The Death and Life of Superman
Author: Roger Stern
Publisher: Barnes & Noble Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In 1992, the world was shocked to learn that Superman had been killed. Of course, Superman was a fictional character from DC Comics, but he had been a permanent fixture in some people’s lives. He was a hero, a symbol, an example to follow. He’d been in countless comic books, television shows, movies…and now, DC Comics was killing him off! The story made front page news in some areas. I remember it like it was yesterday – people standing in line for hours at comic book stores, waiting for the Death of Superman series to begin. Then, just as suddenly as he died, Superman was alive…but certainly not the same. In fact, there were a number of Supermen, none of them like the original, and a new series of comics was born, as we all struggled to figure out whether or not Superman had actually come back from the grave, or if the new Supermen were all hacks pretending to be the Man of Steel.
Ah, 1992 – that was the year that the folks at DC Comics realized that sales were down in the Superman department. People were taking the heroic Man of Steel for granted and the folks at DC Comics decided to shake things up a bit. It was a gamble, but, boy, did it ever pay off! In 1993, a book was published which compiled the entire Death and Life of Superman series in novelization format. Written by Roger Stern, one of the Superman comic book writers, the novel received great reception and sales were through the roof. I had a chance to read a few pages of the original novelization and I was hooked. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my book and I had to return it to the owner before I had even witnessed the death of Superman. Now, years later, I found a re-released version of The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern for an excellent price in my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. I simply had to buy it.
The new version of The Death and Life of Superman, published by Barnes and Noble Books in 2004, contains the original introduction written for the novel by Roger Stern in 1993. In this intro, Roger Stern reflects on the decision to kill and resurrect the Man of Steel and the process of writing the comic book and the novelization virtually at the same time. The original version was a rather enjoyable read, but it was nice to discover that the 2004 version of the book now included another Roger Stern reflection – Ten Years Later – Looking Back at the Creation of The Death and Life of Superman. There was also an introduction written in 2003 by Mike Carlin, They Said It Can’t Be Done, which describes in further detail the process involved in creating the comic book series and simultaneous novelizations (yes, there were two – this book written by Roger Stern and a second book geared toward children by Louise Simonson).
After all of the introductions, we move on to the main story. I had previously only glanced at a few comic books in the series this novel is based upon. It all seemed so very confusing to me back then and I was eager to get a better understanding of what happened to Superman between 1992 and 1993. As The Death and Life of Superman begins, we learn that Clark Kent was now happily engaged to Lois Lane and looking forward to their wedding. His alter ego, Superman, had recently rejoined the Justice League in an attempt to get its rogue members to work better with one another. Superman had some die-hard fans, but some of the public was beginning to see Superman as somewhat of a boy scout, especially as compared to the new Green Lantern, Green Lantern. As frustrating as this might be for Superman, he ignored it and preferred to perform his acts of heroism his own way – less vigilante-esque and with more compassion.
Then along comes a monster that no one has ever seen before. The monster, dubbed Doomsday because of the violence and destruction he leaves in his wake, easily tears apart the Justice League. Superman is the only hero who can stop the raging monster, but at what expense. Every time he makes an attempt to stop Doomsday, lives are threatened and Superman finds himself dividing his time between a battle with an entity possessing almost the same strength as Superman, and rescuing the lives of the people put in peril during the fight. He fights valiantly onward trying to take Doomsday down before he can destroy Metropolis. It is there that they both make their final stand, for as Superman finally defeats the monster, he succumbs to his injuries, dying in the arms of Lois Lane.
It is after his death that people begin to realize that they have taken their hero for granted, especially after Metropolis’ evil-doers begin to come out of the woodwork. There is no one to stop them now and the streets of Metropolis have become a battleground. Supergirl attempts to fill Superman’s shoes, but it simply isn’t enough. Just when the public begins to despair of a life without the Man of Steel, four superheroes appear, each claiming to be Superman – a powerful Kryptonian wearing amber glasses to shield his eyes, a towering armor-clad man wielding a sledge hammer and calling himself the Man of Steel, a Cyborg Superman and a teenager who claims to be a clone of the original Superman. With so many heroes rising up to take the Superman mantle, one would think the world would be “Super-safe.” Unfortunately, each “Superman” finds fault with how the other fights crime and begin arguing about each other’s styles which leads to “Super fights.”
As Lois Lane struggles to find the remnants of her lover in the midst of all of these would-be Supermen, it becomes apparent that one of them has an ulterior motive. Can the evil Superman be weeded out and stopped before he brings his sinister plan to fruition? Are any of these would-be Supermen the real deal? Will Jimmy Olsen ever stop being so gosh-darned annoying? And who is that guy dressed in a Superman sweatshirt saving kittens from trees and pulling puppies from the river?
The Death and Life of Superman answers these questions and a whole host of others. I wondered whether I would enjoy a novelization of a comic book series. With some comics, it’s the visual aspect that pushes the story home. I had nothing to fear – Roger Stern’s writing is so descriptive, I found myself picturing everything in my mind’s eye. What’s more, Stern’s storytelling power is addictive. I couldn’t put the book down. “Just one more page,” I would say as I continued to read a whole chapter’s worth of pages. Before reading The Death and Life of Superman, I wasn’t a huge Superman fan. I was more interested in Batman and the Birds of Prey styles of justice. Stern’s writing convinced me to care about the Man of Steel, the plight of his girlfriend, his family and his adopted city, Metropolis.
When reading comic books, characters will often refer to some past event in the series. A blurb in the frame will point out the comic book in which that event occurred, in case you want to check it out. But to do that in a novel would be suicide – there would be so many interruptions and unexplained events that people would put the book down and move on to something else. Instead Roger Stern used flashback sequences to explain things like Superman’s beginnings, the new Lex Luthor and his rise to power and more. Of course, that makes the story longer, but it really fleshes things out, explaining everything to the reader so he/she is not left scratching his/her head about certain past events in Superman’s life. I think this gives the storyline more substance and Roger Stern makes the added material so interesting, it only serves to compliment the tale rather than taking away from it.
Large and daunting in size, The Death and Life of Superman is actually a whirlwind of a fast read. The storyline moves along rather quickly and readers will be so addicted to the story from the first two chapters that they’ll speed along trying to find out what happens next. There is plenty of action and suspense to keep readers glued to the novel until its end. I dare say that this novelization of the comic book series may lure many more Superman fans to DC Comics. It certainly made a Superman fan out of me.
If you are a fan of the Man of Steel, or maybe you just want to know what all the hoopla was over the death of the Kryptonian and the subsequent confusion over who was the real Superman in the comic book series, you simply have to check out The Death and Life of Superman. This book explains it all in such an enjoyable manner, you’ll have no trouble understanding the complexities of the tale. You’ll even find yourself wanting to read more about Superman even after the novel is done.