How ‘The Death of Superman’ shaped the Triangle Era comics landscape

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Despite reading and collecting comic books since 1992, I still think of myself as a relative newbie to the hobby. After all, I know folks from my old comic shop who became fans in the Silver Age — they’re the veterans. (Plus, were the 90s really THAT long ago? Asking for a graying, thirtysomething friend.)

Of course, these days, one of two things will quickly disabuse me of that notion and reaffirm my own elder statesman status: Either I’ll see someone on Twitter talking about getting into comics through something like the New 52, or I’ll be reminded that this November is the 30-year anniversary of ‘The Death of Superman,’ the story that made me a Superman fan for life.

Last year, I wrote for this publication about how “The Death of Superman” introduced me to comics, why it still resonates, and how I was able to appreciate that story in a deeper way by finally reading the seven years between “Crisis on Infinite EarthsZ” and Superman’s fight to the finish with Doomsday.

This time around, I became curious about the aftermath of the 1992 epic and its blockbuster sequel, “Reign of the Supermen.” On my podcast ‘Digging for Kryptonite,’ I set about chronicling 1993 through 1996 in the fabled “Triangle Era” of Superman comics — when no less than five Superman titles were linked via a numbering scheme on their covers and operated like episodes of a ongoing television series — up to and including the marriage of Lois and Clark. 

I was curious how the smash success of “Death” and ‘Reign’ influenced the stories that followed and if the criticisms of this era rang true. Were DC Comics and the Superman creative teams simply searching for the next media sensation, hurling event after event at readers while sacrificing the soul of the earlier Triangle Era? The results were mixed — but with a decidedly hopeful finish. 

In the immediate aftermath of “Reign,” we saw a trio of tentpole stories (“The Fall of Metropolis,” “Dead Again” and “The Death of Clark Kent”) that seemed designed to evoke the biggest Superman story of all time in both name and scope. Side note: For this ‘Batman: No Man’s Land’ fan, I still can’t help but think that ‘Fall’ would have been vastly more interesting had it focused on the aftermath of Metropolis’ devastation rather than the destruction itself. 

Even a non-crossover story like “Superman no.84,” the infamous issue in which Toyman murdered the young son of reporter Cat Grant, felt more concerned about shortterm shock than mining the emotional fallout in the months to come. Not long after, the father of Lex Luthor’s slain martial arts instructor approached Cat about investigating his daughter’s disappearance; rather than seeing the story through herself, providing her character a purpose and the opportunity for even the smallest measure of closure, Cat quickly passed the story off to Lois.

Lois and Clark’s wedding featured in “Superman: The Wedding Album,” written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelinie, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern. Photo courtesy of DC Comics

And that is ultimately where the landscape of the Triangle Era felt lesser than it had in years prior: For a time, there seemed to be a reduced focus on the supporting cast and subplots that previously added texture and nuance to the world of Metropolis while Superman contended with the main plot. The creative teams briefly played with the idea of Clark becoming roommates with Jimmy — letting his hair down (literally and figuratively) as he relished his return to the living — but the concept proved to be a non-starter and was quickly ignored. 

In fairness, credit must be paid to Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove, who cultivated the affecting storyline of Perry and Alice White adopting a young African-American boy named Keith after his mother succumbed to AIDS. Though primarily within the purview of the ‘Man of Steel’ title, it provided a welcome human touch amidst the other event storylines. 

In time, though, the Triangle Era regained its footing and then some. With the launch of ‘The Man of Tomorrow,’ the fifth ongoing Superman title (this one a quarterly publication, ensuring that even the occasional fifth Wednesday of the month was not without a Superman comic), came the returns of longtime Super-scribe Roger Stern, a rejuvenated Lex Luthor, and the more soap opera-esque sensibilities that defined this period. Lex romanced and eventually married Contessa Erica Alexandra Del Portenza, Jimmy quit the Daily Planet and later became known as “Mr. Action” over at GBS, and Clark’s college girlfriend, the mermaid Lori Lemaris, resurfaced to serve as one of the catalyst’s in Lois and Clark’s breakup.

