It’s been 25 years since the death of Superman, a cultural event that shocked a nation, swept comic books into the mainstream, and, we’re guessing, inspired that one Our Lady Peace song. The crossover event, which spanned a number of DC publications, is still remembered fondly and, in a bid to make something watchable from the current slate of DC adaptations, will reemerge as an animated film from WB animation this summer. In celebration of it all, SYFY rounded up several of the series’ writers for an oral history of the comic that delves deep into its inspiration, creation, and aftermath.
Probably the biggest takeaway is that the offing of Superman nearly didn’t happen. Superman comics were enjoying a bit of a renaissance at the time, as DC had begun embracing continuity across stories, resulting in richer, more emotional arcs. One arc was inching towards the wedding of the superhero’s alter ego, Clark Kent, and love interest Lois Lane. That had to be put on the back burner, however, when the specter of a Superman-centric soap opera began rearing its head. The show, which eventually became Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, would center around the romance between the two characters, so there was talk of holding off the wedding in the comics until the characters were also getting married on the series. Synergy!
The freedom of filling in the gaps of story is what resulted in Superman’s death, which, in itself, was a reaction to what some call “The Dark Age” of comics in the early-to-mid ‘90s.
As writer Jon Bogdanove puts it:
In those days, sometimes referred to as The Dark Age of comics, characters like Superman — good-hearted, purely altruistic heroes — were unpopular. Dark, vengeful, brooding heroes held sway with fans, almost to the exclusion of all other types of heroes, including ours. Superman, the very first comic book superhero, was seen as too “old school” to be taken seriously.
Editor Mike Carlin adds:
Our own personal frustrations with what was popular in comics at the time, murderers and anti-heroes everywhere, and the persistent labeling of Superman as a “boy scout” and a cornball fueled the death itself. If only murderers and monsters were heroes and you readers were going to take Superman for granted, then you won’t mind if we take him away.
It turned out to be a wise gamble, as the death not only resulted in a sales boom, but also the opportunity to explore spin-offs that spun the Superman archetype in different directions, such as Steel, The Eradicator, and, um, Superman with a mullet.
As the DC studios try and rejigger their failing EU, might they consider a similar strategy? Just kill them. Kill them all.