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The Death of Superman is ’90s Excess at its Most Important

As comic book fans we’ve all come to understand that death in the funny pages isn’t always the end. But in 1992’s The Death of Superman, DC killed off a character who is such an icon that the entire world took notice. Many fans truly believed that the Last Son of Krypton was gone forever, though as we know now, that wasn’t the case. This year, that epic event will turn thirty. And coincidentally, we’re also celebrating all things ’90s comics this month at So, we thought there was no better time to revisit the controversial and all-consuming super story that would go on to become the biggest selling graphic novel of all time for this weekend’s suggested read.

The Death of Superman is a comic that every DC fan has to experience at least once, so why not dig in over this long weekend and lose yourself in the Superman event that changed everything?

The Premise:

Well, it’s all in the title and on that iconic trade paperback cover by Jon Bogdanove, Dennis Janke and Reuben Rude. In 1992, DC editor Mike Carlin shepherded some of DC’s finest to create this massive story which brought the Superman office together to bury the publisher’s most iconic hero. His tragic end at the hands of Doomsday led to new beginnings, though, as the event continued. Superman: Funeral For a Friend dealt with the fallout of his death, followed by Superman: Reign of the Supermen which introduced multiple new supermen (who are still around today) and established an entirely new status quo for the Superman line.

Let’s Talk Talent:

It’s not hyperbolic to say that The Death of Superman featured some of comics’ biggest names. It was an office-wide undertaking which explains why there are so many unbelievable folks who get a credit here. On writing duties we have Superman stalwart Dan Jurgens, comics legend Louise Simonson, lore builder extraordinaire Roger Stern and famed Crisis on Infinite Earths inker Jerry Ordway. Speaking of artists, the story features pencils from Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice and (hello again) Dan Jurgens. And those delightful images were inked by more recognizable DC names like Brett Breeding, Doug Hazelwood, Dennis Janke and Denis Rodier. If you’re wondering why there was such an impressive collection of names, that would be because the epic event took place over multiple titles: Superman, The Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, Superman: The Man of Steel and Justice League of America.

A Few Reasons to Read:

  • A spectrum of Superman: While there have been many definitive Superman stories, The Death of Superman offers something unique. Rather than a sole creative team’s singular vision, the nature of this event means that we get to explore multiple different iterations of the hero. In the Dan Jurgens JLA issues, Superman is a vibrant celebrity figure talking on chat shows and representing heroics on a global level. In Simonson’s stories, he’s a ground level legend, helping a young child trying to save his mother. While the issues all flow together building the bigger arc we’re all here for, it’s interesting to see how different creative teams approach bringing the Man of Steel to life before his untimely death.
  • That ’90s nostalgia: Just as DC has embraced the ’90s with its recent variant scheme that harks back to those halcyon days of extremity, there’s something very special about reading comics from the wildest era of the industry. The Death of Superman delivers on almost every level. It’s far from the somber and serious affair you may expect from the title. It’s stuffed to the brim with rippling muscles, big hair and outrageous action that pounds across the pages. In a uniquely powerful choice by Jurgens, the final issue is made up entirely of giant splash pages filled with jaw pounding punches and grievous grappling, until of course Superman’s final and heartbreaking defeat.

  • Those superior sound effects: The Death of Superman begins with an infinitely striking page lettered by Bill Oakley and it’s easy to understand why. As Doomsday punches through a door, huge sound effects scream “KRAANG.” It’s a perfect tone setter for the event which has unbelievably cool and over the top sound effects throughout. Oakley is joined over the issues by letterers Willie Schubert, John Costanza and Albert DeGuzman, who all bring a similar bombastic attitude to the ever more present use of sound effects. The technicolor text jumps from the page in a way you can almost feel, bringing even more impact to the non-stop action that fills The Death of Superman.

Why It’s Worth Your Time:

Aside from the shocking death at its center, this is a book that’s momentous for many reasons. Bombastic and headline grabbing from its announcement, this was a Big Two publisher trying to out-extreme the younger pretenders who once worked for them. Although there’s tragedy at the core of the book, the technicolor art, fantastical action and vibrantly accessible storytelling upended the dark grittiness that had defined DC since 1986. Plus, it’s just a really fun read.

The Death of Superman also acts as a roadmap to the modern comic event. It’s an early example of the way a publisher can bring together a committee of creators to tell an expanded story over multiple issues and titles. The nature of the collaboration and the immense success that The Death of Superman became a watershed moment in the industry. So not only do you get a wildly over-the-top ’90s action adventure, but you also get to enjoy a true piece of comic book history as you revisit a story that enraptured and enraged the world.

The Death of Superman is available as a collected edition trade paperback. You can also read the story and its epic follow ups Superman: Funeral for a Friend and Superman: Reign of the Supermen on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE.

Rosie Knight is an award-winning journalist and author who loves Swamp Thing, the DC Cosmic, and writing about those and more here at DC.Com. You can listen to her waxing lyrical about comics, movies, and more each week as she co-hosts Crooked Media’s pop-culture podcast X-Ray Vision.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Rosie Knight and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.

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