The Death of Superman:
By Mark "the Shark" Gillins
A Writer's Escape
1993: The nation is shocked by the news of the Man of Steel's upcoming death. Comic book fans and non-comic book fans alike rush to the stores to snatch up their own copy of Superman #75. The lucky ones got the black bagged copy before its value began to soar, leaving the slow ones mere copies of the fourth print which hasn't risen in value hardly at all the past six years. As some of us wondered who would now bear the burden of fighting for truth, justice, and the American way, others pondered why DC Comics would ever throw away its most popular character like that.
But others knew better.
Others realized that this was merely a story nothing to worry about, as DC had not announced the canceling of the four monthly Superman titles. This was all a cheap scam that DC was pulling to grab more readers, and therefore more money. In a short time, after the writers had their fun, our favorite Boy Scout would be back in his own pages, healthy and living, and everything would be back to normal.
They were wrong.
Yes, Superman DID return shortly after his death (although the combined stories of his death, funeral, and return took, what seemed like, almost a year), but the terrific battle with the monster Doomsday affected the DC Universe in a way that nobody could have realized or even do realize NOW. Superman's removal from this realm of reality indirectly brought many severe and subtle changes to the company, resulting in power or identity changes in classic champions, and eventually leading to several crises that were quelled only by the combined effort of all of Earth's greatest heroes.
Bear with me as I lead you through my outline of how the death of the Kryptonian truly shocked the world. Some of these crazy ideas I have may seem a bit confusing, especially since I may be jumping back and forth through my outline, so I've included an image of my outline at the bottom of the article.
If DC had been planning on merely picking up a few more fans through
this storyline, it worked. But do you think that's all they had in mind?
I think that the nuts behind this whole scheme realized that most of the
people who would buy a copy of Superman #75 had either:
In other words, Superman #75 was mainly shipped as a collector's item to the world, which is probably why it sold out so fast. I, for one, am probably one of the many (or few, depending on what perspective you look at it from) who actually got hooked to comic books through the Death of Superman story. Sadly, though, the book has been lacking the quality it once maintained and I haven't read Superman consistently for a long time. However, without the Death I probably wouldn't be reading The Flash, Green Lantern, or JLA today. So this one, insignificant plan that DC may have had worked on me, at least.
But the big picture was this: the Death gave writers in every book a chance, somewhere along the way, to change their characters. We'll start with probably the most obvious and crucial example I have: the creation of Parallax. Let's take it from the beginning:
The Death - Doomsday, the mindless, savage, unyielding beast from an unknown origin appears on Earth. After a very short brawl with the Justice League, he eventually finds (or rather, thrashes) his way to Metropolis, Superman fighting to keep him far from his beloved home. After a long, weary battle, the two wrestlers finish each other off and Kal-El passes away in the arms of Lois Lane.
The Funeral - Heroes cry, Superman's body is stolen and returned, the heroes cry some more, Lois Lane cries, we all cry.
The Reign of the Supermen In the Adventures of Superman #500, Clark Kent's father, Jonathan, takes a trip to the after-life, where he finds his son being carried to his eternal-resting place. Recognizing the men surrounding his son as evil, he battles to rescue Kal-El. After a brief battle, Kal recognizes the beings as evil and he and his father escape from the after-life. Jonathan awakens to tell Martha that their son is coming home.
Meanwhile, four new characters appear seemingly out of nowhere, each of them claiming to be the true Superman. One of them a ruthless man in yellow glasses, another a young clone of the true hero, yet another a man in a steel uniform, bearing the "S" emblem on his chest and wielding a gigantic hammer, and finally a frightening cyborg.
Let's take a break real quick to take a look at something: Right here we have the introduction/reintroduction of four now-major heroes in the DCU. The Reign was one opportunity that DC had to bring in new guns. Steel appears regularly in JLA, once had his own title, and even had his own low-quality film made after him. The Eradicator has gone into DC limbo, but for a while he was seen in the pages of Extreme Justice and appeared every once in a while in other titles.
Superboy has his own regular series, appears regularly in Young Justice, makes guest appearances in Superman, and had another series, Superboy and the Ravers, which was canceled due to low sales. Superboy has had a major impact on the DCU would Young Justice even exist today without him? So even right here you can see that the Death indirectly brought to pass Young Justice but let's continue with this "break".
