Mild Mannered Reviews – The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special

The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special

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The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special


Scheduled to arrive in stores: November 8, 2022

Reviewed by: Michael Bailey



“Preface”

In the interest of full disclosure I am going to come clean right here at the start that while this review is going to be an honest assessment of this special, I am bringing some baggage with me. That baggage is full with a combination of nostalgia and love of the Post-Crisis era of Superman in general and “The Death and Return of Superman” in particular. I was sixteen years old back in November of 1992 and had been a faithful reader of the Superman titles for about five years and I would continue to be a faithful reader for several decades after that. My feelings for the books would wax and wane over the years but the comics that came out between 1988 and 1995 and the creative teams that worked on those books hold a special place in my heart.

So, if you came here to read a hard hitting review of this special then you came to the wrong place.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to it.

This special is interesting because it plays to two distinct audiences. One audience is made up of the people that were reading the books at the time of “The Death and Return of Superman” or started reading the Superman books because of some part of that grand saga. The other audience is those that came in years, maybe decades later. At the risk of sounding like a baby boomer talking about Woodstock, if you were there, man, then you know it was a special time. And it wasn’t just the black bag or the arm band or the hype. To look at the DOOMSDAY storyline as a simple slugfest is missing the point of the story. Yes, it was action heavy, and yes there was an extended, multi-issue fight scene that tore up cities, destroyed gas stations and homes, and ended when the two combatants killed each other in one, final, explosive finale.

But it was more than that.

Much more.

It was a media event. When the news broke of Superman’s death in September of 1992 thanks to an article in Long Island’s Newsday, the world reacted. You can go to YouTube right now and watch uploads of the CNN Headline news coverage as well as reactions from both local and international news agencies. What started out as a huge story in the comics became a broader conversation in the real world about what Superman means to the United States and the world and what his death represented.

It was also a bump in attention that Superman needed. The four books that made up the nearly weekly adventures of Superman were critical successes and had their fans, but when you look at the comic book culture of 1992 you can see that the most popular super-hero books came from Marvel, Image Comics, and Valiant Comics. Superman was not “cool”. He wasn’t “edgy”. As someone that took a fair amount of flak for being a Superman reader at the time I can tell you that being a fan of those comics was not the path to popularity among the other comic reading teenagers that went to my high school. Suddenly all eyes were on Superman and thankfully the creative teams, with editor Mike Carlin leading the charge, were up to the task of the influx of readers that were suddenly wanting to buy the Superman titles.

Speaking of those creators, this was a chance for them to shine. Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, and Jackson Guice (the names you see in the credits of this special) had all been producing comics that had drama, action, and humor mixed with a cast of supporting characters, a cast of supporting heroes, villains, and engaging sub-plots that made you just HAVE to read the next issue. The closest example of this sort of super-hero storytelling that I can think of is the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. These artists and writers (and writer/artists in some cases) gave their readers a world to care about. You showed up for Superman. You stayed for Clark Kent and Lois and Jimmy and Perry and the Daily Planet workers and Gangbuster and the Guardian and Ma and Pa Kent. They were relay runners passing the baton to one another and they rarely stumbled as they went around the track.

In a weird way it was also the last good time comic book fandom had before the crash. Comic book historians tend to point to the Death or Return of Superman as one of the catalysts for the cratering of the industry that happened starting in 1993. This is an overly simplistic view of a very complex problem. The industry crashed for a variety of reasons. The speculator bubble, which began growing in the late eighties, finally hit its saturation point and that combined with comic publishers pushing flashy gimmick covers along with more and more content on the shelves combined with some of the Image creators not getting their books out on time combined with people either opening comic books shops or existing stories (like trading card shops and sporting goods stores) starting to carry comics combined with speculators getting wise to the idea that they may not be able to resell their comics for the money they thought they would combined with other readers just tired of the gimmicks and the flashy covers and you have a bubble that didn’t so much burst as explode with the power of an atomic bomb.

Overly dramatic?

