While DC stuff in general doesn't interest me, Wizard reminisces about possibly THE biggest event in the whole of comicdom: Superman's death. I don't think any other comic book event or story had made the mainstream media prior to this story and I certainly remember the stories of long LONG queues of people purchasing the comic...and most of them weren't even comic fans, they just wanted a keepsake, memo, or most likely, a collector's item they thought would go up in price!
THE WIZARD RETROSPECTIVE: THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN
The team behind the epic story reflects on the pop-culture phenomenon, the death threats written in blood, the emergency meetings and why none of them went on ‘Letterman’
By Ben Morse and the Wizard Staff
Posted November 13, 2007 12:25 PM
The history records of the DC Universe may show that the monster known as Doomsday killed Superman, but he certainly had a lot of help.
In 1992, when plans first began forming to murder comics’ first and most well-known superhero, the Man of Steel had already begun to show signs of fatigue. His days as the industry’s best-selling character nearly half a century behind him, Superman’s brand of truth and justice had been eclipsed by morally questionable vigilantes like the Punisher, Wolverine and scores of copycats in terms of both popularity and sales.
The people responsible for guiding the adventures of Superman recognized this and came to a decision: In order for the people to appreciate Superman again, he had to die. What began as an idea for an epic yet eloquent story grew into a media circus no one—certainly not the Man of Steel’s creators—could have anticipated and emerged as the single biggest comic book event of the last 25 years.
“We couldn’t believe that anybody reacted at all to a superhero dying, just because it happens every day,” recalls then-Superman group editor Mike Carlin. “How you pull it off, how you get out of it, that’s the rollercoaster ride that people come on board for.”
Fifteen years later, the nine people responsible for killing an icon and bringing him back reflect on those planning sessions, the funeral preparations, the death threats and how they survived the surreal media circus of “The Death of Superman.”
THE ROAD TO DEATH
In the spring of 1992, Superman editor Mike Carlin gathered the talent working on the four Superman titles—Action Comics, Adventures of Superman, Superman and Superman: Man of Steel—for their annual summit to discuss the next year’s worth of stories for comics’ oldest hero. In attendance: writer/artist Dan Jurgens, writers Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern, artists Jon Bogdanove and Tom Grummett as well as numerous inkers, colorists and other members of the Superman creative teams. The agenda: build to the wedding of Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman in Superman #75. None could predict what would come out of the summit…
ROGER STERN (Action Comics writer 1988-1994, The Death and Life of Superman novelist): The [summits] were a total brainstorming session. It was a wonderful creative time. We’d get together in a little room—usually without windows—for two or three days and at the end of the second day, we knew what we’d be writing about for the next year.
DAN JURGENS (Adventures of Superman writer/artist 1989-1991, Superman writer/artist 1991-1999): [The summits] were always fun, we got along well. At the same time we had our share of disagreements. You were asking what felt like 25 people to agree on exactly who Superman was and what the next story should be.
LOUISE SIMONSON (Superman: The Man of Steel writer 1991-1998): It was really fun to work in a group environment because I was used to working alone.
MIKE CARLIN (Superman editor 1986-1995, DC Comics Executive Editor 1995-2003, DC Comics senior group editor 2003-present): There was pressure. I wanted [each summit] to go smooth. I wanted everyone to be happy. I wanted to get great stories. Overall we had a pretty smooth sailing, but until it was over I couldn’t relax.
JURGENS: We were essentially experimenting with the concept of doing a weekly comic book. In order to make that work you had to develop a shared vision of both Superman and where you wanted to go with the story. As we got more and more accustomed to that, we got towards what made the “Death of Superman” work.
JON BOGDANOVE (Superman: The Man of Steel artist 1991-1998): Over the course of the  summit we had worked out a fairly elegant arc, which would culminate in Clark and Lois getting married. The original arc was much more elegant than what was ultimately generated a few years later.
CARLIN: Jenette Kahn, who was president [of DC Comics] at the time, had been working hard to get the “Lois & Clark” TV show on the air and it had finally been accepted [at ABC]. We went into the meeting saying, “If there’s going to be a TV show, we should postpone the wedding so we can do it at the same time they do it.” And if the show bombed, we’d get to do it ourselves later anyways. We had a bunch of writers who came into the meeting assuming we were going to do one thing that they had invested some ideas and attention to. There was a lot of resistance when we got there, but this was not anything decreed by Warner Bros. or anyone besides me and Jenette.