The creative teams had killed and resurrected Superman. They destroyed his city, made him think he might be an imposter (it was Brainiac all along!), sent a former childhood friend with a grudge to dismantle his secret identity (Conduit just might be a better action figure than character, but I remain a fan and defender), and put him on trial before an intergalactic tribunal for the actions of his Kryptonian ancestor. With the physical challenges temporarily exhausted, Dan Jurgens and company sent Clark through the emotional wringer, devoting a refreshing amount of screentime to our hero’s confusion, hurt and even anger over the broken engagement. As a child reading these stories for the first time in the mid-90s, I don’t know that they necessarily resonated with me — I certainly couldn’t relate — but as a husband and father in 2022, I found myself genuinely invested in how the beats played out. 

Lois and Clark’s wedding featured in “Superman: The Wedding Album,” written by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, David Michelinie, Louise Simonson, and Roger Stern. Photo courtesy of DC Comics with art by Jerry Ordway

Of course, Lois and Clark would reunite in ‘The Wedding Album,’ which finally married off the iconic duo with a jam issue reuniting virtually all of the Post-Crisis creators who had worked on Superman (not to mention Pre-Crisis stalwart Curt Swan in a special flashback sequence). The Triangle Era would continue, of course, with the notorious Electric Superman saga and later a whole new slate of writers and artists, but the wedding special truly felt like a culmination of years of stories. Most of all, ‘The Wedding Album’ encapsulated the true heart of this run of Superman comics: the supporting cast who populated this world, all of whom made an appearance and interacted in ways we hadn’t seen before or since. 

My earlier quibbles aside, I came away from this reading project with a deep appreciation for the teams’ efforts to chart an exciting path forward for a character who had been through almost everything. I also had the meaningful experience of traveling backward through my personal reading and collecting history. Unlike with my previous ‘Crisis’ through ‘Death’ project, I had read all of these stories when they were originally published. Not only do I have childhood memories of ‘Dead Again’ and more to measure against my current impressions, but I also remember where and when I first encountered these comic books. 

For example, when I reached “Action Comics no.717” in my reread — a key issue in ‘The Trial of Superman’ featuring a wanted poster on the cover — I was transported back to the newsstand at the corner deli in my hometown, which my father and I stopped into one winter night following a Christmas concert at my elementary school.

During the twister arc that pitted Superman against the forces of nature in his hometown of Smallville, I was instantly back at Dragon’s Den in Yonkers, NY, one of Westchester County’s iconic lost comic book stores.

But most of all, this reading project called to mind a routine I will forever cherish: During my early elementary school years, my mother would pick me up from school on Wednesdays and drive us to the Galleria in White Plains. Our first stop was always Heroes World so that I could pick up my comics. From there, we’d make our way down to the mall’s lower level and hit one of the snack stands, grabbing a coffee (I’d get a few sips) and splitting a chocolate muffin. Then, it was off to the bookstore across the way. My mother was never the biggest fan of my comics reading, though she eventually came around, but I have always appreciated how she supported my fandom even if she didn’t really understand or agree with it.

I might be an old collector now, with 30 years of Superman fandom under my belt, but I was nine years old again in an instant thanks to the power of these comic books — and that’s a beautiful gift on this milestone anniversary.

Anthony Desiato

This article was originally featured in the bi-annual Daily Planet Magazine. Listen to Digging for Kryptonite’s “Death ‘Til Wedding” series bellow.

The Return of Doomsday (Death ‘Til Wedding I)

Host Anthony Desiato and guest Bernie Gerstmayr dig into a trio of Doomsday stories in the kickoff to “Death ‘Til Wedding,” an epic podcast event surveying the post-“Death of Superman” landscape in comics and beyond. 

In Part I, Anthony and Bernie discuss “Superman/Doomsday: Hunter Prey” and “The Doomsday Wars,” both written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, along with the 1995 Doomsday Annual. They also reminisce about the classic 1995 Man of Steel action figure line from Kenner.

