THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN | Comic Review

With two weeks left until the release of the ‘Snyder Cut’ of Justice League, it’s time to look at some comics that informed the films!

Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson & Roger Stern
Art by: Jon Bogdanove, Brett Breeding, Tom Grummet, Jackson Guice & Dan Jurgens
Year: 1992

Collects: Action Comics #683-684, Adventures of Superman #496-497, Justice League of America #69, Superman #73-75 & Superman: The Man of Steel #17

 

CONTENTS
– Background
– Plot
– Review


BACKGROUND:

Looking at Zack Snyder’s Superman/Justice League trilogy, it’s fairly obvious which comics he primarily drew from. 

MAN OF STEEL obviously is an adaptation of Superman’s origin.

Superman’s origin has been retold several times (such as in Birthright and Secret Origin), so there’s a lot to draw on, but the title obviously evokes the 1980s comic book reboot of the character following Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Man of Steel.

There are also lines of dialogue and themes plucked from Grant Morrison’s self-contained story All-Star Superman

The follow-up, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE has a pretty obvious source of inspiration. 

The Dark Knight Returns.

The comic follows an elder Batman who comes out of retirement and ends up fighting Superman. A lot of things from cover pages, lines of dialogue and action sequences are ripped straight from the page and plonked onto the screen, with a few liberties taken, of course. 

The final part of the trilogy is a bit harder to pin down since we haven’t seen the true version yet, but again, the most obvious source of inspiration is Justice League: Origin which saw a rebooted Justice League (now with Cyborg taking the place of Martian Manhunter) face down Darkseid, who is set to appear in Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Similarly, across both BvS and the upcoming ZSJL, there are elements that took place in a future where Superman had turned evil, much like the popular video-game Injustice: Gods Among Us

There is of course another big storyline that threads its way through the series, despite it depicting Superman in the early stages of his career, and that’s the comic that we’re looking at today. 

The Death of Superman was originally jokingly conceived as a replacement story for the postponed wedding of Lois and Clark, that they ultimately then ran with. Turned into a crossover of the various Superman titles, the story was meant to emphasise that Superman was not the invincible icon that everyone perceived him as, while simultaneously reaffirming his importance to the universe. 

As a result, the comic ended up getting a ridiculous amount of media coverage, as people were shocked that DC would actually kill off their most famous character. 

And as in the movies, it all began when Superman comes face to face with…

DOOMSDAY

Real Name: N/A
Affiliation:
N/A
First Appearance: Superman: The Man of Steel #17 (November 1992)

Before the rise and fall of Krypton, the planet was a hellish wasteland where only the strongest could survive. Into this wasteland, scientists hoping to create the ‘ultimate lifeform’ dropped a baby. The baby quickly died, and its remains were harvested, revived and the process repeated over and over. A cycle of death and rebirth ensued, each cycle pushing it through another phase of evolution, and instilling in the child a great hatred for life. The end result was a monstrous behemoth, who could now adapt to whatever harmed him and form a resistance to it. 
The creature turned against its creators and began a rampage across the universe until it was finally captured and imprisoned. Its prison was shot into space and subsequently crashed on Earth
Now, with a new stomping ground, the creature, dubbed ‘Doomsday’ by Booster Gold of the Justice League, is one of the greatest threats to life on planet Earth, and one of the few villains who has succeeded in killing Earth’s greatest protector, Superman


PLOT:

Doomsday has awakened, and begun a destructive rampage across the United States. The police and National Guard have failed to slow it down, and even the Justice League has fallen to its attacks. 

Now, Superman is the last man standing. Faced with the strongest foe he’s ever encountered, even Earth’s greatest hero may not be up to the challenge. 

Is this the last stand of the Man of Steel?


REVIEW:

The Death of Superman is an interesting comic in that its legacy is carried more by its fame than it is by its quality.

The story starts off with an issue featuring Superman and the other residents of Metropolis dealing with an attack from some sewer-dwelling monsters and frankly doesn’t seem all that interesting or relevant to the larger story. Apart from the sizzle teasing Doomsday’s arrival, it doesn’t add anything or help pique your interest in the coming tale.

Fortunately, that chapter of the story only takes up the first issue (30 or so of the 170 pages in the book, not including the various extra material at the end).

From there, we get an issue of Justice League that sets up how credible a threat Doomsday is. This issue also feels in some ways like an unnecessary preamble to the main event, and while it is more interesting than the first issue, it’s a shame that the early 90s roster of the Justice League couldn’t have been made up of some heavier hitters for the sake of the story. While die-hard DC fans may get a kick out of seeing the members assembled in this story, several of the characters here are going to be mostly unknown to wider audiences, who may question who these characters are or why they should care. 

Still, it cements Doomsday as a powerful threat and sets the stage well for his titanic battle with Superman.

Said battle takes up the rest of the story. Over 100 pages of Superman and Doomsday trading blows, interspaced with quick looks at the destruction through the eyes of Superman’s supporting cast and various bystanders (as well as the subsequent rescuing of said bystanders).

It’s fair to say that as a result, some may find this book lacking. Two opening stories of varying quality, followed by a mammoth fight with little in the way of an actual story may not be what some consider to be a worthy death for the Man of Steel.

But of course, that entirely depends on your point of view. If you’re up for it, there’s fun to be had here. Especially because, due to the very drawn-out nature of the fight, it does well to highlight the gradual wearing down of Superman before his inevitable end.

The art, for the most part, is pretty well done. It’s bombastic and exciting, and manages to keep the physical back and forth between Superman and Doomsday varied and interesting to look at.

The character drawings are all very emotive, and the evolution of Doomsday’s design from a mysterious masked man to a monster riddled with protruding bones is pretty cool.

While the final issue has the weakest art, there is also a very interesting technique on display with the comic panels. Bar the first few issues, as the fight progresses, each issue takes away a panel as it goes (4th to last issue uses four-panel spreads, 3rd to last uses three, 2nd to last uses two), until the final issue is just a series of splash pages, which is a great way to highlight the blockbuster nature of the story.

It shows a level of creativity that might seem otherwise absent if you’re just focusing on the plot (or lack thereof) itself.

I’m not going to say this comic is a great read, because it’s not. It’s probably fine at best. But what it means, both in-universe and out is important, and if you’re a fan of DC then it’s worth a read for that reason alone. But if the thought of a 100-page long flight doesn’t excite you (and fair enough) then, well, the title tells you all you really need to know about the story (spoiler: Superman dies).


Thanks for reading! What do you think about Zack Snyder adapting The Death of Superman so early on in his on-screen career? Let me know in the comments below!

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