“Let’s Just Kill ‘Im”
By Caleb Shupe
In 1992, one of the world’s most well-known celebrities met his end at the hands of one who would soon embody evil itself. Miraculously, at exactly the same moment, the man we loved dealt an equally killing blow to his foe.
They had been at war for some time, clashing in violent skirmishes that leveled cities and decimated the landscape. They were equally matched; yet our hero was widely considered without equal.
This event made national and even international news, as children and adults the world over, wondered what had happened to the Man of Steel.
How could anyone kill Superman?
Apparently it wasn’t easy.
The idea to kill off Superman was tossed around as a joke by Jerry Ordway, writer of Adventures of Superman, in meetings at DC headquarters, until Mike Carlin realized that they were handling one of the most sensational, brilliant notions in the history of the comic book. Who would even entertain the thought that the mightiest superhero to ever live would be pushing up daisies? It’s absurd.
The only way to do it was to make a character so absurdly strong, so utterly indomitable, that you believe he can do anything.
At risk of giving away crucial details, I will not explain his backstory here. If you really want to know, go ask your nearest comic book nerd. They will tell you in minute detail about the ridiculous power, the burning rage, and the earth-shattering presence of the monster that managed to kill Superman.
This entire story is stunning. The art is spectacular, capturing the details of reality and combining them beautifully with the fantasy of superhero lore. An interesting point to note is that even the structure of the panels is building to a climax. The four comic books that, together, tell the story progress as follows, with only a couple of exceptions: the first issue has 4 panels per page. The second issue has 3 panels, the third 2, and the fourth issue, Superman: Man of Steel # 19, has 1 panel per page.
Throughout, The Death of Superman communicates resilience. The Justice League is faced with a force that none of them can beat, alone or together. It really doesn’t matter—Doomsday is too fast, too strong. He rips apart an interstate, brings down helicopters and blows up a gas station. He demonstrates his terrible abilities over and over again, never showing weakness or weariness. One by one, even the toughest members of the JL (Maxima, Bloodwynd, Booster Gold) are defeated or stay behind to help clean up the monstrous mess that Doomsday has left in his wake.
Superman keeps fighting. He is beaten, battered, and bruised. But he has no choice. No one else can help him. Superman is alone.
The part that sticks with me after reading such a beautiful story is that Superman does not ever give up. He never falters or quits. There is nothing on his mind but keeping Doomsday away from everything Kal-El holds dear on Earth. It is that unwavering devotion that I think we can learn from.
In the end, Superman sacrifices himself to save Earth (surprise!). He performs the most perfect act of selflessness, to deliver his body and mind and soul to die at the hands of his foe, if only he can land a similar deathblow on Doomsday.
In the end, we see Ma and Pa Kent sobbing in front of the TV; they just watched the events unfold on the news. We can only imagine how they must feel. The Justice Leaguers have arrived, but too late to save their leader.
And the final shot, covering two panels, just breaks my heart. The citizens of Metropolis look on, stunned. They are absolutely devastated. And poor Lois Lane…she holds the limp, broken body of Clark Kent, her Superman, in her arms, and she just cries.
This book changed a nation, and a world. It changed my life. It can change yours, too. But don’t just read it and cry and move on. How will you think about your relationships differently? How many people would you give your life for? How many should you give your life for? Is there a limit? Superman didn’t think so. He was there to protect everyone, good or evil, right or wrong. Regardless of whether or not they deserved it.
We can learn an ultimate love from the death of Superman.