15th Apr2010

Adventures West Coast #10: World Without A Superman TPB

by Will

Adventures West Coast #10: World Without A Superman TPB

World Without A Superman is one of those books that had a time and a place. For me to review it now is almost unfair, as its resonance and importance is dependent upon the death of Superman, an event that took place about 15 years ago. While this could be considered the beginning of the death/resurrection gimmick (sure, it had been done before, but it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today), we currently live in a comics world where “dead” simply means “We don’t really have any stories to tell for that character right now”, or better yet “We’re finalizing our editorial and marketing plans for 3rd quarter 2011”. Seeing how the death of Superman was such a major production, this trade focuses on the downtime between the death and the road to resurrection. Before I can really get into the story, let me take a moment to explain how things got to this point.

Death of Superman is one of those stories that meant a lot more to me as a young fanboy than it does now, as a former member of the industry who knows a bunch of the backroom dealings. Of course, it would be easy to look back and say that they killed Superman because they knew it would make a shitload of money, but that wasn’t exactly the case. I’ve often said that licensing is the worst thing to happen to comics. In the old days, licensing only extended as far as putting Superman on a backpack, or Batman on a t-shirt. In a more modern sense, however, licensing has come to mean those same lunchboxes, slot machines, and, most importantly, movies and television. The latter is where problems can occur. You can’t keep Steve Rogers dead because there’s a Captain America movie coming, and the man on the street is more familiar with Steve Rogers than this Bucky Barnes fella. Sometimes there are misses: the X-Men comics were more of a mess than usual when the first movie came out, and Marvel missed out on a lot of potential new readers, due to lack of accessibility. Well, the death of Superman was another case of licensing governing storylines.

DC had planned to have the wedding between Clark Kent and Lois Lane, only to find out that the TV show, Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman, was building up to the same thing. Due to licensing, the comic couldn’t get to that point BEFORE the show (even though they were only related “in spirit”). This created a problem for DC, as they had to come up with some way to stall, seeing as how the TV wedding was about a season off. Killing Superman was just an idea that had been thrown around during a brainstorming session, but nobody really expected it to stick. As they tossed it around, they began to develop it, but they never expected it to be such a blockbuster, as there really hadn’t been a precendent for that sort of thing. So, the word got out and media outlets just ran with it. You were always seeing interviews with some old codger born in the 40s who couldn’t believe they were killing his childhood hero. He’s not real, Cletus! Anyway, it was decided that Superman would fall by the hand of a mysterious threat named Doomsday. The Superman books were weekly at that time, so Doomsday got closer to Metropolis with each passing week. The final battle occurred in Superman #75, where Superman died in Lois’s arms. To really capitalize on things, there’s even a collectors edition of the book, bagged with an obituary, black armband, etc. Considering this was just a gap-filler, DC went ALL OUT once they realized what they had on their hands. Once Superman was dead, what next? That brings us to World Without A Superman.

At its core, World Without A Superman is really an exploration of what Superman had meant to the world around him. The actual banner on the books was “Funeral For A Friend”, as the world tries to get back to normal after losing its greatest champion. Nothing really happens, as it’s just a bridge between the death and return, but there are some great character moments, as well as emotional beats. For example, Action Comics #685 contains a moving scene where Superman fan, Bibbo, prays to God, asking why Superman had to die instead of someone who wouldn’t have matter as much, like Bibbo himself. It also dealt with a lot of questions that would naturally arise from such an event: Who would get custody of Superman’s body? Who would fill in for Superman as the hero of Metropolis? Should Lois and the Kents go public with the identity of Superman? We also see the public funeral, complete with a cameo by Bill and Hilary Clinton – one of the rare times that DC has acknowledged that the DCU has the same sitting President as the real world.

The second half of the book is where the action occurs, as Superman’s body goes missing from his tomb. Who has it, though? Is it archenemy Lex Luthor? Is it super secret science agency Project Cadmus? Supergirl eventually reclaims the body, which had been taken by Cadmus for cloning experiments. Before the story ends, Jonathan Kent suffers a heart attack, where he is seemingly reunited with Superman in the afterlife. It’s here that Jonathan’s war memories seem to shape the landscape of the afterlife, as he’s forced to fight for the spirit of his son. Superman tells Jonathan that he has to go back, it’s not his time, yadda yadda, but Jonathan’s not leaving without his son. As the story ends Jonathan comes out of his coma, just as reports of Superman sightings begin to surface. Lois visits the tomb, only to find it empty again. Where’s Superman? Is he really back? Well, that story takes place in Reign of the Supermen, and I don’t have that book 😉

Growing up, I was on the edge of my seat for the death, as well as the return, but I had missed out on most of these issues. One only has so much disposable income at the age of 12, so I had to make some sacrifices! Looking back, however, I can see how this really served to compliment the saga as a whole. Unlike comics today, it didn’t jump right into another big event, which could lead to “event fatigue”. Sure, you were probably interested to see where things would go, but you didn’t HAVE to read these stories. As far as anyone knew, Superman was really gone, so a lot of people took this as a jumping off points for the books. After all, why read a book called Adventures of Superman when that character isn’t even present? For those who stuck around, this was a great ramping up point for Reign of the Supermen, which was not only nonstop action, but also led up to the actual return of Superman, albeit with a mullet. Don’t worry, though – he loses the mullet when he becomes an energy being, and splits into two people. Huh. Guess it was all downhill for a while after that death…