Anyone that read comics in the 90’s remembers the buzz around the “Death of Superman” story arc. It was a huge deal. For the first time ever, the comic book industry had major media coverage for something not related to a movie. Superman was the very first superhero and easily the most iconic figure of the genre. A study showing that Superman’s “S” shield was the second-most recognizable symbol in the world, behind only the Christian cross, proves the impact the character has had on mainstream society. And DC Comics was killing off their paragon of truth, justice, and the American way.
For comic readers like me, who have always found the Superman story to be terribly boring, this was a truly intriguing concept. How would the unkillable Kal-El finally be killed? How would the ripples of the Man of Steel’s death effect the DC universe? How would all of the Superman titles continue without him? I was finally interested in what was going on in the world of Superman.
Then came the actual story.
Superman, who is supposed to be a genius, gets goaded into a punching contest with fellow Kryptonian Doomsday. I guess it never occurred to him to try one of his countless other superpowers…or grab Doomsday and fly off into space and fight him there, to avoid destroying Metropolis and causing potential deaths of innocents. But I guess it makes for a more brutal fight if they just stand there and bludgeon each other to death. Who needs logic, right?
So, Superman is dead. Superman #75 sold millions of copies. This, along with the huge success X-Men (the #1 issue being the top-selling single comic in history), the emergence of Image Comics, and the popular “Knightfall” story arc in Batman, were behind the boom in comics in the early 90’s. But this boom was short-lived as DC Comics, less than a year later, revealed that Superman was in fact alive and had basically gone into a sleep-like healing state that seemed like death. Fans felt like they had been duped, and that DC had merely done it as a publicity stunt. The over-inflated bubble of success in comics had popped, and a steady decline in comic revenue ensued over the next few years.
The events of “The Death of Superman” were also instrumental in destroying the seriousness of death in comics. Characters could simply be killed and brought back to life at will. No one can ever really be considered dead in the world of comics anymore. Whenever a major character dies, fans just wait around for the other shoe to drop…knowing that eventually said character will come back, regardless of how silly or illogical the explanation for their return may be. Comics from both a storyline and industrial standpoint had been negatively effected by the serious cop-out/deception of DC Comics.
For a more in-depth, funnier (and vulgar) look at “The Death of Superman” and it’s ramifications, check out this video by screenwriter Max Landis: youtu.be/0PlwDbSYicM