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 betteróhe 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 (they were fighting at night, though, when Supes was weakest and most deprived of sunlight). He dies in Lois Lane
's arms, and his ragged cape ended up hung on a pole as a sort of tragic flag in what's 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 Death Is Cheap
(whose former Trope Namer
is "Comic Book Death").
A rapid series of Follow the Leader
events followed this; Superman hadn't even gotten back to life when Batman
got his back broken in Knightfall
, Wonder Woman
got replaced by Artemis, an Anti-Hero Substitute note
, and perhaps most infamously, Hal Jordan went insane and killed the Green Lantern Corps in Emerald Twilight
and Zero Hour
, and was replaced by the Younger and Hipper
, and over at Marvel, the Spider-Man mantle went back and forth between Peter Parker and Ben Reilly, his clone.The Death of Superman
arc happened by accident: originally, the then-current Superman writers 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. Each of these characters was allowed to star in one of Superman's then-current titles for a few months. 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. Featured in Superman Vol. 2.
- 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. Featured in Action Comics.
- 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. Featured in Adventures of Superman.
- 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). Featured in Superman: The Man of Steel, naturally.
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.
With the coming of the New 52
, The Death and Return
has been taken out of current DC continuity. Doomsday, however, still exists in the new universe, and makes a full New 52 debut in the Doomed
storyline, which itself is loosely based on The Death of Superman
This Comic Book provides examples of:
- Adapted Out: The adaptations of the story (such as the video game, the novelization, and the audio drama) don't include Green Lantern at all, even though they still feature Coast City being destroyed.
- Adult Fear: Ma and Pa Kent experienced this as they watched helplessly as their adopted son was beaten to a bloody pulp and then died on national television. To make matters worse, they weren't even allowed to attend his funeral.
- 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.
- A God Am I: The Last Son of Krypton nearly ran with this when a cult confronted him and praised him as the resurrected hero.
- 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.
- Belly Flop Crushing: During the "Reign Of The Supermen" arc, John Henry Irons (Steel) was attacked this way by a henchman of the White Rabbit who had the ability to expand his mass to great proportions. Fortunately, Steel wasn't harmed, and managed to get himself out by giving the henchman painful burns on his stomach with his foot rockets.
- 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.
- Bloodless Carnage: Superman and Doomsday die from wounds received in their battle, yet there isn't much visible eternal damage, aside from torn clothes and several bruises.
- Boom, Headshot: This is how the Cyborg Superman attempts to kill the Eradicator, shortly after blowing three holes in his chest. He later smashes his metallic stump into Superboy's head, but only knocks him out.
- 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.
- Came Back Strong: Superman in the finale. His repowering by the Eradicator's Heroic Sacrifice bounced his powers to new heights, though, for awhile, almost lead to Power Incontinence.
- Came Back Wrong: Does coming back with a mullet count?
- Cash Cow Franchise: The compiled first part of the arc, called "The Death of Superman", is the best-selling graphic novel of all time.
- Chekhov's Gun: Cyborg Superman places a sensor on Doomsday's body to alert him if the beast ever came back to life. He also placed a portion of his digital existence in it, so when his body is destroyed at the end of Reign of the Supermen, the Cyborg gets to hitch a ride on Doomsday and build himself a new body.
- Covers Always Lie: Most of the covers of the last few issues of the Reign chapters featured Superman still with his usual short hair as opposed to the infamous mullet he was now sporting inside. Green Lantern tie-in is also pretty guilty, as in addition Hal fighting Mongul (which does happen in the issue), there's also the Cyborg-Superman and the Eradicator fighting each other in the background (which doesn't happen at all in the issue).
- Cult: A cult of Superman worshipers 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.
- Doomsday's fight with the Justice League was this as well.
- The Dark Age of Comic Books
- Death by Adaptation: The novel has Mongul killed by the Eradicator instead of knocked out by Hal Jordan.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Superman in Lois' arms.
- Disproportionate Retribution: Lex Luthor, in his clone body of Lex Luthor II, murdered a female training instructor because she beat him in one of their matches. Then, he gloats at Superman's grave as proof that, with Superman gone, he can do whatever he wanted to. Too bad, a little while later, she came back and tried to kill him.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Superboy suffers from this three times. The first time, he bails on the Daily Planet to help a former intern, Tana Moon, land her a big scoop and become a full-fledged reporter... over at GBS. The second time, he's wowed by the Matrix Supergirl ("I was chest choking!") amd Lex Luthor II attempts to use this to bring him into Lexcorp's payroll. Ultimately, sleezoid Rex Leech uses his daughter Roxy to win Superboy over and get the rights to the S-Shield.
- Driven to Madness: Hank Henshaw, due to his Trauma Conga Line of losing his friends, body, and wife, so he becomes the Cyborg Superman.
- Evil Albino: The White Rabbit, who was Steel's nemesis from "Reign Of The Supermen".
- Friend or Idol Decision: When Doomsday runs rampant across a family's house, smashing it and the Justice League, a gas explosion allows Doomsday to escape and Superman to chase after it. However, the League's knocked unconscious and one of the people there, a teen named Mitch, cries out for Superman's help. Supes decides to Take a Third Option by burying Doomsday in the mud inside a lake while he takes care of the trouble. Doesn't take long for Doomsday to escape and Mitch is hit really hard as he thinks this incident is the reason why Superman died.
- Friendly Target: While Superman and Doomsday are grappling, some troopers arrive with advanced weapons, but hesitate to open fire because they would very likely would hit Superman. Ultimately, they decide that Doomsday is so much a threat that they have no choice but help Superman by attacking and risk friendly fire.
