The Justice League has been defeated! Doomsday continues his destructive (and murderous?) rampage across the country! And now, it leaves only Superman to stop the monster! Welcome back to Comic Book Classics Revisited. Today, we are looking at The Death of Superman Part 4 (Adventures of Superman #487). Where we last left off, Superman was chasing after Doomsday after the monster destroyed the home of teenage jerk Mitch and his mother. With the Justice League down, Mitch cried out to Superman to come back and save him and his family from the fiery rubble of their home. Superman is caught between a rock and a hard place – stop Doomsday or save the family that were innocent bystanders of Doomsday’s rampage.
Superman and Doomsday still fight overhead. The Justice League is trying desperately to pull themselves off the ground (though most of them are suffering from severe injuries). Mitch is trying to get help to save his mother and baby sister, but all hope seems lost – Superman either can’t hear him or is ignoring his cries, the Justice League can barely help themselves, and the sirens of police and firefighters are too far off in the distance. Superman does ultimately realize Mitch is calling for help and the Justice League will not be able to assist. Realizing Doomsday doesn’t fly, but leaps instead, Superman drives Doomsday into a lake to prevent him from getting leverage needed to leap away so he can go help Mitch and his mother. Just as Mitch’s mother is crushed by the burning house, Bloodwynd arrive to hold up the structure and Superman comes to carry her out and to the EMTs. When the Justice League receives medical assistance, Bloodwynd states he wishes to be alone and teleports away.
Superman resumes his pursuit of Doomsday. When the monster destroys a military chopper, Superman throws a missile at Doomsday while he saves the airmen piloting the chopper. The battle continues into Main Street of a small town in Kirby County (get it?) and Superman decides he’s had enough of playing around with Doomsday. While the sheriff calls the Governor’s office to call in the National Guard, Superman, Doomsday, and a second military chopper keep up the battle. Of these three things, you can pretty much guess that second chopper is the thing destroyed in the melee. Superman goes to help people caught in the crossfire while Doomsday revels in the destruction he created.
But Doomsday’s fun is interrupted by Maxima who punches Doomsday hard enough for him to feel it. Meanwhile, in Metropolis, Lois Lane gathers up Jimmy Olsen (who is recording an episode of Turtle-Boy… Don’t ask), and they head out to cover what will ultimately be the story of the century. Elsewhere in Metropolis, the news of Doomsday has reached Lex Luthor and Supergirl. I’ll give you some info about this version of Lex and Supergirl below. For now, I’ll just say Lex is a blazing ginger and this Supergirl is a shapeshifting alien. I will also say that this Supergirl is involved in one of my very favorite comic book panels ever. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Back in Kirby County, Maxima and Doomsday continue their brawl. She knocks him into a grocery store and this really pisses Superman off. He chastises her for knocking Doomsday so haphazardly into the store for fear of innocents being harmed. She, in turn, throws a punch at Superman. He tries to impress upon her that they cannot fight among themselves or Doomsday will surely win. Just then, Doomsday comes back and knocks both of them off their feet. When Superman goes to hold Doomsday while Maxima punches him with everything she’s got, he dodges it just in time for Maxima to punch Superman in the face. Doomsday then beats Maxima over the head with a van. Maxima, herself says this does little but “stimulate” her (she’s one spooky chick). Superman jumps back in and realizes that there’s an awful lot of gasoline gushing up around them from a demolished gas station. Maxima, not realizing this, tears up a lamp post, which provides the spark for… BOOOM! The explosion knocks Superman and Maxima out long enough for Doomsday to get away. Guardian pulls up on his motorcycle to lend a hand. Superman reveals that he knows he is the only one who will be able to stop Doomsday, and he must do it alone.
At this point, you may be asking why this story is seven parts long. You might think this is just a massive punchfest between Superman and Doomsday. To a certain extent you are correct. However, each issue basically focuses on something about Superman that is important to his character. Previously, it’s been his acceptance of an underground society, or speaking only positively about his teammates and other heroes he works with, or a general unwillingness to assume himself to be the leader of the Justice League just because he’s the mightiest. Here, he figured out how to best deal with Doomsday to go back and help Mitch’s family. He wishes the Justice League had been able to help, but he doesn’t bemoan the need to return to help Mitch’s family. He is also concerned with the bystanders that are caught up in the battle of these superpowered beings. He doesn’t think twice about what he might have to do to stop Doomsday. So there’s a sense of Superman being a bit of a guardian angel for humanity. He’ll do what is necessary to protect us, even if he has to pay the ultimate price to do so.
There is a technical piece to the story that starts with this issue. Starting here, each chapter of the story counts down to the final moment in which Superman dies. The layout of each page gives a physical representation of that countdown. This part featured pages with four panels per page. The next will be three panels per page, followed by two, then one. It helps showcase the action side of this story. It’s not just about what Superman is as a “person”, but also about his power. Each issue increases the action and keeps things moving at a pretty brisk pace, even for seven full issues. This doesn’t give us much to dissect as each issue passes, but there are plenty of awesome action pieces to discuss as Doomsday gets closer and closer to Metropolis.
We can, however, discuss this redheaded Lex Luthor and “his” Supergirl. That’s pretty creepy, isn’t it? Yeah. It is. Because they are dating and some didn’t like her doing that. Like everyone.
Anyway, at some point prior to this story, Lex Luthor faked his death. He put his mind into a cloned body (this redheaded Australian-accented body), claimed to be the original Lex’s son, and continued to torment Superman from the shadows. One of the torments is to date this version of Supergirl. And what about this version of Supergirl? Well, she is from an alternate reality. You know, those things that Crisis on Infinite Earths supposedly wiped out. Anyway, in this reality, Lex Luthor was a good guy and Superman didn’t survive out of his adolescence. So when Kryptonian criminals escaped from the Phantom Zone, he created an artificial life form called the “protoplasmic matrix”. Long story short, she was a shapeshifter, and took the appearance of the original Supergirl and eventually met Superman who tried to help save her Earth. Ultimately, when he could punch the bad guys enough to stop them, but not enough to save that alternate Earth, he brought Matrix back to the regular DC Universe where she would become Supergirl.
In the end, this Lex Luthor would return to his bald ways and Matrix would later merge with a dying girl named Linda Danvers. This eventually led her to become a slightly different Supergirl… then there was some angel thing or something. Don’t ask me what happened there. My theory is they had no idea what to do with this new Supergirl so they kept trying different things to see what stuck.
Join us next time when we get to Part 5 of The Death of Superman as it was originally published in Action Comics #684!