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Author Topic: The FIRST "real" Death of Superman!  (Read 3150 times)
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JulianPerez
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« on: November 28, 2006, 07:09:07 PM »

It was not a hoax, not a dream, not an imaginary story. Superman really died.

I'm absolutely amazed that the Englehart run on JLA has never been put in trade paperback because it was such a brief, extraordinary flash in the DC Universe: the first time the major DC heroes had been fully three dimensional, one of the first times that we were shown what these people were really LIKE. Englehart had Black Canary and Hawkgirl wondering if there indeed was sexism and machismo in the JLA selection (the 8-to-1 male female roster for instance). It had the ladies carry the two best buds, Hawkman and Green Arrow, quite clearly drunk. When other writers showed a risque scene like Green Arrow and Black Canary in bathrobes, drinking coffee, quite clearly having a post-coital moment, they were following Englehart's direciton and lead on this.

Englehart had a very unique take on Superman, and it is very unfortunate that few writers have had to follow it up. Englehart's Superman was more specifically alien and very different from human beings. Even though he grew up on earth, he often steps back and marvels at Earth's expressions.

In the very next issue, which features the return of Red Tornado, Englehart had Superman refuse to admit Hawkwoman, because Superman feels he has to look after the good name and procedure of the League, as well as League prestige. For this reason, Superman refused to have Hawkgirl/woman join the League.

it's always the hallmark of a good writer to have two characters argue, but have both of them emerge from the argument likable, with neither one being "right." Kurt Busiek did this in his AVENGERS run, where he had Iron Man and Captain America dispute over the correct way to respond to the Triune Understanding. Likewise, here, Englehart had Superman and Hawkman argue over the admission of Hawkwoman. Superman has a point: the JLA is pretty big, and they have a rule against duplication of powers or M.O. Hawkman too, has a point: they need everyone they can get against the Construct.

Englehart had Superman as a conservative person often afraid of change. Superman said "Whatever happened to our team spirit, Bruce?" To which Batman responds, "The team has as much spirit as it EVER HAD, Clark, MAYBE MORE! It's just going in NEW DIRECTIONS!"

At the same time, Englehart played Superman as smart: it was he that tricked the Construct into revealing that he had possessed Reddy.

Oh, what was I talking about? Oh yeah: Superman DIED.

One of the things about Englehart in all of his DC work that I really like is that he shows us the very human dimensions of characters yet at the same time tells traditional stories with them that are nonetheless recognizable as story types in the book, only with several shocking plot twists. "The Malay Penguin" was a Dick Sprang style Batman caper story. Likewise, JLA #145 is another "the JLA vs. Magic" story, which has an evil wizard out to sacrifice the Leaguers for the benefit of a demon, and has a really big role for the Phantom Stranger.

Yet as usual, the always unpredictable Englehart throws a few monkeywrenches. He has the JLAers become dependent on the Phantom Stranger, and then takes him out halfway through like Gandalf in THE HOBBIT.

Likewise, Englehart opens his story up with a villain teleporting into the JLA Satellite where Superman has monitor duty, and then the Crystal Count uses his magic to stop Superman's heart and lungs. By page 4 in the story, Superman is dead.

Not only was this a ballsy as hell way of starting a JLA story off - killing their most powerful member, not only was it shocking and surprising like the death of Vivian Leigh in PSYCHO, it was also honest: we know Superman is vulnerable to magic. So, shouldn't it be the case that, if a villain had the right spell, and the element of surprise, they can drop Superman? This reminds me of that Alan Moore Green Arrow story where an ordinary person manages to shoot and wound Black Canary, just because he was able to get one lucky shot in and got the jump. (When Green Arrow noticed him, he had no chance, of course...)

Yeah, the writers like to SAY that all it takes is one bullet to drop Batman, but they never mean it.

The thing I like best about how Superman died was how it gave concessions to how death WORKS in a superhero world. The JLAers when they arrive do not automatically assume Superman is dead even though he has no heartbeat, since they know that Superman can simulate death to trick villains. "Who is he trying to fool now?" Hawkman asks. Likewise, when Superman finds himself a ghost in the afterlife, he remembers that since he lives in the DC Universe, ghosts can come BACK - he thinks about Deadman and the Spectre, for instance.

What was interesting about how Englehart played Superman as dead is, Superman didn't resign himself to this state, and thought of it in terms of a final fight. "If Azagore wants me, he'd better know how to handle me! I've never shied away from a fight in my...LIFE!" He said, pausing at that last bit as the horror of being dead sinks in.

Englehart's portrayal of Superman as a character was as someone that is very proud, a very Golden Age take on the character. When dead, he is in a state of denial about the whole thing: "But it CAN'T END like THIS! Not with ONE QUICK BURST OF SORCERY! Not to me! Azagore can't have the power to destroy SUPERMAN!'"

Even the villain Count Crystal, was in a state of swaggering pride and disbelief. When the demon Azazore turns against Count Crystal to devour his soul, Count Crystal says "I KILLED SUPERMAN! No one ELSE has EVER...!"

In fact, the only reason that Superman was even able to come back at all was because of a very specific situation in that story: the Phantom Stranger using a god's portal. Ordinarily, he would have been really, really dead.

Incidentally, this story had a very interesting hint, buried in a throwaway line: the demon god Azazore MAY know the true nature of the Phantom Stranger. The idea that this being may know the greatest unsolved mystery in DC is very, very intriguing.
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« Reply #1 on: November 29, 2006, 05:08:14 AM »

Was Englehart also the one behind the Rann-Thanagar war?

Anyway, Maggin had Lex kill Superman in Last Son of Krypton.  Lex gives Supes a horse pill that is either supposed to kill him or revive him from a Toybee-induce coma.  For a moment he is actually dead and has a conversation with God in the person of Einstein/Jor-El, or something.  Superman or Jor-El decides that "now is not the time" to die, or something.

A version of Superman dies 3 times in one 70s story.  I'm sure there are more.

Maybe we have a good anthology title: "The Many deaths of Superman."
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« Reply #2 on: November 29, 2006, 10:47:33 AM »

I like the idea of Superman being overconfident, like he was in the story you mentioned. Not arrogant mind you, but already convinced he'll win a battle, no matter which foe he's facing.

In regards to Superman dying, I've always wondered why Darkseid didn't just toss a piece of Green K at Superman and then blast him with his Omega Beams. It seems like that would do the trick.
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