The Cyborg is reintroduced as well, and now he's a major villain in the Superman books (he never seems to DIE, d***it!). His involvement in the Reign allowed the gigantic villain Mongul to also be reintroduced and here's where we can continue with the Parallax point I'm trying to make.
Mongul, secretly allied with the false Superman (the Cyborg, that is), sends his massive ship into Earth's orbit and eventually to Coast City, hometown of Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern. Unfortunately, Hal is off dancing his waltz with villains in space, so his precious city is left defenseless against the alien invader. In a matter of minutes Coast City is toasted into an oblivion.
As the story unravels in the Superman books, it crosses over into Green
Lantern #46, where the Emerald Knight returns to find his beloved home
totaled. He seeks out the destroyer, finding himself in battle with the
deadly Mongul. After the brawl, Green Lantern comes out victorious (with
a busted arm), and helps Superman and the others reach their way to safety
(after Superman defeats the Cyborg in his own title).
This is when he goes berserk.
Incredibly enraged that the Guardians would ever do such a thing, he uses the image Ganthet appears in to repower his ring, and he proceeds to take down the Green Lantern Corps one Green Lantern at a time. After each victory, he removes the former ally's ring and places it on his own finger. He murders Kilowog and many other of the long-loved corps members we've read over the years. He finally arrives at Oa, where he finds the Guardians have hired, of all people, Sinestro to guard the GL battery. He murders Sinestro and destroys the battery.
Another break to look at a tangent taken from this event. Ganthet manages to get away for a few minutes to deliver the last of the Green Lantern rings to a man he finds in an alley (there's no time to search out a rightful bearer). This "man" is Kyle Rayner, who is the one and only Green Lantern now currently appearing in the GL series, in JLA, and guest appearing all over. Another example of a character introduced through the Death.
Anyways, after Hal takes over, he renames himself Parallax. Now a psychotic "villain", he begins roaming the universe, searching for ways he can undo pain and suffering and replace it with what he thinks is a better way.
I'm not even halfway through all the changes! Do you see
what I'm talking about, though? So far Superman's death has brought in
at least 3 new characters, reintroduced 3 characters, completely changed
another character, killed 2 people and almost an entire corps, and has
helped pave a path for a JLA Jr.
Zero Hour Parallax has been wreaking havoc every once
in a while in multiple series, doing little things like picking fights
with Guy Gardner (now called "Warrior"
yuck). But now
we've got another problem temporal anomalies are popping up everywhere!
Robin III is fighting side-by-side with Robin I, Superboy is fighting
against the original Superboy, and Impulse is trying to outrun a Tyrannosaurus
Writers used this opportunity to clean up the few continuity problems that were left after the Crisis on Infinite Earths back in the mid-80's. Hal did succeed in recreating time, but the combined efforts of all the heroes kept him from doing so in his own image. The universe went through everything almost the same as it had before.
Whether or not this story did some actual good for the DCU remains to be seen, however. Hawkman's origin is more confusing than ever after he was recreated in this mini (he's been so mistreated that he's floating in limbo, waiting for some writer to redeem him), and somebody got the bright idea to bring in Triumph, a man who got lost in time before the Crisis on Infinite Earths and reappeared during Zero Hour, not having been affected by the original Crisis. Triumph's return was a waste he lingered in limbo for a while after the writers realized that none of the fans liked him at all, and now he's part of the JLA trophy room, frozen during the recent "Crisis Times Five" story in the current JLA series.
Another effect of Zero Hour was the re-aging of the Justice Society of America. Monarch used his powers to take away their gift of youth (except for Alan Scott, who was able to use his starheart powers to maintain his state), and a few of the teammates even died.
Moving right along the Zero Hour line After Flash has his little bit of fun with the anomalies in his own book, he finds himself battling the villain Abra Kadabra in a world (or time, rather) that he doesn't even recognize! After attempting to beat Kadabra into changing things back to how they should be, Waverider appears as a fissure opens up to consume the city they are presently in (fissures have been popping up randomly all over time, consuming several heroes and villains alike). Waverider explains the situation, and as he suggests they get out of there, Kadabra, slightly knowledged in time anomalies, gives his input. He suggests that the Flash runs at top speed into the core of the fissure, and it should cause it to collapse.