Yes.

An accurate take of what happened?

Also, yes.

But late 1992 the party was still going on and as much as the “Death of Superman” was a somber event it was also kind of fun.

So for those of us that were there and still have that warm feeling of nostalgia, which I have found to be a hell of a drug, this special is a great way to revisit that time and see old friends, so to speak.

For the other audience, the ones that weren’t there, this special is a great way to see what all the fuss was about. This audience may not have their serotonin respecters getting flooded with the turn of a page but the stories are designed to both stand on their own and also represent an era. If you bought the bagged edition and got the armband you can also know what that felt like. Hopefully it goes better for you now than it did for me in 1992. Wearing the armband to school the day after getting the issue was…well, it wasn’t like the prom scene from CARRIE level high school trauma but it wasn’t the most pleasant experience.

I’m over it.

Mostly.

Really. I am.

Anyway…

This special is just that. Special.

So, let’s get into this thing.

“The Life of Superman”

Writer: Dan Jurgens
Penciller: Dan Jurgens
Inker: Brett Breeding

Jon Kent learns about his father’s death and resurrection at school and, justifiably so, has some questions for his mother. Lois tells him how his father fought Doomsday and how he came back and explains that it is a painful memory and they were going to wait until he was older until they would tell him. Meanwhile, Lloyd Crayton, one of the workers that helped clean up after Superman and Doomsday’s fight, is transformed into a beast Jon names Doombreaker thanks to a shard of Doomsday’s bone that Lloyd kept. Superman and Doombreaker fight, and it looks like history might repeat itself but help comes in the form of Lois finding the bone shard in Lloyd’s apartment. Superman is able to use his heat vision on the shard, which causes Doombreaker to assume human form again. With the fight done, Jimmy Olsen shouts that this time Superman lives.

5Story – 5: Anniversary stories are tricky because you have to accomplish several things at once and not all of those things are organic to each other. You have to tell an entertaining story. You have to make references to the event you’re celebrating. You also have to have character moments that make the audience care about what’s going on whether they were around for what the story is celebrating or coming into it as a new reader.

This story manages to do all of that, and it does it well.

Having things begin with Jon learning about the death of Superman was a great way to start. That revelation being a muted outburst from Mitchell Anderson triggers the previously mentioned nostalgia centers in my brain (right down to him admitting that he was more of a Guy Gardner fan) but the heart of the story is Lois explaining to her son how his father died years ago and why they haven’t told him about it yet. It gives the story the emotional weight it needs to balance the action that takes over the story about halfway in. Jon’s reaction was justifiable, and I liked that he was able to process it as quickly as he did.

Jon was also the stand in for the reader that has only heard about the original story or read it later, without the context of what it was like to read it as it came out. It’s a cool narrative trick and I really appreciated it.

The villain of the story, Doombreaker, was equally well done. It could have been a silly concept, but Jurgens made it work. Having Lloyd Crayton be one of the men that cleaned up after the original fight between Doomsday and Superman gives the character extra weight and it also shows a side of that battle that we didn’t get to see. The best comparison I can think of is Michael Keaton’s character in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Sure it’s cool to see the Avengers assemble and fight off an alien attack, but what about the people that need to clear the rubble afterwards? And what happens to the people that get hurt, in one form or another, along the way?

More than anything I had fun reading the story. The pacing started slow but, much like the original story, once the action started things just flew. And I liked the ending. It was neat.

5Art – 5: I’m a mark for Dan Jurgens art, especially when he is inked by Brett Breeding, so this story, like the others was a real treat. One of the best parts of this story is that the panel layouts mirrored in one story what the original DOOMSDAY story did over several issues. As this story went on the number of panels per page began to shrink. You had several pages of four panel layouts, then three, then two, then one. It’s a great visual call back and, like in the original story, ramped up the tension of the story. The stakes were little getting bigger, so the art got bigger.

Loved it.

