When DC killed Superman they almost killed the comic industry. And Marvel is about to reload the gun…


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.

Ever ever.

Ever.

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

Much like Superman, the industry came back to life.

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.

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41 Responses to When DC killed Superman they almost killed the comic industry. And Marvel is about to reload the gun…

  1. Josh Hilden says:

    Ah jeez, I was one of the fan-boys in 1992 that waited for the event and then felt gut punched when the ruse was revealed. I was 16 at the time and it was nearly eight years before I was willing to give mainstream comics another shot.

    This is a really bad idea.
    :(

  2. Stovall says:

    I almost fell for this a few years back when they killed Captain America. Luckily, my buddies, who regularly buy/order comics, put me in check.

  3. Aldo Ojeda says:

    Isn’t dying a part of every iconic hero?
    like: born -> great storylines -> personal conflicts -> end of storylines -> dying -> reborn -> end of storylines

  4. Lolsworth says:

    This is Ultimate Spidey, right? They seem to be deliberately obsfuscating that little detail. I once customised Spider-Man: Reqiuem so he dies at the end of that instead. Just for the hell of it. Anyway, I’ll wait for the five or six trades.

    • EXACTLY. Yes, I get it – this is an ‘Ultimate’ edition (ie. it doesn’t count, I guess) but the mainstream press won’t make that distinction. Many people I’ve chatted with who regularly collect comics didn’t even know that – hey, not everyone is a Marvel collector.

      There will be two mainstream press blurbs: 1) “Spidey dies!” and 2) “Spidey came back to life the next month!”

  5. Aron says:

    This won’t have as much of an impact as you think. They are talking about Ultimate Spider-Man. Does anybody still care about the Ultimate universe? The people who only go out and buy a comic book because USA Today tells them to go buy it, don’t have a clue what the Ultimate universe is. It’s not the “real” Spider-Man, so I don’t think it will be as much of a temporary big deal as when Superman died. I know I won’t be reading it.

  6. xomb13 says:

    I don’t think this will have much of a detrimental effect as the Death of Superman for a few reasons.

    Currently, ‘killing off’ protagonists has happened with a few characters recently, Batman Captain America and even Thor and has produced some interesting / good stories because of it, some way better than others.

    Also, it’s happening in the Ultimate Universe, so won’t have an impact in the main Marvel continuity. The Ultimate imprint hasn’t been as good (imo) and needs another jolt since Ultimatum (which as a bit of a misstep and rightly glossed over) to make it noticeable again, for both sales story purposes, but I do find the trend of ‘death of’ wearing thin. After all, it’s referred to as ‘comic book death’ so it’s only a matter of time or retcon before he’s back.

    I think the ending of a character relationship, rather than life has a greater impact. For instance the shake up in One More Day with no more Peter and Mary Jane together has help launch a totally new direction (changed again with Big Time) and allowed for a good jumping on point (I personally jumped on at this stage, nothing to do with the shake up, just that I wasn’t collecting Spider-man then seen it as a good point to start), but angered most long term readers.

    Maybe they’re just trying to take him off the map for a while, like Nick Fury – which I think was a great way of doing it, being out of comics in real time for about 4 year to make him more fired up and purposeful, to make it him more relevant when he returns.

    Or maybe ‘death’ is interpreted in a different way (much like Batman R.I.P), some kind of zombie crap or clone storyline again. Possibly finished with a Dallas dream sequence.

    At least, that’s just my thoughts on it.

  7. Jon Hex Brooks says:

    It’s Ultimate Spider-Man that’s dying. And no has cared about the Ultimate line since they put Jeph Loeb on it.

  8. Therealtruth says:

    Unfortunately this has already been revealed as an ultimate comics spiderman event, so it is an unjustified comparison, and it was revealed almost the next day. Marvel is actually not killing Peter Parker, MAYBE ultimate Peter Parker.

  9. philbyday says:

    OMG!! We’re gonna get the death of Spidey, but Aunt May continues 2 breathe? It’s gonna take some helluva artistic talent 4 me 2 pick this printed debacle up. Yep yep yep, It looks like I picked a good time 2 give myself a hiatus as it relates 2 comics.

    Death Of Gwen Stacy: A story 4 story’s sake
    Death(s) Of Jean Grey: How many times has she been brought back now?
    Death Of TheFlash: Barry went out like a champ. The story had an emotional impact on Flash fans and non-fans. Leave it 2 GeoffJohns 2 crap on that bit o’ history!
    Death Of Thunderbird: Shoulda been Wolverine (oops a li’l bias there)
    Death Of Superman: Knew goin’ in that was a stunt. (And not an entertaining one)
    Death Of Spiderman: Wake me when its over :-(

    Gr8 post as per usual, Blake

  10. Xero_G says:

    But they aren’t killing the original Marvel U Spider-Man. They are killing the Ultimate version.

  11. Dom says:

    It really is a tragedy that the death of comic book characters doesn’t even bother us anymore.

