The first death of Superman (pt.2)

I left off the previous post with a rather bold claim. It’s a claim that’s been made before, but one that actually holds a considerable amount of weight for anyone who ever lived in New York City. Marvel Comics and DC Comics were practically neighbors. During the depression era, writers from both bullpens would often pull each other for ideas, as being successful during that time basically boiled down to who could meet deadlines and concoct the most elaborate stories. Many friendships were born from this, and that carried over to when National And Timely Comics became the industry titans that we know them as today. Although their rivalry in the 60’s defined the path both companies remain on, their rivalry was only paper thin. One of the post-WWII writers to make waves for both companies (in time) happened to have written a rather controversial story published back on October 10th, 1975. It introduced a mystery into the world of Spider-Man, that begged the reader to ask if they were truly reading Spider-Man at all. The original entry to what would become the clone saga was left slightly less ambiguous when compared to stories by today’s standards, but it did leave enough of an opening for future developments. I honestly enjoyed the story, and encourage you all to read it. The problem with the story is that it’s a rework of a story that began at DC four years prior. True, characters were added, and elements were placed to fit the Spider-Man universe, but it was delivered for a very similar purpose. Shaking things up. Now nobody can argue that Marvel wasn’t providing top-notch stories at that time, but the industry as a whole wasn’t as healthy as it is today, and the waves made during the post-war period of Marvel and DC had started to die, and the name of the publications industry was (and remains) sales. Gerry Conway was friends with someone who also shared time with both Marvel and DC comics. Someone who finished their arc with Neal Adams, and successfully fulfilled a much requested nerf of the Man Of Steel before Spider-Man #149’s publication. That man is Denny O’Neil. It will be contested that the two stories share enough differences to allow them to stand on their own, and you’d be right, but initially, these stories were designed to be self-contained, as overlapping “events” as we annually digest hadn’t truly become a staple for either company. The arc over at Superman ended by teaching Superman a lesson in humility, and his reliance on his impossible to write for powerset, while Spider-Man worked to expand upon the Jackel’s obsession with Peter.

If things had held true, this connection would truly be weak at worst, and a coincidence at best. That all changed however when DC decided to revisit the ending of Superman #242 in Superman Special #1. After perhaps one of the largest event stories in comic history (COIE) DC had (mostly) resolved their goal of clearing up lingering continuity errors that made some of their comics hard to follow. It came with many sacrifices to their characters but ushered in a wave of new legacy characters to bring more rich canon to their universe. Which is why the decision to bring back the “villain” introduced in Superman #233 appeared rather odd. Even stranger was the fact that his return was published in 1992, but was actually completed and shelved in 1989. Also strange is the fact that DC elected to publish Special #1 a week before issue #75 hit newsstands. For those counting, that is 2 years before Marvel revisited its own take on battling duplicates first seen back in 1975. Superman had been grounded at this point. He also went through considerable character growth. DC planned to move forward with the wedding of Lois and Clark before it was decided to trigger the Death of Superman arc. Some feared that the marriage might change the status quo in a manner that could jeopardize their ability to tell compelling stories. especially considering the idea was leveraged back in 1990, four years after a major revamp, and two years after they decided to not launch Special #1. Two questions come to mind. Why did they shelve the title, and why did they release it at all, if it didn’t somehow serve a purpose?
Superman Special ends on a truly ambiguous note, as it can be interpreted one of two ways. Ultimately I suggest reading it to make up your own mind. I’ll post a photo in the comments, but suffice it to say, if DC had reservations about the wedding, Clark revealing his identity to Lois, or any other odd behaviors with Clark, they had an exit THREE years before they killed him in issue #75.
Since Special#1 was a post Crisis story, we can conclude that the Superman depicted is the one we were meant to follow. From that, if we hold true to the theory that is being leveraged, he would then be the Superman who fought Doomsday and “died”.
If we hold true to that, it is possible to also conclude that we have not been following Superman truly, for 25 years. Truly a bold and polarizing reveal would be on their hands if they revealed this to the public. At worst, it could tank their sales. At best, it would polarize their readers. I personally believe they had a plan, but never got a chance to see it through, after they witnessed one of the most controversial
Spider-Man arcs in modern memory unfold (The Clone Saga).
It proved that fans don’t like to be deceived, but also proved the follies of not properly framing a story. It was rushed, sloppy, and cost Marvel dearly, during a tough economic time for the company and industry.
After the smoke settled, I feel that DC began to toy with the notion again, but that would assume I feel they ever truly abandoned it. For my next part, I’ll discuss the peculiar power fluctuations of Superman from a few issues after his return, the new Superman Red and Blue, and question circumstances of his return at the end of Reign of Supermen. I’ll also explore the entity known as Quarmer, the Quarm realm, and how he still has a place in DC comics post Flashpoint.

-Stay tuned…

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