Even before it’s premiered in the USA, Man of Steel has already been projected to be such a moneymaker that a sequel has already been greenlit by Warner Brothers. It’s no surprise. That was why they brought Christopher Nolan and his entire “Dark Knight” team over from that trilogy. It’s why they signed every major participant to a three-picture deal. Now whether those three pictures become Man of Steel and two direct sequels or Man of Steel, one sequel and a Justice League movie is waiting to be seen. I’ve no doubts the Justice League rumors will not abate as WB and DC try to position themselves just as Marvel and Paramount have with The Avengers.
Now that the sequel has been approved, there is likely to be plenty of interest in what story will be told next and what villain will take center stage. While I do have some thoughts on that, I’ll save them for tomorrow. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Nolan and Goyer opt to follow the same structure that they used for Batman and have Superman’s archrival take center stage in the next movie. So get ready, Mr. Mxyzptlk! It’s finally your time to shine!!
There’s plenty of stories to adapt and heroes to present. But there is one story I’m worried they’ll try to tackle. One Superman story I hope they don’t bother to tackle. The famous 1992 Death of Superman.
I’m sure I’m going to get heat for this from Comic Book Guys throughout the land. So be it.
The Death of Superman saga is bad. It’s really, really bad.
OK, let’s backtrack a bit and explain why.
In 1992, the editorial team in charge of the Superman series of comics for DC decided to finally engage in a year-long campaign to bring some sizzle back to the character. Fearful of losing readers to the more extreme comics coming out at the time – Spawn, Youngbloods – they decided to put their character at risk for really the first time. After all, everyone knows that, no matter what, Superman will triumph. Superman can’t die. So why not put that on the line by having him die?
Rather than using a traditional villain from Superman’s rogues gallery, they came up with an entirely new character: Doomsday. A nameless, faceless Goliath with no reason or purpose beyond death and carnage. His name was given to him by one of the other Justice League heroes who fell early to his onslaught. For reasons not explained in the story – but divulged in later comics – Doomsday has a major bone up his butt about Superman. But in a sense, that’s immaterial to this story. Doomsday is drawn like a moth to the name “Metropolis” and cuts a swath of destruction from the Midwest to the East Coast, taking out good guys as he goes. In the end, it falls to Superman to stop him by any means necessary. And he does, fighting him to an exhausting, debilitating draw that seems to kill both the villain and, more memorably, the hero.
While that may sound as exciting at first, consider what I just described. The bulk of the “Death of Superman” story is one massive fight. Doomsday breaks out of his underground prison. Doomsday goes on a rampage that nothing and no one can stop. Superman shows up to stop him. Superman and Doomsday spend all day and all night fighting all the way into and in Metropolis. Doomsday and Superman “kill” each other. Fin.
Both the comics world and the real world were shocked. There were reports on CNN of DC having killed off Superman. Stories ran in newspapers. People could not believe it. Superman dead? How can that be? By definition, he’s “Superman”. He can’t be beat. How could there be no more Superman comics left to tell?
Obviously that was not the case. The storyline continued through the “Funeral For a Friend” and “World Without A Superman” series, which sought to show how the world mourned and changed by the absence of Superman. They went through showing his funeral and commemoration. How the superheroes of the world around him tried to live up to his standards. How his friends, family and loved ones tried to live with the pain of having lost a hero and someone close to them. How do you go with your life without Superman around?
Which led to the “Reign of the Supermen!” storyline in which four strange heroes arrived, each claiming to be Superman. They were each dubbed by one of the many monikers bestowed upon Superman. You had “The Metropolis Kid”, a young man claiming to be a clone of Superman. There was “The Man of Tomorrow”, a cyborg claiming to have been refashioned with Kryptonian technology. Also, there was “The Last Son of Krypton”, which appeared the closest to be the original Superman in physique, but was emotionally distant and resorted to violence to deal with villains. Finally, there was “The Man of Steel” aka John Henry Irons, a metalworker who never claimed to be the original Superman, but to be working to keep his spirit alive. (Now you know where the Shaq movie Steel came out of).
The storyline tried to get you to believe that any one of these four options was the real Superman reborn. Except that you know that it isn’t The Man of Steel or The Metropolis Kid. So by easy process of elimination you’re left with just two options – which becomes one when the Cyborg Superman destroys a major city. Except…it’s not The Last Son of Krypton either. In a double-switcheroo, you find out that the real Superman never died, that his body went into a “saving coma” and was brought back to the Fortress of Solitude by The Last Son of Krypton (who was really The Eradicator, another villain) to syphon off Superman’s powers as it healed in a regeneration matrix. When Superman reawakens, he’s not as powerful, but is able to beat the Cyborg Superman after being saved by The Eradicator/Last Son from Kryptonite gas.
If you didn’t get all that, don’t worry. It’s as confusing as it sounds. In the end, Superman was back on the job, sporting a new all-black outfit with a silver shield and long Michael Bolton-like hair. Clark Kent opted for a ponytail. Oh and guns. Superman was strapped for a short while too. Because you know, that was big in the 90s. You couldn’t be a hero without bandoliers of ammo strapped to your chest or legs. The Metropolis Kid took on the moniker of Superboy and The Man of Steel became simply Steel. They Cyborg Superman was a villain. And the world went on.
Somehow this storyline managed to be extremely simple at the start and very convoluted at the end. And in the middle of it, you have a whole section of people crying and trying to get over Superman’s absence. In spite of all of that, it became one of the biggest Superman stories ever – certainly the biggest in the last 20-25 years. It tapped into the zeitgeist and became global news. The issue with Superman’s death (Superman #75) became one of the biggest selling single-issue comic books of all time with DC having to go to print many times to meet demand – most of the 3 million comic books of the initial run selling out the day off.
While successful, the “Death of Superman” as well as the Batman storyline “Knightfall” were seen by many as publicity stunts to get attention from the casual audience. Many have, in turn, blamed them – amongst many other factors – for the collapse of the comic book industry at the turn of the century. When casual audiences found out that most issues did not feature world-altering events, they were turned off. This meant that the big print runs that went unsold turned into a large backlog of untouched books that stores could not move. Just an anecdote to the story.
Deep down, the “Death of Superman” saga says nothing about the character that other, better stories do not tell. We know he’s a self-sacrificing sort. We know he will fight to protect the innocent. It doesn’t really even challenge the world to see Superman in a different light because we never believe that the Supermen are anywhere near to the real McCoy. And when Superman is back for the scene, it’s such a different character that, for a while, it didn’t seem real. It’s a story that screams “I’m important! Look at me!” when, in reality, it’s nothing of the sort.
Would I sacrifice a great Superman vs Luthor movie for this movie? Or a Superman vs Brainiac movie? Or seeing Metallo, Parasite, Solomon Grundy or even Lobo? No, I would not. I think this is a story whose flaws would be doubled on the big screen. You’d have a great big battle to open the movie, a sad middle section and then a weird third part with too many characters all saying they’re Superman at the end, with a climax that’d be too confusing to boot.
if Snyder, Goyer and Nolan are smart, they’ll resist the urge to move on it as its next movie. What could they do? I’ll put that in the next piece.