The Fall of Metropolis (Death ‘Til Wedding II)

Host Anthony Desiato and guest Joe Marcello (Dollar Bin Bandits podcast) return to the Triangle Era for storylines featuring classic villains Toyman, Bizarro, and Parasite, the destruction of Superman’s home city in “The Fall of Metropolis,” and the “Zero Hour” crossover event.

This episode covers: “Adventures of Superman no.506-516 by Karl Kesel and Barry Kitson; “Action Comics no.693-703” by Roger Stern and Jackson Guice; “Man of Steel no.28-37” by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove; and “Superman no.84-93” by Dan Jurgens.

The Death of Clark Kent (Death ‘Til Wedding III)

Host Anthony Desiato and guest Bernie Gerstmayr dig into the post-“Zero Hour” era of the Super-titles, which introduced new villain Conduit and featured the storylines “Dead Again” and “The Death of Clark Kent.”

This episode covers: “Adventures of Superman” no.0, 517-525 by Karl Kesel, Barry Kitson, and Stuart Immonen; “Action Comics” no.0, 704-711 by David Michelinie and Jackson Guice; “Man of Steel” no.0, 38-46 by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove; and “Superman” no.0, 94-102 by Dan Jurgens. 

The Death and Return of Superman Video Game (Death ‘Til Wedding IV)

Host Anthony Desiato and guest Jeremy Frutkin dig into the mid-90s video game “The Death and Return of Superman” for SNES and Sega Genesis, examining the game’s difficulty level, faithfulness to the source material, and variety of playable characters. 

This is Part IV of “Death ‘Til Wedding,” an epic podcast event surveying the post-“Death of Superman” landscape in comics and beyond. 

The Trial of Superman (Death ‘Til Wedding V)

Host Anthony Desiato and guest Joe Marcello (Dollar Bin Bandits podcast) dig into “The Trial of Superman” and Lois & Clark’s breakup. This is Part V of “Death ‘Til Wedding,” an epic podcast event surveying the post-“Death of Superman” landscape in comics and beyond. 

This episode covers: “The Man of Tomorrow no.1-4” by Roger Stern and Tom Grummett; “Action Comics no.712-720” by David Michelinie and Kieron Dwyer; “The Man of Steel no.47-54” by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove; “Superman no.103-110” by Dan Jurgens and Ron Frenz; and “The Adventures of Superman no.526-533” by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen.

The Lois & Clark TV Series (Death ‘Til Wedding VI)

Host Anthony Desiato and guest Tyler Patrick (Krypton Report podcast) dig into the most infamous storyline in “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman” history (hint: frogs!) in the penultimate installment of “Death ‘Til Wedding.” 

Anthony and Tyler also discuss the series generally, including key moments in the relationship between Lois (Teri Hatcher) and Clark (Dean Cain), the series’ place within the larger Superman canon, and its impact on the comics of the time.

The Wedding of Lois & Clark (Death ‘Til Wedding VII)

Host Anthony Desiato and guest Scott Honig dig into the long-awaited wedding of Lois and Clark, bringing a chapter of the Triangle Era to a close, in the finale to the epic “Death ‘Til Wedding” event.

This episode covers: “The Wedding Album no.1;” “The Man of Steel no.55-63” by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove; “Superman no.111-118” by Dan Jurgens and Ron Frenz; “The Adventures of Superman no.534-541” by Karl Kesel and Stuart Immonen; “Action Comics no.721-728” by David Michelinie, Kieron Dwyer and more; and “The Man of Tomorrow no.5-6” by Roger Stern, Tom Grummett and Paul Ryan. 

Anthony Desiato

Anthony Desiato, owner and founder of Flat Squirrel Productions, is a lifelong Superman fan, documentary filmmaker, and podcast host who has been chronicling the culture of comic shops for the past decade. Projects include the films My Comic Shop Documentary and My Comic Shop Country, as well as the podcast series My Comic Shop History and Digging For Kryptonite.

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