Study Up on Rebirth's Superman By Reading Roger Stern's The Death and Life of Superman Novel

If you're loving DC's current take on Superman, you should really pick up a copy of Roger Stern's [...]

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If you're loving DC's current take on Superman, you should really pick up a copy of Roger Stern's 1993 novel The Death and Life of Superman.

Leaving aside the prevalence of Doomsday in Dan Jurgens's current Action Comics run, and the fact that Peter Tomasi and Doug Mahnke retold chunks of the Death and Return of Superman storyline in Superman: Rebirth #1, there's something more -- and more important -- to the appeal of this book: in many ways, it's the biography of the post-Crisis on Infinite Earths Superman.

When Superman died in 1992 (and was revived in 1993), it was the culmination of years of the Superman family of titles being some of the best-reviewed superhero books in all of comics. Starting with The Man of Steel in 1986, a roster of all-star writers and artists reinvented Superman from the ground up, enraging a segment of the comics-reading audience who were upset about the things that they'd lost from the Silver and Bronze Age interpretations of the character while cultivating a whole new generation of readers for whom John Byrne's Superman was normal.

This new Superman was never Superboy as a teen, and he had virtually no real emotional ties to Krypton. Sent to Earth from an ultra-futuristic society while still in a mechanical womb, Kal-El had no memory of Krypton and didn't lean of his alien heritage -- or his super powers -- until he was in his late teens.

Byrne's Krypton lent itself to a wildly different interpretation of classic concepts like Bizarro, and introduced new villains like The Eradicator, a weapon that became a sentient AI that became a humanoid Kryptonian death machine. Much of this happened after Byrne left the titles, but before that, he did introduce post-Crisis interpretations of Superboy, General Zod, and more, setting the stage for a sweeping science fiction epic that took advantage of the fact that the post-Crisis Superman had a more modest power set than his pre-Crisis counterpart and couldn't simply jaunt out into space, do what he wanted, and remain the unquestioned most powerful being in the universe.

All of this -- and more -- was captured in the opening chapters of Roger Stern's prose novel, which was written with new readers in mind. The Death of Superman had become a global publishing phenomenon, and there would be a great many people buying Stern's book who either had never read a comic book before, or at least had never read a Post-Crisis Superman comic before.

Stern did a remarkable job of capturing six years' worth of comics in a single novel, and the end result was a really entertaining, well-written read full of great character moments.

"Once the story was underway, and starting to garner attention, Bantam Books approached DC about publishing a novel that would recount the entire story of Superman's death and eventual return to the living. DC liked the idea, but the only question was, who could write it?" Stern recalled during an interview with me in 2012. "It would take too long to bring an outside writer up to speed. After all, it was an ongoing story arc ... a trilogy of story arcs, really. We knew when and where it would end, but that ending had yet to be written and drawn. So, Mike Carlin suggested me for the job. And, not fully knowing what I was letting myself in for, I said, 'Yes.'"

...And now, not only is the current Superman that Superman again for the first time in years, but a lot of what's going on in both Superman and Action Comics draws directly from the Death and Return of Superman stories. It almost feels like the big shift in how Superman was perceived that happened in about 1999 has been rolled back, and The Death and Life of Superman -- which you can pick up pretty cheap on Amazon, by the way -- is everything you need to know to have a strong handle on the current Man of Steel.

...And even if I'm wrong, it's a damn fine read.