For some reason, killing off Superman
is a popular idea. It may be because, being the Ultimate Hero
, it is awesome
to see him make the ultimate sacrifice
. Maybe it's because he's normally invulnerable to nearly everything
and so his death comes as a shock. Maybe it's a Christ allegory
. Or maybe it's because some people can't stand the character and want to see him offed even if only for a short while
. Whatever the case, this has been done several times in various media over the decades.
The first occasions were as "imaginary stories" (that is, set outside of the official continuity
) published during the Silver Age
of comics. One notable one was Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?
, which was about a theoretical end to the pre-Crisis Superman, though he wasn't actually dead, just Brought Down to Normal by choice.
The final episode of Super Friends
(aired in November 1985), was also titled "The Death of Superman", and opened with the funeral ceremony, featuring the coffin being sent into the sun
. He gets better -- he was only mostly dead.
An earlier story from Challenge of the Superfriends
also featured Superman (and the rest of the League) being killed.
However, the most famous instance was the "Death of Superman" Story Arc
in the Superman comics during the 1990s, and the animated movie (based on that story) titled Superman Doomsday
that came out in 2007.The Death of Superman
is split into three parts:
- Doomsday! (November, 1992-January, 1993)
- Funeral for a Friend (January-June,1993)
- Reign of the Supermen! (June-October, 1993)
In this story, a monster named Doomsday
comes out of nowhere and thrashes both Superman AND the Justice League International
. When it attacks Metropolis, Superman must unleash all of his hidden power
to stop it, killing Doomsday but also getting mortally wounded in the process. He dies in Lois Lane
's arms', while his ragged cape ended up hung on a pole as a sort of tragic flag: possibly the most effective visual ever seen in comic book history.
Naturally, DC Comics
planning on really killing off one of their main most famous characters
permanently: it was a publicity stunt
to boost sales, and the plan was to soon bring him back. However, the general media picked up the story and ran with it, and a lot of people believed it. This is because, at the time, this thing hadn't
been done to death; this story may have been the Trope Codifier
for the Comic Book Death
.The Death of Superman
arc happened by accident: originally, the then-current Superman writing were going to get Superman and Lois Lane married; however, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
was already green-lit at ABC, and the producers of the show wanted the wedding to happen first on the show. Forced to come up with a new storyline to replace "The Wedding" arc, Jerry Ordway, the then-current writer for The Adventures of Superman
, jokingly said at the next meeting, "Let's just kill 'im!" Normally, the other writers would laugh it off, but this time, they would do the deed.
Reign of the Supermen
DC then decided to milk the story a bit more, and extended it to last nearly a year, with the rather inventive idea of having not one but FOUR people showing up and claiming to be
a resurrected Superman. These were:
- The Man of Tomorrow (Cyborg Superman): A cyborg version of Superman, whose DNA was a match for the original's and whose mechanical parts were Kryptonian tech. He claimed amnesia about who repaired him; yet he could recall crucial details about Superman's past.
- The Last Son of Krypton (The Kryptonian Eradicator): A vigilante with a personality similar to the one Superman had demonstrated in an earlier arc, where he (under the influence of a Kryptonian artifact called The Eradicator) became ruthlessly logical.
- The Metropolis Kid (Superboy): A reckless, fame-seeking teenage (assumed) clone created by a secret government project. He cheerfully admits to being a clone, and plans to become Superman's successor. Don't ever call him Superboy.
- The Man of Steel (Steel): A black hero wearing a suit of Powered Armor. He was the only one to both admit he was NOT Superman from the start and not actively claim the name for himself. John Henry Irons merely wanted to keep the spirit of Superman alive (although there were hints that he may have been literally serving as an anchor for Superman's soul).
Each of these characters was allowed to star in one of Superman's then current titles for a few months. It was eventually revealed that the real Superman was none of them, he wasn't even dead but rather in Suspended Animation
. The Cyborg Superman
was actually Hank Henshaw
, an Anti-Villain
from a previous story, now a bona fide threat
as his Dragon
) whom the others had to team up to stop. Superman was soon Back from the Dead
afterwards, and (infamously) came back with a mullet
, which lasted four maddening years
. The Superman legacy carriers
stuck around for other stories, with two of them (Superboy
) even getting their own series. Steel would also appear in Superman: The Animated Series
and Justice League Unlimited
, and Superboy is a main character in Young Justice
The storyline had the most lasting impact on Green Lantern
turned out to be a villain collaborating with Mongul
to prepare Earth to be converted into a War World
(basically like a Death Star). He started by annihilating Hal Jordan's
home town of Coast City, while Jordan was in space. When Jordan returned, his grief drove him into his controversial turn as Parallax
Later stories brought back Doomsday as well, who was revealed to have been created as an experiment on Krypton
and buried on Earth long ago. However he hasn't been quite as menacing since then, probably because he no longer has a story-backed reason to be
The entire arc including The Death
, and Reign
are often referred to officially as The Death and Return of Superman
, taking into consideration his return after several months.
