Everyone has their "first story." Sure, we may have picked up a comic book here or there, but there's always that first story that really captivated us as a comic book reader. Maybe there's this iconic panel you have burned within your memories. Maybe there's a singular moment you can never let go of. Regardless of what it is, it's there for a reason. For me, my first collected story was "The Death of Superman."
This epic story line comes from the year 1992. A beast, later named "Doomsday," appears and takes on the Justice League, at that time made up of Bloodwynd, Maxima, Ted Kord, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, and Ice. Doomsday is so powerful that he easily takes down the Justice League. It seems like nothing can hurt him. Superman comes in to save the day, but finds this beast to be a whole lot tougher than anything he's ever faced.
The battle between these two super-powered giants goes from the suburbs all the way to downtown Metropolis. Superman looks for a weakness, but there doesn't seem to be one. Other heroes, like Supergirl, try to come to Superman's aide, but nothing can stop Doomsday. Eventually, Superman gets the best of Doomsday, but at the cost of his own life. The book ends with a seemingly dead Superman in the arms of a crying Lois Lane.
If you're a comic book fan, then you know this story, and that's the reason why nothing is under a spoiler tag. It's common knowledge, even to non-comic book readers, that at one point in time, someone beat Superman so badly that he died. It's an ultra-iconic moment in Superman's history. Everyone was trying to get their paws on SUPERMAN #75, which is the last issue of the story arc. This book really stands out in people's minds, but after 20 years, does this story still hold up?
As a 10 year old, this book was epic to me, and rereading it now, I still get that sense of childlike awe while reading it. The Death of Superman is still a pretty epic and action filled book. It's literally people beating each other up, non-stop, over every single issue. This book was the first time I remember seeing splash pages as art because SUPERMAN #75 was 24 splash pages and 2 two-page spreads. That's 26 panels for a single issue of a comic, and this is the only time I could ever see that working because it really builds up to that through the previous issues of the story. It's emotional. Dan Jurgens' art during these scenes still stands out. It's great storytelling through single panel pages.
So, why should you read The Death of Superman? As far as Superman stories go, this isn't one of the best of the best, but what The Death of Superman has is a look back at some of the awesomeness of the 90s. Big, hulking creatures decimating everything in their path, with only one (or in this case, no) survivors. What I enjoy more than anything else about The Death of Superman is what it leads into: The Reign of Superman and the creation of Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, and Cyborg Superman. Sure, I could talk about Reign as a story for this piece, but Death is a much more important story in the Superman mythos.
This story has a few cooks in the pot, since the book ran through SUPERMAN, ACTION COMICS, SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA, but there are two big stand outs here: SUPERMAN #74 and #75, both written and drawn by Dan Jurgens. His stories are fun and still a bit funny, although the topical humor isn't so topical anymore. However, you really need to read it all to get the full scope of the story.
However, here's why you should REALLY read The Death of Superman. I find it to be one of the most fun Superman stories I've ever read, and sadly, a lot of that fun is unintentional. It comes off as very 90s in every way, and here's a bit of proof.
Anyone else want to watch Lion King right now? In case you didn't know, that's Lex Luthor. Most of us know Lex Luthor as Superman's bald baddie, but around this time, Lex got cancer and had his brain put into a new body, with luxuriously long, luscious red hair and a beard as red as Krypton's sun.
He spends most of the time in a room with monitors hanging out with Supergirl and refuses to let her help Superman for most of the story. Even this very cool looking Lex Luthor (cool by 90s standards) still wants to get the best of Superman, by doing nothing.
This story is also the introduction to one of my favorite Superman villains. Nope, it's not Doomsday, who is awesome in his own right. My villain of choice is a character named Mitchell Anderson, and super-angsty teenage jerk.
Although he would later become the super-hero Outburst, the Mitch we see here is a jerk. He hates Superman and is awful to his mom who is a single mother trying to raise Mitch and his little sister. Mitch even says to his mom "no wonder dad left you and wants a divorce" after his mother failed to stock the fridge with soda. What an Axl Rose wannabe. Some can argue he's even a bigger villain than Doomsday...
While Death of Superman isn't the end-all be-all Superman story, it's a ton of fun to read. It's also a big piece of Superman's history and the introduction to one incredibly cool super-villain: Mitch Anderson... I mean Doomsday, of course. It's jam packed with 90's action, with punches being thrown left and right, and heroes left beaten on the ground. The Death of Superman is still a must read for any Superman fan, and can you name another worthwhile story that even features Bloodwynd? I think not.