The Death of Superman #1 review

Thirty years. It’s been three decades since Superman fell in battle with Doomsday. Since then we’ve seen dozens of creative teams on the various books starring the Man of Steel, some of them excellent. But we’ve never had as sustained a period of greatness as the Triangle Era. From 1991-2002 the Superman titles – the monthly Superman, Action Comics, Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel, later joined by fifth week title Superman: The Man of Tomorrow – gave us 48-52 stories every year. Different teams focused on different aspects of Superman’s life, different members of the supporting cast, different villains, without ever contradicting one another – regular creative summits ensured the writers and artists, heck, even the colourists – were always on the same page where direction of travel was concerned. The phrase ‘never-ending battle’ was never so gloriously true.

And the peak of the run’s popularity came with the Death of Superman storyline, and not just for the fillip it gave the speculators’ market – the story was compelling, with each chapter gaining in intensity and excitement.

So here we are with an 80-page giant saluting Superman’s titanic – and ultimately tragic – tussle with Doomsday, the Kryptonian creature made massive, and driven mad, in a cruel experiment.

And the best thing about this project? It reunites many of the creators who gave us years of fantastic reading with Superman, Lois and friends.

The issue opens with ‘The Life of Superman’, as, years after the death and resurrection of the Man of Steel, young Jon Kent is finally told by mom Lois how his dad gave everything to protect the people of the United States. Meanwhile, Superman finds that Doomsday may be back… Nineties Superman writer/penciller Dan Jurgens revisits the stories that culminated in the seminal Superman #75, recapping and enriching events, while adding a new angle in the shape of Jon’s reactions and the monster he names Doombreaker. Embellisher Brett Breeding is also back, ensuring the art looks as crisp as it ever did, while legendary letterer John Workman adds his distinctive sound effects and relative newcomer Brad Anderson colours with pizzazz. Jurgens made a too-brief return to the Superman family a few years ago, and it’s wonderful to see his sharp, intelligent plotting, his warm characters, again. He homages the original storyline not only with the characters, but with the comics form, reducing the number of panels per page as he heads towards the big battle – first four, them three, two and finally a series of splash pages. The background detail across the 41 pages is superb, from solid citizens to building ornamentation. This is a thoughtful, good-looking slice of Nineties-inspired superheroics. Every page made me grin like a loon, but as an old hack, this is my favourite.

Next we have ‘Above and Beyond’ and a reunion of the Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett, Doug Hazlewood and Glenn Whitmore Adventures of Superman gang. Joined by current Superman letterer Rob Leigh, writer, artists and colourist expand the original stories’ reactions of Ma and Pa Kent, stuck in Smallville watching their son’s bloodiest battle on TV. In an attempt to calm Martha, Jonathan switches the box off and they flock through her scrapbook of cuttings and as we find out that Ma is quite the detective, Jon learns something new about his son. The callbacks to Superman’s post-Crisis period gave me the warm fuzzies.

The Golden Guardian, hero of Suicide Slum, narrates and stars in ‘Standing Guard’ by the stellar Action Comics team of writer Roger Stern and illustrator Butch Guice. Both men are on top form, showing us the Guardian’s efforts to catch up to the Superman/Doomsday fight, with DNAlien Dubbilex by his side. It’s a great-looking, rock-solid untold tale that also features cameos by two of the period’s stalwarts, Ben Turpin and Maggie Sawyer. Stern’s scripting is brilliant, making the Guardian, Jim Harper, more interesting than he’s been in forever. Glenn Whitmore is also back, and I don’t think I’ve seen Guice’s work better coloured. As for Rob Leigh, as well as super-sharp lettering he gives us a wonderful title treatment.

Louise Simonson takes a similar tack to Stern in her story ‘Time’, with longtime Superman: The Man of Steel collaborator Jon Bogdanove. John Henry Irons, later the hero Steel, hurtles through Metropolis trying to get to Superman’s side. He doesn’t make it in time, but he does help many people along the way, and inspires many more, showing that you don’t need powers to be a Superman. John Henry goes unnamed in this story, perhaps because it occurs chronologically before his comics introduction in the Reign of the Supermen story that followed Death of Superman. Whatever the case, it’s great to see the super-smart, massively strong hero back and looking better than ever – Bogdanove has divested his art of its more extreme Nineties stylings, giving a more organic, attractive look to the pages. Glenn Whitmore and Rob Leigh again contribute their talents to fine effect. And if you’re counting the Nineties cameos, we also get Perry White’s eventual adopted son Keith here. One thing this story has that the issue’s other entries don’t is page numbers – good old-fashioned corner box page numbers; and not 1-10 as you might expect, but 68-76 (the splash doesn’t have one, maths fans). It’s apparently just Bogdanove having fun, but I loved it.

This beautiful Kenny Lopez-designed package also gives us a gatefold cover and a slew of themed pin-ups by the likes of Walt Simonson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Lee Weeks and Jamal Campbell.

Pin-ups by Bill Sienkiewicz and Lee Weeks

If you’re a Superman fan, buy this book. You don’t need to have been there when the Death of Superman happened, this is classic superhero storytelling by some of the best people ever to work on the Man of Tomorrow. Dan Jurgens keeps a toe in the Hob’s Bay water, but why aren’t we seeing even guest storytelling from Louise Simonson, Roger Stern, Jerry Ordway, Jon Bogdanove, Butch Guice, Tom Grummett, Brett Breeding and Glenn Whitmore across the Superman titles. Back-ups, annuals, maybe even a quarterly! It could be that all are content with whatever they’re up to, but the excellent work here declares that they still have a lot to give where Superman is concerned.

If The Death of Superman does prove to be the last Superman contribution by any of these great craftspeople, well, what a final word to go out on.

5 thoughts on “The Death of Superman #1 review

  1. This actually looks GOOD! With Stern, Ordway, Jurgens, Guice, Grummett et al on-board perhaps that shouldn’t be a surprise.
    Jackson “Butch” Guice *has* rarely looked better than here, Martin, you’re right (no,you needn’t thank me. Hah!). There’s none of the stiffness that often assails his work and the sympathetic colouring works a treat, none of the embalmed look one often gets with modern digital colour (Brandon Peterson’s work often suffers from this, just compare his art with Ivan Reis’s on Bendis’s recent Superman run and the difference is clear, or compare it with Fernando Pasarin’s on Flash where the difference is even starker. Of course, Reis and Pasarin are both far better artists as well). That one Guice page you showcase is great, just look at the Guardian’s pose, even if Guice is drawing from life it looks far more realistic *from within the comic book world* than the uncanny valley appearance we often see from Guice, Mike Perkins, and other comics artists of their ilk (my favourite Guice art was when he was inked by Kyle Baker on New Mutants). How the heck does one pronounce Jackson “Butch” Guice’s surname anyway? I always pronounced it “Juice” in my head but that can’t be right surely. Guy-se, Guychee, Gwee-se, ACH, I don’t know!
    Nice enthusiastic review, Mr Gray.





    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! The correct pronunciation discovered at last It’s nice to be nice to the “Gwyice”. *cough* (It’s gwyce to be gwyce to the Nice… Oho. L show myself out…There’s a Small Faces/Carl Palmer joke in there, not to mention a Phil Nice gag as well. Awful or awful…ly good, no man can say.)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. t sounds like an unusually nce commerative issue but I’ll sit it out. I wasn’t reading any Superman book when Doomsday arrived and I’ve never read any of the events referenced, including the big death issue. I started reading them when Reign started and stopped when Superman came back. This would have no resonance for me but it’s great to hear DC’s done something greatthat doesn’t star Batman or his army.

    Liked by 1 person

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