The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special Review: A Love Letter to the Triangle Era

For legions of fans who bought Superman #75 in 1992, Superman's death was a key moment in DC's history. The Doomsday! Story that concluded in "The Death of Superman" brought together numerous threads from throughout the half-decade since John Byrne reinvented the Superman mythology in The Man of Steel. This week's The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special does its best to recapture the world of Superman in the days just before, and just after, Superman #75. The result is uneven, but a welcome trip down memory lane regardless, giving fans of the "Triangle Era" of Superman a lot to love.

Characters like Keith White and Mitch Anderson show up, giving 90s Superman fans a sense of place and making the stories contained in the highly-publicized one-shot feel like they have always been a part of the tapestry of The Death and Return of Superman. That said, there are times when the comic fights against itself a little bit.

The four main stories of the one-shot are by creative teams who worked together on '90s Superman comics. Louise Simonson writes a Superman: The Man of Steel story that fills in some gaps in the origin story of John Henry Irons, and it's drawn by the character's co-creator and longtime Man of Steel artist, Jon Bogdanove. Dan Jurgens reunites with Brett Breeding on a Superman tale that sets the stage for Jurgens's upcoming Superman: Lois & Clark sequel. Roger Stern's story teams him with a Butch Guice who is not only much more famous, but whose art is much more stylized than the last time they collaborated on Action Comics. Last, Jerry Ordway writes a tale that reunites longtime The Adventures of Superman and Superboy artists Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood. With colors by Glenn Whitmore and letters by Rob Leigh, these could easily pass as unreleased backup stories from the height of 90s Superman-mania. And in that respect, the one-shot is basically perfect. It accomplishes the key mission it sets out to with grace and ease.

In the Simonson/Bogdanove story, Jon Bogdanove's style has evolved a bit since his days on Superman. He also found himself paired with inker Dennis Janke for most of that run. While Janke is a great inker, and he and Bogdanove seem to have gotten along personally, Bogdanove has said in the past that he did not think their styles were an artistic match. As such, the handful of times Bogdanove makes an attempt to call back to specific, iconic moment from the 90s, it stands out significantly. As anyone who remembers his Superman: The Man of Steel cover from Zero Hour can attest, Bogdanove has the ability to be a chameleon, drawing in just about any style. That includes the Bogdanove/Janke style of the 90s, and one panel in particular is glaringly different from the rest of the story… but also totally necessary, because the moment itself is iconic to fans of the era.

Bogdanove's visual storytelling is top-notch, which is something you see throughout the issue. While the Superman titles were not huge hits until The Death of Superman blew the comics market to pieces, they were fan-favorites and critically beloved from the Byrne run forward. The creative teams whose work make up The Death of Superman were and are so impressive that it's hard to go wrong. There may be a few missed steps, thirty years later, but even on their worst day, a Superman story from Dan Jurgens or Roger Stern is better than a lot of creators' best. And this one-shot is no one's worst day.

There's a heart to The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special that evokes Funeral For a Friend, the story that immediately followed Superman #75, more than it evokes the Doomsday battle itself. It's smart, reflective, and deals with the underlying question of who Superman is, and why the world can't do without him. That is most obviously a theme in the Jurgens/Breeding story, where a character whose life Superman once saved is sharing the story of the hero's death with Jon Kent – but it's undeniably there in all of the stories. John Henry Irons's heroism and dedication—and an onlooker saying that in the absence of Superman, he's the best they have—play right into that initial take on Steel. And nobody is more devastated by the death of Superman than Jon and Martha Kent, who serve as the focal point of the Orway/Grummett/Hazlewood story.

The tale effectively pulls at the audience's heartstrings, and it certainly puts on display the attention to detail that Ordway had for the era. In Stern's novel The Death and Life of Superman, he connected virtually every story from the beginning of John Byrne's run to the events of Doomsday and beyond. Here, the Kents page through a scrapbook, similarly reflecting on the adventures of the era. As was common at the time, Ordway gives Clark's heroism a deeper, more human level… but it does feel a bit like the page count could have been used to delve a little deeper into Jonathan and Martha.

