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Monday, November 19, 2018 

The history of how the needless Death of Superman was developed

A few months ago, SyFy network interviewed some of the people involved in 1992's Death of Superman "event", and there are at least a few items here that were eyebrow raising and got me thinking about what really makes the 1992 stunt age so badly. For example, what Mike Carlin said about following up on a story John Byrne wrote:
Carlin: Byrne had left us with a pretty big story to follow up on. Superman had killed the three Kryptonian Phantom Zone prisoners and we all felt that that was too big a story to just move on from without addressing what kind of fallout Superman would have to deal with personally and psychologically.
It sounds more like this was supposed to be retribution for killing anybody. Or, like they hated the notion so much they sought revenge by punishing the character. Also, there's the part about the planned wedding for Clark Kent and Lois Lane, which took only so much time to implement:
They needed a hook. An event.

Carlin: The wedding was planned in '90 or '91 to happen in Adventures #500 in early '93.

Everything was in place to finally consummate what was without question the longest courtship/love triangle in comic book history, and hopefully draw attention back to Metropolis. But they weren't the only ones with wedding bells ringing in their ears.

Carlin: [DC president] Jenette Kahn had actually interested Warner Bros. Television in a Daily Planet-centric TV show that was pitched using the soap opera elements in the current interlocked Superman comics. She pitched it as Lois Lane's Planet and it evolved into Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

This was big news to us. Contrary to some Fake News out there, it wasn't Warner Bros or the TV showrunners who didn't want us to do the wedding. Jenette and I decided that we wanted to hold off, save the plans, but not get to it when we had originally planned to. If the show was a flop, we could do the wedding as soon as we wanted. If the show was a hit and lasted long enough, maybe we could do their wedding on TV AND in the comics at the same time. What a great idea, we thought!

Unfortunately, when the writers showed up for the '91 Super-Summit, they weren't so excited about the idea. And the prospect of having to come up with something that could stand up to a wedding they had spent two years setting up made the idea even more daunting.

Ordway: We had had several meetings with various people involved in trying to get Lois & Clark launched, and it went on quite a long time. A month or two after our Florida conference, we were called into the DC Comics conference room and told that the wedding was on hold, so we could coordinate the event with the TV show, which had a new showrunner, Deborah Joy Levine. We were given a start date, a year later. The mood was more of annoyance, I recall. [...]

Bogdanove: The classic story we all tell at conventions is mostly true. "The Death of Superman" all started with Jerry Ordway. As he always did whenever we hit a bump about what should happen next, Jerry wise-cracked, "Let's kill him!"
Such bizarre logic, I must say. Why not focus on stories where both Clark and Lois help civilians suffering from terrible misfortunes instead, for example, and even battles with titanic villains, without resorting to the death-stunts? Yet they aimed for the super-cheap ploy of publicity stunts, which demonstrates how poor their faith actually was, right down to the notion the Wedding of Steel had to coincide with how the TV show was handled. In some ways, this is an early example of publishers insulting the audiences' intellect by not being willing to allow creative liberties and contrasts to how the comics are handled as opposed to the TV shows. Why do they think 2 weddings in 2 different mediums couldn't stand on their own? Even before that, the Wonder Woman comics were mandated to focus on the Golden Age Earth-2 Diana in the late 70s to coincide with the first season of the TV show from that era for about a year before they finally switched back. It was ludicrous then, though not nearly so much as the Superman story is now. As is long apparent, Ordway's alleged joke was turned into an unfunny stunt.
Ordway: I believe I first made the joke at whichever story meeting where Carlin set up the giant poster boards on the walls. We came in, perhaps for the story conference that launched the Pérez Action Comic title, and I thought those blank issue boxes seemed intimidating. I joked for Mike to fill in the last box on the last of maybe six boards, "Everyone dies. The end." And I guess it became a running gag, which I repeated at the next meeting, to get the ideas flowing, with that one box filled in.

