In honor of the 20th Anniversary of the Death of Superman story, which was what got me interested in comics, I am recounting the story to the best of my memory. It is meandering and not entirely accurate. You can read Part 1 here.
So Doomsday has just annihilated the Justice League and is destroying everything in his path. The good news, if you could call it that, is that the destruction has been in less densely populated areas. But all that is about to change. He is about to turn his attention to Metropolis. Why, you ask? Professional wrestling.
At some point in the wanton destruction, a television captures Doomsday’s attention. On said television is an ad for a professional wrestling match in Superman’s hometown. The promise of pre-scripted violence apparently intrigues the alien behemoth because he mutters, “Muhhhh-traaaa-plssssss.” No big deal. It’s not like he can figure out how to get to the city. After all, he’s a seemingly mindless alien. It’s not like he can read English.
Wait, he can read English? Later on, Doomsday sees an interstate sign declaring Metropolis is something like 300 miles away. Ol’ D-Day reads the sign and repeats “Muhhh-traaaa-plsssss?” He’s now following the signs to that shining, densely populated city. Now I realize this is comic books and there are Grand Canyon sized chasms over which we must take leaps of logic. But mindless killing machine hears a word in a foreign language, then sees that written word amongst many other written words, and makes the connection? Seriously? It’s a fairly big plot hole.
The other big plot hole? Where on earth are the other superheroes? Seriously, this guy destroyed the JLA. Superman is the only one still fighting him and even he is getting punched into the stratosphere every so often allowing Doomie to make progress to Metropolis. Are you telling me that Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Batman and his batplane, and all the other superheroes were somehow indisposed? Were they busy? Did they just figure, “Eh, it looks bad now, but Kal will pull this out. He always does.” Superfriends, my foot.
So Doomsday is making his way to Metropolis. He can leap about 10 miles at a time and the Man of Steel is not doing a lot to slow him down. The various heroes and protectorates of Metropolis—Guardian, Project Cadmus, the Metropolis SCU, Supergirl, etc.—are trying to prepare for the onslaught. At some point, Doomsday comes to what I can only describe as Project Cadmus’s Treehouse Facility on the outskirts of Metropolis. That’s not really important. I just remember a lot of trees getting destroyed.
All the while, Doomsday’s 1990s hardcore band bass player jumpsuit has been tearing off with all the punching, heat vision, energy blasts, and whatnot it has been taking on. All that’s left is basically olive green bike shorts. Doomsday is revealed to be a gray alien, with bony protrusions coming out all over him. They’re coming out of his fists, his knees, and his shoulders. They even form a shield over his eyes so you can’t neutralize him with a Three Stooges move. He also has long, thin, white hair. He looks menacing, but he also looks like a 10 year old boy had a heavy hand in the creation process.
We get to Metropolis. Supergirl—who is not the actual Kryptonian Supergirl, but a shapeshifter from sort of pocket universe or something like that—comes to help out. And Doomsday literally knocks the shapeshifting out of her. Her skin liquifies and falls off, revealing her natural purple alien form. So she’s pretty much incapacitated immediately. This variation of Supergirl was not exactly a portrayal that feminists could get behind.
Meanwhile, Project Cadmus and the Metropolis SCU are using all that they can to help Superman out: laser canons, guys flying around with laser guns on their wings, and other things undoubtedly involving lasers. It’s not doing a lot and Doomsday is causing devastating damage to the city of Metropolis. It’s like the melee in Manhattan at the end of The Avengers, except all the damage is being caused by two dudes fighting.
So with none of the other 7,000 superheroes in the DC Universe coming to help him out, Superman realizes that stopping this madman is solely up to him. If he has to give his life to protect the city and the woman he loves, so be it.
The woman. Coming into this I knew about Superman and Lois Lane. What I did not know was by this time, Clark Kent and Lois Lane were engaged and he had revealed to her his secret identity. All of which makes the fact that she has to stand there, watch her beloved die, and report on it as if Superman is not her fiancé is brutal.
There’s a scene amidst the rubble of a building where Lois tries to talk Clark out of continuing this fight. She fears he isn’t going to return from this battle. She isn’t even sure if he can stop Doomsday. But Clark believes that there is always a way. He kisses her and reminds her that no matter what happens, he’s going to love her always (a line that will pay off during the “Reign of the Supermen” story the next year). And then he rushes back into battle.
I mention that because the plot of this story is not exactly what got me into Superman comics. Looking back, the plot is fairly ridiculous and one-note. But it was those glimpses that showed that Superman was a human with loved ones that he cared about; not just Lois, but his parents and other friends. He was the most powerful individual on the planet and could have ruled over humanity yet he saw himself as a man. Superman treated everyone from those underworld monsters to the cops helping him fight Doomsday with the utmost respect. And he was always going to try and protect those people no matter the cost. The Death of Superman is not the most eloquent story, but it does capture that aspect of the character that I love.
Back to the fight. Superman at one point shatters one of Doomsday’s massive knee claws. This is basically “The Russian has been cut!” from Rocky IV. What I find interesting is that Superman has been getting hurt for three or four issues at this point. Doomsday doesn’t get hurt for the first time until the last issue of this battle. So basically, Doomie’s a bit of a wuss.
Apparently deciding that finesse is not going to do anything, Superman decides to stand toe-to-toe with Doomsday and just trade superpunches. As fate would have it, they’re standing at the entrance of the Daily Planet and Clark decides that he can’t let the monster destroy his place of employment. So they just stand there punching each other so hard that the glass in the Daily Planet building is shattering.
Ultimately, we get to the final punch where they both uppercut each other (which I believe would be Rocky II) so hard that they knock each other into the air (hasn’t happened in a Rocky movie…yet). We see the reflection of this image in the lens of Jimmy Olsen’s camera as he and Lois look on in horror. The superhero and the monster collapse to the ground.
As a sidenote, this moment is super anti-climactic in that aforementioned Death and Return of Superman game on Super Nintendo. Doomsday is basically just a boss at the end of Level 2, in which you fight mohawked street punks until you get to the big bad guy. After you take his life bar all the way down, you uppercut each other and die. It’s incredibly disappointing.
At this point there is an omniscient third person narration. I’m going to assume it’s just the voice of Dan Jurgens, the writer of Superman #75. I remember it being a pretty well written piece, but I was also nine. But it talks about how people will remember where they were and what happened in that moment. We see the Justice League that fought alongside Superman and failed. We see his friend Jimmy Olsen not believing that his hero could fall. We see Lois heartbroken. And, in the scene that probably got me the most, we see Ma and Pa Kent huddled together in front of TV in Smallville, Kansas as they watch their son crumble to the earth.
Lois rushes over Clark and cradles him pieta style. Superman asks if Doomsday is…well, he basically says, “Is he…is he?”. Lois assures him that he stopped Doomsday. Honestly, that was a pretty big assumption. She knows nothing about the physiology of this alien killing machine. Did someone check his pulse? Would they even know where to check his pulse? If I were in that situation, I would put pretty good odds on the monster that got hurt for the first time about five minutes ago getting back up to cause more damage.
However, Lois is right. Doomsday has been stopped. And Clark collapses as Dan Jurgens’s narration tells us, “…for this is the day that a Superman died.”
Of course, he got better (Doomsday did too), which is a much more interesting story. Maybe I’ll recount that one day as well. But anyway, that’s “The Death of Superman” as I remember it. Thanks for allowing me to take this trip down nerd memory lane. Happy 20th Doomsday!