Beyond that the art in this story was amazing. It’s classic Jurgens and Breeding with a few tweaks, especially to the costume. The bands on the sleeves are there and the S symbol has a raised look to it, but it’s still very distinctive to the style of the artists. As I previously wrote the fight was intense and seeing the outside of the Daily Planet look exactly like it did in 1992 was a nice touch. The finale of the fight was fantastic. Few artists drew heat vision better than Jurgens and the several pages of him pouring it on to the shard of Doomsday bone was a visual treat.

The smaller moments were great as well. The look on Superman’s face when Jon gives him the tattered cape was subtle, but you could see how much he loves his son. The early scenes that took place in a more “normal” setting looked great as well.

The design of Doombreaker was over the top but in the best way possible. The multiple arms. The bat wings. It all just kept going and going and I was here for it.

“Above and Beyond”

Writer: Jerry Ordway
Penciller: Tom Grummett
Inker: Doug Hazelwood

Ma and Pa Kent watch the news coverage of Superman’s fight with Doomsday and discuss how worried they are. Pa tries to comfort his wife and they go over other times their son nearly died fighting the good fight.

5Story – 5: It’s kind of funny. As I was writing that synopsis I had to force myself to call Martha and Jonathan “Ma and Pa” instead of by their names. This might just be me, but during the formative years of me becoming a Superman fan they were Ma and Pa, but after the SMALLVILLE television series and MAN OF STEEL and BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, they’re Jonathan and Martha. This is one of those weird generational divides that I didn’t notice until years ago.

Anyway…

The idea of Ma and Pa being alive into Clark’s adult years is still a controversial one. It’s also one, like their names, that tends to fall under generational umbrellas. Pre-Crisis fans, generally (and there are always exceptions) tend to prefer them to be dead when Clark hits adulthood. Post Crisis on Infinite Earths to Pre-Flashpoint fans tend to like them alive, as do fans of LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. Movie fans usually like one of them, preferably Jonathan, to be dead.

It’s a whole thing.

What Ordway does with this story is show why having them alive can be a good idea. I’ve always felt that Clark loses some of his loneliness when they’re still around. They also are there to show why Clark chose to use his powers to help people. The idea that Superman got his motivations from his adoptive parents is not something that was always with the character.

This story also gives some more background on this version of Superman. The flashbacks were a nice history lesson and Ordway makes the exposition feel conversational rather than forced.

More than anything it shows the fight with Doomsday from the perspective of two people that don’t look at Superman as their hero. He’s their son. They’re going to worry about him in a way that few others will. You feel for them and there’s an extra tinge of sadness because we know that Superman is about to die. Ma and Pa still have some hope that he’ll win like he always does.
This one was emotional for me. I felt for Ma and Pa and I liked the trip down memory lane that Ordway took us on.

5Art – 5: Grummet and Hazelwood’s style has changed subtly over the years but it is still excellent. The bulk of this story was two elderly people talking, but between the storytelling and the addition of flashbacks and homages to previous stories the art was never boring. I especially liked the re-creation of the cover Grummett drew right after PANIC IN THE SKY when all of the heroes flew out of the Boom Tube to return home. At the risk of repeating myself, the art just made me happy

“Standing Guard”

Writer: Roger Stern
Penciller: Butch Guice
Inker: Butch Guice

The Guardian recalls his origins as we see the battle between Superman and Doomsday and the aftermath of that battle through his eyes.

5Story – 5: Earlier in this rapidly growing review I mentioned that one of the things about this era of Superman that I liked so much are the supporting heroes. The Superman books had a handful of heroes that would pop up now and then to either assist the Man of Steel or have adventures of their own. One of these heroes is the Guardian, who, if you weren’t aware, is actually a character from the Golden Age that was co-created by Jack Kirby. In SUPERMAN ANNUAL #2, published in 1988, Roger Stern brought the Guardian and his sidekicks The Newsboy Legion into the Post Crisis history doing a riff on what Jack Kirby had done when he brought back the Guardian and the Newsboys in 1971. What could have been a fun one-shot guest appearance of the Guardian quickly turned into him becoming a semi-regular cast member.

