The death of Superman
I was 11 years old when Superman died. I remember being at a rollerskating rink when when my mother told me. She had been reading a magazine article on the topic, and upon hearing that my favorite hero had “died” the week prior, my heart sunk in my chest. To make it worse, he was killed, beaten to death by a monster called Doomsday. Someone or something, had been strong enough to kill Superman with their bare hands. How was this possible? Of course, as a kid, I didn’t understand the marketing/scripting DC had planned for the story and that Superman would be back less than a year later. All I knew was that my favorite childhood superhero, the man I dressed up as for Halloween on numerous occasions, the man whose theme song (John Williams’ classic score) made my heart race, was gone.
I didn’t really collect comics at the time, but like many others kids my age, the story of Supes’s death had me begging my parents to take me to the nearest comic store ASAP. DC’s marketing team had certainly accomplished their goal. I did not, however, end up with a copy of Superman #75 like I wanted, and I didn’t know that Superman’s death actually came at the end of 7-issue series, most of which were selling out everywhere. These were the days before eBay, so this would have meant going to collectibles shops and paying ridiculous aftermarket prices driven up by hype. So, rather than buy me the single issue where Superman meets his end, my mother bought me the paperback collection of all seven issues later that year as a Christmas gift. The book was glued to my hands the rest of the day. Regardless of if I was at church or visiting relatives, I was really in Metropolis, hoping my hero would pull through even though the title of the book said he did not.
The series was a shock to my system. Never before had I seen so many superheroes together in one book fighting one villain. . . and losing. Doomsday, a mindless killing machine that had come out of nowhere, was tearing through the DC roster like the New England Patriots against a high school freshman squad. All my previous memories of comics villains involved complicated schemes or traps set to cause the heroes grief, but Doomsday was different. He didn’t think. He didn’t plan. He just beat the tar out of everyone, with the combined force of the Justice League and Superman barely enough to slow him down. As kid it was scary to behold.
As an adult, I still hold the series in high regard, as it was, without a doubt, the story that got me into reading comics. In hindsight it is easier to understand the criticisms some had of the series. The same things that made it appealing to me as a child made it off-putting to some older comic fans. A new villain, and a mostly one-dimensional one at that, was brought in rather than giving the victory to a long-standing rival like Lex Luthor. Comic deaths are almost always temporary, so many knew Supes would be back soon and the story was just a gimmick to sell books.
Personally, even as a adult, I don’t give much thought to such things. Even if the whole plot was devised as a way to sell books (isn’t that what DC is in the business of doing anyway?), I don’t really care. True, Doomsday was not a very deep villain, but the kid in me will always remember seeing him as the personification of pure hatred and evil, and Superman as his noble, altruistic, counter. To me, Doomsday did (and still does) represent all the raw negative traits of humanity when left unchecked. Superman is the good that we strive to be in our hearts. As a kid their battle only existed in the physical world, but as I grew I saw more to it. It is, perhaps, because of the lack the obvious complexities so many other comic characters possess that Superman vs Doomsday represents the internal struggle between the id and the super-ego so well. Their “purity” allows them to easily symbolize our primal wants and what we know is right.
In the second-to-last issue of the series, a bloodied and exhausted Superman defiantly declares that he will not allow Doomsday to go any further, saying “Metropolis is where I hold the line!” We all have an internal Metropolis, a line we will never cross, even if it means making huge sacrifices. While I’m sure it’s unlikely that most people use fictional characters as representatives of their internal psyche, the adult me sees the obvious metaphor. This is nothing new to comic books, and similar themes were explored in the narrative of Chris Nolan’s film The Dark Knight. But for me, Superman did it first, and even though I didn’t see it or care as a kid, my changing perspective on the story as I have aged has worked as a litmus test for my ability to look past the superficial. The Death of Superman was not only the beginning of major changes in the DC Universe, it was the beginning of a hobby I continue to this day, so it will always have a special significance to me, even if that significance has changed over the years.
I did finally buy a copy of Superman #75. As an adult I found myself able to track down and afford a copy of the rare “Platinum Edition,” of which only 10,000 copies were ever made. I now own one of only 34 known copies in near mint condition. After getting it signed by the author/artist Dan Jurgens and re-graded, it is now one of only FIVE known copies in such condition. I keep it in my home office, as motivation to be best I can be, and as a reminder to never let go of the things that, as a kid, made me think I could fly.