After “The Death of Superman” rocked the DC Universe and the comics marketplace in late 1992, it took nearly a year before the status quo returned to the Superman titles with Superman #82 by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding — which arrived in stores 25 years ago today.*
When Superman died, millions of copies of the comic moved and fans all over the world saw Doomsday and Superman battle to the death, and collapse side-by-side in front of the Daily Planet building in Metropolis. Each of them would eventually be revived — and that is something that more or less anybody who had ever read a comic book knew right away — but the ride was what was ultimately more important.
“Superman #82 served as the grand finale to everything we’d been sculpting for almost a year,” Jurgens told ComicBook.com. “We had brought the character back in a story that still resonates years later for a number of people. Superman had come back a bit earlier in the black suit, but this story returned him to his proper look and, I’d like to think, satisfied everyone who joined us for a grand, sweeping adventure.”
At the time, there were four monthly Superman comics, meaning that almost every week there would be a new issue on the stands. That meant, when the time came to bring Superman back to life, there were four different writers and a host of artists all making their opinions known in the room. Ultimately, as legend has it, Superman: The Man of Steel writer Louise Simonson simply suggested that they do all the ideas. Each creative team would take their “version” of Superman’s return and put a spin on it, but ultimately none of those ideas would represent Superman’s real return, which would come at a later time.
What happened was the creation of some of the most popular new characters since the Crisis on Infinite Earths:
The Adventures of Superman starred a clone of Superman, ostensibly created by peeling off a layer of the electromagnetic aura that gave Superman his invulnerability. At about 16 years of development, “The Metropolis Kid” — don’t call him Superboy, especially after he trademarked the Superman name and logo — broke out of his tube at Cadmus and set out to be a hero.
Action Comics featured a dark, brutal version of Superman that was created as a response to the antiheroes of the late ’80s and early ’90s. As an answer to why Superman did not kill, this version — hyped as “The Last Son of Krypton” — wasted thugs right and left, and didn’t feel bad about it. Ultimately, it would turn out that this “Superman” was in fact The Eradicator, a Kryptonian artificial intelligence that had tried on multiple occasions to raze Earth to its foundation to build a new Krypton. Here, though, he was trying to carry out the benevolent mission of Krypton’s last survivor in the way only he could.
Superman: The Man of Steel brought us John Henry Irons, a former weapons designer who left the world of bloodshed behind him and took up an assumed name to go be a construction worker, dedicating himself to adding things to the world rather than taking them away. Once saved by Superman when he was in danger of falling to his death, John Henry designed and wore a high-tech suit of armor and a powerful sledgehammer as The Man of Steel (later, Steel — and he even got a movie that nobody likes to think about).
In Superman, audiences met a character who was more machine than man. The Cyborg Superman had parts of his body inexplicably replaced with Kryptonian technology in the places where Superman’s body would have suffered the most trauma and damage during his battle with Doomsday. After saving the President’s life during an assassination attempt, the Cyborg Superman was briefly declared the “real” Superman in the eyes of the US government — but then he blew up a major city, killed a few million people, and tried to blow the Earth off its axis.
…So, yeah. Not the real guy, believe it or not.
The real Superman, whose body had been stolen by The Eradicator and relocated to a “regeneration matrix” in the Fortress of Solitude, was revived with long hair, a black costume, and no powers. Teaming up with Superboy, Steel, the Eradicator and Supergirl.** The team stormed the Cyborg Superman’s giant engine city and battled him, with an attempt at murdering Superman with Kryptonite backfiring and killing The Eradicator while giving Superman back his powers. He defeated the Cyborg — revealed as Hank Henshaw, a minor villain introduced during Dan Jurgens’s run on The Adventures of Superman.
Triumphant, his clothing restore by Supergirl’s strange shapeshifting powers, and wearing luxurious long hair that would not be cut until his wedding almost four years later, Superman emerged from the shattered, smoking ruins of Coast City reborn and ready to go figure out…how the hell to bring Clark Kent back from the dead.
Superman #82, as well as trade paperback collections of The Death of Superman, Funeral For a Friend, Reign of the Supermen, and The Return of Superman, are available on ComiXology or at your local comic shop. You should check them out, as they largely still hold up.
*Street dates in the ’90s are a bit more fluid than what we are used to, so we used Mike’s Amazing World of Comics as our source on this date.
**Not the one you’re thinking of; the ’90s could get weird in Superman comics.