    What’s even worse is the fact that we’re still dumb enough to buy it, which is why they keep doing it. It’s the same with crossovers, which are completely pointless. It’s gotten so bad that there are more crossovers than solo-adventures.

    And even worse, I can’t even get upset about it anymore. I looked at the ad for the “event” and then I figured “Eh, garbage.” And that was it, even though I would appreciate them rebooting the entire Ultimate Universe.

  12. You’re a damn good writer and you express your point with just the right amount of humour and hard-hitting savvy. Yes, it’s all about marketing but it doesn’t have to be. There are no new stories under the sun, they’ve all been told before but that doesn’t mean we have to make do with reheated leftovers. If this is handled with a little creativity and a spark of originality it might even be good.

    I’m going to reserve judgment in hopes that the people behind this have thought of all the pitfalls. It has all the potential of a fine disaster but wouldn’t it be great if we were wrong?

  13. Being one who bought the hologram covered issue, I too was not too let down at the return of Superman. It carried some additional stories with the new characters that I thought were good enough to keep reading Superman for awhile. However, this should be a a once in a decade thing (or every other decade) and it better be a good story.

    However, I’ve seen too many of my favorite heroes dying, resurrected or at least out for a spin in time over the last couple of years that I want to make the deaths stop. Make death mean something. If you are going to kill a main character, shelf him/her for at least a year or more and then bring him back when everyone forgets about him.

    I like Bendis and I hope he writes an awesome story with one of my favorite superheroes.

    One a side note, I think the lack of sales on Marvel’s part is because they have flooded all of their main books with vampires. But that is just my opinion, others may like them but I don’t.

  14. Michael says:

    Meh.

    That about sums up my feelings about the death of any superhero. I didn’t buy into the Death of Superman debacle, or the Death of Batman, or the Death of Captain America. No comic is going to permanently kill a franchise character. Its all much ado about nothing.

    DC & Marvel killed my interest with all of these extraneous storyline universes coupled with the higher priced books. They should kill Wonder Woman and Daredevil and Tony Stark while their at it. In some “universe” they will live on like nothing ever happened.

    And therein lies the credibility issue with me, that is DC & Marvel have none as long as they persist with these marketing ploys to drive-up readership, and build these non-sense “universes.” In the 70s and 80s, one could nearly count on events in one book, say The Spectacular Spiderman, overlapping into The Amazing Spiderman. Today, events in one book have little to no effect in any other book.

    Very frustrating to see decades-old characters manipulated in such a way. I would say Stan Lee would turn over in his grave, but he is still among us.

  15. Michael Edwards says:

    Death is apart of comic storytelling. You take it out of the writers hands, and force them to where they can’t bring a character back. Then all you have is stories where it’s the same old shit. Look at the mainstream Spider-Man series, Quesada shit all over it and idiots are buying it by the dozens because they think Spider-Man should be a spineless, cowardly, unethical loser. With a limp dick, and unable to score with a pretty woman. Much like most of them. The long term readers left when the going was good because they knew that Marvel didn’t give a damn about them. And Marvel hasn’t yet noticed their numbers are pathetic compared to what JMS drew in for the book. They are so bad that if Spider-Man wasn’t one of the franchise books, it would have been cancelled already. As for Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate sales have been in crapper because as some of the guys above said. Bendis made a bad decision on approving Ultimatitum and destroying the play ground they had. Because of that bad decision most of the Ultimate fans left. With Spider-Man’s death, they are hoping to reignite interest in the series. But, I think it may only harm the Ultimate Spider-Man book and have no impact on the mainstream books. The only way to stop bad decisions being made by either company is to not buy the books in massive droves. Unfortunately, too many fans love what Johns and Millar and Bendis do. I like Bendis work myself, but he has moments of Clarmontitis where he seems to go off the rails.

    -Michael

    • jensaltmann says:

      “Death is apart of comic storytelling. You take it out of the writers hands, and force them to where they can’t bring a character back. Then all you have is stories where it’s the same old shit. ”

      Then again, stories where a character dies have reached the point where they are the same old shit.

      Take death out of the writers’ (rather, I suspect, editors’) hands as a tool to boost sales with a little OMG SHOCK VALUE, make comic book permanent instead of treating it like a minor irritant, comparable to the common cold, and they will be forced to come up with better stories instead of cheap, overused gimmicks to increase (and maintain) sales.

  16. Yeah. Killing off the Ultimate Spider-Man isn’t nearly as detrimental to Marvel’s health as if they were to kill of the REAL Spider-Man. Everyone here has got it right.

  17. rottenjorge says:

    Really its no big deal people can’t be that stupid to fall for it again. I won’t be jeez its ultimate spiderman

  18. robin smith says:

    I dunno. I’m a little tired of seeing all the big story gimmicks of late. Yes some of the storytelling held within has been of good quality, but only really by chance. Since house of M its been one big story arc after another and its getting too much. And its feeling more like one massive one with 500 bloody parts to it.

