Thirty years ago, the Man of Steel tragically fell after battling a powerful new villain named Doomsday. The result of an unprecented level of planning and coordination within the ranks of DC, “The Death of Superman” was more than a comic book storyline, it was a pop culture mega-event. Superman’s untimely demise made mainstream news across the world, provoking conversation and curiosity and bringing new fans to comic shops for the first time. It spawned a trading card set, a video game, a novel adaptation, two animated movies and more. It was not only one of the biggest events in Superman’s history—it was one of the biggest comic book events ever.
Thirty years later, writer and artist Dan Jurgens is revisiting the storyline that gripped the world. The just announced 80-page Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special will find Superman, his friends and his family revisiting his death, while dealing with a destructive new threat known as Doombreaker. Fittingly for a major anniversary like this, Jurgens won’t be alone. The superstar creator will be joined by his collaborators from the Death of Superman saga—Brett Breeding, Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, Roger Stern, Jackson “Butch” Guice, Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummett—who will be reuniting for four original stories that expand on the legacy of “The Death of Superman” in memorable new ways.
Whether you’re a longtime Superman fan or just a fan of the medium in general, news that the full Death of Superman team is reuniting is a pretty big deal, So, we brought all of our questions to Jurgens, who broke down all of the exciting things in store for us…
Did you ever imagine in 1992 that you’d still be talking about “The Death of Superman” all these years later?
There was no way to know that. Seriously, back in 1992 it wasn’t even that common to have your story collected in a trade paperback. I talk to younger guys now, and I couldn’t have foreseen anything that happened. It’s a privilege to be able to do it, but I never could have imagined it.
How did this new special come together?
I realized it was the 30th anniversary, and I started mentioning it to a couple of folks at DC and said, “There’s an opportunity here, especially since we’re all still around and able to work on it in terms of the original creators who were there at the time.”
We started having some discussions and realized there’s something we can do here that I think is fun for people, whether they were there and remember it and want to scratch that itch of nostalgia, or whether they weren’t there at all and want to find out more about what it was about.
You mention people who hadn’t experienced the original story. From what I saw in the solicitation, it seems like Jon will serve that role. Will he be the reader’s entry point?
Absolutely. We see this through Jon’s eyes. Jon is about nine years old at this point, and it’s just after they had moved to Metropolis as part of the Rebirth storyline. He’s in school one day, and it happens to be the anniversary of Superman’s death. Someone who was involved with the story at that time appears in his classroom to start talking about it, and he’s wearing the black armband. And Jon—his parents didn’t tell him. How do you say, “Oh, by the way, son. Your dad died and came back to life.”
They never really got around to explaining that. Parents are always a bit behind the curve that way. And so, Lois is walking him home from school, and she says, “Well, how was school today, son?” And he says, “BAD.” She asks, “Why?” and he says, “Well, because you never bothered to tell me about dad dying and coming back.”
That gets us into the whole story. We get to experience it through young Jon’s eyes.
In fairness, John had only known that Clark was Superman for a little while at that point, because he had first found out in your Superman: Lois and Clark limited series.
And all of that is still foreign stuff to him. I think the complexities of dying and coming back to life, it gives Jon the opportunity to say to Clark, “Well, does that mean if I died, I would come back too?” Which is a very nine-year-old type of reaction. So, he’s the perfect vehicle to use on this.
Did you work closely with your former co-creators for this project?
I was in on it, but Brittany Holzherr was very much the editor. We had some discussions about what these stories could be. How we could fit certain niches that wouldn’t be repetitive and things like that.
It was great to be able to work with them and make sure that each team was back together again. It was Roger Stern and Butch Guice who were on Action Comics back at that time, and they could come back as a team. Louise Simonson and John Bogdanov were on Man of Steel, Tom Grummett and Jerry Ordway were working on Adventures of Superman, and Brett Breeding and I were on Superman. We realized we could get the full crew back together to do these stories.
Have you kept in touch with them all these years? What was it like working with them again?
We kept in touch at various conventions. The one I haven’t seen in the longest is probably Roger, but it was great to be back in touch with him and get him in to do this, and working it out so that he could. I hope we can all get back together again soon.
As a nineties kid I just love looking at a solicitation and seeing names like Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern and Tom Grummett.
That’s great to hear and wait until you see their work because it really looks great.
The original story had Lex disguised as his long-haired Australian son Lex Luthor II, and Supergirl was a protoplasmic refugee from another dimension. How does this story address them?
They’re not a part of the story. We have a very finite page limit here. Whether it was Lex Luthor II or Matrix Supergirl, all of that would take so long to explain and so much real estate on the page that we decided to focus on the main characters, which are Lois, Clark, Jon, Superman, Perry and Jimmy.
What can you tell us about this new villain Doombreaker?
The story is told on two levels. One is as Lois explains to Jon just what happened in those days—we cover the past that way. But at the same time, we address something in the present day, which is a new threat to Superman that emerges in Metropolis that is related somehow, some way to what Doomsday was. I think we’ve come up with a very fun way to make that happen. His name is Doombreaker, as named by Jon. And the fun thing about that, it was Booster Gold who named Doomsday in the very first story. He said to Superman, “Oh man, it’s like Doomsday is here.” And that’s where the name came from. And I think in this one, what better than to have a nine-year-old kid just assign a name like, “It’s breaking like doom again! It’s Doombreaker!”
