In November of 1992, comic book history was made when the Man of Steel himself, Superman, saw his never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way come to a sudden end when he died battling the horrific alien monster known as Doomsday in Superman #75 (by writer/artist Dan Jurgens and finisher Brett Breeding). The event drew national attention and comic book buyers flocked to comic book stores across the country to get their hands on the finale of the comic book tragedy.
There was a regular edition as well as a special black-bagged edition for twice the price that came with a commemorative black armband inside. Later, during a follow-up storyline in 1993 called “The Reign of the Supermen,” four people showed up claiming to be Superman and ultimately, the original Superman returned. Most common fans know the basics of the story, but here are some facts that you might not recall about the Death and Return of Superman!
15. LOIS AND CLARK STARTED IT ALL
The story of the “Death of Superman” all began with, of all things, an engagement. You see, in Superman #50, Clark Kent proposes to Lois Lane. She accepted and then soon after, Clark revealed his secret identity as Superman to Lois. At the time, the plans at the Superman office (which, at the time, consisted of four monthly titles, Superman, Action Comics, Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel) was for Clark and Lois to get married in Superman #75.
The problem came from the news that a new Superman TV series was being developed for a 1993 debut and Warner Bros. wanted some synergy with the book and the TV series, so well before Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman even debuted, it squelched the plans for a Super-wedding in Superman #75. So what would they do instead?
14. THE KILLING JOKE
Beginning in the 1990s, comic books that had “lines” of titles, like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the X-Men books, would often support “summits” where the creative teams of the various titles would get together and plan out the next year’s worth of stories. It was at one of these summits that Superman group editor Mike Carlin let the creators know that their initial tentative plan to have Clark and Lois get married was not going to work.
Jerry Ordway, the writer on Adventures of Superman who was the only creator left from the original reboot of Superman following Crisis on Infinite Earths (Ordway drew Adventures of Superman back then) always used to joke at the summits when they were trying to think of story ideas that they should just kill Superman. This time around, joke or not, his suggestion caught on!
13. THE OTHER DEATH OF SUPERMAN
Amazingly enough, while the creators in Carlin’s group were coming up with an idea for a storyline where Superman was killed, a very similar idea was being pitched at the same to Archie Goodwin as part of DC Comics’ special projects division. Superstars Neil Gaiman and Matt Wagner came up with the idea of a prestige format miniseries starring Superman, with each issue taking place in a different season of the year. During the “Fall” issue, Superman would die, only to return in the “Spring” issue.
The story would be set out of continuity. Goodwin approved the pitch, but when DC found out that Carlin’s group was planning an in-continuity death of Superman, they put the kibosh on Gaiman and Wagner’s project. Years later, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale did a somewhat similar idea in the prestige format miniseries, Superman For All Seasons.
12. THE SIMONSON CONNECTION
One of the fascinating things about the Superman titles under Mike Carlin’s editorship was just how well-oiled their machine was. He oversaw four separate creative teams and managed to tell what amounted to a weekly Superman story throughout the four titles. They even introduced a “Triangle” system, where each issue would have a triangle on the cover to tell you what order to read them in. As they led into the actual “Death of Superman” storyline, each title spent a month showing Doomsday slowly punch his way out of his prison.
The idea of having the sound effect slowly get bigger and bigger as Doomsday got closer to escaping was cribbed from a famous Thor storyline by Walter Simonson (husband of Superman: Man of Steel writer, Louise Simonson) where letterer John Workman would come up with bigger and bigger “Doom!” sound effects to show that Surtur was coming.
11. DID THEY KNOW WHAT THEY WERE GETTING THEMSELVES INTO?
One of the big questions about “The Death of Superman” was whether the magnitude of the story came as a surprise to DC Comics. Some people claim that Carlin and DC were caught unawares at the attention that the story garnered. In reality, while obviously no one expected it to be quite as big as it turned out to be (Carlin once joked that if Madonna had had a baby the day that the story broke, no one would have paid any attention), DC had been pushing the story for many months before the storyline actually began.
They were clear that Superman was going to die, even promoting it as such on the cover of Diamond Distributors’ Previews magazine! They sent the story out to many different newspapers, so they clearly knew they had a big story on their hands.
10. THE UNEXPECTED CONTROVERSY OF DOOMSDAY’S ORIGINS
One thing that clearly did take DC Comics by surprise was a controversy surrounding the alleged origins of Doomsday. As noted before, we slowly saw Doomsday draw closer and closer to punching his way out of his confinement until he finally burst through in Superman: The Man of Steel #18 (by Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Janke). He was wearing what looked to be some sort of containment suit.
When the media asked Mike Carlin about Doomsday, he described him as being “LIKE an escapee from a cosmic lunatic asylum.” However, the “like” part was dropped from most articles and it was instead reported that he was, in fact, an escapee from a cosmic lunatic asylum and that upset mental health advocacy groups at the time.
9. THE SECRET COUNTDOWN
One of the most clever things about “The Death of Superman” was also something that likely flew way over the heads of most of the people reading the comics at the time. The basic gist of the storyline was that Doomsday escaped from captivity and then cut a path of destruction from relatively uninhabited areas into midtown Metropolis, with only Superman between him and the destruction of Metropolis.
Therefore, in the final month of the story, the comics sort of “counted down” until the final battle. In the fourth-to-last part of the story, each page of the issue had four panels on it. Then the next issue had three panels on each page. Then the next issue had two panels on each page. Finally, in Superman #75, each page was one giant splash page. It was a very clever storytelling idea.
