It’s weird to think the “Death of Superman” event is 30 years old. The milestone event came in a time where the DC comics leadership wanted to seemingly shake up the status quo in the Superman universe. The sales for the Superman comics were nowhere close to those of the new crop of antiheroes that were dominating comics at the time such as Spawn, Wolverine and Punisher, all coming from rival comic publications.
The Superman creative team decided to boost sales by creating an event called “The Death of Superman,” an ending but also a new beginning for the character. Writer/Artist Dan Jurgens created a new villain for Superman called “Doomsday”, as his ultimate goal was to be the doomsday for Superman. Doomsday first appeared in a slight cameo in “Superman: Man of Steel no.17” and then eventually killed the Man of Steel in “Superman no.75,” one of the best selling comics of all time.
“Superman no.75” was released Nov. 18, 1992. Kevin Hyde, 12-years old at the time, remembers a few details about the event.
Kevin: Is this the Superman dies issue? The one with Doomsday? I remember buying it because one of my friends who collected more comics than me told me about it. I think I maybe had the one before it as well? Where they show Doomsday knocking on the coffin or whatever that he was buried in. I thought it was an awesome comic.
“Superman no.75” proved to indeed be an “awesome comic”, at least to comic book fans. The comic sold over six million copies and was the best selling comic of 1992. Kevin also recalls details about the interior of the book as well.
Kevin: I remember the fight scenes being really good and the final fight as well. The character design for Doomsday was so good too. All the bones coming out of his body. I think I knew at the time that they would never let Superman really die, but it was still a cool story and really well done. I don’t think I had a ton of Superman comics ever when I was buying a lot, but those few were really great.
Kevin was right, along with a few other commentators at the time. This was never supposed to be a permanent death for Superman but, nonetheless, it sparked people’s attention and the boy in blue was back in the spotlight.
“The Death of Superman” event was quickly followed up by “The Reign of the Supermen” event showcasing four imitators vying to take up the mantle of the deceased Man of Steel.
Although “The Reign of Supermen” sold extremely well in the summer of 1993, it couldn’t quite capture the magic of “The Death of Superman” event from the prior year.
Kevin: I didn’t get the follow up issues with the multiple Supermen but I half paid attention to that plot as it was happening by looking at issues in the comic book store, haha
Different editorial teams also tried to capture the magic and the sales numbers that generated from the death of a cultural icon. The Batman team launched the “Knightfall” storyline shortly after in 1993, which didn’t see the death of Batman but having him be crippled and broken beyond anything that had been done to him before. Even Spider-man’s Clone Saga could, arguably, be considered a “clone” of the Superman event, having wild plot twists in a desperate way to boost Marvel sales numbers.
It can be debated endlessly whether the “Death of Superman” event did more harm than good for the comics industry. However, for others, it still holds up as a great pop culture milestone to look back on and experience on their own. Brandon Hyde, seven months old when “Superman no.75” was first published, recalled discovering the event series for the first time.
Brandon: One of my favorite memories of “The Death of Superman” is less about the story and more about the physical edition itself. Going to yard sales was always a summer pastime that I shared with my brother, my nana, and my mother. There was nothing quite like finding a hidden treasure on those scorching June and July days. Finding comic books in the first place was rare but happening upon a stack of “The Death of Superman” and “The Return of Superman” polybagged issues felt like a miracle. I can still remember feeling how sunbaked and warm those issues had become in the afternoon sun.
At that point when Brandon started to collect comics, Superman’s death had been parodied, squeezed and even adapted into an animated movie. However, the great thing about a well written story, is that it doesn’t matter if you know the end. If the details are compelling enough, it can grab a whole new generation of readers.
Brandon: At the time, I had bought those issues for simply the chance to have them in my collection but over the course of that night reading them, I found myself still being affected by the story’s moments. Even knowing the ultimate fate of Superman, the comic still tugged at my heartstrings with its explosive, earth-shattering ending. Superman, for everyone reading that issue at the time, was dead.
Single issues are my favorite format to read comics and this issue is an instrumental part of my reasoning. Reading that issue, almost fifteen years after it had come out, I felt the weight of this character’s death. This was not an Elseworld’s tale or some spin-off series showing what might happen, this was the death of a character who had been around since 1938. The experience of reading those two issues back to back riled up an excitement in me for comics.
There is something to be said about being “in the right place and right time” for cultural events. If your home team wins the Super Bowl or World Series, it’s hard to describe how it felt to people in different cities or countries, or to future generations. “The Death of Superman” event seems different. Being around in 1992, Kevin felt a certain way and got to experience the cultural impact of the event as it was happening in real time and got to see how the event unfolded in real time. However, Brandon allowed himself to be enveloped in the story and art, one issue at a time, even if he knew what the end result was. Superman has been back from the dead for only 30 years now, but the impact of the story will be around for generations to come.