Last night, I read that “The Death of Superman” storyline is celebrating its 20th anniversary. In November of 1992, my dad, like scores of others, bought Superman #75 and the preceding Doomsday saga in hopes that they would become massively valuable collector’s items. It didn’t. What it did do was turn my brother and me into big Superman fans.
Since I am sleep-deprived from Jim waking up before dawn two consecutive days and should wait until I’m a little more awake to write for church and school, I decided it would be a fun writing exercise for me to try to re-tell the plot of those issues as best as I can remember it. It should go without saying that this telling will be meandering and not entirely accurate.
Our story opens as all great stories do: with underground monsters seeking to wage war on the over world. The city of Metropolis has a massive society living in the tunnels and sewers beneath the streets. This society consists of monsters forced underground because they have been rejected by society. Some are peaceful creatures that only want to be accepted while others are militants seeking to overthrow that which fears them. It’s basically Subterranean Homeless X-Men.
Superman is friends with the good monsters because Superman is a standup guy that sees value in all creatures. The good monsters (not to be confused with a quality Jars of Clay album) need Superman’s help because the bad monsters are making their life pretty miserable. Amongst the bad monsters is a giant rock dude with tusk-like things around his head and a machine gun-toting, blue anthropomorphic ram named Ramses. I only mention Ramses because there were a ton of Ramses in the first level of the SNES Death and Return of Superman game and you could toss those dudes all over the place.
The Man of Steel stops the bad monsters and the good monsters thank him. Meanwhile somewhere in America, a gigantic monster busts out of the ground. The monster is dressed head to toe in an olive green suit save for red goggles at the eyes. One arm is fastened behind his back. All sorts of cables are around his body. His loose hand, which he used to bust out, is gray with bony spikes coming out of his fist.
This is Doomsday, our antagonist. He extends his hand, a songbird lands in his palm, he crushes it, and laughs. This is the very first thing he does. To signify you have a nefarious villain, the first thing you do is indicate that he does not give a crap what PETA thinks. I mock it now, but it kind of freaked me out as a 9 year old.
Basically the thread of the next several issues is Doomsday mindlessly destroys everything in his path as he moves across middle America. Who is going to stop this raging killing machine? The Justice League of America, that’s who.
Except, it’s not exactly who you think. During this time, the JLA consisted of Superman (so far, so good), Guy Gardner (but not when he was a Green Lantern), Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Bloodwynd, Maxima, Fire, and Ice. Who? Exactly. This probably would have been a different story with a different Justice League.
Now for those of us that were just coming to these comics, we needed some sort of exposition to figure out the dynamics of this team. Enter Teenager with 90s Attitude (henceforth T90A). Whilst Superman is being interviewed on TV, the backwards cap-wearing T90A is talking with his sister and mom about how the Big Blue Boy Scout is so lame. He is nowhere near as cool Guy Gardner, who is brimming with attitude. Basically, this was a not-so subtle commentary on how people think Superman didn’t fit in with the present day.
His other thoughts? Mainly that the girls in the JLA are pretty hot. We then learn that T90A’s dad abandoned the family and he vocally blames his mom; making her cry. Basically T90A is a jerk. However, his jerkiness and exposition will not allow him to be an untouched bystander. He will be pulled into the plot. Oh yes, he will.
Some additional insight on the JLA at the time. Using the TMNTPI (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Personality Index), Superman is a strong Leonardo and Guy Gardner is a strong Raphael. That’s why they clash. Booster Gold is a Michelangelo while Blue Beetle is a Donatello. We unfortunately don’t get much insight on the others except Bloodwynd is mysterious (so…Splinter?), Fire and Ice are best friends, and Maxima is a budget version of Wonder Woman. Completely unrelated, I’m a Donatello on the TMNTPI.
So the JLA sans Superman (who is at the aforementioned interview) come to stop Doomsday and Doomsday just straight up destroys them. Superman hears about the problems and joins the fray before they’re completely decimated. Booster Gold tells Supes, “It’s like doomsday out there” and our bad guy has a name.
Superman and the Superettes fight Doomsday and things continue to not go well. Blue Beetle is eventually put into a coma, Ice breaks her ribs, Fire’s powers flame out, Booster Gold loses the future technology that gives him his powers, something happens to Bloodwynd that makes Booster realize his true identity (which might have been Martian Manhunter, I can’t remember), but we don’t find out what it is. I also think that Guy Gardner’s yellow power ring runs out.
Meanwhile, Doomsday is attacking the suburbs and what house does he go about destroying? That’s right, the house of T90A. Who nearly dies? His mom and sister. Who saves them all? Yep, Superman. So T90A learns that he is a jerk, that life is valuable, that Superman is actually cool, and that his mom and sister mean a lot to him. So a little silver lining in the horrific destruction.
Meanwhile, Doomsday continues to wreak havoc everywhere he goes and Superman is the last one standing in his way. What happens next (spoiler alert: Superman dies)? Find out in Part 2 of my fuzzy recollection of 1992’s “The Death of Superman.”