The animated movie is more or less the same as the comics arc (especially the death sequence) but with the exclusion of the Justice League and the Superman wannabes (except for an (adult) clone), probably to make the story simpler (or for licensing reasons.)
Prior to the Superman: Doomsday
movie, the Justice League
animated series episode "Hereafter" did an homage to this story as well, in which Superman is (apparently) disintegrated by one of Toyman's weapons. The Man of Steel is mourned and buried (symbolically, they had no body to inter) by the other heroes, the people of Metropolis, and even Lex Luthor
. Then the episode takes a turn for the bizarre when Lobo
shows up, demanding to fill Superman's place in the Justice League. Then the action skips forward 3000 years to reveal that Supes wasn't killed, but blasted forward in time. Future Earth is a red-sunned wreck
, and a depowered Superman must team up with Vandal Savage—now the sole survivor of humanity—to rebuild a time machine to send Supes back.
Doomsday also showed up in this series, in the episodes "A Better World" and "The Doomsday Sanction", but was revealed to be an altered clone of Superman
and doesn't get to kill Superman.
This Comic Book provides examples of:
- Affirmative Action Legacy: Sort of with the African American Steel. He didn't outright want to replace Superman, but just wanted to keep his spirit alive.
- Appropriated Appellation: The name "Doomsday" was given to it by Booster Gold.
- BFG: Part of Steel's origin and initial battles involved a man-portable Plasma cannon he originally designed being sold to gangbangers.
- Back from the Dead: Superman, he can't stay dead forever.
- Badass Longhair: Supes came back with The Super-Mullet that he wore for a good portion of the nineties. He cut it back to his traditional spitcurl when he got married to Lois.
- Berserk Button: It's generally not a good idea to call Superboy anything other than Superman, prior to the real Superman's return. Destroying his jacket is also not recommended.
- Big Bad: Doomsday for The Death of Superman, and Cyborg Superman for Reign of the Supermen.
- Breakout Character: Superboy went on to become a prominent DC character. Steel didn't become as prominent, but did get A Day in the Limelight for the year-long 52 series.
- Bruce Wayne Held Hostage: Inverted. Metropolis goes searching for Clark Kent, not knowing that, because Superman died, Clark died. Clark's Secret Keepers (his adoptive parents, Lana Lang, and Lois) resolve to not tell the world his secret, and Metropolis just assumes that Clark was one of the several hundred people killed in Doomsday's rampage. Superman later resolves this issue by having him rescue Matrix-shapeshifted-as-Clark (complete with that awful mullet), so that Metropolis assumes that Clark was just buried underneath the rubble for months.
- Cash Cow Franchise: The compiled first part of the arc, called "The Death of Superman", is the best-selling graphic novel of all time.
- Cult: A cult of Superman worshippers make their prominence after Superman's death, proclaiming that he will rise and save them all. The cult splits in four once the Superman replacements show up, each claiming that their chosen substitute was the real Superman reborn. Though we never learn what became of them, especially when it was revealed to the public that none of them are the real Superman.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The Cyborg deals these to both the Last Son of Krypton and Superboy.
- The Dark Age of Comic Books
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Superman in Lois' arms.
- Driven to Madness: Hank Henshaw, due to his Trauma Conga Line of losing his friends, body, and wife, so he becomes the Cyborg Superman.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: Dr. Hank Henshaw was actually a gag Expy of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, appearing only in a single story arc. Who would have thought he'd become one of Superman's greatest foes.
- Generic Doomsday Villain: Doomsday, at least in this series. He was given much more depth in subsequent appearances, which explain why he is the way he is.
- Headbutting Heroes: The Reign of the Superment arc contains a few examples:
- A little ways into the Reign of the Supermen arc, Guy Gardner instigates a fight between himself and The Last Son of Krypton. It ends when the Last Son purposely tosses him into a building being used for an illicit arms and drug trade, upon which the two of them briefly team up and part ways relatively amicably.
- Later on, after The Last Son of Krypton doesn't take too kindly to the Man of Steel calling him a fraud (for killing a thug who he felt posed no threat to him), the two start brawling in Metropolis. After the two are chewed out by Lois Lane, the Last Son almost murders a process server and their fight resumes, taking them into space and back down on the other side of the country in Coast City.
