Back in bygone days of the early 1990’s, Superman died. But don’t worry, he got better. And yes, I have used this line before.
If you look aways back here on the blog to my review of Superman Doomsday, ye shall see my perspective (and that same opening line) on the YA novel that adapted the epic storyline featuring the demise of our hero Kal-El.
To recap for those of you who came in late, back in the early 1990’s the creators working on the Superman comics had to jettison one major story (the wedding of Lois and Clark) due to the television show and slam together something new right away. That something new involved a very old trope of killing the hero. And this spontaneous idea steamrolled into one the biggest and most well known comics stories ever, adapted into a cartoon movie, and the aforementioned YA novel, and what I am looking at today, a hardcover fiction book.
The Death And Life Of Superman by Roger Stern is a five hundred plus page book which translates, condenses, and in some cases changes, well over six months worth of storylines that weaved through multiple comics and crossovers, all to tell this massive tale.
We start with Superman and his life at the time. Protecting Metropolis, working as Clark Kent at The Daily Planet, engaged to Lois Lane who also knows his secret, still flying home to Smallville to hang out with Ma and Pa Kent, trying to figure out to get this newest version of the Justice League to work, and saving people from falling off of a construction site. In other words, a typical status quo day for Kal-El.
Into this normalcy comes a mindless monster from a prison in the depths of the Earth. He becomes known as Doomsday and quickly starts laying waste everywhere he goes. When the Justice League arrives, he quickly rips apart their ranks. Superman arrives and a pitched battle storms through the countryside, causing horrendous damage, and ends up in Metropolis. Amidst the devastation, Superman finally kills the rampaging beast, but at the cost of his own life as well. The world mourns with a huge funeral, while Lois, Ma and Pa, and Lana share quiet sorrow together. With the wound of his passing still sore, four beings arrive in Metropolis, all to fill the void of Superman.
One is a Superboy, a cocky loud mouthed teenager who is partial clone of Kal-El. Created by a secret government organization called Project Cadmus, but freed before he was ready, this young man really wants the world to call him Superman. Another is the Man Of Steel, an inventor who was once saved by Superman, and now is dedicating himself to living up to Kal-El’s ideal, all with the help of his mechanized armour. Using more lethal tactics is the Last Son, a strange being who claims to be a resurrected Superman, but needs to repower off of a matrix egg in the Fortress. And finally we have the Cyborg Superman, another hero claiming to be Kal-El brought back, but this time with slight memory loss and parts of his body replaced by Kryptonian technology.
These four interact with Metropolis, Superman’s friends and enemies, and each other, sometimes in ways not very conductive to the public good. Tensions and egos build until the climax, where we really find out who’s who, what’s what, and the status quo of the one true Superman is reestablished, but now with an even larger supporting cast of allies and enemies.
Having read and completely enjoyed this storyline from way back when it first came out over twenty years ago, I mostly expected a beat by beat recreation of all that had occurred. But along the way, changes crop up, some big, some small, and some downright annoying. The scenes immediately after Superman’s death are powerful and emotional in the comics, with a wonderful layer of logic applied all through. The book version slightly truncates this, taking away some of the impact, and I cannot understand why.
Towards the last hundred pages or so, it is noticeable the sudden condensing of the comics with whole issues being summarized in a paragraph or two. Once the final leg of the journey starts, the pace returns to a more normal routine. At this point, another veering from the source material pops up, a very major one which I can understand this time since the ramifications from this plotline would pad this book out by another whole whack of chapters.
While I may sound slightly negative about The Death And Life Of Superman, it is more a feeling of disappointment. The book just feels disjointed to me and far too episodic. The fault for this does not lay with veteran comics writer Roger Stern, who has literally penned thousands of stories including acclaimed runs on Spiderman, The Avengers, Action Comics and Superman, but with the deadline I heard the book was produced under. Part of me envisions some book editor, reviewing each chapter as it comes in, and telling Stern how to speed things up, or the eternal problem comics based projects face, how to “fix” them.
A few of my favourite Geek out moments with the book which survived any tampering by the know nothings includes the awesome cover featuring the blood dripping S symbol popularized during this storyline, a list in the front of all the creators whose work was adapted, the writing of Lois and Clark as a couple, and the merry inclusion of Bibbo liberally throughout. Gotta love Bibbo, he’s my fav’t!
For the diehard, The Death And Life Of Superman would be in your collection even if the results are uneven. Superman Geek OCD is like that. For the uninitiated, it will serve as an okay introduction to what the mythos were at the time. A snapshot of Superman 1992.
And, by the way, Superman dies. But not for long.
…is currently reading How To Curse In Hieroglyphics by Lesley Livingston and Jonathan Llyr.
P.S. This post is one of several I hope to do this year to celebrate the 75th Birthday of Superman. Happy Birthday Kal-El! Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
P.P.S. Superman Man Of Steel opened Friday, June 14th 2013 and is now on dvd. For an indepth look at the creation of this landmark movie, check out Jeffrey Taylor’s columns.