Review – “Superman: The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus”

Superman: The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus

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Writers: Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Karl Kesel, Tom Grummet, Gerard Jones, William Messner-Loebs, and Jeph Loeb
Artists: Jon Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Jackson Guice, Dan Jurgens, June Brigman, Rick Burchett, Ed Hannigan, Dennis Janke, David Lapham, Eddy Newell, Denis Rodier, Walter Simonson, Curt Swan, M.D. Bright, and Lee Moder

Reviewed by: Craig Boehmer

4Story – 4: Here is the granddaddy of all Superman events. The most republished and referenced story, probably in all comics’ history, certainly in Superman history. I have read it many times and for the most part I really enjoy it. For this review I want to break it down into four subsections; Death of Superman, Funeral for a Friend, Reign of the Supermen, Return of Superman. This will allow a more full analysis of the story and its merits. I won’t give a blow by blow of the story arcs, rather I will focus on my own impressions of the story.

Death of Superman:

The Death of Superman is an incredible story arc. The work the different creators did to wrap-up their individual storylines in time to kill off the Man of Steel is awesome. I wish this collection had included a little more of the story with the Underworlders, so that new readers could have a bit of context. Actually what I really want is a line of Omnibuses connecting Exile to Death. This story also does a really good job of highlighting the loss of popularity Superman had experienced both in-story and in real life. Using Mitch as a perspective character allows us to see Superman from a different perspective, it also gives us a glimpse as to why Superman is great, regardless of Mitch’s own feelings about Superman, he still saves the boy’s family.

I know there is a critique against the Justice League of America in this storyline, and I get it. It is hard to buy Doomsday as this superbad, when he is facing JLA members like Fire and Blue Beetle. This isn’t a slight on those characters, rather on their power levels. The JLA in this story just don’t have the same gravitas that the lineup they used for the animated movie do.

As for the big fight between Superman and Doomsday itself. It was beautifully illustrated by the plethora of artists that worked on it. It is abrupt getting to Superman #75 with its’ reliance on splash pages, and under a lesser artist that could hurt the emotional story telling, but Jurgens nails it. The whole story arc is incredible, right up to the closing four page fold out image of Lois holding Clark’s broken body.

Funeral for a Friend:

Funeral for a Friend is as good as Death of Superman. And I really want to applaud the incredible writers and artists who depicted the mourning process and the resultant trauma Metropolis experienced so well. Dan Turpin’s fight with Cadmus director Westfield immediately after Superman’s death over our protagonist’s body is a highlight of the arc and establishes the ongoing threat for the story. It asks an interesting question, what would people in power be willing to do to get the body of the most powerful man on the planet? Thankfully Superman finds an unlikely ally in Lex Luthor Jr., who is still Lex Luthor Sr. posing as his own Australian son, complete with a strong Australian accent. I usually forget to read Luthor’s dialogue with an Australian accent, which makes it really weird when he uses Australian phrases. Eventually Cadmus steals the body and creates a clone, but Lois breaks into the facility and is able to write a huge expose on the whole thing. Her expose leads to Clark being returned to his tomb in Metropolis.

The strength of this is its’ analysis of how Superman’s death affects his supporting cast. We see the impact of his death most clearly on characters like Lois, Lana, the Kents, Jimmy, and to a lesser extent Bibbo. Bibbo himself is at the center of a particularly heart touching scene that depicts him praying to God, and questioning why he should have survived instead of a good man like Superman. Lois’ journey of mourning does most of the emotional heavy lifting here, and the story is better for it. Her fixation on saving Superman’s body becomes the dominant goal of her life and is motivated by her inability to help him against the fight versus Doomsday. It is irrational and obsessive, but works perfectly in the context of her grieving. Add in to this the constant remarks from her coworkers that Clark will probably be found in the rubble, when only she knows he died in her arms, and it creates a rich story of loss and grief.

This story ends with Johnathan suffering a heart attack, and his journey through the afterlife to rescue Clark. It is a sweet story that shows how weird and fun comics can be because they don’t have the constraints of other media. Following his resuscitation, the four new Supermen each make their initial appearances leading into…

Reign of the Supermen:

The Reign of the Supermen is the weakest part of this collection for me. This is because one of the major pushes of the story is the mystery of who these new Supermen are. However, mysteries only work to hold attention on the first read through, and they typically get less compelling the more times you read it. So going back to read this collection, we know none of these characters are the real Superman, and that really hurts the narrative. Additionally, we know that Cyborg Superman is a major bad guy, and that Eradicator flip flops between good guy and bad guy.