The next part is glorious Wally West proceeds to run as fast as he can towards the center of the anomaly. As he runs, he tells himself to ignore the pain to run faster and faster very reminiscent of the death of Barry Allen during the Crisis on Infinite Earths. Just as Wally thinks he's going to be torn apart, he disappears, and Waverider catches up to him only in time to save his uniform from being destroyed.
While the various heroes that still exist believe that Wally is dead, those of us who read the Flash series know the truth he has entered the Speed Force for the first time, experiencing things he'd never dreamed of. He travels through time to his younger self in Flash #0, and eventually returns to the present, where he finds himself changing into a form of energy in the "Terminal Velocity" storyline (an entirely different thing altogether).
Mark Waid was able to indirectly (I have to keep saying that to remind you that the writers may not have even considered it) use Superman's death to introduce the Speed Force theory, and from that we've gained so much more in the Flash book Wally's ability to vibrate through any object and cause it to explode, his various trips through time, his battle against Savitar, Johnny Quick's death, the introduction of the Dark Flash (which could be the return of Barry Allen) and the "death" of Wally West.
Still there? Okay. Maybe you should take a few seconds to look over what I've already said I know it's a lot and may be hard to agree with, but I tell you, without the Death, none of this would happen at least, not nearly in the same way it has. Done with your breather? Then grab your inhaler and let's move on.
Going back a little bit to the whole Parallax idea. We have to jump back just a bit because the Speed Force doesn't really introduce this next idea very well (I don't think it has anything to do with it, anyway). So we're back with Hal Jordan, defeated after the Zero Hour crisis and flying around in space.
The Final Night The great sun-eater arrives to our solar system and takes away the light, heat, and life from the center of everything our worlds depend on the Sun. As the world gradually yet rapidly cools down, heroes all around Earth search uselessly for a way to reignite the Sun while quelling the panic that breaks out everywhere (stupid weakling non-powered people never seem to keep calm!). After a few days of futile planning, Kyle Rayner finally goes out in search of Hal Jordan, and upon finding him, asks for his assistance in saving the Earth's existence.
We're treated with a Parallax one-shot, in which Parallax follows the Cyborg to the wall that separates the universe from the Source, and as the Cyborg turns around to face Hal for a fight, Parallax recreates all the lives that were lost in Coast City, and the many many people clobber the Cyborg (he's heavily outnumbered), and the schmuck is "dead" (he comes back in the next year's lame "Genesis" mini).
After some careful consideration, Hal decides to return to Earth and redeem himself. He pushes back the heroes and begins the process of lighting the Sun. The power that is required, however, is too much for him to give without giving his life as well, and after some excellent dialogue, Hal Jordan, once again a hero, dies to save the world.
Before you ask me how The Final Night was caused by the Death, let me move on to one more "step":
Day of Judgment This particular mini isn't even over yet (at the time of this writing), but those of us who have read anything at all know how it ends (NOTE: if you are really that ignorant and have no idea about what the end of this is going to be like, please skip ahead a few paragraphs). Etrigan the Demon frees Asmodel, the traitor-angel, from the bonds of Hell. Etrigan summons the Spectre now without a human soul inhabiting him and uses a feather from Asmodel's wings to bind the two together. Asmodel, now in control of the Spectre's being, uses his newfound power to take Neron down, freeze Hell over, and release the damned souls to run amok on the face of the Earth. The DC heroes divide into 3 teams: one to go to the depths of Hell to reignite its flames, one to stay on Earth to hold back Asmodel, and one to reach into the gates of Heaven and find Jim Corrigan, the Spectre's former human inhabitant, and get him to become one with the green angel once again.
The Heaven-team, led by the angel Zauriel, fails in returning with Corrigan, but they then turn to Purgatory, where souls await judgement in their own sorrow and desire to help. After a bit of confusion, the team comes upon Hal Jordan, who pleads his cause that he might redeem himself even more by saving the Earth from Hell's fire.
