With the release of Man of Steel in theaters this week, it’s a perfect time to look back at what I believe is one of the best Superman tales ever told. Before the New 52, the biggest event that happened to DC Comics was “The Death of Superman”. In the greatest superhero horror story ever told, the hero slugged it out with a monster not unlike those from classic horror flicks.
When Doomsday was first introduced by writer/artist Dan Jurgens, the mindless killing machine burst through the ground in a massive explosion. Readers saw the beast wearing some kind of containment suit, as if he were some kind of lab experiment. A canary swooped down and landed near the creature. In a graphic close-up, something you would rarely see in a superhero comic, the monster crushed the canary with his bare hand. The arrival of Doomsday meant an unstoppable blood-spattered rampage to the heart of Metropolis.
With one hand tied behind his back, Doomsday defeated the Justice League of America and left them broken. Unfortunately, the team had released Doomsday from his containment suit during battle. Underneath the suit lurked a hideous monster with claws attached to his wrists, knuckles, and back. As hard as he tried, Superman couldn’t reason with Doomsday, who realized he had the upper hand. With no back-story given, readers only knew that the cold-hearted monster just wanted the taste of blood.
With every punch Doomsday threw at Superman, there was blood. Using his claws, Doomsday continued to slice at Superman’s costume, tearing away at the iconic “S” symbol. With his red cape torn apart and his blue costume ripped, Superman could barely stand on his own two feet. In every issue of “The Death of Superman,” the Man of Steel was beaten to a bloody pulp. Any hope that there was in the beginning was lost with each battle.
The only way to hurt Doomsday was to break his claws. In front of the Daily Planet, Superman punched and stomped his foot at Doomsday’s claws. Though he was bleeding, bruised, and exhausted, Superman continued pounding on Doomsday, who was feeling pain for the first time. Lois Lane, the true love of Clark Kent, helplessly watched as the two fighters finally delivered their death blows. As his heart stopped beating, Lois cried as she held Superman’s dead body in her arms. One of the most powerful images in comics to this day.
The aftermath of Superman’s death was where the horror really hit home. The sudden demise of the greatest hero was felt by every character in the DC Universe, including Batman, during “Funeral For A Friend.” In “Knightfall,” Batman was mentally and physically exhausted as Bane terrorized Gotham City. Though it was never said, you could argue Batman was drained emotionally because he was guilt-ridden and saddened by the death of his close friend. However, the ones who grieved the most were Superman’s Earth parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent.
Jonathan “Pa” Kent never thought he would outlive his own son. As Jonathan walked through the empty house, he revisited past memories of Clark’s childhood. In the shocking finale of “Funeral For A Friend,” captured on the cover for all to see, Jonathan had a heart attack and collapsed in the middle of his farm. Martha screamed out Jonathan’s name as she ran out towards him, realizing she just lost both her son and husband. That’s one of the darkest moments in the history of the character.
In “Adventures of Superman” #500, titled “Life After Death,” Jonathan found himself in the afterlife, crossing over into Heaven. So that Martha wouldn’t be alone, he refused to enter Heaven, but was banished to Hell. Jonathan searched through Hell itself to find his child. When Jonathan found his missing son, a horde of demons had him surrounded. For every life Superman saved, the demons were torturing him for ruining the Devil’s plans.
Back in the real world, the doctors were working fast to get Jonathan’s heart pumping again. With the clock ticking, Jonathan battled against the demons to save his son’s soul. Jonathan held Clark’s hand tightly as they fought their way out of Hell. When he woke up in the hospital, the first thing Jonathan said to Martha, “I brought him back”. A true resurrection after fighting through a literal hell. While it may have been over the top and ripe with 90s etiquette, it showed an entirely different side of Superman and what his death really meant to everyone within the DC Universe.
While some may say “The Death of Superman” is the epitome of bad 90s comics, or that it was simply a marketing ploy from DC, the event serves as a fantastic horror story. This book brought real terror into the comic book world, even if it was only for a limited time. Superman is the unbreakable superhero, and to bring in a monster that could do what Lex Luthor never could is nothing short of horrific. Seeing this through the eyes of a parent, Pa Kent, allows the reader to identify with how devastating a loss this would be. He went straight to Hell to bring his son back from the dead. In an epic and carefully constructed narrative, “The Death of Superman” followed the Man of Steel as he met his untimely end and returned to the land of the living.
Editorial by – Jorge Solis