JOURNEY INTO COMICS: THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN
by Mike San Giacomo
So was Superman dead or what?
I teach a comics appreciation class at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Recently, the subject came up about the death and resurrection of Superman that occurred 15 years ago (yeah, the death in Superman #75 was cover-dated January of 1993, but it was in stores in November of ’92, so the whole of 2007 is being seen as the 15th anniversary). I parroted what I remembered about the explanation, but I could see they were not buying it. I double checked and saw that I had the story right, but then, in a recent issue of Teen Titans, Kid Eternity blamed the rash of people returning from the dead (Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Jason Todd, er…Bucky?) on Superman.
He explained that when Superman returned from the dead, “he left the door open“ between Hell and Earth.
So that begs the question: Back in 1992, if Superman actually, really died, then how exactly did he come back? And does it poke holes in the minority view that Superman didn’t really die, but only appeared dead to us Earthlings?
Who better to ask, on the 15th anniversary year of that event, than the man who steered that ship, DC editor Mike Carlin?
Carlin, who is in charge of Batman these days, offered some explanation about the death of Superman that put everything in perspective.
“He was dead,” he said simply. “The editors, writers, all of us believed he was dead. There was a lot of pseudo-science and doubletalk at work here, but Superman did indeed die.”
I knew it all along! Those people who said he was merely in a “death-like” state were dead wrong. Excuse the pun.
“Yep, he died,” continued Carlin. “We saw him heading toward the light and then we did not see him for a while. While on that trip to the light, through a combination of his own beliefs and his earthly parents beliefs about what happens to the soul, he sees Jonathan Kent‘s soul. Pa Kent had a heart attack and was having an out-of-body experience. His soul steered Clark‘s soul back to Earth.
Carlin said when you consider that actual human beings do die and return to life on the operating table, the precedent is there.
“Granted, humans die and return to life in a few minutes and it took Superman seven or eight issues, but the premise is the same,” he said. Once his soul was back where it belonged, Superman was barely alive, in that “death-like state” we hear about.
That‘s where the Eradicator comes into the picture. The Eradicator, also known as “The Last Son of Krypton,” was one of the four “Supermen” to emerge after Superman‘s death. He is actually an “it,” a Kryptonian construct that exists to protect all things Kryptonian.
“Using science which we more mortals can not even understand, the Eradicator put Superman in a Kryptonian rejuvenation matrix that massaged him back to life,” Carlin said.
Later, he emerged from the suit and crawled into a Kryptonian battle suit, which he stayed in for a time while his body recovered.
Some of that was done off-camera, so the whole return to life thing was a little confusing at the time.
Also, fans were expecting a red herring and might have not believed that it was the real Superman.
I thought the trick would be that the Superman who was killed was actually the so-called “sand” Superman that fought the Man of Steel by taking on his form years before. The theory going around at the time, bolstered by an inexplicable DC reprint of the early “Sand” story, was that the Superman that won that battle was actually the villain, who believed he was Superman.
That would have paved the way for the return of the “real” Superman, who had been tucked away in a coma somewhere.
But it was not the case. The dead Superman was the real Superman and he came back from the dead.
So what about the Kid Eternity comment about Superman escaping from Hell?
“It‘s always good to have questions,” Carlin said. “I was happy with Kid Eternity saying that and I‘m sure he believes it.”
He slyly declined to talk about the implications of the statement.
Carlin said that the storyline with the four Supermen (Steel, Superboy, the Cyborg Superman and the Eradicator Superman) was a response to the massive media attention over the Man of Steel‘s death.
“Once we saw how big it was getting, we didn‘t think our return to life story would be big enough,” he said. “We felt like we had to come up with something better and thought up the four Supermen angle. And look at the cool characters that came out of it.”
DC is celebrating the 15th anniversary of Superman‘s death with a direct-to-DVD animated movie called “Superman: Doomsday” in September.
It will adapt the death of Superman storyline. The Warner Home Movie video will be rated PG-13 and will star voices of Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Serenity) as Superman; Anne Heche (Men in Trees) as Lois Lane and James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Lex