Thursday, August 27, 2009
Dan Jurgens (writer and pencils), Brett Breeding (inks), Glenn Whitmore (colors) , John Costanza (letters), Mike Carlin (editor)
While the world watches through Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen's TV reporting, a weakened Superman and Doomsday fight on the streets of Metropolis. Although Superman is exhausted and badly wounded, he refuses to wait for reinforcements, believing he's the only one who has a chance at defeating Doomsday permanently. Finally Doomsday does fall, but so does Superman, who dies in Lois Lane's arms.
When this issue came out, it was a media, if not a cultural, event. I won't say that "death's revolving door" wasn't already an industry cliché or that anyone, even the Powers That Be at DC, weren't at least all but saying that Superman was going to come back sooner or later, but it was practically unheard of for the Big Two to kill off such an iconic, important character. The biggest superhero deaths I can think of before the "death" of Superman were the deaths of Captain Marvel and Barry Allen, but Captain Marvel had pretty much no resonance outside not-casual comic book fans and Barry Allen was even before "Crisis of Infinite Earths" established as a legacy character. So, yes, killing Superman was a cheap, one-shot publicity ploy, but it was a very effective cheap, one-shot publicity ploy, something that's easy to forget nowadays.
Unfortunately, it just didn't make for an interesting story, much less the genre-defining epic it aspires to be. For one thing, the entire issue is composed of splash pages. One would guess it's for establishing a cinematic quality to the comic, but, given the way the rest of the story played out, it's tempting to guess it was just a way to stretch out the conclusion. Jurgens once again tries to raise the gravitas by showing that Superman knows he's in the fight of his life and is essentially sacrificing himself since he's the only superhero who can stop Doomsday, but Jurgens can't quite bring the fight above the level of a brutal fist fight. Plus it doesn't help that over the years Doomsday has basically become a bruiser villain, a problem that haunts all event-villains.
At least Jurgens' art is suitably dramatic and crisp, despite its '90s trappings, and the last panel of Superman dying under a sobbing Lois Lane is actually very powerful, at least to us proud comic geeks. Still, when you compare this to DC's other big event, the breaking of Batman's back, the problems become all the more visible. Of course, the Knightfall storyline had its own issues (which we'll hopefully get to 10 or so years down the road) and like Doomsday Bane eventually lost his effectiveness from overuse by various writers, but at least Bane was a good foil for Batman: an opponent who was an intellectual powerhouse, a physical rival, and driven to an almost psychotic degree. Doomsday, however, is a villain with no personality, no motive, and no connection, even a thematic one, to Superman. I guess you can argue that Doomsday was the Michael Myers of supervillains: pointless destruction embodied in one entity. But Doomsday just never comes across as important. Frankly the only thing that makes Superman's fight with Doomsday feel that important is that Superman just happens to die at the end of it.