TOM GRUMMETT (Adventures of Superman artist 1991-1993): Whenever we ran into a roadblock, the running gag was that Jerry Ordway would yell, “Oh, let’s just kill him off!”
CARLIN: When we heard the joke, “Just kill him!” for once I just said, “Okay, wise guys, if we kill him, then what happens?” What came after was so interesting that we couldn’t not do it.
JERRY ORDWAY (Adventures of Superman artist 1987-1989, Superman writer 1989-1991, Adventures of Superman writer 1991-1993): That little joke came back to haunt me in a big way. [Laughs]
GRUMMETT: Mike called a halt to phone whomever he had to [at DC] and we got the thumbs-up to go ahead. That surprised us. We couldn’t marry him, but we could kill him.
CARLIN: We were at a point where Image and Valiant were publishing all these antiheroes who would shoot first and ask questions later. They were the exact opposite of Superman, and maybe that’s why he was falling out of favor. We resented that and took it upon ourselves to show people that they shouldn’t take Superman for granted.
With the demise of Superman etched in stone, the creators sought a creative means to bring about his end.
GRUMMETT: We looked over the rogues gallery and there really wasn’t anybody who seemed worthy to be the agent of destruction. We realized if we were going to do this we had to come up with somebody new and tailor-made to kill Superman.
CARLIN: We didn’t want to do somebody who had already failed [to beat] Superman. It could not be Lex Luthor’s 500th plan.
BOGDANOVE: Dan would always arrive [at each summit] with a big idea. His big idea was a villain that would be a big Hulk-type monster and he wanted to do a 22-page slugfest.
JURGENS: One of the things I was always frustrated with in doing Superman was that if you look at the villains, there was no physical threat for Superman. I kept saying, “Let me just draw Superman just bashing the crap out of somebody, please. I want to do just a beast for Superman to fight.” Just a fight!
BOGDANOVE: Mike said, “There needs to be a character story behind it or it will just be boring and feel like a manufactured event.” Once we decided that we could have Superman die and that we didn’t want to give any of his villains the satisfaction, Mike suggested Dan’s big guy. So “The Death of Superman” was born and Dan got his 22-page slugfest.
CARLIN: I had just written on a chart “Doomsday for Superman” as a title for the arc. Then I said, “Wait a minute, that’s a good name. Why don’t we just use that?” That is the one thing that I will take a bit of credit for.
We had three of the artists in the room and we told them all to come up with what they thought Doomsday would look like. We put them all on the table at the end of the day and unanimously everybody picked Jurgens’ version. That was the one time we let the democratic process take over.
STERN: [Doomsday] was basically the MacGuffin of the story. It’s not important where he came from. He’s a force of nature and he kills Superman.
In November 1992, Dan Jurgens killed the Man of Steel in Superman #75, a Jurgens-written and -drawn issue consisting solely of splash pages. Superman and Doomsday collided on a double knockout punch, killing both.
JURGENS: When the fight started [in Adventures of Superman #497], there were four panels on every page. Then the next chapter in [Action Comics #684] had three panels a page, then [Superman: Man of Steel #19] had two a page, then finally in Superman #75 it’s all full-page splashes. We were picking up the pace of the fight, having it get more furious with each issue.
JACKSON “BUTCH” GUICE (Action Comics artist 1992-1995): Since the actual death was going to occur in Superman, each team wanted to have some of the important notes within their book. There was a bit of arguing back and forth as far as “Why can’t this event happen here?”
STERN: Dan left the hard stuff to himself, really. We said, “You know you’re screwing yourself here, Dan. You’ve got a huge panel in the end, but you’ve really got a hard job keeping everything moving with the dialogue and everything. Because it’s going to be happening very fast.”
JURGENS: Everybody said “Jurgens, you had it easy [with Superman #75], you only had to draw one panel a page,” but it was the opposite. It took me a long time to figure out how to tell the story that way.
