In 1987, the reins on the Superman books passed from editor Andrew Helfer to Mike Carlin. Carlin gradually instituted a number of changes on the Superman titles, one of which was to fuse the books into a single, cross-title continuity. By adding two additional titles, Superman: The Man of Steel and Superman: The Man of Tomorrow, to the already existing line-up of Superman, The Adventures of Superman, and Action Comics; there was, in effect, one weekly Superman title. Never mind that each title still had its own name, writer and artist - every issue would now tie-in with the previous week's issue and would lead-in to the next week's issue.
In order to coordinate the details and map out how each year's storylines and subplots would carry between the different books and their creative teams, everyone who was on all of the Superman comics - the entire super family of editor, writers, artists, and inker(s) - would get together for an annual "Super Summit" meeting to brainstorm story ideas. As writer/artist Jon Bogdanove describes it:
"The Super Summit was an ambitious, idealistic way to write comic books. It worked like a writers' room on a television series, except that instead of being strictly reserved for writers, super-editor Mike Carlin made the unprecedented leap to include pencillers, inkers—even the colorist of all the Superman titles. For the first time in comics history, every creative contributor helped guide the direction of the story from the very beginning.
"Dan Jurgens never came to the Super Summit without a pitch prepared. He always brought an idea to the table and at that year's meeting (1992), he wanted to do an entire issue that was just one big fight from beginning to end. A '22-page slugfest,' he called it.
"'But what's the story? What's it about?' pressed Mike. Dan insisted that it was enough to be a big, exciting fight; but Mike knew the readers wouldn't care if there wasn't a solid, character-driven story behind it. He pushed and coaxed Dan, as he would push and coax any of us, to think about motivation and emotional stakes. There needed to be a reason.
"We moved on to the Summit's agenda—to write a year's worth of coordinated continuity for all the Superman titles. Periodically, Dan would suggest his monster and his 22 page slugfest. Mike's response was always to push him for more. Over the next three days, following through on story threads that we'd woven in from the previous year, we all wrote an elegant arc leading up to the long-planned-for wedding of Lois Lane and Clark Kent.
"Exhausted, but incredibly pleased with our work and our synergy, we had come to the end of another highly productive Super Summit, still with no 22-page slugfest."
But that was not to be the end of it. As Mike Carlin explains,
"We had originally been planning to take the ultimate star-crossed lovers Lois Lane and Clark Kent to the altar in Adventures of Superman #500. But the behind-the-scenes reality was that Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman had just been 'green-lit' for the 1993 television season: DC president Jenette Kahn and I thought it'd be best for the sales of the Superman comics to try to coordinate any wedding between these characters on television and in the comics at the same time, which meant having to postpone our plans.
"So there we were, holding off on our story indefinitely. Because, if the TV show was a success, it could be years until the Wedding; or it could be rushed at a moment's notice with the show's sudden cancellation. We'd hit a crossroads and had to come up with something else.
"And Jerry Ordway, as he always did whenever we were stuck for ideas, jokingly said, 'let's just kill him!'
"But instead of laughing, this time we all wondered: 'Okay... if we kill Superman... what happens next?'"
"We began to talk seriously about what that would really be like. One by one, we began to voice our deep feelings about the Man of Steel—who he was, and what he meant to the characters in our stories, to each of us personally, and to the world at large. The story almost began to write itself, from the end backwards. It felt like a story that could make the readers care again, the way we had always cared about Superman.
"And Dan would get his slugfest after all."
Jerry Ordway's involvement ended part way through the storyline:
"When I got over the shock that we were being allowed to proceed with the death of Superman, the most exciting prospect for me was to explore the aftermath of the event. In doing stories about a world without Superman, we were able to draw fictional parallels in Metropolis and the DC universe from the real world's reaction and sadness at the 'death' of an icon. In life he was always taken for granted, for being a selfless hero. In death, his mourners came out of the woodwork and overnight everyone loved and missed him.
"Some believed he was dead, while others kept looking for loopholes—ways he could have survived. People still refuse to believe Elvis Presley is dead, right? And how does all this impact on the few people who know that Clark Kent also died that day? Poor Ma and Pa Kent and Lois Lane lost family, not just a hero. Those moments were great to write.
"From my first day on Superman, I worked to humanize Clark Kent, for the readers and for his supporting cast. Superman is an alien raised as a human, with all of the emotional baggage that comes with humanity. Without that foundation, our storyline would not have had the impact that it did. Looking back, I regret leaving after Adventures of Superman #500, but doing so allowed me to enjoy the return of Superman all the more as a reader and a fan."
"To this day, I still encounter people who believe that the 'Death and Return of Superman' was a marketing-driven publicity stunt. But, quite to the contrary, these stories—and the attention they received—all just sort of snowballed.
"The publicity came later, and then only because we'd come up with a (you'll pardon the expression) killer story. The word got out on a a slow news day, and the media storm that followed was greater than anything we could have hoped for. But it was all thanks to the story's power."
-- Roger Stern
"When the idea of doing The Death of Superman first came up, we immediately dicussed it in terms of story potential. We explored numerous options of how to tell the dramatic story of Superman's death.
"We wanted to include world reaction in the story, which proved somewhat prescient, because it accurately predicted much of what we experienced as the real world reacted to Superman's death in the comics.
"We spent a tremendous amount of time discussing the reaction of those around Superman. How would Lois react? What if Jimmy took Superman's final picture? What about poor Ma and Pa Kent who'd see their son die on TV, yet be unable to publicly acknowledge their loss?
"Everyone in the room focused on telling a story that would define Superman. What resulted deserves to be known as a solid piece of grand, sweeping, entertaining fiction that accurately detailed Superman's importance to the world; both fictional and real."
-- Dan Jurgens
"The most awesome and greatest moment of the entire project was getting to meet Joanne and Jerry Siegel at a dinner featuring all of the Superman creators and producers. It was all about learning, for the first time en masse, that Jerry Siegel got what we were doing. He told me that as a writer, he understood the idea of shaking things up and he was impressed with the attention we'd achieved. He even reminded me that he'd written this story first, in Superman #149, so he knew how to do this! He'd invented it - just like everything else.
"If we had thought that we were doing anything that hadn't been done before, we wouldn't have been able to add the touches that made this version of the story important for the world then.
"Jerry Siegel was excited to meet some of the creators of the 'Death' storyline, too, and I will always love the fact that he was a fan of the work."
-- Mike Carlin
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This article contains edited quotations and extracts from various text pieces contained in
Death and Return of Superman Omnibus. Those portions are |