Twenty years ago today, DC Comics published Superman #75, "The Death of Superman."
The final chapter of the Doomsday! storyline that played out over several parts in Superman, Justice League of America, Action Comics and the then-published titles Adventures of Superman and Superman: The Man of Steel, the story broke from the comfort zone of the creative team at the time by taking on a more Marvel-style story that embraced big action, blood, property damage and a monstrous, unstoppable villain.
Coming off the John Byrne revamp and working under creators like Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern and Louise Simonson, the Superman titles of the early '90s tended to be somewhat more character-driven, and both Ordway and Jurgens say that the initial pitch for Doomsday! was actually rejected at first with much of the creative staff saying, essentially, "It's not really our kind of thing."
But when circumstance painted the writers and artists into a corner (they had planned to marry off Lois Lane and Clark Kent in 1992, but were told by parent company Warner Brothers that they could not, in deference to a Superman TV show airing at the time), they returned to the idea and decided to make it work. Not only that, but the bit, blow-'em-up action wasn't enough: they were going to kill comics's most enduring, iconic and seemingly invincible character.
Dan Jurgens, who wrote and drew Superman and Justice League of America at the time and actually drew the issue in which Superman died, joined us to look back at DC's all-time best-selling graphic novel.
While you wrote a lot of key stories in Superman's publishing history, the death-and-rebirth stuff is among some of the very little material DC singled out as still having happened post New 52. It doesn't seem like it can be just sales--what do you think is the enduring appeal of that story?
There are probably a number of things, starting with the fact that most everyone has actually read it.
On top of that, it touched other books. For example, without the "Death of Superman", Green Lantern never would have gone off on the track he did. All of that came out Coast City's destruction, which we did in Superman. The Cyborg Superman also spread out beyond that story, so that's a factor as well.
It's an iconic story-- one that will endure.
How would you describe the creative process that shaped the story? I think everybody knows how it came about, with Jerry's "Let's kill the bastard" that was widely reported in the documentaries on the Superman: Doomsday DVD, but you were the one whose name is synonymous with the story.
That simply isn't how I recall it, nor, I believe, does it match with Roger Stern's memory.
I walked into that meeting with two ideas written on a notebook, one being Superman's death and another being the idea of a truly physical monster that would trash Metropolis and give Superman a run for his money. Up to that point I'd been frustated by the lack of physical villains for Superman.
Now keep in mind that we had fifteen people in the room, which could sometimes get quite loud. We had also talked about the idea of doing Superman's death at previous meetings. I mentioned it during the meeting in question, as did Jerry. As things got loud it was sometimes hard to hear over everyone. We were sometimes emotional about those stories.
Later, as everything came together, the idea for the phyisical foe and death of Superman merged into one idea and Doomsday was born.
Mike Carlin wrote "Doomsday for Superman" on the board and I remember saying, "Doomsday. Has anyone ever used that for a name?"
How do YOU feel about the story? It's very fondly remembered by some and by others it gets a lot of the blame for the speculator boom and bust of the '90s.
It was a great, very fun time and great experience, just in terms of working in the industry.
As for any blame it gets due to the speculator boom, well... that boom started long before we did "The Death of Superman". As writers and artists, we simply set out to tell the most entertaining story we could, and I think we succeeded in that.
Quite honestly, to this day, I don't feel the story itself ever got the proper amount of credit for being as good as it was.
20 years on, The Death of Superman still figures prominently in your bio. Is it a little more prevalent for you, do you think, becuase you were the artist who actually did the killing? I mean, you get those black bags at every convention.
I suppose there's some truth to that. But there is also no getting around the fact that it's one of the things I'm remembered most for.
The idea has always been to make sure it wasn't the only thing.
As the writer and artist not only of Superman but also of Justice League of America at the time, you were doing a job that I don't think anyone since has done; when you think about that in the context of today's comics market, it's a little crazy. How'd you manage it?
As I mentioned to a friend earlier today, I used to work crazy, long hours.
Writing and drawing two books a month is enough to put a man in the grave. It's amazingly taxing.
Frankly, part of what kept me going was the overall enthusiasm and response the stuff was getting in the market. That can really fuel a person.
And since you were still kind of transitioning from the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League into something else, did you enjoy the fact that this massively-successful story you were working on allowed you to incorporate Booster Gold, a character you created?
Booster had already been in the JLA for a few years, of course.
When we first dreamed up the "Death of...", I said I'd be happy to bring the JLA into the story as well. In the context of any big story like that, the presence of a group like the JLA adds a certain level of credibility.
It made the whole story feel a bit bigger and certainly helped support the idea that Superman's death would affect the entire world.
As a lapsed reader at the time, the death brought me back to comics. It's the first time I ever encountered Booster, Beetle, Maxima, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice...was that part of the equation in writing those characters for you? That you'd be introducing them to a whole new audience?
When we made plans to pull the JLA in, we thought we might get a few extra readers. We had no idea that it'd turn into the phenomenon it did.
Quite honestly, it's possible-- and I don't know this for certain-- that JLA was outselling Superman at the time.
I'm sure I've told you before, but when I was a kid, I was a Marvel guy and occasionally something more "extreme" at DC in the vein of Lobo/Deathstroke/Batman kind of stuff. Superman, I never had any use for and so when I heard (on my local TV news) that he was going to die, I came back to comics just to see the sonofabitch go down. The character work you, Roger, Louise and the others were doing kept me there for the long haul. Is that a story you hear a lot?
As a matter of fact, it is.
I've heard of a number of former Marvel Zombies tell me that was the first DC book they bought. I've also had a number of people tell me they had a parent buy the book for them as their first comic, and that got them hooked.
To the extent that any of those people were moved to stay with comics beyond that, well... that's great.
Can you explain the panel structure of the Doomsday! story for our readers? Ages ago you explained the way it was set up (culminating in the full-page splashes of the final issue) and somehow I had never noticed it before!!
In short, the action first started with a single page in each of the four titles showing a fist bashing into a steel wall.
Later, as the story evolved, to make the action feel as though it was picking up pace and moving faster, we went with four panels per page, to three, to two and finally, as we got to Superman #75, an issue of splash pages.
It was one of the fun things we could do with a weekly format that really hasn't been utilized since.
Even before the New 52, so much of Superman reverted back to a pre-Crisis status quo after you guys left. I like to think of everything from Man of Steel until 1999 as basically its own, standalone series (a la the Chris Nolan movies or an All-Star/Ultimate book). Is it hard to see your stories discounted by the publisher or is that just part of serialized storytelling for you?
I see it a couple of different ways.
First, anyone who works for any length of time in this business should realize that, at some point, someone is going to come in and redo your work to one extent or another. It's necessary to realize that these character progress to a certain point and are then rolled back to start over again.
Any story I did still exists... you can still read them.
As far as removing some things from continuity, well... if it's replaced with something better-- great. If not...
Obviously you're the only one of the old gang who's worked on Superman in recent years (except for Bogdanove, who drew the RetroActive special). Do you think now that you've taken a bite at the New 52 Super-apple, you've had your say or do you expect you'll be back sometime?
Oh, man. Who knows? One should never say never, but I'd only do it in a context where everybody agrees on a common vision for the character.