CARLIN: Honestly, I don’t think the “Death of Superman” storyline is even a story. It is just a fistfight, but it’s the setup for the story. We really felt like we needed to do the fight that ends all fights or else people wouldn’t believe he was dead, or wouldn’t be satisfied.
JURGENS: The one thing I wish I had done somewhere along the line was a really wide shot. One that showed this incredible pathway of destruction through the city, where somehow we just got the feel where you just saw an entire city crumble.
STERN: Superman has to do everything in his power to stop the creature from leveling Metropolis, from killing 10 million people. And it ends right in the heart of the city, right in the place that means the most to him, surrounded by the people who he loves the most.
THE MOURNING AFTER
In the two months after the death of Superman, the four creative teams explored the reaction of his supporting cast and the DC Universe as a whole to his loss in the eight-part “Funeral for a Friend.” Following the storyline’s conclusion, DC suspended publication of the Superman titles for two months.
STERN: There are thousands of people missing in Metropolis. Everyone is telling Lois, “Don’t worry, Clark will show up.” And she has to put on a happy face because she knows he won’t.
GRUMMETT: [In Adventures of Superman #498] Superman has died and Ma and Pa Kent are watching on TV telling them the bad news. The final panel on the page is this very moody shot with Ma and Pa hugging each other in grief. That was a tough page to do. I think that’s going to stick in my mind for a long, long time.
JURGENS: I thought [Superman: Man of Steel #20], the funeral issue that Louise and Bog did, where we saw scenes of the heroes lined up as the funeral went down the street and even saw [then-U.S. President] Bill Clinton and all that, that was just wonderful. It wasn’t necessarily centered on the supporting cast as much as it addressed what Superman meant to the world.
STERN: I had the opportunity to do a scene in [Action Comics #685] where Luthor comes into the morgue where Doomsday is on the stretcher, looks at him, picks up a chair and breaks it over Doomsday and starts screaming. People think he’s angry because this creature killed Superman, but no, he’s angry because this creature cheated him of the opportunity to kill Superman himself. He feels monstrously cheated.
CARLIN: My favorite scene, and people make fun of me for this, was Bibbo in [Action Comics #686] in his bar, praying and asking God why he took somebody as great as Superman away instead of a schlub like him. I don’t get choked up reading plots for comics, but that one, Roger Stern got me.
ORDWAY: The comic book store I was going to had little black armbands on any book that tied into “The Death of Superman” or referred to it. I remember walking in one day and there were a couple of Marvel books with the armbands, because I guess characters in the issues were wearing them.
STERN: Mike Carlin came in saying, “We solicit these stories three months before they come out, so when he’s dying people will already see he’s returning.” But if we went on hiatus, he dies and then it’s looking like the books are discontinued.
BOGDANOVE: DC knew they were taking a risk by stopping publication. In those days, DC occasionally did something that wasn’t necessarily business-driven but was creatively or artistically driven. I think they were aware that they were sacrificing some sales, but it was a way to mark the importance of the event. I think it was literally the corporation putting aside its cashbox to bow its head in respect to this character that had founded the industry.
CARLIN: I was like, “Yeah! This is great! Two months and I’ll be able to get the ‘Reign of the Supermen’ stuff going really good.” Then [then-Executive Vice President] Paul Levitz came down and asked, “So what are you guys going to do to fill the gap?” and I was like, “I’ve got to do that too?”
JURGENS: That stuff had to get put together in a hurry. It was everybody flying by the seat of their pants at that point. I remember doing [the Legacy of Superman one-shot] with Waverider and they did a Newstime magazine-type special.
GUICE: It became very important to Mike that the entire story be handled by the regular creative teams. Not just the death, but “Funeral for a Friend” and the return [as well]. That’s a lot of issues for a monthly book in a row. Holidays, illnesses, whatever, we just kept trying to come together and find a way to make sure that the books got out. There was a blizzard that knocked the power out around [where I lived] for the better part of a week and I had to keep working.
Quickly gaining media coverage like no other comic book event before it, “The Death of Superman” emerged a legitimate mainstream blockbuster, capturing the attention of the world beyond comic fans. Mike Carlin and his creators became minor celebrities, making appearances on television programs like “Entertainment Tonight,” Howard Stern’s radio show, the QVC network and more.
