The Man of Steel faced his most dangerous foe and it spelled doomsday for the Man of Tomorrow! 30 Years Later, THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN remains one of DC Comics’ greatest milestone moments and redefined the hero for the new millennium.
Superman remained the indestructible force at the center of the DC Comics universe for several decades. The character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster served as the template for all costumed superheroes that would follow. During the imprint’s 50 anniversary, it was determined that the long-established comics continuity required a little shaking up, in order to keep old and new readerships engaged. Shortly after the publishing-wide event “Crisis on Infinite Earths” Superman was among one of the characters that would be modified for the modern era.
Even after industry giant John Byrne was encouraged to remodel the Man of Tomorrow for today, the Last Son of Krypton still remained one of the most powerful forces in the DC pantheon heroes. There were very few adversaries that could take down the Metropolis Marvel by sheer force alone. In the comics, the hero’s greatest nemesis was always Lex Luthor, the greatest criminal mind the world has ever known, and even Superman was no match for the cybernetic intellect of Brainiac. Still, in 1992, our hero would come up against a menace that tests even his great strength.
In 1992, Superman was enjoying a silver streak of popularity simultaneously the headliner of not only the Superman comic book but also Adventures of Superman and the one that started it all Action Comics. Mike Carlin was the editor of the series of Superman books (including the relatively newly launched Superman: The Man of Steel), and was about to ask his team of creatives to come up with a startling new direction for the hero. It was Dan Jurgens and Jerry Ordway who first suggested “What if we just kill him off?”
What followed was a brainstorming session that would lead up to 1993’s now-classic Superman #75 by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding which culminates with our hero’s demise defending the great city of Metropolis from the monster only known as Doomsday. Strategically, the multi-issue epic played out across multiple issues of Superman comics as Doomsday, trounced its way across the country battling and taking down the Justice League before taking its first lick at the Man of Steel. The emotionally redefining final battle was told in splash pages with a fold-out page of Lois Lane holding him in his last breath.
The Coming of Doomsday
Superman had met his match! The story begins with the reveal of our villain, a mindless monster that thunders on a relentless course of chaos and destruction, without meaning or consequence. The monster that would bring our hero down, and leave in its wake desolation, goes forth not strategically compelled or with purpose — it lumbers forward, unstoppable until it confronts an unmovable virtue of ultimate heroism. The story is illustrated most conventionally, across the pages of a comic book, but as the danger becomes more prescient, images expand to encompass the drama.
The event unraveled in weekly installments across each of the Superman titles, with tangent episodes that were revealed in Justice League and culminated in the landmark final chapter in Superman #75. The issue was published in a sealed, black polybagged collector’s edition with a bloody “S” shield on its face. It was the best-selling book of the year with over six million copies sold. The cultural zeitgeist was consumed with “The Death of Superman”, which was just the beginning of three acts, followed by “The Funeral of a Friend” and culminated with “Reign of the Superman” on the road to the return!
It was nearly a year before fans were finally relieved to hail the return of Superman, but the mantle of the Man of Tomorrow was readily accepted by the hero’s genetic clone Conner Kent, the new Superboy, and by a true man of the people, the genius engineer, John Henry Irons II, Steel. Metropolis’ two newest heroes would soon be joined by the regenerated original, Superman to take down the rogue imposter Cyborg-Superman and solve the mystery of the Kryptonian specter, The Eradicator. Doomsday would inevitably return to face off against our heroes, but this time they were ready!
Death Becomes Them
Superman wasn’t the first character in the modern era of comics that experienced a rebirth. During the aforementioned 12-issue maxi-series “Crisis on Infinite Earths” creatives Marv Wolfman and George Pérez took measures to clean house in sense and gave several major heroes their final moments in the sun, most significantly Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, the hero credited with jumpstarting the publishing imprint’s greatest era of resurgence, and the Maid of Steel, Supergirl. Both heroes have the most heroic deaths sacrificing themselves at two of the most crucial moments in the “Crisis” narrative. Another heroine that meets her end, is the Amazing Amazon, Wonder Woman.
All three of these characters would eventually return from the dead, but Wonder Woman under the direction of George Pérez would reemerge the most transformed. The mythic princess of Paradise Island would assume her rightful place as one of the trinity sitting atop the DC hierarchy of heroes. The Flash experiences a significant rebirth as well that positions the hero and his legacy at the core of the multiverse, and Supergirl carves a significantly powerful place for herself, living outside of the shadow of her universally famous cousin as a formidable defender of truth and justice herself.
Each of these, of other notable deaths that followed, all had an impact on the DC mythology, but none had the pop culture significance and relevance that surrounded “The Death of Superman”. 30 years later the event is still among one of the most emotionally charged story arcs and has inspired cinematic moments told on the big screen as evidenced in the blockbuster Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice directed by Zack Snyder, and was also referenced on the small screen during the primetime 5-part adaptation of “Crisis on Infinite Earths” on The CW.
In the 90s the deconstruction of one’s idols was a theme that was playing across all media, celebrity was being tested, politicians were often confronted, the social convention was being pushed to its limits, and in popular culture, one of its greatest symbols of all that is good and just and right in the world was proven vulnerable — mortal. The downfall of Superman had repercussions across the world, after all, if the most being on the planet could be destroyed, what hope was there at all, except that like an archetype before, the resurrection of the character would prove just as significant.
“The Death of Superman” was just the first act of the full story, and the proof of how important the influence of Superman, the creation of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster was to all of our lives. Superman’s
DC’s THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN | 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition is available now and collects all the issues covering the climatic event that 30 years later still stands as one of the most iconic storylines in publishing history. The $39.99 hardcover edition is available now at most comic book specialty shops.
Among the thrilling collectibles available celebrating “The Return of Superman” here is the MAFEX action figure of SUPERMAN as he appeared in the “Death and Return of Superman” comic book in his regenerative suit available from Entertainment Earth here:
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