Hello and welcome to Comic Book Classics Revisited! We’re starting a new cycle today and this time, I decided to take a look back at The Death of Superman. Oh, I can already hear your groans as I type this. “Why waste time on a gimmick story?” you might ask. Or, you might say, “The story is so overblown and overhyped and overrated. You’re going to defend it?” Yes. Yes I am! But I’ll get more into this after we go through the first part of this monumental storyline – Superman: The Man of Steel #18!
The issue starts with thundering fists against a steel hull. Soon, the fists break through not only the metal hull, but through mounds of rock and earth until it is free. What is this thing? It’s only referred to as ominously as “Doomsday” (as to say “Doomsday is here!” and what have you).
Meanwhile, in Metropolis, a boy buys some glow in the dark fluorescent yellow spray paint. He’s asked if he’s going to be spray painting some walls in the subway with it. He’s not, but he is going to go after some monsters. In the power station tunnels, a group of baddies called the Underworlders are looking to juice up their war machines. They have some prisoners down there, one of which is the child with the paint’s (Keith) mother. At least that’s what they told Keith when he stumbled upon them previously. At the Daily Planet, Lois comes across a note left for Superman by Keith to help direct him to the tunnels.
Superman arrives at the Daily Planet, and, as Clark Kent, is told to check his messages on his computer to get the message Lois left for him to find her and Superman’s friend in the tunnels. However, before he can read the message, the power goes out. It’s a victory for the Underworlders as they have succeeded in the first part of their plan to “kick butt” in Metropolis. Lois makes her way into the power plant. One of the Underworlders, Clawster, sneaks up on her and she tries kickign the monster, only to find that Clawster is basically made out of rock. Lois recognizes a homeless man she helps feed at the shelter named Charlie, and she’s stunned he could be working with the monsters. She’s taken hostage (temporarily), and Keith overhears how they’ll kill her in about an hour because they don’t take prisoners. This leads Keith to the truth that the Underworlders do not have his mother (more on what’s up with that below). Keith may be heartbroken, but he can still help Lois. He paints a big Superman symbol with the spray paint and that brings Superman to him. Keith tells the man of steel that the “monsters” have the reporter lady AND they plan to invade Metropolis to boot.
Superman makes relatively short work of the dim-witted Underworlders as he steals a grenade from one of the monsters who didn’t know what to do with it, and shoved it down another monster’s mouth – which is, frankly, pretty damn awesome. They try using their war machines, but they are taking on Superman, so you can pretty much guess that these aren’t going to work. Superman finds Lois with Charlie. Charlie nearly becomes a recipient of a super knuckle sandwich (talk about your free meals!) until Lois intervenes and explains he was the one who tried to leave a note for Superman to come to the tunnels and he’s been working in the anti-war circles of Underworld this whole time. Lois offers Charlie a chance to be the Daily Planet’s Underworld Correspondent and everything is neatly tied up, a job well done.
So that just about wraps up today’s edition of Comic Book Classics Revisited. Come back on Fri… Wait, what’s that? OH! Yeah, Doomsday! Intermixed into this issue have been little tales of what Doomsday’s been up to since freeing himself. He’s met the wildlife, he’s destroyed some trees. He threw Optimus Prime. He laughed and had some good times. However, he’s also caught the attention of the Justice League’s Oberon. He’s also on a direct, and destructive, path for Metropolis!
While, technically, this issue kind of rolls on from another storyline, this was the first part of the “Doomsday” arc that would end in the most publicized and media-frenzied way. It’s not written in a dark or overtly depressing way that we tend to see from DC’s movies (if you don’t count the part in this story where Keith discovers the Underworlders DON’T have his mom – that was bordering on some dark business). Superman is doing what Superman does – helping stop an invasion of Metropolis by monsters, helping a kid who’s really attached to him, saving Lois, and generally stopping bad guys by stuffing grenades in their mouths. He does it with a smile on his face. He’s confident and not torn over how his power makes him an outcast. Nor does he have to think about what Kevin Costner tells him about how people might look at him funny if he puts a grenade in a monster’s mouth and lets it explode. He helps even the most downtrodden and outcast and gets the girl too.
As for Keith, well, it’s a good thing Superman is around. Keith is an orphan. He lives in a home because his mother has AIDS. She’s unable to take care of both of them and the tragedy of all that is that he only holds out hope that she is coming back for him and she will love him like a mom should. Well, he doesn’t find out all this stuff until later, but he’s drowning in the hope that he’ll find his mom. And that’s pretty sad, but Superman is his pal and that’s what we should think of when the name Superman is uttered. He’s a friend to us all. He provides hope, and friendship, and warmth to those who don’t have any.
This brings me to the point of WHY this story is getting a closer look as a “classic”. This story isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I understand that. What I may think of a “classic” may not appeal to everyone and what someone else thinks of as a “classic” may not appeal to me. For what this story is, I think it’s very well handled and written. We see Superman do things like this in the early stages. He’s helping an orphan kid and working with some bums and offers them a place on the surface. It ends with him doing everything he must to save his adopted home and everyone he loves. Shouldn’t this be what we expect from Superman? He’s the greatest hero of all time. Maybe he hasn’t had the best of stories or bad guys or what have you, but he’s the guy that got this whole superhero thing going. If you’re gonna write his death, it better be a massive battle with a near indestructible foe. It better not be him growing old and dying in some distant future or Lex Luthor poisoning Clark Kent’s morning coffee with kryptonite. It better be epic, and, brother, The Death of Superman is one hell of an epic.
I don’t wanna debate the gimmicky nature of it all. Deaths are so easily resigned to in comics because it can boost sales. Yeah, that’s true. However, it happens so often that it’s hard to care about anymore. Many people just roll their eyes at this story and bitch about how they were misled because Superman came back six months later. Okay, yeah, but c’mon, man… If you thought DC was honestly going to keep him dead, then that’s an even stupider idea than bringing him back. Besides, this doesn’t become the greatest selling trade paperback of all time without a whole lotta people buying it and reading it WHEN HE WAS ON HIS WAY BACK TO LIFE. I know you want to seem more learned. I get it. I went through a phase where I tried to deny that I love the movie E.T. I thought that was baby stuff and I was beyond that. Heh, yeah right. Now I freely admit that E.T.’s final message to Elliot still chokes me up and often makes me shed a tear or two. So, come off it. If you hungrily bought up each issue, then you are allowed to be disappointed in the story, but you can’t be mad at the game DC was playing to make Superman relevant again.
Here’s a good time to bring up something about Doomsday. He’s really just a MacGuffin. He’s a means to an end. Yeah, he keeps coming back, but really he was just there, in this moment, to be so strong and so unstoppable that he could kill Superman. But there’s something else about him that kinda goes beyond his simplistic purpose. He’s a big part of a few of my very favorite comic book moments. I’ll examine each of these moments as they come up, but, in this very first part, let’s see how he deals with the local wildlife…
And with that, all I can say is come back on Friday as we dive into part 2 of The Death of Superman. For now, have a pleasant day and be sure to BLORCH any birds you see!