STERN: That first printing [of Superman #75] in the black bag exhausted the supply of black ribbon in North America [used on the enclosed memorial armbands]. I was doing a store signing, and I had a little Superman pin that [late former DC editor] Julie Schwartz had given me, and I thought it would be classy if I had a little black ribbon to attach to it. I went to a store. They didn’t have any. I went to another store. No one has black ribbon! Why? Then I found out, we had used it all. We would have printed more bagged copies right away, but we couldn’t get any [ribbon] for like three months.
CARLIN: We had a piece of art that Bogdanove had done of Superman fighting Doomsday, and Newsday, a Long Island newspaper, put it on its cover [two months prior to Superman #75’s release]. As I found out that day, apparently the rest of the world’s reporters get their news from Newsday. I went to work and by the time I got in I literally had about 30 messages from other reporters and TV channels and everybody. I spent that whole day trying to promote it, but at the same time we were kind of trying not to over-promote it because the book was not going to be on sale for months. If the world wanted to see this comic book, we needed their attention two months from then.
GRUMMETT: I live in Canada and my parents gave me a call and said, “Mike Carlin is on CBC National News.” I flipped it on and it was Mike answering questions from a reporter who seemed really annoyed we were even considering [killing Superman]. It was at that point I thought, “This is going to get very strange.” There was no way to imagine how big and how strange it would get.
CARLIN: I had a black reporter call me up mad because he heard Doomsday was a man of color. I said, “Yeah, he’s gray,” and he goes, “Really? Oh, okay.”
GUICE: It seemed like once a week I’d catch something, whether it be “Saturday Night Live” or whatever. My mother was asking me, “How could you kill that nice Superman?”
ORDWAY: I remember we worried about [Superman co-creator] Jerry Siegel and how he’d react to it. I know somebody contacted Jerry before the solicitations came out to warn him about it.
STERN: When the guy at my hardware store and my barber started asking me about stuff, I knew we’d struck a nerve.
CARLIN: I always say, “If Madonna had a baby that day, or if there had been a war, or if there had been a war with Madonna’s baby, we wouldn’t have been news.” That week, People magazine did an article about it and there was also an ad for DieHard car batteries in that issue with Superman as the thing that couldn’t be stopped. Somebody got in trouble for that one.
JURGENS: The week that #75 came out, I was doing a store signing, and it was a wet, miserable, cold, rainy night. I am heading up to the store and turn around the corner—there are people out the door, down the block, and around the corner lined up.
ORDWAY: You’d show up at a signing that’s only supposed to be for two hours and there would be 1,000 people there, so you’d be like, “Oh, okay, I guess I’m going to be here for eight hours.”
STERN: Once I started writing the novelization, The Death and Life of Superman, it was a 24-hour job. I had like four and a half months to write my first novel. Every once in a while I’d have to take a week off and write an issue of Action Comics so I’d have something to adapt.
CARLIN: I was on “Entertainment Tonight” like 13 times. That was fun. The only time I was nervous was when Howard Stern called, just because I knew he could turn on me at any second. He was great, though. All I did was agree with him against Fred and I was okay. A couple of times David Letterman wanted me to do his show, and [Time Warner] said no because they thought he would have torn me apart.
BOGDANOVE: I was on QVC once in some awful sort of Arsenio Hall suit. It was pretty ghastly.
STERN: On New Year’s Eve , [“Tonight Show” host Jay] Leno had done taped mini-interviews with various celebrities saying their New Year’s resolutions and Roseanne Barr said, “My New Year’s resolution is to hunt down the ones responsible for Superman’s death and make them pay.” I was like, “That’s incredible!” [Laughs]
CARLIN: When one of the Superman watches came out, they had me doing an appearance at Macy’s with two radios DJs. As I was trying to leave, as dumb as this sounds, they had to hustle me out of the bowels of Macy’s because people were chasing me down the hallways. It was crazy.
KARL KESEL (Adventures of Superman writer 1993-1999): I was surprised that people thought he was gone for good. I guess that’s a testament in some way to how people saw him as a [real person]. Anyone that just takes half a step back realizes that, on a business level, they’re never going to kill him off forever.