The "clip show" feel makes it arguably the weakest segment of the book, and while Grummet's Superman is always striking, it feels wasteful to take an art team with so much visual flair and give them, essentially, a static montage to wander through. Ordway's understanding of the characters, and Grummett and Hazlewood's mastery of body language and facial expressions, keep you engaged. But it still seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to do more.

The same can be said, to a lesser extent, about the Guardian story by Stern and Butch Guice. Guice, like Bogdanove, inks himself in this story, and it elevates the look and feel of the story. The gritty, kinetic style that Guice has become known for in the years since he left Action Comics brings each page to life, even as the story itself is essentially just the audience following Guardian from place to place as he is unable to keep up with Superman and Doomsday's battle, which tore up the East Coast of the United States in a matter of hours. Stern is the writer who has had the least experience returning to Superman in recent years, but he nails Guardian's voice perfectly, and gives Superman a sense of duty and dedication that a shield-wielding super-soldier can envy. He also revisits some fan-favorite moments from both the Doomsday fight and Funeral For a Friend, before leaving off in a familiar place. With a bit less narrating from Jim Harper and a bit more of the story doing its own lifting, this could have been a real gem. As it stands, it's a good story that falls just short of the greatness Stern and Guice used to regularly deliver.

Last but not least, we can talk about the Jurgens/Breeding story. This is the headliner, of course; Jurgens is the credited creator of Doomsday and the writer and artist most closely associated with The Death of Superman. His work with Breeding is among some of the best-received of his career, and the two parted ways for years after Breeding headed to Marvel, while Jurgens hung back to work with inker Norm Rapmund on Superman: The Doomsday Wars.

There's a bit of an info dump in the Jurgens/Breeding story, too – but it's a bit more justified, since the whole story centers on the day Jon found out that his dad once died. Lois is left to recap for Jon not just how it happened, but why she and Clark don't talk about it much.

Set just after Clark, Lois, and Jon moved back to Metropolis, the story introduces Doombreaker, a kind of "variant" Doomsday, but one that manages to do something none of the numerous attempts to recapture The Death of Superman have: it makes him actually scary. Ed McGuinness's bulky, smoothed-out redesign never quite connected, and the New 52's ram-horned version—like many of the ever-more-bony takes seen in the years before and sense—always came off a little comical. Simply saying, "It's Doomsday…but more" feels like a hat on a hat, but the conflict and design they give to Doombreaker is genuinely interesting (even if the source of his power and transformation is very Silver Age-y, in terms of not really making a lot of sense if you interrogate it too much).

Part of it is just the character design: Doombreaker is gross and disturbing in a way that Doomsday felt in the early 90s, without feeling like that was the whole point. This time, it's Doomsday-meets-body horror, and the result is effective.

The story itself has a bit of hand-holding dialogue, which can be read either as the result of one of the main characters being a ten-year-old, or just a callback to the way superhero comics were often written in the 90s. This story, since it's setting up future events that will impact DC's ongoing titles, features colors by Brad Anderson rather than Glenn Whitmore, giving it a bit more of a contemporary feel, even as Jurgens's Metropolis remains rooted in the style established by Byrne, Ordway, and Jurgens in the 90s. The speed and brutality of Superman's fight with Doombreaker is really sold by the fact that the 40-page story doesn't center around it the way The Death of Superman did, but pushes it to the back half where it has to do a lot in a short span.

The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special #1 is likely to thrill long-time Superman fans, overall. Chock full of Easter eggs and references, the issue is a celebration of one of DC's biggest stories, told in a way that feels like an organic follow-up to it. Featuring work from many of the same creative teams, one would be hard-pressed to argue that this issue isn't an improvement on The Legacy of Superman (an annual-sized one-shot that told stories set during and immediately after The Death of Superman) in most ways. Casual fans won't get as much out of it, but it's a quartet of well-told, beautifully illustrated stories that flesh out the story and world of The Death of Superman. It's undoubtedly a very good Superman book, but your love for it will hinge a bit on your love for the original.

Published by DC Comics

On November 8, 2022

Written by Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, and Louise Simonson

Art by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Tom Grummett, Doug Hazelwood, Butch Guice, and Jon Bogdanove

Colors by Brad Anderson and Glenn Whitmore

Letters by John Workman and Rob Leigh

Cover by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, and Brad Anderson