I like The Guardian. I think he’s a cool character and a DC riff on Captain America, complete with a shield and a man out of time feeling. Whenever he showed up, I would get excited. I just liked seeing him. Because of that, this story really spoke to me. Stern, like Ordway and Jurgens, covers a lot of expositional ground but, also like Ordway and Jurgens, does so in an organic way. We’re seeing events that would be familiar with those that read the original story through the eyes of a character that was there but played a supporting role.

Stern has always been great about making his characters feel like they’re living, breathing people and this story was no exception. You really got to know Guardian in these pages. It’s similar to how Stern handled the novelization of the original story where he devoted real estate to explaining not only how Jim Harper became the Guardian in the forties but also how he was able to be young and vital in the then present of 1992. We don’t get as much of that here, but we get enough that it may make people want to check out his appearances in the Post Crisis Superman books and, if you liked that, check out the Kirby stuff too. It’s wild, Steve! Wild!

It was also cool seeing brief glimpses of Dan Turpin (another Kirby creation) and Maggie Sawyer and I loved how the Guardian chose to stand with them over Westfield, who was his boss. That took guts, but Westfield was a real piece of work, so it probably wasn’t a hard decision to make.

5Art – 5: Butch Guice has such a fantastic style and it’s great to see that that style hasn’t diminished over the decades. It’s his faces that get me the most. They are so detailed and expressive. Dan Turpin’s mug looks exactly like you would imagine a guy with the nickname “Terrible” would look like. Guice’s action is always dynamic and it was a joy seeing him work with Roger Stern again.

“Time”

Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciller: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Jon Bogdanove

John Henry Irons escapes the debris that fell on top of him with one thought…stopping Doomsday. He grabs a hammer and races through Metropolis searching for the monster that was fighting Superman, helping people as he does. He finally reaches Superman but it is too late. The Man of Steel is dead. It’s time for a new Man of Steel to pick up the slack.

5Story – 5: Of all the characters that came out of The Death and Return of Superman John Henry Irons is my favorite. His orign (or I guess I should say his original origin) was so appealing. John Henry is saved by Superman and decides to use the time he was given to make something of his life. Plus, DC didn’t have many armored based characters and, to be honest, through no fault of the creative teams of the era Superman’s world was filled with a good number of white people. John was a good step forward on a number of fronts and it’s a shame that DC has dropped the ball with the character from time to time over the years..

This story feels more like a dream sequence. In the original telling John Henry grabbed a hammer, got trapped under falling debris and dug himself out later wondering where Doomsday was. The way I read that scene in ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #500 this was some time after the actual battle. Here he surfaces during the fight and runs through the city saving people right and left, so the whole thing feels like a dream John might have about that day. It isn’t explicitly spelled out either way.

And ultimately it doesn’t matter. For one thing we’re about thirty reboots and revamps past the Post Crisis era. Any retcons that might come up have little impact on the original story. Plus, this story is part of an overall celebration and getting lost in the pedantic, pushing my glasses up my nose insistence that EVERYTHING SHOULD LINE UP feels like it’s missing the overall point of the story, which is that John Henry Irons was a hero before he put on the armor.

In other words, I learned to relax and just dig what I was given and enjoy seeing all of the characters that Weezie and Jon created as supporting characters in their run on SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL.

5Art – 5: I am extremely embarrassed to admit that there was a point that I wasn’t all that hot on Jon Bogdanove’s artwork. Then again I was 15 when I first encountered his work and teenagers aren’t generally known for their good judgment. Around 1998, ironically just before he left the books, I suddenly “got” his style. I have come to believe that part of that slow, gradual revelation happened because DC stopped printing on newsprint and did computer coloring on a much slicker paper stock. Jon’s artwork popped for me and when I realized that his base Superman was closer to Joe Shuster’s it was a lock and I will defend his art whenever or wherever I need to.

