Columnists Joe and Kevin take you through the experience of learning to read comic books. Each week they alternate as Joe (the teacher) explains why he picked a specific book, and Kevin (the student) gives his impressions.
Previously on CBL
Week 1: “The Death of Superman”
What You Need to Know
At this point DC Comics was a much different universe than you probably think. The main villain Doomsday had been hinted at in the four main Superman books (Superman, Superman: The Man of Steel, Action Comics, and The Adventures of Superman) on the last page for a month prior to the event. In Superman: The Man of Steel #18, a gloved fist is shown punching a steel wall, accompanied by the caption: “Doomsday is coming!”
Also at that time The Justice League was no the big seven (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter), or even the animated team you remember. Guy Gardner, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Maxima, Fire, Ice, and Bloodwynd made up the team. This was a holdover from the sillier Justice League written by Keith Giffen era.
Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are sent to cover the battle for television, because at that point newspapers where on the decline and network news was sexier. Lex Luthor was masquerading as his non-existent son “Lex Luthor II”, because
he had his body cloned and his brain transplanted after his original body suffered radiation poisoning from a kryptonite ring he wore. He hung out with Supergirl who was actually a protoplasmic entity known as Matrix. The original Supergirl was killed in “Crisis on Infinite Earths” seven years earlier.
Oh, and Jonathan Kent is still alive in this version of Superman, unlike what you remember from the movies.
In December of 1992, DC Comics started one of the biggest events in their history. Granted, to comic book fans, it was second only to Crisis on Infinite Earths, but to the rest of the world, thanks to media coverage, The Death of Superman was the single most important event in comic book history.
Up until this point Superman was in a slump. Superman IV was a box office dud, Batman was getting all the hype with a successful movie and cartoon series. John Byrne had left after his successful run revamping the series in 1985, and one of the ways DC was thinking of fixing the title was to push the Clark Kent/Lois Lane storyline forward. This meant a Very Special Superman wedding. However, an unexpected obstacle appeared in the form of Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher.
In 1989 Warner Communications, which had owned DC, merged with Time Inc. to form Time Warner Inc. One of the new company’s first uses was the creation of “The Adventures of Lois and Clark ” which broke grounds by having the first Greek Superman.
One of the storylines planned for the new show was, you guessed it, a Very Special Superman wedding. So it came down from on high that the comics would postpone the storyline until they could cross promote it with the show.
The writers, of course, were none too happy about postponing an already written storyline for what might possibly be years. It was then that Superman editor Roger Stern suggested “why don’t we just kill ’em”.
The Death of Superman was the first real test of DC’s new continuity since “Crisis on Infinite Earths” in 1985. One of the main reasons for Crisis was the establishment of companywide continuity. All of the books at DC were now taking place on one single Earth at one given time. So, hypothetically, if something big happened in a Batman book, it would affect what would happen in Green Lantern’s book. The killing of the biggest (or second biggest if you’re a Batman fan), would have repercussions throughout the entire company’s line.
It, did, but probably not as small as they would have predicted.
You see, the events of “The Death of Superman” can still be felt in DC’s continuity today. After Superman “died” there was another major event called the “Reign of the Supermen.” Though it featured many new characters (including Steel, and a new post-crisis Superboy),
what really impacted the continuity was the destruction of Coast City. Coast City was Green Lantern’s hometown, and the DC analogue to a major California city (LA, San Francisco, San Diego, etc…). At the end of “Reign” the writers decided that the major villain would blow up Coast City while the GL of the time, Hal Jordan, was away. Though Hal came back and helped Supes win the day, the psychological ramifications of all his loved ones dying caused Hal to go insane, become a villain and wipe out the Green Lantern Corps.
He also then become responsible of DC’s next big continuity shifting event “Zero Hour”. Hal then sacrificed himself to save Earth in “Final Night”. His return from the dead had even bigger ramifications in the 2000’s which I hope to get into later in this article series.
“The Death of Superman” also had an unintended effect on the real world. The amount of attention DC got from their little stunt was enormous, and it drove people to comic book stores in droves to buy issue 75 which came, coincidentally enough, packaged in a black polybag with an armband. Because of the collectors’ credo of “mint condition”, many people bought two of the issue for collectability sake. The thing is, people didn’t know any better, and in the 90’s, people, especially children, started having much more disposable income. The word investment started being used simultaneously with comic book. At its peak Superman #75 mint in polybag was selling for close to $200. Now it is important to remember that this was pre-ebay, and the only place t buy comics was at a local retailer, who only had the listed price in Comic Book Buyers Guide or Wizard to go on. It was almost a Ponzi scheme on behalf of DC. They created a notion of half to buy multiple issues to maintain mint collectability. Like most economic models, the price was dictated by want, and a lot of people wanted #75, and stores hoarded their copies. The joke was on the retailer, when the market bottomed out in the late 90’s and eBay showed that what they thought was a $200 comic was worth only about 15 bucks on a good day.
However this wasn’t before every comic book company started following DC’s model. Packaging and shock stories became more important than the writing itself. This led to the inclusion of variant, polybags, and chromium into the comic reader’s lexicon. Within the next 10 years Batman had his back broken, Wonder Woman was replaced, Green Arrow was killed, and Green Lantern went insane, was replaced, and then killed. It was certainly an interesting time to get into comics.
A Personal Take:
As I said, it was an interesting time to get into comics. Superman #75 was in fact the first comic I ever bought. But what was interesting about it was that it instantly hooked me. It was so easy to read with its 23 splash page panels, that I immediately went on the hunt for the issues that led up to it. It was a crash course in comics 101. I saved up the 5 dollars I made mowing the lawn every week, and rode my bike to the comic store to pick up the next week’s issue. I never stopped from there. Granted it wasn’t the best book on the market, but something about the history I was taking part in made the whole process of buying my weekly books feel almost holy.
This is the first comic I ever read, and it shows. It was a great start because it was such an easy read. It’s demeaning to compare it to Dick and Jane, but the process by which you read a comic book is fundamentally different than how you read a book, and how you learn that method of reading is important.
For Kevin, I wanted to make sure I gave him an experience similar to mine.
Next week: Kevin’s take on “The Death of Superman”
You can also hear Joe and Kevin on their podcast
Read along with Joe and Kevin
Next up- X-Men: Fatal Attractions
Spawn vol.1 and Gen 13 vol.1
X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Vol. 2-4