In the early ’90s, DC Comics did the unthinkable. It killed Superman. It killed a character who can lift mountains, survive supernovas, and somehow remain relevant despite Batman getting more movies. The Death of Superman remains a landmark moment for Superman and superhero comics as a whole. Now, a little over two decades later, the idea of Superman dying is officially overdone.
It seems to be the only way to significantly shift Superman’s narrative, killing him off and having the rest of the DC Universe deal with the ramifications. That’s the approach that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice utilizes and, as its score on Rotten Tomatoes shows, it doesn’t evoke the same passion it did in the early ’90s. Now, Superman #52 attempts to utilize this approach in the soon-to-be-rebranded comics.
It’s the culmination of a long, overdrawn story that begins after Superman finally got his powers and his Fortress of Solitude back. Now, he’s dying and trying to prepare the world for his extended absence, apparently not knowing how poorly his death affected the world in the early ’90s. However, there’s no epic showdown with Doomsday, Darkseid, or Lex Luthor. There’s no final journey to cross off the remaining items on his bucket list. Essentially, Superman #52 takes the opposite approach that Grant Morrison took with All-Star Superman and naturally, it shows in the results.
The story that Peter Tomasi finishes never feels complete, concise, or all that dramatic. That’s not to say there isn’t some level of drama surrounding Superman’s pending death. It just comes off as incredibly hollow, and for a story that involves the death of a major character, this is the antithesis of the emotions conveyed in the original Death of Superman. Considering that Death of Superman is an over 20-years-old, heavily revised story, the shortcomings of this version of story are all the more egregious.
There’s no final battle between Superman and some overwhelming evil. He’s just battling some deranged copy of himself that he accidentally created with his solar flare power. That means Superman dies fixing a mistake he inadvertently made. It’s about as heroic as Tony Stark destroying an evil machine that he helped create. The difference with Superman here, however, is that his battle isn’t likely to inspire a billion-dollar movie.
There’s very little depth to Superman’s double. It lacks the menacing presence of Doomsday or the devious personality of Darkseid. He’s just a deranged version of Superman who has better grammar than Bizarro. The battle attempts to be epic, but it never dares to be more visceral or violent than a Super Friends rerun. Batman and Wonder Woman are present, but they do nothing to help. They literally can’t do anything. Their presence is completely wasted in this struggle. They’re just there as witnesses and nothing more.
Even as witnesses though, the drama and impact of Superman’s death falls distressingly flat. There’s only a brief moment between Superman and Wonder Woman when she says goodbye to him. That moment basically does the bare minimum for a relationship that developed over the course of four years of comics and not a fraction more.
There’s also a moment when he says goodbye to Lois and Lana, as well. This doesn’t even come close to the bare minimum of expression for their relationship. There are some tears, but they’re distinctly lacking in anguish. The moment is so rushed and contrived that it never has a chance to evoke any real drama. There’s more drama in the first five minutes of a Smallville rerun than there is in the entirety of Superman #52. It comes off as wholly disingenuous to this version of Superman and every other version of Superman, retconned or otherwise.
This highlights one of the greatest flaws of the narrative as a whole. The impact from the original Death of Superman is iconic because for a time, it meant that the DC Universe had to function without Superman. That impact is not only completely lacking in Superman #52, it might as well be an inconvenient formality because there’s already another Superman with the exact same skills, powers, and personality waiting in the wings. This Superman, a holdover from the events of Convergence, can pretty much pick up where he left off and not miss a beat.
The DC Universe still has a functioning, competent Superman. Anybody who sees him has no way of telling the difference between him and his predecessor.
Superman #52 fails at almost every level to make the end of Superman’s story in the this comic feel meaningful. At best, it’s rushed and hollow. At worst, it’s outright forced by shoving one version of a character aside to make way for another that is almost exactly the same. The circumstances, context, and timing for this narrative can’t be worse. Superman is being killed off in multiple mediums, so much so that the shock value just isn’t there anymore. By failing to add substance to this story, it feels like a waste.