Sunday, February 21, 2010

Super-Powered Comics: Death of Superman

A note before we get started: Take the Helm’s sister sites are now back online. Sorry for the inconvenience, folks!

The death of Superman goes down in history as one of the greatest marketing events in comic history. At the time, the media didn’t know how to respond to such a story. Despite what just about ever comic fan knew, tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of people thought Superman would soon be gone for good. This drove sales of the Doomsday issues to epic levels. It would be about six months before the one true Superman returned, but in the process the four creative teams of the Superman titles made a unique sprawling epic out of the story.

Sure, the marketing of the comic left a lot of bad taste in a lot of people’s mouth. And subsequent attempts to replicate the concept (Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, Spider-Man and the Clone Saga, and even Knightfall/Knightquest) proved to not be as good. But those series failed where Superman’s saga succeeded. Why? You could give any number of reasons, but I will say good planning. Superman’s death and return had a clear beginning, middle, and end. The follow-ups failed (or at least ridiculously delayed) to give the readers the closure they wanted for the concept.

The saga is collected in three trades and I will cover each in turn. It begins with the aptly title The Death of Superman. No title could get more to the point. DC created a character that became synonymous with nineties storytelling in the form of Doomsday. The near-mindless killing machine possessed no origin, no reason for its actions, and no reason to exist beyond being the vehicle of Superman’s demise. Or so it seemed to much later, when his creator Dan Jurgens finally revealed his origins.

But that’s another story. This is about Superman’s death. Over six issues of the Superman titles and one of Justice League America, Superman and his allies in the League battle the oncoming monster. This League, the post-Giffen team, consisted of Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, former Superman villain Maxima, and the exercise in nineties character naming, Bloodwynd (secretly a messed up in the head Martian Manhunter). Despite a decent level of power, the team didn’t work so well together. In the face of Doomsday’s power, they fell with relative ease.

Barring occasional aid by Guardian and Dubbilex of the Cadmus Project, Superman faces the monster alone. And Doomsday seems obsessed with making his way to Metropolis.

This leads to the final few chapters of the story as Superman and Doomsday spar again and again in a cross country battle. The fight ends in a ravaged Metropolis. In the end, Superman barely pulls out a victory over the beast, but at the cost of his own life.

The story is simple and pretty straight forward. At the time, fans hated how Doomsday just appeared to facilitate Superman’s death. I suspect they wanted background on the character and a reason for Superman to die at Doomsday’s hand. But those really aren’t important yet. There would be plenty of time later for long time fans to learn the origins of Doomsday.

The goal was Superman’s death. And in the true tradition of comics, that was just the beginning.

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