The death and resurrection of Superman, explained


Warner Bros.’ Justice League hits screens this Friday, and — you might want sit down for this. Even though Superman died in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice last year …

Superman is clearly going to be in Justice League.

I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s really quite obvious that Justice League is going to be bringing the big blue guy back to life. And it’s likely that it’ll make references to The Death of Superman while it does it. So I’m going to lay out its basics for you.

What is The Death of Superman? Why is it such a big deal?

The cover of the Death of Superman trade collection, 2016 publication, DC Comics

Dan Jurgens, Bret Breeding, John Kalisz/DC Comics

The Death of Superman was a 1992 crossover between DC Comics’ multiple Superman titles in which Superman tragically died saving Metropolis from an inexplicable space monster called Doomsday. It’s been overshadowed since by the dominance of the never-death-always-resurrection of superheroes, but at the time, it was a genuinely well-done, surprising story that strove to be much more than a gimmick: It was about what the DC Universe would be like without Superman.

While the villain, Doomsday, was something of a daemon ex machina, his climactic fight with Superman was afforded plenty of visual weight in the series. The third-to-last comic in the arc had only three panels on each page; the second-to-last, only two. The final issue, Superman #75, was famously composed of only full-page splash panels.

In it, Superman and Doomsday go mano-a-mano in downtown Metropolis, hitting each other so hard the shockwaves shatter windows for blocks around. Full pages are given to Jimmy and Lois looking on in horror and Ma and Pa Kent hugging desperately as they watch the live coverage on TV — until the reader gets to two, final double page spreads of Lois Lane cradling Superman’s lifeless body in the wreckage of his city, his tattered cape blowing like a flag of surrender from a nearby girder.

The aftermath of The Death of Superman was given enough time and space to really count, leaving a gigantic mark on the DC Universe. Most of the new characters invented just for The Death of Superman and its follow ups are still prominent in the DCU today, and its reverberations were felt in completely different pillars of the setting. The heel turn of Hal Jordan, the greatest of the Green Lanterns, into the fear-based villain Parallax, has its roots in the events of Death of Superman, as one example.

Just like in the comics, the DC movies appear to be using Superman’s death as a catalyst for greater events in the setting — the formation of the Justice League — and just like in comics, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice had him go down at the hands of that big guy covered in bone protuberances, Doomsday.

How did Death of Superman come about?

Fun fact: Superman probably would not have died in 1992 if Warner Bros. hadn’t made Lois and Clark and a DC writer hadn’t made a joke.

See, Superman hadn’t been selling particularly well in the early ‘90s, since the departure of writer/artist John Byrne, who had successfully redefined the character for the modern era after the Crisis on Infinite Earths. In an effort to halt that slide, editorial had upped the romance in the book, but with a bit of a twist — this time around, Lois found herself falling for Clark Kent, instead of her classic infatuation with Superman. Clark proposed marriage to her, and then revealed that he was Superman.

But their wedding wound up being editorially postponed for cross-corporate synergy. Warner Bros. was developing a new Superman-based television series that would have the romance between Lois and Clark as its primary element, and the temptation of a simultaneous wedding between the comic book versions of the characters and the TV versions was too tempting. (It wouldn’t actually happen until 1997.)

In the meantime, the comics had to do something instead of a wedding story — a year’s worth of planning had just been put on hold pending the eternity of a television production schedule. And writer Jerry Ordway made a joke that slowly became less and less funny and more and more plausible: “Let’s just kill ‘im.”

How did Superman die?

How Superman dies is actually pretty simple: A mysterious and terrible monster known only as Doomsday arrives on Earth, with the apparent goal of nothing but destroying everything in his path. Superman is the only force on Earth that can slow him down. Eventually, the two come to blows in downtown Metropolis, and with a mighty simultaneous punch, battle each other into mutual defeat.

Underneath all the drama, though, it’s fair to admit that what happens is that a monster shows up and he and Superman punch each other to death.

How did Superman come back?

In the aftermath of Superman’s death, a few Superman “pretenders” cropped up in Metropolis, with varying success. Two turned out to be villains, and two to be good guys after all. One of them helped Superman resurrect himself in a very complicated and comic book-y way.

Oh, come on, spill the details

*a sigh as long as a thousand winters*

The Eradictor posing as Superman, the Last Son of Krypton, from Action Comics Annual #5 (1993), DC Comics

Jeph Loeb, Lee Moder/DC Comics

OK, so this Superman with granny shades here? This is the Eradicator, an ancient, intelligent Kryptonian weapon that’s gotten kind of xeno-supremacist after the destruction of the culture that invented him. In the aftermath of the Death of Superman it was eventually revealed that the Eradicator stole Superman’s body from his crypt and placed him inside a Kryptonian device in the Fortress of Solitude called the regeneration matrix.

The matrix allowed the Eradicator to siphon off Superman’s powers and pose as him, and it eventually revived Superman, but the Eradicator made sure to note, as if a forward-thinking DC editor was speaking directly through him, that it was vanishingly unlikely that the regeneration matrix would work a second time. “In fact,” he told Superman, “it’s safe to say this would not be possible ever again.”

Upon returning, for a while he had a mullet and wore a black costume with a white ‘S’ symbol.

Superman returns to Metropolis after his death in a new costume (ft. Supergirl, Lois Lane, Superboy, Steel and Lex Luthor), from Superman #82 (1993), DC Comics.

Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding/DC Comics

Which brings us back to Superman’s death and resurrection and Justice League

More than a year ago, Henry Cavill made a little Instagram tease of his new costume for Justice League, featuring the chest piece of a brand new Superman suit. It’s sort of unclear whether the costume is actually black, or if the picture has a greyscale filter on it.


A post shared by Henry Cavill (@henrycavill) on Aug 15, 2016 at 11:58am PDT

But many fans theorized that this was a reference to Superman’s briefly used post-resurrection costume, with its white-on-black super symbol. When Justice League comes out this Friday, we’ll find out whether it’s a big reference to the story of the comic book — or if this was just a red herring.

And if Superman’s going to have the black suit … he better have the mullet, too.

Seriously, please let there be a mullet.


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