Friday, August 8, 2014

SUPERMAN #75 - January 1993


Doomsday!
Credits:  Dan Jurgens (story and art), Brett Breeding (finishes), John Costanza (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)


Summary:  Superman continues his fight against Doomsday.  He’s finally able to injure the beast when he discovers that Doomsday’s bony protrusions are extensions of his skeleton.  However, the fight takes its toll on Superman.  Both Superman and Doomsday collapse after exchanging deadly blows.  As Doomsday lies still, Lois cradles Superman’s body.


Irrelevant Continuity:  This issue marks the deaths of Superman and Doomsday.


Gimmicks:  Two versions of the issue were released simultaneously.  The “special” edition was polybagged with a memorial armband.


Review:  This is the comic that did not, in fact, pay our college tuitions.  If you’d like to relive the utter insanity of this era, the animated Superman: Doomsday DVD has an extensive documentary dedicated to the behind-the-scenes development of this storyline and the public’s response.  Several minutes of news footage circa 1993 is also included, a testament to what we like to think of a simpler era, even though the mainstream media still seem to fall for every fake death pushed by Marvel and DC’s publicity departments.  The creators appear genuinely surprised that the public latched on to this story so intensely, and shocked that anyone would be angry at them for killing a fictional character.  DC’s treatment of this storyline has always seemed a bit schizophrenic to me.  On one hand, despite their later backpedaling, DC did put a real effort into selling this as a “real” death for Superman.  His final fight scene is dragged out over six issues.  His funeral is a seven-part storyline.  After his funeral, all Superman titles stop publication for months.  A memorial tribute is published.  Clearly, they want you to buy into this.  However, whenever Superman’s return is discussed, their attitude is simply, “Well, of course we didn’t actually kill him!”  How could they not realize that such an elaborate prank was, to put it politely, not playing fair with readers?  


Reading Superman #75 today, it’s remarkably uncomplicated.  Superman and Doomsday continue to pummel each other, Superman remembers he has heat vision and uses it (like Cyclops’ blasts, somehow), and then goes back to punching again.  Then he dies after a really big punch.  There’s no meta-commentary, no reflection on whether or not there’s a place for a Superman in these cynical ‘90s, no dissertation of the new breed of hero that’s emerged following the popularity of characters like Wolverine and Lobo, no Morrison-esque examination of the literary themes of life, death, and resurrection.  There’s barely even a few lines of purple prose from the traditional third-person narrator; just a few captions sparingly dropped into the final pages in order to sell the idea that he’s really dead, you guys.  The issue takes, charitably, eight minutes to read and is crammed full of the blindingly obvious dialogue you might remember from comics like Secret Wars.  (“They hit each other so hard the windows are shattering!” a character shouts...as windows shatter around him.)  I can’t say the issue is without any sentiment, those final few narrative captions do manage to bring some humanity into the story, but for most of the issue you’re getting standard comic book fight scene dialogue straight out of the early ‘80s.


Visually, the issue is a decent showcase of Dan Jurgens’ draftsmanship and Brett Breeding’s slick finishes.  Superman is the brawny, strong hero you want him to be, as Jurgens straddles the line between traditional Superman portrayals and the more exaggerated anatomy of ‘90s comics.  It’s easy to see why many fans consider Jurgens the iconic Superman artist of this era.  (And even if the dialogue is corny, I’ve always had a soft spot for that window shattering bit.  Apparently Bruce Timm likes it as well, since he used it in both of his animated adaptations of this fight.)  The decision to do the final chapter as an all-splash page issue, however, does it no favors.  I’m sure the idea sounded great on paper, but the execution leads to a very disappointing internal continuity.  It’s occasionally hard to keep track of where the characters are supposed to be, and the rule of “no panels, just splashes” means that some of the cutaway scenes are forced into becoming gigantic, space-grabbing images that didn’t need to be splashes.  The final pages expand past splashes into double-page spreads, eating up more of the book and making the issue an even faster read.  Yes, the final image of Lois holding Superman’s broken body is powerful, but the reader must endure a great deal of tediousness and gimmicky storytelling before getting there.

1 comment:

Cerebro said...

This comic sums up the 90s quite well. Never before Had I seen a comic generate this much mainstream media coverage. I remember going to my shop to buy this when it came out and there were, actually, lines to the register...and unusual sight. I'm sure a fair bit of the traffic was from folks that didn't read comics and thought that they could make some money off of this book down the road. My shop also set a limit of one copy per customer...another unusual sight to me. My Dad creatively helped me get around this loophole by buying a copy for "himself" so that I could have one to keep sealed. Ahh...the memories of the speculator boom.

I agree with a lot of your criticisms. The all-splash format is a bit limiting. As an anniversary issue (multiple of 25), I'm surprised it wasn't double sized. At least they could have given us a bit more content in order to make the format work better.