GRUMMETT: When it came to little kids, you had to treat it gently. I took the approach of being reassuring: “The story is still going and it’s not over yet. Just follow it along and see where it leads.”
JURGENS: I had people call me up and say “You dirty rotten schmuck, how could you do this? You ought to roast in hell for what you are doing!” I was unlisted, but people got my number somehow. We were getting it bad enough that a personal security company approached Carlin and I and offered their services. Did I feel threatened? No. But did I feel uneasy? At times, yes.
ORDWAY: There were some death threat letters that came into the DC offices. You need to take that a little seriously when someone’s writing a letter that looks like it’s written in blood.
BOGDANOVE: Many of us had been feeling like [our] work wasn’t getting the notice it should have been. Suddenly, there was this outpouring of emotion that showed the world did care. I think all of us felt a sense of vindication.
JURGENS: One of the things I think is unfortunate was if you go back to the time, and even still today, the label “marketing gimmick” often gets applied to [“The Death of Superman”]. There was never any effort on our part to sit down and come up with this as a marketing gimmick. Yes, when we sat down as writers and artists to do a story, we wanted to do stories that would sell, but it was more important to make it an interesting story.
ORDWAY: I’ve noticed they’ve laid the market collapse [of the mid-1990s] at our feet, and that’s totally unfair. We were four comics out of a thousand comics coming out every month. Whatever Valiant comic that had chrome plating on it and cost 8 bucks was selling a million copies a month as well.
SIMONSON: History goes through these crazes where something becomes collectible and people collect them and spend zillions of dollars for things that are worthless. This happened in Holland with tulip bulbs! Fortunes were made and lost on tulip bulbs!
GUICE: I think a large number of copies were sold to people who felt that because it was the death of Superman, in 15 years they’d be putting their kid through college by reselling the issue.
BOGDANOVE: Think about it this way: You pour your heart and soul into drawing a comic, and someone buys it and doesn’t even read it? What’s up with that?
GUICE: I remember thinking that if we got out of [the story] with 20,000 or 30,000 extra readers on each book, it would be a major success in our eyes. We certainly didn’t expect it to become a major news event and the focus of that much attention. Once it did, that created quite a bit more problems along the way. Suddenly it was important that we not fumble the ball somewhere along the way.
CARLIN: The day that Superman #75 came out, Valiant sold a buttload of Bloodshot #1 comics and that’s not being given a retrospective 15 years later—no offense to the guys who did Bloodshot.
In the last pages of Jerry Ordway’s final issue of Adventures of Superman, #500, four new characters with claims on the name “Superman” made their debut. A young Superman clone who refused to be called Superboy took over Adventures—along with new writer Karl Kesel. Armor-clad African-American John Henry Irons picked up for his hero in Superman: Man of Steel. A cold and ruthless “Last Son of Krypton”—later revealed as Kryptonian construct the Eradicator—took up residence in Action Comics. Finally, a half-human Cyborg claiming to be a reconstructed Man of Tomorrow appeared in Superman. The next several months would consist of constant twists and turns as each contender gradually became discredited, concluding with the shocking revelation of the Cyborg actually being a villain as he destroyed Green Lantern’s hometown of Coast City.
CARLIN: The sales were so phenomenal and the reaction from the press so ridiculous that we called an emergency meeting because we had to do something better than he just sits up in his coffin and says “I’m back.” I went to my hotel room the night we finished the meeting and put on the TV and the local news was reporting that DC was having an emergency meeting to discuss bringing back Superman. Their angle was we “learned our lesson by taking away Superman, now we’re going to give him back.”
ORDWAY: That was my last hurrah as Karl Kesel was taking over [writing Adventures of Superman] after issue #500. If I had left at the end of the “Death” storyline, I would have felt kind of unfulfilled, but it was really fun and nice to do the beginning of the “Return” in Adventures of Superman #500.
CARLIN: The argument was made pretty much across the board that we should do a whole new Superman for a while. All of the writers came up with something different, so I was afraid of having to go to this meeting and pick [one], but Louise Simonson said, “Why don’t we just do all of them?” and I said, “Yep, that’s the winner, thank you very much.”
