The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus by Dan Jurgens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Death and Return of Superman Omnibus is a massive tome that collects Action Comics #684-692, Adventures of Superman #497-505, Superman #75-83, Superman: The Man of Steel #18-26, Justice League of America #69-70, Action Comics Annual #5, Adventures of Superman Annual #5, Green Lantern #46, Legacy of Superman #1, Supergirl and Team Luthor #1, Superman Annual #5, Superman: The Man of Steel Annual #2, plus excerpts from Action Comics #683, Adventures of Superman #496, Superman #73 and Superman: The Man of Steel #17. 1400+ pages.
Eons ago, DC launched the story of all stories, a media event that temporarily saw normies flocking to comic shops in record numbers. That event was, of course, the Death of Superman. I was 14 or 15 and already cynical. I knew they'd bring him back but I still bought into it. It was a huge event and at the time, I loved it. Thirty years and several million miles later, I decided to reread it. Was I an idiot when I was 14? Of course I was but it was still pretty good.
According to the bonus materials, the events leading up to Superman #500 were supposed to culminate in the wedding of Superman and Lois Lane. DC management wanted to time the wedding of Superman and Lois in the comics with the events on the fledgling TV show, Lois and Clark, so they were stuck without a big story for Superman. Jerry Ordway yelled out "Let's kill him!" at a Superman staff meeting and they all took him seriously for a change.
This is an event comic that spawned hundreds of event comics but this one has teeth and is actually very well done, well planned. The first act sees the unstoppable Doomsday going on a rampage toward Metropolis, culminating in the deaths of Doomsday and Superman. The second act revolves around the aftermath of Superman's death, and the third act, the longest, sees four men claim the Superman mantle and one is not whom he seems to be.
Most people reading comics at the time knew Superman would be back eventually but it was still a captivating read. Reading it again after thirty years gave me some newfound respect for the planning and skill that went into the later chapters.
The Death of Superman storyline is pretty much an extended battle. Doomsday must be stopped and he mows down the Justice League before finally getting to Metropolis. Like I said on Twitter, sure, Superman dies but the most memorable part of it for me was Doomsday throwing Blue Beetle way the hell up in the air, only to have no one catch him before he lands. Poor Ted! By the end of the storyline, the Justice League is in a shambles and Superman is dead.
Funeral for a Friend dragged a bit but had some great moments. Basically, the world adjusts to life without Superman, there are some hassles around what happens to Superman's body after he dies, and the Man of Steel is finally entombed. Pa Kent has a heart attack and is at death's door. I have to admit I shed a tear when Pa came out of his coma and said he brought Clark back from the afterlife with him.
The Reign of Superman and Return of Superman segment were the real meat of the book. Four men take the Superman mantle for various reasons. Superboy is a clone of Superman. John Henry Irons is an armored avenger honoring Superman. The Last Son of Krypton is a Kryptonian bad ass who very well seems like he could be a resurrected Superman with a chip on his shoulder. The Cyborg could be Superman too, couldn't he, with his body repaired where it was injured by Doomsday?
The Reign of Superman lasts just long enough for people to get invested in the characters as heroes before the rug is yanked out from under everyone. I have to applaud Roger Stern for all the misdirection he did in the stories focusing on The Last Son of Krypton. Figure placement and some carefully worded panels let readers draw their own conclusion about what was actually happening, wrong as those conclusions wound up being.
The Return of Superman is the segment everything has been building toward and it pays off big. One of the Supermen is revealed to be a shitbag, Coast City is wiped off the map, and the real Superman returns to settle some shit.
For a book with so many different artists and writers, this gargantuan tome flows pretty well. There was material in this that wasn't in previous collections of the story. The Bloodlines annuals were interesting but I thought they interrupted the flow of the story. I understand why they were included, though. The Green Lantern book also felt a little unnecessary. While some pages added new insight to what was going on, it felt more like a summary of events for people who were reading Green Lantern at the time than an integral part of the story.
I think this story catches a lot of heat because it spawned hundreds of other stunt storylines but it's an engaging read with a lot of thought behind it. Just as when I read it as a kid, I was much more interested in Superman leaving the book than I was going in. The Death and Return of Superman aged a lot better than most 1990s super hero comics. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
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