So, Jon actually names him. And I think we do have an effective new threat for Superman that emerges out of this.
Did crafting this story give you a new perspective on “The Death of Superman” and its legacy?
I think it’s safe to say that we certainly had memories, as I’ve talked to some of the other creators, that would have been lost to the winds of thirty years ago. I was just having a conversation with Brett Breeding where I talked about how this is so much fun and it’s getting me back to a point where I was when we first did this, and he said the same thing. It’s funny how this stuff comes back to you. It certainly got me back into the vibe of that time. Some of it are the scenes you recreate on the page and other aspects are scenes that are just living for the first time.
One of the coolest things about the original story was the way you gave each subsequent chapter less panels per page than the previous entry. By the time we got to Superman #75 the entire issue was full splash pages.
We did it that way originally because it allowed us to quicken the pace of the story. It felt like the stakes were getting bigger and bigger. It felt like the music in the theater was getting louder. And we went from four, to three, to two panels, to all splash pages. So, for the story that Brett and I are doing, we did the same thing here. We started out at four panels a page, then it goes three, then two, then one again to kind of quicken that pace.
It’s part of what said from the beginning as we first talked about this. For the people who experienced this story thirty years ago, we want to reignite that flame of nostalgia, we want the good feelings to come back. For the people who weren’t there, we want to show them what it was like and deal with this on two levels. One is just the comic story of Superman and the obstacle he faces. And then there’s the overall larger question of what it was like for the characters dealing with the death of Superman. I think the characters in the new story do an effective job of referring to that as they experience these new events. Jimmy stands there and says, “This is just like before, when the whole world was watching and everyone was focused on Metropolis. We can’t see Superman die again.” I think it functions on a couple of different levels that way.
How do you think that Superman’s death has changed him as a person and as a hero?
Jon asks, “So how did you come back from the dead.” And Superman can refer to the matrix chamber and make it clear that this can never work again. I think, like all of us as we age and especially once we have kids, we probably get a little bit more aware of our own mortality. And I think that comes through here for Superman.
It seems like we’ll be getting Superman’s perspective and Jon’s. What about the rest of the supporting cast?
Roger Stern and Butch Guice do a nice story about Guardian. He was so important to Metropolis at the time. How does he react in the moment to Superman, and does he try to render first aid and things like that? We get to see Louise and John do a very nice story with John Henry Irons, who later become Steel, who was there in the moment as Superman died.
That’s awesome because it’s part of his origin, but we’ve never gotten to see that full battle beyond the flashback.
Well, now you get to see a little more, so I think it has a great deal of relevance. Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummett do this wonderful story about Ma and Pa Kent. As they see this happen, they pull out a photo album and that photo album takes us on another journey. As a complete vehicle, I think this book does such a wonderful job of taking us back to that time and seeing what it was like, and seeing it through today’s eyes and experiencing it on a couple of different levels.
What are some of your favorite adaptations of Death of Superman? What do you feel they bring to the story?
They’re all favorites in different ways, and that even includes when Smallville brought Doomsday on. They didn’t do Death of Superman so much, but we still saw Doomsday. Even in Krypton when that was on TV recently, we started to see Doomsday. They all have their own individual strengths, and it’s just marvelous to be able to see it on each and every level, even with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It wasn’t just having Doomsday on the screen, it was also seeing them try to recapture some of the scenes that I had done in the books and to film them as they existed. When you draw it, you can’t possibly imagine that that’s going to happen. Each of these has had something going for it that has made it strong in its own right. It has been a lot of fun to see over the years.
Did you ever play the Death of Superman video game?
Yes. It’s hard to say now because video games are a little bit different than they were then, but it was still fun. It was something to do. Here we have Doomsday and we have Superman in this different medium. That is so fun to play around with.
How do you want people to feel after reading this special?
I hope that they walk away and say those really were fun days. And I hope it also reignites talk about what really happened at that time. What I remember is, as the story broke out, it was covered by every form of media that was out there at the time. It was on a national level, it was on local levels. It was in print, it was on TV and it was on radio. All of us were doing signings and store appearances at the time.
I remember on a cold November rainy night, driving up to the store where I was doing an appearance. And I just saw a lot of people standing outside and I thought, why are they not letting them in? That’s mean. It was raining and kind of icy. And then I saw the line went down a couple of blocks and wrapped around the corners.
I couldn’t believe it. There will never be another time in comics like that, and it was very special. And not just for us as creators, but it was special for the readers and the store owners as well. If this ignites some of the passion that existed at that time and the warm feelings, then so much the better. I never ever do a convention where someone doesn’t come up to me and say, this is the thing that got me into comics. I think that’s worth commemorating.
The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special by Dan Jurgens, Brett Breeding, Roger Stern, Butch Guice, Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummett will be available in print and as a digital comic book on November 8, 2022. Click here to discover more about it.