Continuing the four-week reread of the death and return of Superman, this week is part two, World Without a Superman. Spoilers below the cut, of course.
The Nostalgia November archive can be found here
World Without a Superman comprises the eight-part “Funeral for a Friend” story along with two short stories and The Adventures of Superman #500, which acted as a finale to this story and the beginning of the next story, Reign of the Supermen (and was also Jerry Ordway’s last issue as writer of the series). I remember these comics as being better than they actually are. I didn’t read this story until a few years ago when I got this and the Reign of the Supermen trades finally and I enjoyed this one quite a bit — but I think that’s mostly in comparison to The Death of Superman. World Without a Superman tries to be meaningful and heartfelt, and it is… but it also suffers of its time, of the over-extended Superman cast and the idea that every superhero knows one another and is friends. It’s also horribly callous at time in ways that don’t seem real, while also mocks itself and the way that the entire death story was handled. Mostly, it fails, because it wants to make Superman’s death as big and impactful as something like Kennedy getting shot, but doesn’t deliver that sort of reaction in the pages of the book ever.
It’s always easier for me to focus on the negatives of something, that’s just how I am. In many ways, it’s easier to discuss and pick out negatives than highlight positives. The reasons behind failure stand out better than the reasons behind success — for me anyway. The biggest failure of World Without a Superman, though, is that it didn’t grab me emotionally. It was too busy, too concerned with the smaller character, too concerned with showing everyone’s reaction, filtering it through their unique perspective and problems to the point where I didn’t care. I don’t care about Bibbo or Gangbuster or the Cadmus Project or the other half-dozen characters that were transient and we all kind of half-remember. The elements that date this story suck the emotion out of it.
The serial nature of the story hurts it. An event this big would stop the lives of people for weeks, months… it would be all they thought about, all they talked about — or so we’re to believe. But, the need to come up with new drama to move the story forward. Superman dies, there’s drama over who gets the body, the body is buried, someone steals the body, there’s drama over the stolen body, the body gets taken back, the story ends with sightings of various Superman-like people, and the body is gone. The actual death of Superman and what it means isn’t given enough attention or weight. They try, they really do, but… it’s a hard thing to do well, to really nail, and the storytelling style of these creators, of DC at the time, wasn’t geared toward something as truly emotional and crushing as this would be. Heightened emotions work most of the time in superhero comics, but not for something this big — that requires you to pull back, to become less wordy, less obvious, mostly because people wouldn’t know what to say or think. There would be a lot more standing around, no one saying anything… but the storytelling style requires that we know everything every character is saying or feeling. It’s all told to us, very rarely do we just see it happen.
As I said, the context of the story hurts it. Something as big as the death of Superman should exist outside of continuity in many ways. It shouldn’t be tied down to shapeshifting alien Supergirl who’s dating the clone of Lex Luthor who’s posing as his Australian son or Ron Troupe or Guy Gardner, Warrior or Bibbo or Gangbuster or a specific iteration of the Justice League featuing the d-squad. It’s an odd criticism and one that I can’t really blame the creators for since they were writing a story within a specific context — what else were they supposed to do? But, at the same time, this story is about the people surrounding Superman and I don’t care about 90% of them.
The dispute over Superman’s body is somewhat lame/uninteresting. It fails prey to a lot of the stupid superhero story failing — characters that we know are important but no one in the world would actually respect/allow to do anything suddenly accompany the police and other officials on adventures. Lois Lane, plucky reporter lady is fun and all… but, seriously, they would have her thrown in jail for the shit she pulls.
But, at the same time, there’s an odd cynicism about this story. The number of times people utter phrases like “I know her fiance is missing and all, but does she have to be such a bummer?” is staggering. At the funeral of Superman, someone is selling a bag filled with the copy of The Daily Planet with Superman’s death as the lead story and a black armband… and Bibbo nearly takes his head off for trying to capitalise on Superman’s death. I liked that little jab at DC.
There’s an issue where the Justice League read Superman’s mail like he used to and it leads to them fixing the house of a family that were ruined because of Doomsday. That’s fine, but we also get one part where Wonder Woman tracks down on the dad/husband who left them a few months prior… and it’s an oddly conflicting scene. You always want superheroes to get involved, to solve real problems like this, to go to assholes who abandon their families and make them take responsibility — but, at the same time, it’s horribly simplistic and arrogant of her to just walk into their lives and tell him what he should do. What if he and his wife absolutely hate one another? Yeah, he left, but people get divorced all of the time — is Wonder Woman going to show up every time a couple breaks up?
Don’t get me wrong, I liked this book. But, it has a lot of glaring problems that make it a tough read to get through. By the end, I was skimming various scenes simply because, as I’ve said numerous times, I don’t care about Gangbuster or Project Cadmus…
Honestly, rereading this after the death of Steve Rogers and how that was handled… that’s how this should have been written.