JURGENS: Everyone, whether they were readers, part of the comic press like Wizard, or pros within the business, was speculating as to how Superman was going to come back. When we came back with [Adventures of Superman #500], I thought that was the ultimate triumph because at that time, out of every single speculative thing I saw, no one ever saw four Supermen coming.
GRUMMETT: Karl Kesel had just taken over for Jerry Ordway as the new writer of Adventures of Superman. We kind of looked at each other and just said “Superboy” and it went from there. Karl and I always had this weird sort of telepathy between us.
KESEL: I hit on the expression “The adventures of Superman when he was a boy,” and thought, “Superboy! That could be cool.” But I think [Man of Steel inker] Dennis Janke was the first person to throw the Superboy idea on the table.
BOGDANOVE: [Louise and I] wanted to do a regular guy. Initially we wanted to do a guy who had been a kid that grew up idolizing Superman, but that wouldn’t work because in the comics Superman wasn’t really that old.
SIMONSON: Steel was the soul of [Superman]. A good guy who would just go out there and make things right.
CARLIN: Having an African-American embody the values of what Superman stood for was way overdue.
BOGDANOVE: I was delighted and amazed when [Steel] got his own title. I was amazed when they made a movie of him. I wasn’t particularly amazed with the movie, but we don’t need to discuss that. [Laughs]
STERN: That was a period where antiheroes were taking over. I said, “What if we present that aspect in Superman? For those who have been calling for Superman to be darker and grittier, here you go! Aren’t you sorry?” The Eradicator was never meant to be endearing, he was meant to be cold and mysterious.
CARLIN: The Eradicator was already part of the show and really less of a character and more of a plot device that would help us with how Superman comes back to life.
STERN: I designed the Eradicator to be killed off, and that’s basically what happens in the novel. As far as I’m concerned, the Eradicator died during “Reign of the Supermen.”
JURGENS: I said from the start if we were going to do four Supermen, one should be a bad guy and I volunteered the Cyborg. He already existed, so it was less for me about his character and more about where the story was going. Hank Henshaw had already appeared twice in the books [in Adventures of Superman #466 and #468] and as we talked about [the character] being a robotic character, which is where I was going, all of a sudden his name popped up. I wanted to set him up as a really good guy and make him look as much as possible like he could be the real Superman.
CARLIN: The fact that we actually managed to keep it a secret that one of the Supermen was a bad guy was phenomenal. I can’t even imagine being able to pull that off these days.
JURGENS: It was a surprise, I think, on a weekly basis. Especially when the Cyborg turned out to be evil and Coast City got evaporated.
KESEL: Mongul’s involvement had been decided at a previous summit I had not attended and I thought he was boring. I said, “He’s just another Superman villain. What’s the big deal? We’ve seen it before.” Virtually the next words out of Dan Jurgens’ mouth were: “Let’s destroy a city!”
JURGENS: I thought if you had all these fictitious cities, you should do stuff with them. What if one of them got wiped off the face of the Earth? I said I wanted to blow up Central City, but the Flash guys wouldn’t let us do it.
CARLIN: We had a meeting with the other editors, told them what we wanted to do and Kevin Dooley volunteered Coast City because he felt like that might help [Green Lantern] tie into something that might actually help his book.
STERN: In the Newstime special we did, there was a big ad for Ferris Aircraft that read “Things Are Booming in Coast City!” That special was full of gags that people would only get after the fact.
Nine months after his demise, the one true Superman returned to action in the pages of Superman: Man of Steel #25 in September of 1993. Sporting a slightly altered look that consisted chiefly of longer hair, the rejuvenated hero defeated his Cyborg pretender, saving the day and taking back his place atop the DC Universe.
KESEL: I have very strong memories of Mike Carlin moving the story along faster than I would have liked. We had four new characters and I was just getting my feet wet. Plus, Louise, Roger and Dan were all having fun not having to correlate with each other for the first time. I think Carlin was very anxious to get Superman back in [the books]!
CARLIN: Maybe...but for the rest of us, this was already an almost yearlong story. I’ll bet readers thought it went along just fine. I wasn’t in a hurry to get him back. By most standards “Reign of the Supermen” was a long arc, especially for the time. And the motivation for Superman’s return issue was solely to have him back the week “Lois & Clark” premiered on TV. So, as always, blame Hollywood!