Carlin: But at this meeting, there really was a feeling that we had done these guys wrong by taking away the planned storyline that they'd invested time in setting up and a whole bunch of ideas that, now, felt like we would never get to. So when Jerry said "Let's just kill 'im!" this time… there weren't a lotta laughs. So I said: "Okay, wise guys, IF we kill him, THEN what happens?"
Well they did resurrect him, but they also led to an irritating situation that's ruined many superhero comics, and appealed more to the speculator market in the process, recalling the news items about people buying multiple copies of the same issues in hopes they'd gain spectacular value, which by now isn't working out. Also, look at the following, which is startling to ponder:
Bogdanove: What made the difference when Jerry said it this time was Louise Simonson. Louise had been editor of all the X-titles at Marvel, where she had presided over the deaths of many mutants. She knew the value of "killing your darlings." Louise spoke up, saying "You know what you get from killing a character: You get to show just how much that character means — to his friends, family, enemies, to the whole world!"
While I think Simonson was a talented writer, and her work on X-Men and Power Pack was good, this is rather disturbing. Indeed, as I recall, during her runs on titles like New Mutants, there were at least a few characters like Magik who were thrown to the winds, as though they'd never meant anything. And in hindsight, I honestly don't think that was a good path to take. Especially not if they were going to make a mockery out of science-fiction by acting as though the deaths must be permanent till the bitter end of time. Besides, if death of a regular was going to become the motivating factor above all else for the heroes, then that was very narrow and cheap in the end. They also bring up the perceived mood and reception of heroes at the time:
Carlin: Our own personal frustrations with what was popular in comics at the time, murderers and anti-heroes everywhere, and the persistent labeling of Superman as a "boy scout" and a cornball fueled the death itself. If only murderers and monsters were heroes and you readers were going to take Superman for granted, then you won't mind if we take him away.

Bogdanove: In those days, sometimes referred to as The Dark Age of comics, characters like Superman — good-hearted, purely altruistic heroes — were unpopular. Dark, vengeful, brooding heroes held sway with fans, almost to the exclusion of all other types of heroes, including ours. Superman, the very first comic book superhero, was seen as too "old school" to be taken seriously.
I honestly have to wonder if this was really the case, although if true, it does demonstrate the terrible mistakes the audience made in what they considered appealing artistically. Today, a lot more hopefully have learned their lessons - especially after the atrocities and embarrassments of more notorious stunts like Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled - that optimistic and joyous storytelling is NOT an inherently bad, dated thing.
Stern: I remember at one point thinking, "We'd better not screw this up." Seriously though, I saw it as a great opportunity to show how important Superman is to the world — and how much he would be missed, once he was gone.
Well maybe they didn't screw it up per se, but they sure did perpetuate a bad influence that leaked over even worse to Green Lantern soon after, as Hal Jordan was turned into a murderer called Parallax.

Funny thing is, some of the Marvel movies of recent seemed to rely on an optimistic viewpoint, and if so, doesn't that prove not everyone's sold their souls to darkness, and do recognize the value of fun entertainment? Yet DC, as Heroes in Crisis demonstrates, is still obsessed with forcing darkness down everyone's throats and alienating fans, and it's gotten to the point where I'm beginning to question whether they really believe what they say about nobody being interested in what Superman represented in the best depictions. After all, if story quality was being neglected in Superman titles as opposed to Batman, that would be the real reason nobody cared. And they apparently don't have what it takes to realize that.

And that ignorance led to a lot of abuse and disposal of cast members in titles like Justice League who could've made for worthwhile character focus and storytelling for other writers with better ideas than they had, who might even know what it takes to promote the products and reach out to and appeal to new audiences. Tragically, the "representatives" of the medium chose at the time to sink into insularity, withdrawing as they soon did from more commercial markets for the sake of the specialty stores, which only limited noticeability for comicdom, and that pretty much led to the very negative mentalities prevalent today.

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Why is it only after this story that people became cynical about death in comics? There have been plenty of deaths and resurrections before (and that's not counting fake-outs or body doubles).

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