More Complaining About Superman (and His Unimpressive Death)

So, I picked up a couple graphic novels at the library over the weekend so that my girlfriend wouldn’t feel so self conscious about the mountain of manga, cds and dvds she borrowed. Normally I wouldn’t want to add more to my already extensive list of books to read, but I figure that graphic novels are slightly more acceptable, since they don’t slow down my progress on my main reading list by more than a day or two.

One of the two graphic novels I picked up was the Death of Superman. I’d read this one once before when I was a kid so thought I’d relive one of those ‘turning points for comics’ from my childhood. I’ve never been a huge Superman fan, partly because he’s dangerously boring in the wrong hands. Either he’s so powerful that nothing is a challenge or he’s been turned into an invincible and invulnerable weenie who can’t actually fight very well despite having nearly unlimited power like he was in DCAU. Drama for Superman exists only when he experiences loss. Superman cannot die, but things he loves can be taken from him. Death of Superman tries to flip the script by invoking the drama of a world losing Superman. This can be incredibly powerful if you’ve got a deep attachment to the Man of Steel. Unfortunately for Supes, I don’t, and I won’t be clapping my hands hoping to bring him back to life.

What I remembered from my childhood reading was that Doomsday just shows up, beats the hell out of the Justice League, and then he and Superman punch each other several times until they both finally die. And, uh… That’s how it plays out. What struck me today that did not occur to childhood me was the shallowness of Doomsday and the shallowness of Superman’s death at his hands.

I’m told that Doomsday has some explanation that happens later. But not here. So, he’s just a big unstoppable monster sue that is introduced to kill Superman. He punches his way out of the ground, across Ohio, through Pennsylvania (ostensibly), through New York and to Metropolis. In Ohio, he tears apart a Justice League B team to illustrate how tough he is, and oh, man! The combined laser beams of Superman plus the Justice League B team (you can’t tell me that Fire, Ice, Stormwynd, ex-Lantern Guy Gardener, Blue Beatle, Booster Gold and the crazy warrior lady whose name I already forgot are A-listers) can do nothing! One of the best lines in the comic is the reporter noting that the battle has ravaged the better part of the US. Yes, the better part of the US comprised of Ohio, the part of Pennsylvania around Erie, and middle New York.

Interestingly, Doomsday beating the Justice League B team was much more powerful to me now than when I was a kid. A team with various powers and problem solving skills can’t solve this problem! So a guy with one power and no problem solving skills is going to fare better? Characters, including Supes, have to remark that Doomsday is the most powerful foe Superman has ever fought. Because otherwise, we wouldn’t really know. One big punchy monster is the same as the next big punchy monster, right? Only way we know is by having Superman say “ow” when he gets hit. And Superman being Superman, he has no strategy other that punching and hoping he can outlast his opponent.

I found myself thinking “Superman got killed by Doomsday because he fights dumb against a villain that plenty of other DC characters could have handled better” which translates to “Superman got killed because an Exec said he had to die for publicity and the writers did it in a really lazy way.”

Any character that had the ability to teleport others could’ve thrown him into space. Characters who had the ability to pass through matter could’ve kept him distracted. One of the DC sorcerers could’ve banished him to the distant future where he and Vandal Savage would’ve been the only living things on the planet. Doomsday’s main traits are virtual invulnerability and infinite strength. Going toe to toe with him is like a boxer who goes toe to toe with Vitali Klitschko. You’re going to get hit lots of times, very hard, and you will be lucky if you live.

So, when Superman was lying there dead, I wasn’t thinking so much “poor Superman”, I was thinking “Maybe you should’ve just tried to hold the line until Martian Manhunter showed up?”

The next major killing/crippling an A-lister that DC did was the Knightfall arc about two years later, and I’d like to think that they learned a bit from Doomsday. While Bane is pretty much tailor-made by the universe to want to kill Batman for no logical reason, at least he has a strategy. While Superman just gets punched a lot across 3 states and 5 or 6 issues, Batman’s fall is painful and drawn out. We see Batman beginning to lose his grip after several close calls rather than be told “Ow, his punches actually hurt harder than other times I’ve been punched!”  Bane showing up in Gotham and immediately breaking Batman’s back prior to breaking everyone out of Blackgate would’ve felt as lazy as Death of Superman.

The other graphic novel I got was the Risso Batman Noir collection. I think it gave me nightmares. I really think that Ventriloquist is the scariest Batman villain. Can you imagine how horrified and cowed his henchmen must be to put up with Ventriloquists *ahem* eccentricities to follow the orders of Mr. Scarface? Those first few (several) times, people must have laughed. And must have died truly horrific and violent deaths (Scarface is fond of knifings) to leave an impression on the underworld that the old man with the puppet is not a person with whom to mess.

16 responses to “More Complaining About Superman (and His Unimpressive Death)

  1. The Death and Return of Superman remains one of my favorite character arcs in comics — possibly due to nostalgia — but I can’t defend it.