8. WHO IS THAT DUDE PRESENT FOR THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN?
The only comic book outside the Superman group that tied into “The Death of Superman” was Justice League America, which was being written and drawn by Dan Jurgens at the time (with finishes by Rick Burchett), so he obviously knew how to tie it in well. Superman was a member of the team at the time.
Doomsday tore through the Justice League in Justice League America #69. Only Ice and Bloodwynd survived without major injuries, so they were present at Superman’s death, leading millions of people to say, “Who the heck is Bloodwynd?” He was a short-lived sorcerer hero created by Jurgens who was secretly the Martian Manhunter in disguise (but when the Manhunter returned to his normal self, the real Bloodwynd showed up and joined the League on his own). He hasn’t been seen in years.
7. THE GREAT RACE FOR CHRISTMAS 1993
Superman #75 was released on November 18, 1992. The whole country was caught up in the storyline, with comic book stores seeing customers line up outside their store doors to get a copy (most stores limited customers to one comic per customer). DC Comics quickly released a second printing of all of the parts of the storyline and ultimately went through four printings of Superman #75, and the demand was so high that people would sign up for waiting lists to reserve a copy of the fourth printing!
In an amazing achievement by DC, they actually managed to collect the entire storyline into a trade paperback for just five dollars and somehow got it released in time for the 1992 Christmas season! Yes, just a few weeks after the story finished, they had a trade paperback in stores. That was an unheard of turnaround time back in 1992.
6. A SUPER-BREAK
While the public was still whipped into a frenzy, DC began the next step in the storyline, the aftermath issues, including the funeral of Superman. This was handled in a storyline called “Funeral for a Friend” that ran through all of the Superman titles, as well as a few different one-shots, including The Legacy of Superman and a magazine release that was written from as if Superman had died in the real world.
Then, in the final part of the story, with Superman now buried, Superman’s father, Jonathan Kent, had a heart attack at the Kent farm. The Superman titles would go dark for two months after ending with such a bleak moment! It was a very bold decision by DC to commit to having no new Superman releases for two whole months, especially at a time where everything Superman-related was selling like crazy.
5. A RETURN ENGAGEMENT
While DC Comics was prepared for the story to get a lot of attention, they were shocked by not only how much attention it got, but by how long the attention seemed to last. Originally, Mike Carlin planned on bringing Superman back to life in Adventures of Superman #500. However, the audience reaction caused him to change his plans.
Instead, that issue would introduced four men, each presenting themselves as either a replacement for Superman (John Henry Irons, also known as Steel), a clone of Superman (released too early, so he was a teenager, or a “Superboy”) or as Superman himself (returned as either a cyborg or as a purely Kryptonian being without a shred of humanity). The issue, written by Jerry Ordway (in his farewell to Superman for the time being), also saw Jonathan Kent survive his heart attack.
4. LONG TERM PLANNING
An interesting aspect of the four “new” Supermen in “The Reign of the Supermen” (the title homaged Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s earliest Superman story idea from 1933) is that each of them were based in long-term plots of the writers who wrote them, except for brand-new writer Karl Kesel, who still looked to old Superman issues for the story of the secret genetics lab, Cadmus, that had created a clone of Superman.
Louise Simonson tied Steel in to her long-running sub plots concerning Metropolis’ Suicide Slum, while the alien Superman in Stern’s comic turned out to be the Eradicator, a Kryptonian machine that Stern had used years earlier, and the Cyborg Superman was revealed to be Hank Henshaw, an evil Reed Richard analogue that Dan Jurgens had introduced a couple of years earlier.
3. WHY DID SUPERMAN COME BACK WITH LONG HAIR?
Eventually, when the Cyborg Superman revealed himself as a villain and the other three heroes (along with Supergirl, who was a shapeshifting alien known as Matrix at the time who dated Lex Luthor) teamed up to stop him, they were joined by a Kryptonian vehicle that released from it none other than the original Superman! He was revived in a special silver and black Kryptonian regeneration suit and his hair had grown out while he had been revived (the Eradicator had stolen Superman’s body and brought him back to life).
At the end of the story, with Cyborg Superman defeated and Superman’s powers returned, the creators decided to keep Superman’s long hair as a way to signify a change in the character. The long hair lasted over three years before Superman cut it in time for his wedding to Lois Lane in 1996 (also tied in with Lois and Clark getting married on the TV series).
2. HOW DID THEY EXPLAIN CLARK KENT’S ABSENCE?
One of the most devastating aspects of “The Death of Superman” is that Lois Lane, Lana Lang and Martha and Jonathan Kent all knew that the death of Superman also meant the death of Clark Kent, but they could not grieve with other people due to Clark’s secret identity, which they kept a secret even after his death.
When Superman returned to life, they had to come up with an explanation for why Clark (thought to have been killed in the Doomsday attack on Metropolis) survived. Luckily, Superman was friends with Supergirl (she also knew his secret identity and actually had lived with Ma and Pa Kent for a time) and she took on Clark’s identity and had “Superman” “rescue” “Clark” from the basement he had been trapped in (complete with enough food to last the whole time he was presumed dead).
In the introduction of the Cyborg Superman, the Cyborg sent Doomsday’s body into outer space. While there, we learned that Doomsday somehow had come back from the dead, too! In 1994, Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding had Superman finally decide that it was time to have a rematch with Doomsday. This was handled in the three-book prestige format miniseries, Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey.
Doomsday ended up on Apokolips and Superman is gifted with a Mother Box that gives him a special ’90s-esque costume, complete with a special knife and gun. Doomsday, as it turned out, could not be killed the same way twice, so Superman had to find out a way to stop him without just beating him to death, as that would now no longer work. Superman ended up trapping Doomsday via time travel at the end of time itself.
Did you buy the “Death of Superman” when it came out? Let us know in the comments section!