The Death of Superman

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The cover of Superman #75

"The Death of Superman" is the title of the comic book issue Superman #75, and the catalyst for DC Comics' major universe crossover event of 1993 with the umbrella title The Death and Life of Superman, becoming a major media event. Its premise is as simple as its title: Superman engages in battle with Doomsday, a seemingly unstoppable killing machine, in the streets of Metropolis. In the end, both combatants were (apparently) killed.

The story continued into 1993, with the world's reaction to Superman's death, the emergence of four individuals claiming to be the 'new Superman' and the eventual return of the original Superman.

The storyline was devised by editor Mike Carlin and the 1991-1993 Superman writing team of Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway and Karl Kesel. The move was a response to underperforming sales that met with enormous success, the Superman titles gaining international exposure, reaching to the top of the comics' sales charts and selling out overnight.



On the last page of several comics prior to Superman: the Man of Steel #18, a gloved fist was shown battering a steel wall, with the phrase "Doomsday is coming!" in a caption. In that issue, Superman fights the Underworlders while a hulking figure in a green suit rampages through a pastoral field.

The story continues in Justice League of America #69, where the Justice League (Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Maxima, Fire, Ice, and Bloodwynd) respond to a call from a smashed big rig, and follow the trail of destruction until the unknown creature destroys Blue Beetle's aircraft. The League attempts to stop him, but he systematically takes them apart, finishing by punching Booster Gold into the stratosphere. He is caught by Superman, and declares "It's like Doomsday is here," thus giving way to the monster's name.

In Superman #74, the Man of Steel arrives on the scene, having cut a television interview short in JLA #69, and he and the able-bodied League members follow the threat to the home of a single mother and her two children, where their battle with "Doomsday" destroys the house. The League attacks Doomsday with all their energy-projection powers, but do not harm Doomsday. Doomsday takes them out, causes the house to explode into flames, and then leaps away. Superman follows, having to ignore the son's cries for help if he must stop Doomsday.

In The Adventures of Superman #497, Superman throws Doomsday to the bottom of a lake, slowing him down long enough for Superman to go back and save the mother and her baby daughter. Doomsday escapes from the silty lake bed, he and Superman tear up a city street, and then Maxima involves herself. Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are sent to cover the battle for television, while Lex Luthor, Jr. dissuades Supergirl from joining the fight. The fight goes into a gas station, where Maxima rips a light post from the ground; the sparks from the wiring meet the leaking gasoline and blow the station up. Guardian arrives after Doomsday leaves, finding Superman and Maxima, and offers his aid.

In Superman in Action Comics #684, Superman follows Doomsday's trail of destruction, waiting for an opportunity to attack. With the monster's rampage drawing closer, Lex Jr. convinces Supergirl that she's needed in Metropolis while Superman is fighting. Doomsday sees a road sign for Metropolis, and immediately heads in that direction. Superman throws him in the opposite direction, where he lands on the mountain housing the Cadmus Project. They brawl throughout Habitat, bringing most of it down. When the superhero Guardian arrives, Doomsday knocks them down and leaps toward Metropolis.

In Superman: the Man of Steel #19, their brawl sends Doomsday below ground, where he ruptures gas and electrical mains, which levels Newtown, a large section of Metropolis. Supergirl goes to aid Superman, but a single punch from Doomsday knocks her to the ground, her form destabilized. Professor Hamilton and Bibbo, Superman's allies, shoot Doomsday with a laser cannon, but it does not harm him. The local police open fire on Doomsday, but again, he is not harmed. Superman returns to the fight.

Finally, in Superman #75, Superman and Doomsday lay into each other with everything they have. Superman figures out how to hurt Doomsday - his bony protrusions are extensions of his skeleton - and with a mighty blow each, the two titans fall to the ground, having taken half of Metropolis with them.

Funeral for a Friend and the Reign of the Supermen

The following funeral featured many of Superman's fellow heroes and friends, including most of the Justice League of America, and a mausoleum was built in Metropolis in honor of the Man of Steel. Furthermore, stories after the funeral often dealt with the emotions felt by the general public as well as specific characters entwined within Superman's world, including Lois Lane, Clark Kent's parents, and even a number of supervillains.

In the following storyline, "Reign of the Supermen," four new heroes emerged in Superman's place:

  • John Henry Irons, an ironworker who wears a suit of armour and wields a hammer as The Man of Steel.
  • The Cyborg, scientifically proven to be Superman, but actually bent on destroying Earth in Superman's name.
  • Superboy, a reckless teenage clone (he claims) of Superman.
  • The visored Last Son of Krypton, an energy-powered alien who dealt with criminals lethally.

The Man of Steel's re-birth

The Last Son of Krypton stole Superman's body and put it in a regeneration matrix in the Fortress of Solitude, drawing on his recovering energies to power himself, as bright light blinded him. It is revealed that the Last Son is the Eradicator (an ancient Kryptonian weapon), and the Cyborg is the deranged consciousness of Hank Henshaw, which used Superman's birthing matrix to create a physical duplicate of his body.

The regeneration matrix broke open, and the original Superman emerged, greatly depowered, but alive. Meanwhile, the Cyborg helped Mongul destroy Coast City, believing he killed the Last Son in the explosion, and captured Superboy. Superboy escaped and got the Man of Steel to help him fight the Cyborg. The original Superman returned to Metropolis, convinced them that he was indeed Superman, and joined them to fight the Cyborg.

The Last Son/Eradicator joined the fight after recovering in the Fortress, and blocked the Cyborg from dousing Superman with lethal Kryptonite gas. The gas interacted with the Eradicator as it passed through and into Superman, returning his powers rather than killing him. Superman then destroyed the Cyborg. Meanwhile, Green Lantern fought Mongul, shattering the Man of Steel's hammer across his face.

Superboy (who turned out to be only a partial "clone" of Superman) and The Man of Steel (whose name became simply "Steel") went on to become recurring characters in the DC Universe, each eventually getting his own monthly title. Superboy is currently a member of the Teen Titans (in the comics) and Steel has appeared in some episodes of the animated series, as well as his own film.

Green Lantern's involvement in the saga (ignored by both novelizations as well as the video game) led him to become the villain Parallax, who would be the antagonist in the ZERO HOUR storyline.

Audience/Media Response

The Death and Life of Superman storyline brought in millions of readers to DC Comics, despite the entirety of the story being intertwined through numerous different comic series, including Action Comics, Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel, and Adventures of Superman, among others. The cover of Superman #75 (shown above) became a famous image: Superman's tattered cape wrapped around a pole, marking a makeshift grave.

Because of Superman's place as an American icon, his death became a multimedia event, covered by newspapers and televised reports. Certain prints of Superman #75 contained a black armband with the familiar "S" symbol adorning it. Many comics fans publicly wore the armband immediately following Superman's death, including, perhaps most famously, Jay Leno.

Some critics praised DC for boldly doing the unthinkable and innovatively drawing in more readers. However, many others were highly critical, citing the entire idea as a publicity stunt, with DC knowing full well that they would not eliminate their most popular character.

Roger Stern adapted the storyline into a novel, also entitled The Death and Life of Superman, in the summer of 1993.

Several attempts were made at making a movie version of The Death and Life of... storyline as Superman Reborn (aka Superman Lives). At one point, Tim Burton was slated as director and Nicolas Cage set to portray Superman. But with skyrocketing projected budgets, increased delays, and Christopher Reeve's tragic accident which paralyzed him for the remainder of his life, the film project was eventually abandoned.


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