The team returns with Hal, against Batman's advice, and although we don't know the exact outcome quite yet, it is quite obvious and has been hinted that Hal will succeed in removing Asmodel from the Spectre's presence and will step in as the Spectre himself.
Okay, now you can ask how Day of Judgement and Final Night were caused by the Death. Well, if you look strictly at the events within the DCU, they WEREN'T. However, the results at the end of these crises WERE causes of the Death. Without Parallax, the Sun would not have burned again, and had he not died the Spectre probably would not receive a better soul to inhabit him.
Looking at the two crises in perspective, however, reveals that they probably WERE indirectly (there's that word again) caused by the Death. The writers of these events probably went into them thinking about how they could involve Parallax, so in a way the stories revolve around HIM, making them results of the Death. Had he not been how he was WHEN he was, these two company crossovers, along with Zero Hour, would probably not exist (or would have an entirely different plot/outcome).
And now to my final points
<note to Michael: another one here!>
Electric Superman Take one more step back, to the Final Night. Most of us know that Superman's powers are solar-powered. When he's far from the Sun, his powers weaken, and if he's gone long enough, he'll lose them altogether. Well, guess what happens when the Sun completely burns out? Over a matter of days he loses his powers completely, turning into a being as weak and frail as his alter ego, Clark Kent.
This particular point in Superman's life I didn't mind he thankfully cut his hair!! If he hadn't lost his powers, any scissors that would have attempted to cut that nasty-looking long hairdo would have broken. But thanks to the combination of the absence of his powers and the marriage of Clark Kent to Lois Lane, Superman now looks like the clean-cut hero he's supposed to be.
But they didn't stop there.
A short time later Superman gained electricity-based powers. He had control over all forms of energies, and he himself was a form of energy that had to be contained in a special suit that was donated by.. *gasp* -- Lex Luthor! The horrible ordeal lasted a year as fellow heroes and fans alike tried to get used to the new look and powers. The writers lost a lot of fans during this period, probably a lot that they gained with the Death to begin with!
The introduction of Electro-Supes allowed another change to take place the introduction of Superman Red/Superman Blue. The Cyborg comes back, and with the help of the Toyman he separates Superman into two beings one red, one blue. This story lasted a while as well, and ended with the "Millennial Giants" issue that crossed over into several other books and resulted in the return of Superman to the classic look and powers in the one-shot entitled "Superman Forever".
So the Death circled back around and took effect on Superman once again! Without the Death, there would be no Static-Supes, no Superman Red/Blue, and no Millennial Giants! Gosh, are you confused? Look at my outline below and see for yourself!
So, in conclusion, let me wrap this up for you. The Death of Superman caused the Reign, which brought Coast City's destruction, which brought about the controversial villain Parallax and the destruction of the GL Corps, and Parallax brought Zero Hour, which brought the Speed Force into play. Parallax also played a crucial part in the Final Night and Day of Judgement stories, and the Final Night brought about the loss of Superman's powers, the introduction of his new powers, Superman Red/Blue, the Millennial Giants, and this crazy article.
Now that you're thoroughly confused and mentally pained, I'll leave you to meander about the rest of this month's Fanzing. But bear in mind that the DCU would NEVER be the same had Superman never died. Maybe it would be better off without the Death, but we wouldn't have Steel, Superboy, (possibly) Young Justice Hey, and I didn't even talk about Hourman!!! Ah, but don't worry. I can save that for another day. It all ties in, though, if you really think about it. The writers truly found something to work with as different events took place due to different events that took place due to the Death. They're all indirectly connected to each other!
In fact, maybe if Mark Waid hadn't thought the Speed Force up, he wouldn't have stayed on The Flash so long, wouldn't have been such a popular writer with DC, and we wouldn't have Hypertime today! That's another thought! Do you see what I'm saying? Send some feedback on your thoughts. I'm not saying that NONE of this would have happened without Kal-El's passing, but it happens that every event listed here was made more convenient through it. You can say whatever you want, but if you went back in time and beat Dan Jurgens to death before he could get the Death of Superman published, I doubt you'd come back to find Wally lost in the Speed Force, or the Spectre attempting to destroy Heaven.
All characters are DC Comics
This column is © 1999 by Michael Hutchison.
All artwork is © 1999 by their respective artists.
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