steel #20-21
Written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, William Messner-Loebs, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern
Art by Jon Bogdanove, June Brigman, Rick Burchett, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dennis Janke, Dan Jurgens, Denis Rodier, Walt Simonson, Curt Swan, Brett Breeding, Butch Guice, Doug Hazlewood, Mike Machlan, Ande Parks, Josef Rubenstein, and Trevor Scott
For a couple of months, the four Superman monthly titles had no Superman. Instead, these issues and couple special one-shots focused on how the citizens of Metropolis and the world dealt with the death of the Man of Steel. There’s little action or typical superhero antics in these titles, and it’s a strangely introspective collection for the time. The story opens immediately after the final page of Superman #75, with Lois still holding Superman’s lifeless body. The writers don’t feel afraid to embrace the tragedy and loss, though they have some tricks up their sleeve coming in the next volume, and any reader would know the hero wasn’t going to be permanently gone.
One of the ongoing storylines in this mini-series was the question, “What do you do with Superman’s body?” Lois and The Kents want him laid to rest though we see them grapple with the fact they won’t get to have an intimate goodbye with Clark because the world is collectively mourning Superman. Lex Luthor laments that his nemesis didn’t die by his hands and funds the construction of a mausoleum/memorial in the middle of Centennial Park. In a private moment, he pommels the coffin raging about the lost opportunity. If there is a villain in this story, it is Director Westfield of the Cadmus Project.
Pre-crisis, the Cadmus Project was a creation of Jack Kirby that had mad scientist Dabney Donovan to work to aid Darkseid and his infiltration of Earth through genetic experimentation. In the wake of 1985’s Crisis, the Cadmus Project retained its genetic tampering agenda but was more about just pushing the boundaries of science for both good and ill. Director Westfield was the man in charge, but he was kept in check by The Guardian, who was a clone of a Golden Age hero. In turn, Jack Kirby knocked-off of his own creation Captain America when coming up with The Guardian, a police officer who wields a badge shaped shield. The character debuted within a year of each other at DC and Marvel, respectively. In Funeral for a Friend, Cadmus makes multiple attempts to steal Superman’s body and, by the end, succeeds. An attempt by Team Luthor to pursue them is stopped by encountering the mutant underworld-ers and a cave-in caused by explosives planted by Cadmus.
There’s a power vacuum in the city for heroes, with some criminals taking advantage of Superman’s absence. Jose Delgado is a Metropolis resident who grew up in Suicide Slum. After gang activity grew in his neighborhood, Delgado, a former boxer, suited up as Gangbuster and took on the Luthor, who was leading these youth astray to increase his power base. He retires after the threat of police action against him, but with the death of Superman, Delgado dons the Gangbuster costume and returns to work. Through Funeral for a Friend, he walks the line with tension growing between himself and Inspector Henderson of Metropolis PD.
Jimmy Olsen has a fairly interesting arc through the issues, with his conflict being his sudden fame for taking the iconic photo of the fallen Superman. There’s a pretty good one-off story in Superman #76 where Jimmy takes Mitchell Anderson, a teenage boy feeling guilt over distracting Superman briefly during his fight with Doomsday, out for lunch. The two sit with Bibbo Bibowski, a Metropolis bar owner and self-appointed number one fan of Supes. They share what Superman meant to each of them and how to carry on his legacy.
The issue jumps between this and a gathering of the DC Universe’s finest heroes at a Metropolis post office. The heroes learn that, like Santa Claus, Superman receives piles of letters around the holiday season, asking him for help. Heroes like Wonder Woman, Guy Gardener, Shazam, and others fly around the world, defending the weak and helping the helpless to honor the name of Superman. All the stories in this collection have that sense of contemplation, they aren’t very urgent and are a space for the characters to breathe and grieve. Things change up quite a bit in the next volume, Reign of the Supermen.