- 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 whose sole reason for being was The Death of Superman. While previous Superman villains were usually really smart guys or evil robots or alien warlords or some other intelligent type to contrast Supes' Superpower Lottery, Doomsday was just raw unstoppable rage on wheels with no agenda outside destruction and couldn't be reasoned with. Most of his depth comes from the back story in later comics.
- 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. In fact, Guy likes him a lot better than Superman given both had Nineties Antihero tendencies at the time.
- 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.
- Heel Realization: The Last Son of Krypton starts to realize at different points that being Superman isn't about going around and flash-frying everyone he sees. Sadly, the Man of Tomorrow's Face-Heel Turn puts a squash to that.
- The Hero Dies: One of the most iconic examples ever.
- Heroic Sacrifice: How Supes goes out.
- Also how The Eradicator goes out.
- Heroic Second Wind: When Hal Jordan's fighting Mongul, Mongul has him on the ropes because his skin is yellow and Hal couldn't use pieces of Engine City lest its Kryptonite fuel kill Superman again. Hal finds Steel's discarded hammer and attempts to lift it despite his injuries and donning Ring-powered exoskeleton. As he tries, Mongul makes the mistake of assuming he broke Hal's spirit. This pisses off Hal so much that he creates a set of Powered Armor that allows him to lift the hammer and proceeds to smash the weapon across Mongul's face, knocking him 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.
- He does it again when stopping Engine City, to the point where his armor's scrap.
- Hijacked by Ganon: The series did this with its final storyline Reign of the Supermen, the story starts out normally with the first two issues of each title attempting to endear us to the four Supermen. Then come the halfway point of the third month when the Cyborg Superman decides to ventilate the Eradicator and allow Coast City to be destroyed by Mongul. Then, it turns out the Cyborg Superman was actually a very minor character who was an expy of Reed Richards!
- 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.
- Interrupted Cooldown Hug: When Steel and the Last Son of Krypton are chewed out by Lois for fighting in the streets, the Last Soon is shaken by this and stands down. However, a process server shows up, demanding that they stop using the S-Shield (as Superboy had given the rights away). The Last Son takes this as a threat and forces Steel to pull him away.
- It Only Works Once: During one of the epilogue issues, Dr. Occult drops in for a visit and gives Superman and Lois the low down on how he came back to life through mystic technobabble which boils down to the fact that he can only do this once. The graphic novel doesn't mention this, Superman: Doomsday does the "suspended animation" bit and the novel does a plausible technobabble explanation about how all Superman needed was just a good few hours in the sun to snap him back alive.
- 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.
- Last Disrespects: A brawl breaks out at the funeral after a botched attempt at purchasing the rights to the last Superman photo leads to Rex Leech and his entourage on their backs thanks to Jimmy Olsen and Robin.
- Last Stand: After failing to stop Doomsday elsewhere and watching the body count rise, Superman decides to ground his feet in Metropolis.
- Legacy Hero: Superman gets four of them.
- Magical Defibrillator: In the first part of "Funeral For A Friend (a.k.a. World Without a Superman)", 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.
- Oh Crap: When the entire Justice League is fighting Doomsday, they pour all of their energy attacks into the beast. When the smoke clears, they learn that all they did was tear his outfit... and freed his other hand as he raises both of them into the air.
- 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.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: The Cyborg Superman monolouges this, stating how Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter could have stopped Doomsday with ease as he's taking away the creature. Later stories revealed that wouldn't be the case.
- The Reveal: Superman #81 and that The Man of Tomorrow wasn't entirely good.
- 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.
- In a few panels, Jimmy Olsen is shown wearing a Spin Doctors shirt. The band had a hit song at the time called "Jimmy Olsen's Blues".
- True Love's Kiss: How Superman is able to convince Lois that he's the real one.
- Unreliable Narrator: In his introductory issue, the Man of Tomorrow goes to retrieve Doomsday's corpse from S.T.A.R. Labs, all the while making first-person references to the battle with Doomsday. This narration is solely for the benefit (and deception) of the reader.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: After Cyborg Superman tosses him into space, Doomsday wakes up and starts laughing. This plot twist has no impact on the remainder of the story... not until several years later, in Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey.
- 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.
- Lois delivers one to both Steel and the Last Son of Krypton when they start brawling in Metropolis. Steel is genuinely upset that they had went through it and the Last Son is shaken (more by Lois than what she said), then comes the process server...
- Wham Episode: The storyline was filled with them. Outside of Superman #75, there was:
- Justice League America #69 and Superman #74: Doomsday's Curb-Stomp Battle against the League
- Adventures of Superman #500: Superman's apparent revival and the appearance of the four Supermen.
- Adventures of Superman #502 and Action Comics #689: A battle between Superboy, Supergirl and a Badass Normal terrorist leads to the destruction of the Hobsneck Bridge, something that wouldn't be fixed for a few years IRL. Also, the issue Superman is revived.
- Superman #80: After a number of different hints, we learn that everything isn't as they seem as Coast City is obliterated. The culprit? Mongul, lead by the Cyborg Superman, who has also apparently killed the Last Son of Krypton!
- The Worf Effect: The entire Justice League, who not only sported Superman, but also three people at Superman-like levels (Maxima, Bloodwynd and Booster Gold) and a Green Lantern-type (Guy Gardner), gets hit with this when Doomsday prances up.
- Given that Doomsday at the time had no ranged abilities, and both Maxima and Guy Gardner could have simply picked him up off the ground to neutralize him, this comes off as jobbing.
- The Worf Barrage: When the entire League is gathered, Superman orders the projectile-firing Leaguers to fire everything that got at Doomsday. At the end, Fire's drained of her powers, Booster Gold's suit is depleted of energy and Guy's exhausted. All they do? Release Doomsday's other arm.
- 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: