It was a crisp October evening in 1992. I was standing in a small comic store surrounded by fanboys who were buzzing with anticipation, waiting in a line that stretched out the front door.
It was a time of excitement, a time of change, and no one could have predicted what was to come.
Brett Favre just made his first start for the Green Bay Packers, long before he could have predicted that just 18 years later, he’d be sending pictures of his wang to the entire world through a futuristic device called an ‘iPhone’.
Bill Clinton was about to win the U.S. presidency in a landslide and go on to repair a badly damaged economy, long before he’d be sitting in a courtroom discussing his junk as if it were a matter of national security.
And while some men will be remembered for their genitals rather than their significant accomplishments, DC Comics somehow became the biggest dicks of all.
Long before it would become a cheap gimmick, Superman would die.
And comic industry that we all love would pay for it.
Comic book nerds are not as stupid as we look….for the most part.
Standing in line listening to conversations around me, I could hear the lilt of excitement in almost every voice. These people were not just excited, they were ecstatic. This was it – they were going to be a part of comic book history! They were soon going to be in possession of the most important comic book of their lifetime, because the most iconic hero ever conceived, Superman, was going to die, never to return.
Or so we were led to believe. But even as a child, still fascinated with the technological achievements like Bionic Commando and the compact disc, I just knew this was bullshit.
Really? Was DC going to kill off their most popular character, never to return?
Maybe not, but worst-case-scenario, even if this turns out to be nothing more than a gimmick, at least I’ll get a great Superman story out of it…
More of a financial masterpiece than an artistic one
If you think the Death of Superman would be handled with care, you would be wrong.
I won’t go into a full review here because the actual quality of the book itself isn’t the point of this blog post, but suffice to say, it sure as hell wasn’t The Watchmen. Let’s just leave it at that.
In case you haven’t had the pleasure, here’s what happened: Superman fights a giant rock monster named Doomsday. They punch each other. They both die. The end.
Epic, I know. I get excited just writing about it.
And while the comic itself was nothing special aside from its historical implications, the sales figures truly were epic.
The comic sold between 2.5 and 3 million units, and Superman had gone from a stale, all-but-forgotten property back to a mainstream sensation overnight. The subsequent funeral issues and resurrection sold well, and I’m sure that DC was thrilled at the response.
Superman wasn’t the only thing DC buried
Of course this financial success was short-lived. The comic book industry nearly collapsed due to a number of factors, starting in 1993 and continued to fall through 1999.
Rising cover prices and bad decisions by Marvel were partly to blame, but many cite the Death of Superman as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. By this time DC had been clearly exposed for pulling a very cheap publicity stunt, and had robbed comic book enthusiasts of a truly special event that they thought we were a part of.
And as a result, they started walking away.
The Man of Steel’s meaningless resurrection sent a message to hardcore comic book fans and casual readers alike: We’re DC, and we care more about the sales figures than storytelling. We wanted a quick influx of cash so we told a little white lie.
Oh well. Get over it.
Of course DC would go on to kill and revive a number of other major characters over the following years with a far lower rate of success, and this just underlined the fact that they were now replacing any semblance of storytelling with over-the-top hyperbole and cheap marketing tricks.
Chuck Rozanski, respected comic book enthusiast and owner of retailer Mile High Comics, would go on to write an infamous article to that effect; he asserted that the Death of Superman gimmick played a significant role in the downfall of the industry as a whole over the next decade.
The resurrection of the comic book
While the comic book biz is certainly not at its strongest point, it has rebounded to some degree over the last ten years. This can be attributed to quality titles, the sale of trade paperbacks, and a strong base of loyal followers who are not part of the ‘mainstream’.
We’re a relatively small, but influential tribe, and we don’t care about cheap gimmicks. Hologram covers and overblown advertising campaigns mean nothing to us. We want quality over quantity, compelling stories, and above all, we demand authenticity.
But as 2010 draws to a close, Marvel wants to play Russian roulette with the industry that’s been slowly but steadily re-building.
Reloading the gun…and shooting Peter Parker
Marvel has seen a dip in its summer sales figures, so they’re taking a page out of DC’s playbook: let’s kill our most iconic character in the hope of garnering mainstream press and a temporary sales boost.
This is, of course, a mistake.
We’ve been down this road, and we’ve been burned before.
Familiar names like Millar and Bendis add credibility to The Death of Spider-Man, and hopefully they’re given some actual thought to this endeavor. But in the end, the result will be the same as the Death of Superman: death, funeral, resurrection, and inevitable fan disappointment.
DC shot the comic industry in the foot, and Marvel is picking up the gun to reload it. While the core comic book fans will be unfazed by this, the casual reader could once again walk away in frustration.
Let’s hope the damage isn’t quite as severe this time around.