Superman is perhaps the most iconic superhero of all time! It comes as no surprise then, that the story of his death is an equally iconic tale! The Death of Superman was released in 1993 by DC Comics, and like the title suggests, features the death of the titular superhero as he fights the deadly supervillain, Doomsday! (Appropriately named by Booster Gold) Now as most comic book fans know, death isn’t always a permanent fixture in this particular medium of entertainment (which is evident by the fact that Superman is still alive) However, this shouldn’t take away from the impact that this story had to readers across the world. The story is so momentous that DC has created two direct-to-DVD cartoon movies based off of it. And there’s no escaping the influence it had on the 2016 movie, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (a movie so controversial that perhaps it warrants a blog in the future??)
As with many stories, The Death of Superman begins with separate pieces of exposition that ultimately tie in to each other. We see the creature Doomsday attempt to escape from the prison it has been held in beneath the Earth for countless years. As it breaks free, the story is quick to introduce us to his savagery by having his first act be to crush a small yellow bird that innocently lands in his open palm. I remember originally reading this comic book when I was much younger and that particular image of brutality stuck with me right up until I purchased the story again in the last year. It’s simple but effective, employing the classic storytelling device of ‘show, don’t tell!’ Meanwhile, an inner city youth named Keith who is desperate to find his mother, attempts to contact Superman by spray painting his infamous ‘S’ symbol onto the ground. He succeeds in capturing Superman’s attention who, due to a tip off from Lois Lane, is coincidentally investigating the underground organisation that Keith informs him about. It doesn’t take long for Superman to thwart the ‘Underworld’ monsters’ plan to attack the surface, as well as rescue Lois from their clutches. He then appears on the Cat Grant TV show to provide an interview in front of an audience, answering their questions at the end. In my opinion, these side stories are not only masterfully done but necessary to the impact of the book. It helps to reinforce just how much of a hero Superman truly is and how great the loss will be when he eventually passes. Not only does he solve both large and small scale problems on a daily basis without complaint, he makes time for the people he is trying to protect. This is evident by the fact that Superman remembers Keith’s name from previous times he has come to his aid.
Meanwhile, Doomsday begins to run amok across the country, capturing the attention of the Justice League of America. Whilst this particular roster of the team isn’t the familiar/original line up that most people are used to, the story does well to show what they contribute and how they rely on each other. Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Maxima, Bloodwynd, Fire, Ice and Blue Beetle bravely tackle the creature but quickly find that they are outmatched. Doomsday, whilst still having one hand literally tied behind his back, manages to severely injure the Justice League, to the point where Blue Beetle is in a coma and Guy Gardner’s eye is swollen shut. The brilliantly illustrated action scenes demonstrate the sheer monstrosity of Doomsday’s power, making it clear to the reader that this truly is a job for Superman!
As news of the conflict reaches Superman’s location, he spares no effort in joining up with his teammates. Withstanding Doomsday’s first attack, Superman is then uncharacteristically kicked through a house by him, causing him to think ‘I don’t know if I’ve ever been hit that hard!’ Whilst it can be argued that comic books are often a medium for exaggerated, over the top and arguably cheesy dialogue, this statement from Superman is important because it carries so much weight behind it. Earlier in the book when Superman is being interviewed, he states that he has ‘encountered things powerful enough to kill me.’ When combined with his initial confrontation with Doomsday, it is clear that the Man of Steel is well aware of his limitations, however small in number they may be. It also highlights his true heroic nature, as most people believe Superman only heads towards danger as his powers make him invulnerable. Clearly, his statements prove otherwise.
After more devastating combat across different locales, Superman and Doomsday arrive at Metropolis. The Man of Steel has accepted the fact that the only way to win the fight is to hold nothing back and fight with the same brutality as his opponent. Despite being battered and bruised beyond what any other person could stand, his conviction remains unwavering. The fight rages on with such intensity that Metropolis itself is collapsing around it. With the eyes of the world on them courtesy of Cat Grant’s news helicopter, Superman and Doomsday exchange one final blow that sends shockwaves throughout the city. When the dust settles, it is seen that Doomsday is dead and Superman is dying in Lois’ arms. A true testament to his heroism, Superman’s last words were to ask if he had stopped Doomsday. The last image in the book is of Superman’s dead body amongst the rubble with Lois Lane weeping above it.
The Death of Superman is a fantastic comic book that captures the essence of the character and his impact on those around him. An argument could be made that this is the first story where we truly see Superman being brave, as he continues to tackle a threat that he comes to accept can spell the end of his life. Whilst his death does not turn out to be permanent, it’s meaning goes beyond simple shock factor and will continue to a be a story of incredible importance. Despite a few references to events outside of the story, I would definitely recommend it to people who are new to comic books as well as those who are already fans!