In 1992, DC Comics found itself in a bit of a pickle; they had planned to celebrate the 75th issue of SUPERMAN with a wedding between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, but because of the hit TV series LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN playing the Sam and Diane game with the two intrepid reporters, the powers that be decided that the comic book versions of the characters could not wed until the TV versions did. You know, for synergy.
So, trapped without a storyline for the milestone issue, the Superman editorial and writing teams came together for a weekend of pitching ideas. At one point, writer Jerry Ordway jokingly suggested that they should just kill off the Man of Steel. And that is how we got some honestly great Superman stories. The entire saga ran over multiple titles for a year, with each act given a name: DOOMSDAY, FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND, and REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN. It was a huge success both comercially and critically, revitilizing the Superman books and bringing in some of the biggest sales the comics industry had seen in decades.
Now, with DC Comics ending their current universe, called New 52, DC editorial has decided to do in Superman once again. Weirdly, the death of this version of Superman isn’t actually part of the latest DC reboot, but instead a storyline crossing through a number of titles and called THE FINAL DAYS OF SUPERMAN. The final issue of the story, SUPERMAN #52, hits shelves this week. In the story (and I apologize if this gets confusing) the New 52 Superman has learned that he is dying. A series of adventures have lead to Supes having incurable Kryptonite poisoning, and he wants to spend the last of his days doing as much good as he can so that he can leave behind a legacy that will make his (dead) parents proud.
What New 52 Superman doesn’t know is that – and this is where things can get confusing – the Pre-52 Superman is existing in his universe, living on a farm with Pre-52 Lois and their child, Jonathan. When their universe was destroyed in the FLASHPOINT storyline some five years earlier, they were able to escape to the New 52 universe. The Pre-52 Superman has been secretly running around doing Superman stuff but staying out of the news.
What neither of them know is that there’s a THIRD Superman running around! This one, Evil Superman, is a criminal who somehow gained Superman’s powers and memories when New 52 Superman used a power he never used before – he expelled all his saved up solar energy in a single blast to take down some random baddie.
Anywho… Superman is dying and unlike 1992, nobody seems to care. There will not be lines out the door at local comic shops this time. No news coverage. Hell, DC isn’t even really pushing the story – they are focused on REBIRTH, which will come out on the same day as SUPERMAN #52. And while I was not much of a New 52 fan, I still think New 52 Superman deserves more respect than being ignored by his own company.
From the start, DC had no idea what they were doing with this new version of Superman. Within two months, we were introduced to three different versions of the same character. In JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, we see a Superman who is angry, what with the red eyes and the scowl. This Superman exists in a universe where most people don’t think Batman exists, and superheroes in general are hated. In ACTION COMICS #1, we meet a Superman who is just starting out. Taking place five years before JUSTICE LEAGUE #1, Clark Kent fights crime in a t-shirt and jeans. He stands up for the oppressed by taking down bankers and thieving rich Wall Street types. In SUPERMAN #1 we meet the same Superman we saw in JUSTICE LEAGUE, but he isn’t all filled with anger and is loved by the people and is pretty much the Superman we all grew up with.
The confusion over how Superman was supposed to act in the New 52 universe lead to comics legend George Perez quitting SUPERMAN in frustration. According to Perez, DC editorial had new directives for the character almost every day. Pretty early on, readers were… we’ll say unhappy… with this new Superman. They didn’t like the new costume. They didn’t like that he was dating Wonder Woman instead of Lois Lane. They didn’t like that Ma and Pa Kent were dead. As the years passed, more and more complaints came about. Superman was too angry. Superman was too weak. Superman was too strong.
Sales were poor as well. Pretty much everything in DC has seen massive sales declines since New 52 started, but Superman was really hit hard. ACTION COMICS #1, which came out in September 2011, sold almost 200,000 copies. ACTIONS COMICS #51 sold 32,000 copies. Marvel’s MOCKINGBIRD #2 sold more copies than that. A comic about C-3P0 sold four times as much as that. Superman got the sales crap kicked out of him by a whiney robot. That is sad.
I can’t think of a better sign that DC is looking to wipe away the last five years than this. Killing Superman should not be something that is done lightly. It should be a massive quake that reverberates through the DC Universe. It sure as hell was in 1992. Yes, the replacement is already in place, and we all know who it is and when it will be, but to so carelessly toss aside five years of work by various writers and artists makes me worried that DC hasn’t learned its lesson from the New 52 debacle. Is killing off this Superman and starting REBIRTH something that DC has been plotting for a while now, or are they doing this on the fly as they clearly did with New 52 in the first place? If this is an on the fly maneuver, DC needs to see that they won’t get any long lasting traction by chasing fads.
If DC has a plan and they stick with it, if all of this isn’t just a rush to try and temporarily boost poor sales for their books, then I think we’ll see great things again.
Early word is that DC’s REBIRTH will be a big hit with fans – it leaked this past week, and while I’m keeping away from the leaks, I’m very excited. Having the Pre-52 Superman returning as the main Superman has many fans excited, though some are cautious. They are starting the new Superman run with a Doomsday story which makes some, including me, groan, but I’m willing to give it a chance. After all, without Superman, what the hell would we all have read on the trains, toilets, and other random spots over the years. If anyone deserves a second chance, it is the Man of Tomorrow.
Just please, DC, stop with trying to make Superman angry. Remember who he is and what he stands for.
John Romita Jr.
*All Photos: DC Comics