GUICE: I probably would have blinked and resurrected him earlier. I was surprised we waited as long as we did. I was starting to hear the occasional disgruntlement at conventions.
JURGENS: Somewhere along the line, we decided that none of the four replacements would be real and we’d go with Superman in the recovery tank. I think Bog first mentioned using the giant Kryptonian robot thing that Mike Mignola had first designed. He described it as “The chute opens up and Superman comes out with all the fluid.” We were like, “Jeez, Bog! We are bringing Superman back and he’s going to be crapped into view!” It was kind of funny.
When Superman came back he had longer hair. It was a visual signal of him being somewhat different.
CARLIN: We made the hair a little longer because in the initial pictures we saw of Dean Cain [from “Lois & Clark”] he had longer hair. We wanted to evoke what the world was going to be seeing from Superman that year.
GRUMMETT: [The look] probably hung around longer than it needed to.
CARLIN: [The long hair] was more aggravating to some people than him getting engaged or dying. I have to tell you, women liked it at the time.
JURGENS: If you go back and look at those issues, some guys drew Superman with really long hair. Mine was long but probably the shortest. I never, not once, gave Clark Kent a ponytail. Jon Bogdanove did it all the time. Bog himself had [a ponytail], I did not. I always [thought] in my head Clark Kent grew up on a farm [in] Kansas—his character is not one to wear a ponytail.
BOGDANOVE: People think it was me [who suggested the long hair] because at the time I had longer hair, but it was really, totally, not me!
JURGENS: At one point we discussed giving him a different costume, and there were a few guys who really wanted to do that, but ultimately we thought it was important he be in his classic uniform so people didn’t think it was yet another doppelganger.
CARLIN: If we had changed his costume, that would have been a mistake, because we needed to save that and do it a few years later in a story that nobody liked. [Laughs]
Following Superman’s return, Superboy and Steel received their own ongoing series. To this day, Steel remains an active supporting character in the DC Universe, having been a star of the 2006-2007 weekly series 52. The Cyborg currently appears in the Green Lantern titles. Superboy starred in 100 issues of his own book and later in Teen Titans before being killed during 2005’s Infinite Crisis. The Superman books themselves post-“Reign of the Supermen” maintained healthy sales and strived to exist within the shadow of “Death” with more event-driven arcs, such as a new costume, new powers, and eventually the long-postponed wedding. The legacy of “The Death of Superman” remains strong to this day as demonstrated by the recently released “Superman: Doomsday” animated DVD adaptation by Warner Bros. as well as DC’s hardcover reprint volume.
GUICE: In the end, everybody contributed to the story, but I’d give a huge amount of credit squarely to Mike Carlin. Mike was the central figure. He was the grounding force and the voice on your shoulder to remind you that this wasn’t going to go on forever.
CARLIN: Everybody enjoyed the rollercoaster. I came away from it feeling like we could have actually done two or three more months of it and people would have stayed along for the ride.
SIMONSON: The only thing that I thought was a negative ramification of the whole thing was that the company then expected us to produce that constantly. They wanted one huge event after another. We’d usually do smaller stories then build to a bigger one. After “The Death of Superman,” they just wanted giant story arcs. That was a negative because it got a little boring to work on because you couldn’t vary it as much as you wanted to. As much fun as it was to work on in the beginning, we were a little tired of it in the end.
BOGDANOVE: Superman in that silly electric suit or Superman Red/Superman Blue, that was a product of an atmosphere of expectation. “What are we going to do to top the death of Superman? What’s the next event going to be?” And of course, because they didn’t come from the story, they weren’t natural. They came from the pressure to create the next big event and it got to be less fun for everybody. Every summit became less and less fun.
CARLIN: There’s no reason why “The Death of Superman” should have been as big as it was. It was the day the world was ready to believe it.
JURGENS: To this day, I don’t think I’ve done a convention in years where somebody hasn’t said, “It was ‘The Death of Superman’ that got me into reading comics and I never stopped.” People seem to have a genuine emotional fondness for it, which I think is really cool.
Justin Aclin, Jim Arehart, Jeremy Brown and Rickey Purdin contributed to this feature.