Superman died. Well, for a little while. 25 years ago.
Running out of ideas for Superman, the DC Comics editorial team finally decided at a ‘Superman summit’ meeting in 1992 that they would stop joking about killing Superman and actually do it. The story made headlines across the world in newspaper and TV newscasts. It even became a punchline on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.
So it was on Wednesday, November 18, 1992, that Superman #75 (with a cover date of January 1993) hit the newsstands and fans got to see the climactic final blows exchanged between Superman and his just-as-powerful new foe, Doomsday. Of course, Superman came back a few months later and we found out “death” for a Kryptonian is really just a months-long coma. But, hey, why dwell on that cheap cop-out from DC Comics and lessen the impact and nostalgic worth of this epic comic book moment?
Of course, being the 1990’s and all, there was a special polybag “memorial” edition of Superman #75 available in the comic book stores. The plain black bag featured nothing on the cover except that now iconic blood-soaked Superman logo and that’s all it needed. The cover was shocking, sad, and bleak to my young impressionable mind.
Open the bag up, and here is what you got:
$2.50 may not seem like a lot now, but that was double the price of most comics at the time, including the newsstand edition of Superman #75. Good luck finding a copy of either on that day of their release. We had one comic book store in my hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia– New Quest Comics. Doing a quick google search show’s there’s a handful there now, but back in the early ’90s, comic books and nerd culture weren’t “cool” yet despite movies like Batman and Batman Returns making big bucks at the box office.
I was so excited to read this book. Not that I wanted Superman to die, but if he was going to do so, I needed to see it with my own eyes. I even clipped out articles from the local newspaper surrounding the event, one of them dated for same day the comic was released:
I called New Quest Comics on Tuesday afternoon asking if they could hold me a copy the following day. The owner (who was the father of one of my sister’s friends) told me that he could not and it was first come, first served. My mom let me take the day off from school because we were going to try to get to the comic book store as soon as they opened to get a copy. Always thought that was really cool of her because she knew how much this meant to me. So I get to the store and, of course, the place is packed and the comic is not on the shelf. Heartbroken, I go to confirm with the owner that they are out, but then he quietly pulls the special memorial edition comic out from behind the counter and said he had been holding it for me. I guess he didn’t want me blabbing to my friends that he’d hold copies for you (which I wouldn’t have done anyway). So I had my copy and was probably more excited for that than anything else in my entire life by that point.
Of course, as a young kid, I read the comic and was in disbelief. Yeah, I knew he was going to die. That was the whole point of the story, but I didn’t want to believe it was happening.
The exclusive Skybox trading card was a promotion for their ‘Death of Superman’ line of trading cards that came out around the same time. I had a few of those packs but I guess I’ve thrown them out at some point. They included panels from the comic books, but are kinda pointless if you have the comics themselves…
I really loved the armband to show your mourning. I never actually wore it, but it was great touch since so many superheroes wore it to his funeral and in this poster included in this edition.
25 years I’ve had this posted and I just noticed this…Why is Darkseid in the crowd mourning? Wouldn’t he be ecstatic that Superman is dead? Might as well put Lex Luthor and Brainiac there as well. I don’t get that. Sandman is an interesting choice too since he was a full-blown Vertigo (i.e. “mature readers”) character by this point and was not involved in DC’s regular superhero line.
The rest of the group is a good snapshot of early ’90s DC Comics: Legion of Super-Heroes/Legionnaires, New Titans, the Ray, Mon-El, Azrael, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, fellow Metropolis-based characters like Guardian, Gangbuster & Agent Liberty, Waverider, Maxima, Bloodwynd, Deathstroke as a good guy, Lobo, yellow-ring Guy Gardner, etc.
The events surrounding Superman’s death and return were essentially broken up into three parts that all received their own collected editions: “The Death of Superman” (depicting the arrival of the mindless monster Doomsday and his collision course and final battle with Superman), “World Without a Superman” (where we see fellow heroes mourn and try to fill the void Superman left behind), and “The Return of Superman” (where four new characters appear claiming to be a variation of Superman and the actual Superman returns to save the day yet again). All three of these story arcs were collected into one big collection called The Death and Return of Superman, but I still have the individual collected editions.
It feels somewhat poetic that the 25th anniversary of Superman’s death just happens to coincide with the opening weekend of Justice League, in which we get to see the resurrection of the live-action version Superman after just witnessing his death in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’m not sure how many people have realized that, I’m not even sure if DC Comics & Warner Bros. have. If not, it was a missed marketing opportunity to release new editions of the entire “death and return” stories.
I can’t say that I’ve followed Superman that closely since the mid-late ’90s, but I can say that the early ’90s were a very special time for me as a comic back fan and maybe older and more cynical readers probably wrote the whole thing off as a stunt, this entire story line completely captured my attention and imagination and provided for hours of entertainment. To this day, I still read the entire death and return stories every handful of years.