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“The Death of Superman” Story Arc Explained

VO: DP WRITTEN BY: Craig Butler
Written by Michael Wynands Even super-heroes have to die sometime – for a while, at least. Welcome to WatchMojo’s “Story Arcs Explained,” the series that gets you up to speed on the comic books you didn’t read. “The Death of Superman” story arc took place across multiple DC titles in 1992 and 1993. Many of these were collected into the books “The Death of Superman,” “Funeral for a Friend” (sometimes called “World Without a Superman” and “The Reign of the Supermen.” Have an idea for what our next video should be? Check out the suggest page here: WatchMojo.commy/suggest.php
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Even super-heroes have to die sometime – for a while, at least. Welcome to WatchMojo’s “Story Arcs Explained,” the series that gets you up to speed on the comic books you didn’t read.

“The Death of Superman” story arc took place across multiple DC titles in 1992 and 1993. Many of these were collected into the books “The Death of Superman,” “Funeral for a Friend” (sometimes called “World Without a Superman” and “The Reign of the Supermen.”

One of the biggest story arcs in comic book history, “The Death of Superman” made headlines around the world. After all, it isn’t every day that a company kills off their mascot.

It all started typically enough. While Superman was investigating a problem underground, a strange, massive figure was crossing the country causing destruction. The Justice League – minus Superman –fought the creature but were no match for his strength, with Blue Beetle taking the brunt of the punishment. When Superman finally joined them, he was caught off guard by “Doomsday’s” speed and strength. After tearing through the JLA some more, Superman did finally manage to briefly incapacitate Doomsday so that he could help rescue those the monster had victimized.

But Doomsday quickly escaped and began mowing down the armed forces sent to fight him. Superman re-engaged in battle, but the monster kept getting the better of him. Everywhere he went, Doomsday caused mass chaos and senseless destruction.

When the battle reached Metropolis, it caused an explosion, which leveled an entire neighborhood of the city. Many of Superman’s allies tried to help him, but this was clearly a battle that only the Man of Steel could hope to win. Before taking on Doomsday one-on-one, Superman kissed Lois goodbye in case anything happened to him during the battle. Doomsday and Superman fought unceasingly and with a force and power never before seen. And in the end, Superman triumphed and defeated the monster –but at the cost of his own life.

Superman’s death had repercussions felt throughout the DC Universe. The entire world witnessed an outpouring of grief and intense mourning. Of course, there were some – namely, the criminals of Metropolis – who celebrated this unexpected turn of events. And without their superhero, the citizens of Metropolis found themselves falling prey to emboldened crooks and gangsters. Supergirl and Batman were on hand to help, but they weren’t enough to replace Superman.

Superman’s body was laid to rest inside a huge monument created by Lex Luthor – who at this time, had long, luscious hair and was thought to be reformed, although he was in fact still the same evil genius he had always been. The secretive Project Cadmus stole the body, with the hope of cloning it, but the body was eventually recovered and returned to its tomb.

Through all this, Lois Lane and Ma and Pa Kent tried to deal with the overpowering sense of loss they all felt. It so affected Pa Kent that he had a heart attack and nearly died. While the doctors were working to save him, Pa experienced something – a hallucination or a vision – in which he saw Superman and brought him back with him to the land of the living.

When Pa Kent recovered, Superman had not returned – but four new beings appeared, each of whom seemed to be a possible reincarnation of Superman. One of them, called the Man of Steel, was definitely not. He was John Henry Irons, an ironworker and brilliant weapons designer, who donned a suit of steel to fight criminals and help those in need.

The other three all laid claim to the name Superman. One of them was a much younger version, a brash and impulsive teenager who rapidly and insistently rebelled against being referred to as Superboy rather than Superman. Another often called himself the Last Son of Krypton. He had many of Superman’s powers and memories, although he wore a visor because the rays of the sun hurt his eyes. Unfortunately, he lacked Superman’s compassion, often killing criminals rather than simply stopping them. The last was a cyborg, the mechanical portions of which were formed from Kryptonian technology.

For months, the four replacement supermen worked to fill the void that the original had left. Before long, readers learned that the young Superboy was a clone that Cadmus had created but which lacked some of Superman’s abilities due to the difficulty of manipulating Kryptonian DNA. The visored Superman was, in fact, a recreated version of Superman’s former enemy, the Eradicator, who lost his evil ways and became more and more virtuous and humane the longer he stayed Superman. And the cyborg turned out to be Hank Henshaw, a former NASA astronaut who had become a sentient machine and who nursed a grudge against Superman. It also turned out that Henshaw had teamed up with another Superman enemy, Mongul, with the goal of destroying Earth. By pretending he was Superman as he brought about the world’s destruction, Henshaw hoped to darken the hero’s memory throughout the universe for all time.

Fortunately, the real Superman returned in time to put a stop to this plot. Yes, Superman had indeed been dead. But the Eradicator had stolen his body and placed it in a regeneration matrix at the Fortress of Solitude. Through a combination of Kryptonian technology, Superman’s superpowers, and sheer luck, Superman was brought back to life – albeit temporarily lacking his powers, but with an awesome black suit and a wildly 90s hair style. Nonetheless, Superman’s skill and experience enabled him to work with Supergirl, Superboy, the Eradicator and Steel to defeat Henshaw and save the Earth once more.

Elements from “The Death of Superman” have already appeared onscreen many times – and it’s no surprise why. It’s become known as a turning point in the history of comics, and completely rejuvenated the character for a more modern audience… for better or worse.
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