This isn’t something I’ve just started to think about; it always starts working in my brain whenever the anniversary pops around, DC reminds us, everyone starts posting their bagged issues with the gruesome bloody S on the front, etc.
Now, here we are at the 30th anniversary of the comic, and for this milestone we get to see Superman die four more times in a new special issue from the creative teams behind the original event. Cool… I guess. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t really feel like seeing him die again, or seeing the same Doomsday fight again.
Logically, shouldn’t we be celebrating the triumphant return of Superman in the “Reign of the Supermen” arc? Because remember “Death of Superman” isn’t a standalone, it’s the first part of a trilogy. Due to all the press that it gets, though, I’ve found a lot of people generally just read the death part.
There is an obvious answer to this question, we celebrate it because it made DC a lot of money and got a lot of exposure.
That’s what is at the heart of it here, it’s all financially motivated. You might be saying well duh, but I’m one of those weirdos who takes storytelling seriously, (plus you can be part of a corporation and still have motives outside of money) and this just feels weird (more on that soon).
Let’s have a look at this whole thing. We had black armbands, memorabilia for Superman’s death and hey it was all cool, it’s a big comic event. Then, in the comic itself, the people selling shirts, memorabilia etc. were mostly portrayed as people capitalizing on Superman’s death. There is some sort of irony here, right?
I know I know, I may be taking it too seriously, but I just want to point these things out because, while I think it’s worth acknowledging as a big milestone for comics, I don’t think it’s the only Superman thing that should be celebrated or advertised to the extent it is. Something in me just feels like this is kind of morbid and weird; there are so many Superman stories worth celebrating yet this is the Superman story that is the biggest (outside of “Action comics no.1”). And a lot of this is down to the constant adaptations and anniversaries that DC keeps pushing out, they won’t let us forget it.
I want to pause here and list some Superman stories that I think deserve the same amount of exposure because they are good showcases of what the character is all about, get new readers interested in Superman (from my experience), and are all critically acclaimed: “Kingdom Come,” “Birthright,” “All-Star Superman,” “For the Man Who Has Everything,” “Must There Be A Superman.” These are just a few examples of stories I’ve found are far more likely to bring new readers into Superman, than Death of. Conversely, I’ve seen many people pick up and read Death of Superman because it’s the big Superman story that DC always pushes. Having read it, they still think Superman is “boring” (not Wayne Boring, har-har).
It might seem like I’m straw-manning but this is all from my personal experience of trying to figure out what stories get people into Superman, or why some people dislike him. And while I fully acknowledge this is just my personal experience, the whole point of this article of ramblings is to get people to stop and have a think about why Death of Superman is a big deal (to DC) and to look at some other Superman stories we can start celebrating.
But back to “Death of Superman” itself, and just jumping into the “Death and Return” saga headfirst. If you started with the birth of that Superman in John Byrne’s 1986’s “Man of Steel” mini-series and went all the way through his life, his struggles, his exile, his relationships this story may move you to tears. If you jump in now though without that context? It feels like a convoluted soap opera at times (some famous examples being Lex’s son who is actually a clone of him, or matrix aka “Supergirl”). Couple that with a Superman who is pretty straightforward (again, missing context for who this guy is) and I think it can put a lot of people off Superman, especially as it’s also viewed as a cheap marketing gimmick by so many.
Bottom line, I think the constant beating of this dead Superman (get it?) is doing actual harm to the character. We shouldn’t bury this story by any means (I actually quite like it), but we should move on from it and start celebrating other Superman stories that deserve it. Let’s celebrate the many aspects of this wonderful character represented through his many acclaimed comics, some of which are the greatest comics ever put to paper, in my opinion. How about we start with you reader, what is your favorite Superman story? Why? Share it every year on its anniversary, tell people why you love it! If we start celebrating all these other Superman stories, get some proper fan anniversaries going. Maybe DC will notice and we can start getting these other great Superman tales more exposure.
This article is by Connor McKenna, one of the hosts for The Last Sons of Krypton podcast. This article was originally featured in the 2022 Fall edition of the Daily Planet Magazine.