    I remember the Ventriloquist/Scarface was another really tragic character in the animated series — they all were, but you know what I mean.

    –Dither

    • I really DID like it when I was younger, but, as said, on second reading, it was kind of a let-down. Then again, I’ve also not read the “World Without Superman” or “Superman Reborn” arcs, so I’m kind of in a vacuum there. If the library had had them, I definitely would’ve checked it out.

      But, holy smokes, the Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso Batman makes Frank Miller’s various Batman runs seem lighthearted. Also, I totally want to read more stories about Flashpoint Batman, where Bruce was killed by Joe Chill, Thomas Wayne became Batman and Martha Wayne became Joker.

      • I have trades of the Death of Superman, World Without Superman, Rise of the Supermen, and the Return of Superman. It was my introduction to a lot of characters and Superman lore, like Warworld and the Eradicator.

        I’m still (the tiniest bit) miffed that “Coast City” was brought back from the dead, since its loss during Superman’s absence helped underscore (for me, anyway) that his presence was necessary to avert global catastrophes.

        –Dither

      • I think one of the reasons I like the DC universe is because it tiers its heroes fairly nicely. Maybe kind of like weight classes, even. It has the local heroes who deal with crime on a city level, world heroes who deal with crime on national and international levels, and then those who deal with trouble on galactic levels. Sometimes those heroes might have to move up and down the weight-classes to deal with particular threats, but it gives a pretty good idea of who’s up for what in DC Universe. Makes me wonder what El Diablo would be up to whenever Darkseid shows up…

      • I like the weight class analogy.

        My wife and I have discussed on a few occasions how we might “fix” Superman — I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before — the angle I think I would take is to have him age and be a “generational” superhero.

        Each generation of Superman would be different — giving writers the opportunity to explore different facets of the character, from his alien heritage (the world’s strongest immigrant), to his role as one of earth’s protectors, and dealing with “transplanted” Kryptonians and the effect another world’s technology would have on earth.

        Not a new idea, but I think some of the problems stem from trying to incorporate his entire history into a single character.

        –Dither

      • That’s kind of what they admitted with Crisis on Infinite Earths. Golden Age superman who fought Nazis was a wholly different person from the Silver Age superman who grew up in 50s as Superboy, and have slightly different powers to account for things like the fact that old superman didn’t actually fly. Post-Crisis Superman is a wholly new individual created by the merging of the multiverse, Golden Age superman retired to a pocket universe paradise, and a bunch of other weird and confusing things happen.

    • I also feel like the senselessness and brutality of Superman’s death at the hands of Doomsday would have been more effective if fighting senseless and brutal monsters wasn’t Supes’ schtick. Blue Beetle getting put in a coma was more moving because poor Beetle isn’t used to going up against omnipotent punch-face monsters, so you knew he didn’t stand a chance.

      Then again, I understand that because dealing with senseless brutality is Supes’ thing, it’s supposed to be shocking when he’s killed, because who’d of thought Supes would die in what should’ve just been another fight. But that’s what made his ‘death’ in the DCAU more interesting; I mean, holy crap, Superman was killed? BY TOYMAN?! EVEN TOYMAN IS SHOCKED BY THIS TURN OF EVENTS :O

      • I’m not even familiar with that version of BB, (I mostly know of the version from Batman Brave and the Bold), but even so, that, coupled with Superman trying to ignore calls for help, were the most powerful scenes in the whole thing.

      • He was apparently something that Blue Beetle was gonna tell us if he hadn’t gotten brunched in the face.

        According to wikipedia, Bloodwynd, at that moment in time, was actually Martian Manhunter in the form of Bloodwynd, being controlled by the evil demon Rott, who had trapped the real Bloodwynd into the mystical Blood Gem created by African Slaves that was, along with the Demon, the source of Bloodwynd’s powers. Blue Beetle figures it out because Bloodwynd gets hurt by fire, which is MM’s main weakness, but is taken out before he can finish his sentence.

        Well, I guess that explains why Martian Manhunter didn’t help out. And also, MAN! D:<

      • I know, that totally sounds like something that ought to be in Axe Cop and not a serious title like Justice League of America, amirite?

      • When I reread D&R a few years back, I wondered why so much of the arc with Doomsday seemed to take place in JLA. I *thought* it was weird, especially when there were so many references to things that were not… well, Superman-related. It was *his* death after all.

        The revelation Blue Beetle had moments before getting pummeled into a coma seemed like it was unimportant in light of what was going on… now it’s like something out of a ridiculous soap opera.

        “Oh noes! Don’t reveal the secret!”
        COMA’d

        –Dither

      • Western comics are TOTALLY soap opera. Made worse by the fact that the most significant stories take place across multiple titles. Further exacerbated by collected editions not containing all tie-in titles. (For instance, the Thomas Wayne as Batman story collected in Batman Noir is actually part of the Flashpoint arc, but only the parts directly related to the Flash are collected in the Flashpoint trade) It’s one of the main reasons why I avoided getting into western comics for so long.

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