- The confrontation between the Man of Tomorrow and the Last Son of Krypton initially seems to be an example of this. It turns out that The Man of Tomorrow is not a hero.
- The Hero Dies: One of the most iconic examples ever.
- Heroic Sacrifice: How Supes goes out.
- Heroic RROD: Steel's fight with the Last Son of Krypton pushes him to his limits, wrecking a lot of his armor and leading him to pass out in an airplane heading back to Metropolis.
- Hijacked by Ganon: The Big Bad of the Reign of the Superman arc is revealed to be a character that appeared in a single story arc three years prior - and he wasn't even a real villain at the time. The Dragon is a more recognizable character, having appeared in the classic Superman story For The Man Who Has Everything. And while he wasn't the Big Bad, the Last Son of Krypton is shown to be a minor recurring antagonist that last appeared two years before his reintroduction in this series.
- How Do I Shot Web?: Superboy does not know how his "metal disassembling power" works (explained later on as tactile telekinesis).
- I Am Not Left-Handed: Superman kills Doomsday by not holding back against him.
- Kung-Fu Sonic Boom: The narration describes the final blow between Superman and Doomsday as setting off a shockwave that created a crater in the ground and shattered every window for blocks.
- Laser-Guided Amnesia: Cyborg Superman claimed to have this. It's a ruse to cover his plan to Take Over the World.
- Legacy Hero: Superman gets four of them.
- Magical Defibrillator: In the first part of "Funeral For A Friend", medics haul out normal defibrillators to try to revive Superman and doesn't do anything. So, Professor Hamilton hauls out a device that requires a massive energy charge for one use and forces the user to wear a personal force field to protect them from the shock. Bibbo is the first to try it. Bibbo gets blown across the street, out cold. Does jack to Superman.
- Mutual Kill: Supes and Doomsday
- Nineties Anti-Hero: Both Cyborg Superman and the Eradicator are pastiches of this 90's trend. Only the Eradicator plays this straight. Cyborg Superman (aka Hank Henshaw) is a villain.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: The novel version of the saga, The Death and Life of Superman, made a number of alterations to the "Funeral for a Friend" and "Reign of the Supermen" storylines, due to the fact it was being done while the series was being written, Most of the DC Universe don't make an appearance, outside of the Justice League, Wonder Woman and Batman (which is very odd since they obliterate Coast City, yet Hal Jordan doesn't show up at all!), the entire fourth chapter of "Funeral" is omitted (where the other DC heroes answer the Christmas mail Superman usually gets), Steel's story is greatly compressed and the final chapters, due to the lack of Hal Jordan, is heavily altered. As well, anything to do with the Underworlders and Keith, the young orphan, is omitted and the Newsboy Legion takes their place.
- Red Skies Crossover: The arc affected everyone on The DC Universe's Earth, seeing as how their Big Good had just been killed. It got a nod in the lead-up to the Batman arc Knightfall, where Bats wears a black armband similar to The Merch.
- Rogues Gallery Transplant: The Big Bad and The Dragon (or more precisely, The Dragon's Son) of Reign of the Superman would eventually become Green Lantern villains due to the fact that they destroyed the hometown of Green Lantern Hal Jordan. (It actually took a while, since the destruction of Coast City caused Hal's Face Heel Turn and replacement by Kyle Rayner).
- Second Coming/Reincarnation: Some believed that Steel was this of sorts for Superman (at least being a vessel for his soul), since he was the only one to uphold Supes' Cape ideals.
- Shout Out: The repeated scene of Doomsday pounding against his cell, complete with a "DOOM" sound-effect, is a reference to Walt Simonson's run on The Mighty Thor. Simonson's wife, Louise, was one of the writers of The Death of Superman.
- True Love's Kiss: How Superman is able to convince Lois that he's the real one.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Steel was actually pretty good with this. He delivers his first one to Superboy after his grandstanding gets a helicopter pilot killed and nearly takes Lois with him. He delivers another to the Last Son of Krypton after he's forced to pull him away from Metropolis for trying to kill a process server.
- Writing for the Trade: This series was not written for collection but the success of the collected version helped kickstart this trope.
- Younger and Hipper: Superboy is a pastiche of this type of trend.
- Your Approval Fills Me with Shame: Guy Gardner's enthusiastic endorsement of the Last Son of Krypton's methods caused him to reconsider them (at least temporarily).
The Death of Superman has been referenced in: