It was somewhere in the middle of November, 1992. I remember hearing it first on the news (no internet back then, boys and girls!), the next day reading it in the paper and for many days it was all me and my fanboy buddies could talk about. Superman is dead! Right on the cover of Superman (Vol. 2) No. 75!!! How did he die? How could this “new kid on the block” (Doomsday) do (on his first try, believe it or not) what Lex Luthor, the Parasite, Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk (try to pronounce that backwards!) and so many others tried to get done in 75 years without any luck…bumping off the big ole boy scout!!!
Of course, as everyone knows, Superman can´t die. He´s been around forever (or at least since Action Comics No. 1, 1938) and has been in at least seven Hollywood movies (let´s not count “Superman & the Mole Men” from 1954, please!), thousands of comics, cartoons, radio shows, TV series (The Adventures of Superman, Smallville, Lois & Clark) and so on. He is the superhero´s superhero, so it´s clear he couldn´t stay dead forever. Was it all just a gimmick? I guess you all know how the story goes: after the neverending “Funeral for a Friend” and “Reign of the Superman” sagas were finally over, Kal-El did come back, though I really wish they had not gone with the whole “Red Superman” & “Blue Superman” thing (I guess you had to be there!).
We got him back, but it kind of felt like a ripoff. Was it all for nothing? Can we really criticize comic book creators for killing off characters it happens in books, movies, TV series and even soap operas? You get 75 years of Captain America, Batman, Shazam and what can you do? For one thing, you can´t let them age naturally! That would be one powerhouse of a retirement home in South Florida…
So, if comic publisher´s constant “reboots” and “rebirths” keep our heroes eternally young, why not kill some of them off to “regain critical acclaim”? (in other words, boost sales)…and why not bring them back sooner or later? And kill them off again? How often can you play with this before you lose fan´s credibility? Superman died in 1992 and has died once again this year, just before the very successful “DC: Rebirth” initiative that made them recover the first place in the comic book market for the first time in 33 months.
How soon will it be before he returns? There is no real hurry at all, since you now have five superpeople to choose from: the Superman from the other universe (you know, the one married to Lois Lane with a super-powered kid); Lex Luthor in a Super-Armor; a Chinese Super-Man plus two brand new Superwomen to choose from (Lois Lane and Lana Lang obtained equal parts of Clark Kent´s powers when he passed away)…oh, but wait! Lana Lang just died this week in Superwoman No. 1. Well, you still got Supergirl, Power Girl and Krypto the Superdog to take her place…
The first important character to get killed off in the Modern Age of Comics was probably Gwen Stacy (Peter Parker/Spider-Man´s first true love) way back in Amazing Spider-Man No. 122 (1973). It was a bold move at the time and it would also be one now, since she has never been brought back from the dead (unless you count a clone who haunted Peter for a few issues…and the very popular “Spidergwen” from a parallel universe). Gerry Conway and Gil Kane worked on quite a few sensitive issues back then, bypassing the infamous Comics Code Authority: student protests, race issues, Harry Osborn´s drug addiction…and the double death of Gwen Stacy and supervillain Norman Osobrn/Green Goblin.
What did Stan Lee (creator of most of all Marvel Studios superstars) have to say about all this?: “When I came back from a business trip to Europe and found out that Gwen had been killed, I thought 'Why would they do that? Why would Gerry write anything like that?' And I had to be reminded later on that I had perhaps reluctantly or perhaps carelessly said 'Okay' when they asked me.”
By the way, the Spider-Verse is pretty funny about deaths as deaths go. Uncle Ben died in 1962 on Parker´s first comic ever and never showed up again. Aunt May finally died (after almost 300 issues of dragging it on) and it turned out she was just an actress made out to look like her (I…am…not…kidding!). Norman Osborn also came back from the dead in the 90´s after being “secretly hiding somewhere in Europe” (Come on, guys! It is nice to have him back but, really?)
There is no space in this column for all the characters who have died and eventually come back (some of them more than once). Some of them came back as whole new characters: for example, Bucky became the Winter Soldier and Robin is now Red Hood. A few of them are still “dead” as we speak: Wolverine (but an older version of himself is running around); Jean Grey (died twice but a younger version of herself appears in All-New X-Men); Cyclops (but a younger version…you get the point); Black Goliath, Elongated Man, Agatha Harkness (speaking to Scarlet Witch as a ghost), and even Captain Marvel, who made a dramatic exit in Marvel Graphic Novel No. 1 (1982) losing his fight to cancer. He hasn´t made it back yet.
But…let´s face the facts: most of them do come back, and with the silliest of backstories: Elektra was resurrected by the occult ninja organization known as “The Hand”, Clayface (I don´t even want to know!), Nightcrawler came back from hell but without a soul, Colossus survived the Legacy Virus. Let´s add Black Knight, Orion, Captain America, Doctor Light, Deadpool (wait! He´s back already!), Hawkwoman, Starman, Vigilante, Balder the Brave, Dum Dum Dugan (isn´t he know a SHIELD LMC with his personality uploaded?)…even Kid Flash just came back with the dead just recently with some flimsy story!...
So…what to do? When you have already taken away a character´s powers, made him a villain, bumped off his girlfriend, given him six extra arms, turned him into a vampire, made him destroy his own city, and so on…you figure out there´s not too much else fresh out there to do with him. Is killing him or her off and bringing him or her back taking the “easy way out”? If you ask me, it can be pulled off , but only if it´s very, very well done (Grant Morrison did it with the whole “Batman R.I.P.” saga, for example), but if you´re going to bring him back just as a gimmick…I think sometimes we´d rather just leave the poor bastard rest six feet under.