Classic Comics Cavalcade #1: A Hero Falls In ‘The Death Of Superman’

by Tony Thornley

With the world starting to go back to some semblance of normal, the weekend is becoming an important milestone for everyone to take a break from the world again. To help that rest and relaxation, the team is hoping to bring new features for your reading enjoyment to your weekends, like this new column, spotlighting some great reads you may have missed or forgotten about.

Cover by Jurgens, Breeding & Whitmore

To kick it off, we wanted to go with an absolute classic of a story from nearly 30 years ago. It’s one that a lot of people remember, but whether it aged well or not is the real question here. This is The Death of Superman by Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Jon Bogdanove, Dennis Janke, Brett Breeding, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Rick Burchett, Doug Hazelwood, Denis Rodier, Glenn Whitmore, Gene D’Angelo, John Costanza, Albert DeGuzman, Bill Oakley, and Willie Schubert. The volume collects Superman #73-75, Superman: The Man of Steel #17-19, Action Comics #683-684, Adventures of Superman #496-497, Justice League of America #69, and (unique to the version on Comixology Unlimited) the Newstime: The Life and Death of Superman special.

In the summer of 1992, DC Comics made a huge splash when they announced in the upcoming Superman #75, the Man of Steel would be struck down in a violent clash with a new villain named Doomsday. It was supposedly a slow news day, so the news of the storyline spread like wildfire, going viral before the term existed. The Superman titles were at a creative peak, with the model of weekly titles sharing a soap opera-esque storyline becoming so successful that multiple other comics lines soon imitated it, most notably the Batman family for the Knightfall story and Marvel’s Spider-Man line in the infamous Clone Saga.

One of four similar pages from four different creative teams that not only built a sense of dread, but also showed the cool style differences between them.

The story began with single page teasers from the four Superman titles- Action Comics, Superman, Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel– as a mysterious gloved fist pounded its way out of a reinforced cell. Finally the horrifying figure (at this point still covered head to toe in a jumpsuit with one hand tied behind its back) emerged in the American Midwest, and immediately began its reign of terror, murdering several innocent creatures before rampaging through Ohio. The Justice League (at this point with its Justice League International line-up plus Superman and the mysterious Bloodwynd) attempt to stop the creature- quickly nicknamed Doomsday- without the Man of Steel.

Naturally they’re beaten to a pulp. Fire and Blue Beetle are severely injured. Guy Gardner is only saved by his power ring. Booster Gold narrowly survives, but his hi-tech suit is ruined. The only thing that saves the League is Superman’s arrival.

Doomsday arrives in Metropolis by Bogdanove, Janke & Whitmore

What follows is one of the greatest- if not the greatest- superhero fist fights in comics history, as Superman faces off against Doomsday. Several of his allies, such as the alien queen Maxima and the cloned government agent Guardian, try to help, but it’s clear (through fantastic dialogue and captions) that this is Superman’s fight. The monster makes a straight line for Metropolis, and Superman realizes he’ll have to put his all into it to stop it… potentially at the cost of his own life. And so he does, pounding the monster with thunderous blows until the two end each other’s lives standing at the entrance to the Daily Planet, with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen watching in horror…

This story was an event. The entire world watched, and Superman #75 sold better than pretty much any other comic DC published the entire decade. Even better, it was very good, easily one of Superman’s greatest stories ever told. The creative teams understood their lead, and made sure that this wasn’t just a punch-up with a tragic end. 

Superman steps in by Bogdanove, Janke & Whitmore

This was Superman’s greatest and most triumphant moment, but it highlighted that even the world’s greatest hero had his limits. However, each writer made it clear that even with those limits as he felt himself weakening, Clark Kent was determined to stop the creature, knowing otherwise it would kill millions. It was a testament to Superman the character, as the greatest of us all. The art teams also put in exceptional work with the story, with each of the five series delivering career best line art, and the colors- almost entirely by Whitmore- thematically tying their different styles together.

None stood out more than Jurgens and Breeding though as Superman #75 was drawn entirely in full page splashes, showing Superman and Doomsday’s brawl through Metropolis. Every page is a masterpiece of superhero art, and it culminated in the famous fold-out spread as Lois Lane cried over the body of the man she loved, the hero who gave his life to save millions more.

Bogdanove and Janke channel Kirby as the fight continues to take a turn for the worst

Though the story of The Death of Superman concludes with that sad moment (picking up in Superman: Funeral For A Friend), the stories that came out of it are equally exciting, as a cold war erupts over Superman’s remains, four men appear to claim the mantle of Superman, and the true Superman returns to save the say (sorry, spoilers for a 28 year old story). Though the decades may have made the era better remembered for giving Superman a mullet (really just long hair), this is a timeless tale of humanity and sacrifice. It’s a story every superhero fan needs to read, as it’s a nearly perfect example of the genre.

The Death of Superman is available now on ComiXology and free for ComiXology Unlimited subscribers from DC Comics,

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