As promised, I said I would take a day a month or so to review a graphic novel. This month I’ve decided to talk about one of the greatest stories in comics history, The Death of Superman. What follows is not so much a review as it is just my thoughts about the character and my reaction to the story when it came out. While I could quibble and find something wrong with the story (you can find something objectively wrong with any story from any author), when something like this story is created that packs such a wallop in terms of pure emotion, you just have to sit back and enjoy it.
In 1992 I was a sophomore in high school. I was never a huge Superman fan growing up. Like most kids I’d watched Saturday morning cartoons and when Superman from Christopher Reeve played on television I would watch but Superman just never interested me. So when it was announced that Superman was going to be killed off I was shocked at how angry I was at the decision.
Why was I angry? I couldn’t really explain it at the time. What was it about the character that caused such a reaction?
As the saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. The world is a better place with Superman in it, even it it’s just in a comic book.
The comic is not so much a story but a study of what Superman would do if he had to face the most vicious beast he ever had to face. A beast who could take down a near invulnerable person in Superman is a fearsome creature to deal with indeed.
Having a simply image of a fist hitting a wall was a brilliant way to introduce the character. In the wrong hands they would have had Doomsday do something overly complicated to show how dangerous he was, with the end result being that you don’t believe in the character despite the best efforts of the writer and artist. The opening images of the comic is the work of genius.
The ending. What more can be said about the ending? The artwork is great.
That is a haunting image. A figure we’ve taken for granted since the late 1930’s met his match. You can’t but feel stunned at seeing someone who you held in high regard for so many years lying dead, battered and bruised almost beyond recognition.
After the comic came out I made more of an effort to follow the character. It wasn’t too long after this came out that Christopher Reeve, the man who embodied Superman for my generation, had his tragic accident which left him in a wheel chair for the rest of his life. Being an ignorant douchebag at the time I made my fair share of jokes immediately after the accident. But his courage, strength, and just pure good nature changed my opinion over the years to the point that when he passed away I shed tears like he was a member of my family.
I also gained a new appreciation for the films. The soundtrack alone was John William’s best work.
The music. My god, the theme song alone makes you think YOU are Superman. You want to rip your shirt off and hope your costume is underneath so you can fly around your living room.
Having grown up a James Bond fan I am not one who feels that another actor cannot bring more to a character simply because I associate one actor with that character. But you’d be hard pressed to find many folks who don’t think that Christopher Reeve embodied everything that was good about the character.
“Easy Miss. I’ve got you.”
“You’ve got me…who’s got you?”
This scene has to be one of my favorite scenes in movie history, up there with the reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. Any other actor could have screwed this scene up by simply not taking it seriously. The genius of Christopher Reeve’s portrayal was that he truly believed in the character and everything it stood for. While the character could be a little innocent at times, a little corny, his intentions were pure and meant for the good of mankind.
I think it was that line of thought that brought about DC to consider killing off the character even temporarily. Sometimes you don’t realize what something means to you until it’s taken from you. The absolute beauty of this comic is that in his death, you appreciate everything that is good about the character of Superman. His place in our culture is well deserved. The world is a better place for Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation. Superman’s death in this comic makes you appreciate everything that character represents. This is why comics are made. If you only read one comic in your life, make it The Death of Superman.