Let’s talk about comics for a moment. This isn’t a comic but it is a novelization of one of the biggest storylines in comics. It’s one maybe you heard of: the death of Superman. During the 1990s there were four Superman titles (not counting miniseries, one-shots, and specials plus his appearances in other titles), each with its own writer. The writers would get together and hash out story ideas. But one was rather bold–let’s kill Superman!

At the time there few villains who could stand up to Superman on a physical level. The only one most of you have probably heard of is Darkseid due to recent live-action TV and movie appearances, or maybe you know some from the various cartoons over the years like Bizarro or Metallo. (There has never been a good live-action Metallo but the animated ones can really kick hero butt.) Most of Superman’s foes would have to challenge him mentally. For all his great powers there are ways around them, which is something I discussed in a vlog once on my other site. This is why Lex Luthor (a mad scientist with an obsession with proving his intellectual superiority above every one in the old days and an evil businessman wanting power and respect even if he didn’t deserve it nowadays) is Superman’s arch-enemy despite lacking even a quarter of Superman’s physical power. He challenges Superman to use his superbrain as much as his supermuscles.

But what about someone who could not only go Mano-a-Mano with the Man of Steel but win in a fist fight? That intrigued the writers and they eventually came up with Doomsday. While his origin would wait for a later story I’ve already reviewed, he was a brute of a monster whom Superman would defeat but at the cost of his own life. Of course he wouldn’t stay dead because at the time he was DC’s most popular superhero, and even today when Batman appears to have the top spot he’s still what people think of when they think of a superhero. His power set is almost clich├ęd at this point. But the story doesn’t end with Superman’s death, and his resurrection would only come after mourning and the debut of new heroes.

We aren’t looking at the actual comic however. This is the novelization by Roger Stern, one of the writers of the three arcs and already known for his novels as well as his comics. While I haven’t read most of the comics in question, I do wonder how the novelization compares to the original. If you want to read the individual chapter by chapter reviews I have them on my other site. This is an overall look at the book itself.

The book is split into three parts, covering the three storylines that make up the “death and return of Superman” trilogy. Section one is “Doomsday”. This is obviously the battle Superman dies from. But for the book it has to do more. There may be readers who haven’t followed the comics at this time but are aware of Superman thanks to movies and television, so they might be curious about a Superman novel. Stern has to set up the differences between the comics and the shows. For example, at this point Lex Luthor had a cloned younger body and was masquerading as his secret son. He was romantically involved with Supergirl, who wasn’t the Kara you know from the show but (and it’s a really long story both in-universe and behind the scenes why) was a shapeshifter from another dimension with psionic powers. It also had to introduce the supporting cast from the comic at the time that had yet to appear outside of the comics like Bibbo Bibbowski and Maggie Sawyer while still describing what the more familiar cast was doing at the time. Clark and Lois were engaged, Jimmy Olsen wasn’t just the staff photographer anymore, that sort of thing. And it does this rather well.

Then it has to describe not only the battle but the reactions of others. Throughout the chapter we learn what Superman means to different people and what they mean to Superman. This adds more weight to Superman’s battle and death even to people only mildly acquainted with Superman. It’s not just some shock death like you see in comics now. You actually see who Superman is and why he does what he does, how he connects to others. It’s a battle that matters which gives more impact to his death.

This continues in section two: Funeral For A Friend. (The names of the sections match up to the names of the arcs in the comics.) This is all how the various characters mourn Superman’s loss (or how some hope to profit by his no longer being around). This includes his friends in both identities, his Earth parents (Jonathan actually plays a big role in Clark’s return from the other side), and while the only enemy we see is Lex (again, pretending to be his own son–because comics) we do see how this affects him. We also have the jerkish leader of cloning project Cadmus trying to steal Superman’s body to create his own superclone, which leads into the final section.

Reign Of The Supermen features that teenaged clone as well as three others. Man Of Steel is a construction worker Superman saves well before the actual Doomsday fight and through section two we learn about his backstory and how and why Superman inspires him to create an Iron Man type armor. (It’s way more interesting than the Shaquille O’Neal movie based on the character, and the armor in the comics looks much better.) Then there’s “The Kryptonian”, who lacks most of the Clark Kent humanity and is one of two claiming to be the resurrected Superman and not just a clone or inspiration. The other is the Cyborg Superman (usually called the Cyborg, not to be confused with the DC superhero of the same name), who seems to be the most convincing. One of these people is actually a villain who sets up the finale just in time for Superman’s return.

Stern has written enough Superman comics that he is easily familiar with the character as he appeared in the 1990s, and with his skills as a prose writer is able to bring the two mediums together. While short research noted some changes between the comics and the books (which might be for time, simplicity, and the need to explain the world of Metropolis and the DC Universe as a whole as it existed at that point) the novel overall is satisfying. I do want to read the actual comics someday (I did get Superman volume 2 #75, the final phase of the Superman/Doomsday fight, for Christmas that year and I still own that copy) you don’t need to be familiar with the comic in order to follow along. This could have been a huge mistake but Stern recognized it and made sure to avoid that trap.

Overall The Death And Life Of Superman is a fascinating read and an enjoyable story. It’s impact on how comics approached death isn’t positive, which I plan to get into on my other site tomorrow if you want to look for that (it should be in the same Chapter By Chapter playlist), but it’s a story that not only had a great character die, it shows just what made that character great. If only more comic deaths mattered like this one, especially the select few that aren’t undone. Either as a comic or a novel this may be one of the most important Superman stories ever and one every fan of the character or just good superhero stories, whether in comics or in prose, should check out. I haven’t seen the more recent animated takes (Reign Of The Supermen should be coming out soon, with The Death Of Superman already on home video) so I can’t comment on them but I can recommend the novelization.