The story is also plagued a little by the Bloodlines crossovers which introduced a slew of new heroes under the name, “New Bloods”. The four Superman issues led to the creation of four heroes, each hero is bit by an alien which awakens their powers. Sparx, a young girl who sought out the aliens to gain powers, she is pretty much a livewire prototype. Loose Cannon, a cop injured in the line of duty, he turns into a large hulking figure whose skin changes colour depending upon his emotion. Edge, a teen from a poorer neighborhood who gets has blades extending all over his body. Myriad is the resurrected Sasha, a marital arts expert who humiliated Lex Jr. leading him to murder her. She gains the ability to gain all the memories of people she chooses. All in all these characters had interesting potential, but they are dropped in here as part of something larger that is never explored in this book.

One of the major weaknesses of this story is that the four new Supermen just don’t get very engaging stories. The characters kind of just exist to create this unnecessary mystery. I quite like Steel and Superboy, but found their stories here rather dull. And when Cyborg inevitably betrays the world and destroys Coast City, it doesn’t resonate as all that much of a betrayal. If the location had been one more closely associated with Superman, it would have been much more powerful. Obviously not Metropolis or Smallville, but maybe the Fortress of Solitude and some surrounding areas get invaded. Plus how mad must Green Lantern fans have been, to have Coast City destroyed in a Superman story.

Return of Superman:

Cyborg’s attack on Coast City coincides with the reveal that Superman’s body has been retrieved by his Fortress’ worker robots at the behest of the Eradicator. We learn that Eradicator was unknowingly using the body to power himself up, sincerely believing that he was Superman. Eventually the regeneration matrix that Superman’s body is being held in, heals his body and allows him to return in a weakened state. The reveal of his return is pretty dramatic, cheesy, and amazing. We then get a fantastic interaction between him and Lois. Lois has been through the emotional wringer, with the arrival of each new Superman trying to convince her they were the real one, except for Steal. So she is understandably reluctant to listen to this new Superman. To convince her he is real, Clark utters the title, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Clark’s favorite novel. With no time to reconnect, Clark joins with Superboy, and Steal, to attack Cyborg Superman in the remnants of Coast City.

One of the greatest moments in The Return of Superman, is the fight between Green Lantern and Mongul. This fight perfectly encapsulates Hal’s great will power. I especially love Hal’s response to Monguls assertion that he broke his will. Hal responds that Mongul broke his arm, and shattered his leg, but can never break his will… oh man what an incredible moment, I beam each time I read it, I’m beaming even while I write about it. Superman finds and defeats Cyborg deep in Engine City, his fortress built on the ruins of Coast City.

Following the battle Superman returns home and finally reconnects with his loved ones. The finale of him returning, rescuing Clark, visiting the Kents, and reuniting with Lois is an incredible conclusion to this giant tome.

5Art – 5: The art is very Image reminiscent, but for the most part it works. This volume has some of the greatest Superman pencillers in it. Dan Jurgens, Jackson Guice, Tom Grummett, and Jon Bogdanove bring their collective A game. Even when the story is a bit of a let down, the art is dynamic, bursting with energy, and fun. It abounds with iconic imagery. Lois holding Superman’s broken body, the tattered cape, the crushed Justice League of America, the funeral scene… There is so much eye candy in this collection.

5Cover Art – 5: Incredible, beautiful, iconic. The simple black background, the Superman title black and outlined with red, and the tattered cape stuck on a pole. This cover evokes all the emotions of the story.

To wrap up, if you do not own this story in some format, find a way to own it. That could be TPBs, hardcover deluxe, digital, single issues, or this gorgeous Omnibus. However you want to consume it, find it, buy it, and spend your summer gushing over it. Then, email DC customer services, and politely ask them to solicit the Superman Triangle Era Omnibuses, probably two volumes, to connect the Exile Omnibus with this story. I have seen DC solicit a lot of collected works recently, in multiple formats. There are soft cover Compendiums, Absolutes, Omnibuses, Deluxe Hardcovers, hardcovers, and their regular TPBs. So put some pressure on them to finally release the Triangle Era in Omnibus format for us to consume and enjoy.