Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Comic Book Event Of 1993 Is A Remarkably Dull Graphic Novel: The Death Of Superman !

The Good: Some of the artwork, Concept
The Bad: No real character development, Anticlimactic, Much of the artwork.
The Basics: With The Death Of Superman, readers are teased over a non-event that is too-rapidly undone, but also stands on its own as a surprisingly bland book.

I remember when I was in high school and the news reported the forthcoming comic book storyline about Superman getting killed. I did not care much about comic books or Superman at the time (I still am not a fan of Superman comics), so it was pretty much a non-event for me. Even so, I dutifully bought a copy of the issue that culminated in Superman’s death (I’m not sure why, even then the pundits were suggesting it was so over-printed that it would end up being worthless in the future) and saved it, forgetting about it somewhere in all of my many moves since. So, when I picked up The Death Of Superman from the local library, there was less a sense of nostalgia and more a sense of inevitability; I had already read the end, I might as well see how the story got there.

Actually, I picked up The Death Of Superman because sometime since I started reading graphic novels, I saw a cover of one of the issues contained within The Death Of Superman that featured the Justice League Of America. The Justice League Of America gets cut down prior to Superman and I, having an interest in many of the characters, thought it would be interesting to read how that happened. That is why I picked up The Death Of Superman.

The Death Of Superman is a remarkably straightforward story, in fact, too straightforward. This is not a complicated event and the villain, nicknamed Doomsday, is hardly a compelling villain. The Death Of Superman is a triumph of brute strength over the strength of a familiar character, with incidental plots running through the book that are more likely to confuse the reader than make them care – like the Blue Beetle having an epiphany as to the identity of Bloodwynd (a character I had never-before seen).

North of Metropolis, a creature breaks out of the earth. With one arm still restrained behind it, the creature begins destroying everything in its path. This leads the Justice League Of America – comprised of Guy Gardner (as Warrior), Fire, Ice, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Maxima (an alien whom I was unfamiliar with before this), and Bloodwyng – to intervene and get their collective asses kicked. They delay the creature, whom Booster nicknames Doomsday, long enough for Superman to arrive at the ruined homestead. After a fierce fight, the creature only gets stronger, which pits Superman against an enemy who has the power to wound – and mortally wound – him.

The Death Of Superman is exactly what it promises . . . for a time. Of course, Superman does not die for real or forever and that is the collosal mindfuck of DC Comics. They won’t let anything that makes them money be buried. I still think that there should be an entire crossover event that explores the final, permanent, death of each character in the DC Universe. The Death Of Superman is not that.

Instead, The Death Of Superman is one surprisingly short march of the creature Doomsday toward Metropolis and the slaughter of Superman in one final attempt to save humanity. The Death Of Superman is a fast read, but it is not a particularly good one.

The story within The Death Of Superman is utterly lacking in subtlety or character development. Doomsday is simply the biggest, meanest, least-vulnerable creature Superman has yet encountered. The result is a plotless conflict that does not make any larger statement on Superman, his values or his time on Earth. Instead, this is just one end to Superman (temporarily).

In addition to having nothing stellar in the character development department, The Death Of Superman has mediocre artwork. The sense of movement within the panels is nonexistent and much of the artwork is simple, more like a comic strip than a comic book. The Death Of Superman lacks artwork that has any realistic sense of coloring and shading and no real depth of color. Ironically, some of the best artwork in the book comes at the outset, while Superman is fighting the generic villains in Underworld.

The Death Of Superman is easy to look back at and complain about how it did not actually do what it promised, but even in context, the book is largely unsatisfying. Superman is the Alpha Good, so his death should be either a glorification of that (he dies fighting for his supreme principles) or the corruption of that (in his final battle, he somehow learns that his efforts have all been in vain). The Death Of Superman gives readers neither option. Superman stands up, as he always does, to try to save human life and a mindless brute punches him real hard. Such is the literary legacy of The Death Of Superman.

For other books that focus on Superman, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Kingdom Come - Alex Ross
Sacrifice - Greg Rucka
The Black Ring - Paul Cornell and Pete Woods


For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to check out my Graphic Novel Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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