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!” ┬áBane 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.