One of Jon’s strengths is how expressive his characters are. His work rides the line between being cartoony and illustrative just right and makes for a fun read. I did appreciate him re-creating John’s appearance in the final pages of ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #500 to introduce John into the story.

Like the previous stories this one made me feel like I was sixteen again, sitting on the floor and tearing through the DOOMSDAY storyline, knowing that Superman was going to die in the end but wanting to get to that ending anyway.

I am so thankful that this special exists.

5Main Cover Art – 5: This is a truly epic cover. Jurgens has drawn a number of covers like this over the years but this one is definitely the most intricate. It’s poster worthy and is a fun celebration of the entire DOOMSDAY storyline from Doomsday emerging from the ground to the fight with the Justice League to Superman and Doomsday squaring off at the beginning of SUPERMAN #75 to the last blows to Lois crying over the body of her fiancé. I can’t say enough good things about it.


5Doomsday Variant by Francesco Matina – 5: While Doomsday is a bit monstrous for my own tastes this is still an amazing piece of art. I love the textures of the cape and the red and yellow pops. I’m assuming this is a modern take on the promo art for the SUPERMAN/DOOMSDAY HUNER/PREY mini-series from 1994.


5Funeral for a Friend variant by Ivan Reis and Danny Miki – 5: I am sure there is a percentage of newer readers that look at the characters on this cover and have no idea who most of them are. They might also look at certain characters and have questions about why they look the way they do. Or, they might be like readers of the time and wonder why Darkseid is there.

All of these are fair questions.

For those of you who aren’t “in the know” this is a new take on the poster that came with the bagged edition of SUPERMAN #75. That one had a different composition, but the idea is the same. And this cover makes me almost giddy in how it takes me back to the DC Comics of 1992. And little details, like Jay Garrick’s face in shadows, are nice call backs.


5Doomsday Variant by Walt Simonson – 5: The coloring on the bottom of this one is a bit weird, but it’s a great looking Doomsday. The bony protrusions on Doomsday’s back are interesting and it looks like Doomsday could be crying to the heavens or rocking out. Both are acceptable.


5Lois Lane variant by Jamal Campbell – 5: This is one of my favorites of the variants. The newspaper headlines have neat references to the entire Death and Return saga, especially the Supergirl and Team Luthor headline, but the image of Lois crying over the cape of her fiancé is just heartbreaking.


5Ma and Pa Kent variant by Lee Weeks – 5: One of the saddest parts of FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND was seeing Ma and Pa’s reaction. This cover is a perfect representations of that. It also has echoes of the cover to SUPERMN #77, which showed Superman flying off into the sky, his cape fluttering behind him.


4Doomsday variant by Jim Lee and Scott Williams – 4: The phrase, “over egging the pudding” springs to mind for this one. I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s Lee and Williams. I’m just not the biggest fan of it. Doomsday is way too busy and loses something because of that.


5Son of Superman variant by Dan Mora – 5: This is a sweet one. Jon sitting on his father’s statue with a look of admiration is really nice to see. And Dan Mora is fast becoming an artist I like. He’s good at making characters, new and old, look iconic.


5Doombreaker variant by J Rafael Sarmento – 5: I love that Doombreaker is mostly in shadow on this one with a well-lit and colorful Superman hovering in front of him. It’s just a handsome image.


5Black Bag with Weeping S Variant – 5: I mention this only to be a completest. This is literally a black image with a red, weeping S. I write, “weeping” to be pedantic. Most people would refer to it as a bleeding S but back when SUPERMAN #75 was first solicited in 1992 there was also a solicitation for “Weeping S” t-shirt. I just thought it would be fun to mention that. Drop some obscure knowledge and all of that.

For the record, I like the 30th anniversary logo. I think it looks slick.


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Mikev83
November 13, 2022 11:03 am

I did like the story myself. The only thing that was a slight oversight , and maybe it is me just nitpicking. For me was the fact that the doomsday bone took 30 years to affect him. I understand for the story the timeframe fits with it being thirty years.