    I fell out of reading comics a while back and i’m just drifting back in (over the past year) But after so many big marvel “events” i’m way behind. Also factor into the numbers the many different marvel realities ultimate just doubles the stress of reading comics from marvel.

    It was rough before, you had to know what people were from the past or future, how their future was different from another persons future (cable / bishop ), who had died and been returned from an alternative reality (anyone who “died” during the first onslaught story).

    There is just too many realities to keep track of, different editions to understand and attempt to follow. More importantly many of the marvel comics have lost the humanity that made them an interesting read.

    I’d like to see One last big event, one that removed all the side realities and twin worlds. One place, one universe & one set of interesting and creative comics and stories to be told and read.

    The comics industry needs to realize that the reader is much more savy now and we need less pandering.

  19. Colin Bell says:

    I’m fairly sure it won’t have anywhere near the impact Superman’s death had – let’s not forget that to all intents and purposes we’ve already seen Captain America and Batman ‘die’ with fairly mainstream press coverage in the past four years with no significant damage to the industry.

    What tickles me most is the fact that Spidey-actual (as in not-Ultimate) died in The Other in 2005, and no one wants to remember it. Aren’t Marvel ‘Death-Bagging’ Fantastic Four #587 like Superman #75 when one of the group ‘die’? It’s just become part and parcel of the hype and bluster of modern comics publicity.

  20. Galactus says:

    I think you’re all missing the point that CBG made. Most of you posting are all comic book geeks that know only full well that this is Ultimate Spider-Man. With a new movie being made, if this gets picked up by the mainstream media, there will be many that think Marvel is about to kill their crown jewel

    Yes it is a publicity stunt, but the comics industry does not benefit from these events. A small sales spike for a flagging title, that will most likely end up the worse for it afterwards.

    The death of Superman was awful. One of the worst comic runs ever. Expect nothing better from death of Spider-Man.

  21. Chris says:

    You lost some credibility when you called Mile High Chuck “respected.” Otherwise, good wrap up of the Death of Superman. Why people are still falling for these gimmicks today is beyond me.

  22. origamikid says:

    I don’t actually think they are killing Spider-man off. In the Ultimate Spidey #150 the Ultimates are training him up and seeing as this event crosses over with the Ultimates I have a feeling that maybe Spider-man mantle is dying, but Parker will be coming back as a new hero

  23. Pingback: Death of Spider-Man... sort-of. | Christopher Williams Books

  24. Peter Wolfe says:

    I would like it if dying meant something in the comic book world. I didn’t read comics much when Superman died but I am aware of the sales figures and how they sometimes soar up and away…yes like Superman, when these events take place. It is nothing but a gimmick to me “period.” If you kill a character I would have much more respect if that character stayed dead for for longer than a few months. At least give us time to really miss the person. Then you would probably welcome them back with open arms.

    They need to do something with these events by making it mean something. Good writing surely helps but come on, the death issue is diluted when your favorite dead superhero is resurrected in a few months. I won’t read any of these “so called death of issues.”

  25. Duvenge says:

    A little close on the heels of the “deaths” of Cap and Batman for my taste. And a still a little close to the last “Death of Spider-Man” back in The Other storyline. But I think fans and casual readers alike are now over the hype-machine that is death in comics. I’m pretty sure everyone approaches death in comics with a grain of salt any more and I think that fans’ understanding of that will prevent an industry-wide downturn like with Superman. Ultimate Spider-Man is the one consistently must-read of the Ultimate line. Marvel knows that. They’re not going to do anything to screw with that too much. Death lately has led to some pretty damn good stories. Take Captain America for example. The hype from Steve’s death brought new readers in and for the most part kept them when they saw the quality of the story Brubaker was penning. No one thought Steve was gone permanently for a minute. If Marvel is smart, and I’m sure they’ve learned their lesson after the Clone Saga, they’ll use this hype to energize the Ultimate line and use that momentum to keep their new readers like they did with Cap with QUALITY storytelling. And with Millar and Bendis working together on this, I’m pretty confident they might pull this off. Millar’s been giggling about this for a couple years on his own forum, so I’m sure there is some thought behind it.

  26. adam says:

    i agree with the cheapness of the marketing, but it will be the ULTIMATE spider-man who dies, so in other words. If a spider shits in the woods and there’s no octopus to pick it up will it still smell?
    In other other words, no one will care and this is all superfluous.
    I wish they would kill off the entire ULTIMATE line as well as Astonishing X-Men and all other non-canon lines, lets focus on the real characters and maybe their stories will improve.

  27. Philip Reed says:

    What we need is for Marvel or DC to parody themselves and just “kill” a main character every month for a year. I’d pay to watch Batman die every month, just to come back and die again the next month in a new way.

    At least the whole “Franken-Castle” story had a cute concept. We know superheroes don’t die, so we should at least be entertained by the messes being made by Marvel and DC.

  28. donnelly92274 says:

    I certainly appreciate the concern here, but I think that you know that I know that we know that this is all just a really awful marketing gimmick. The Ultimate U DESPERATELY needs a jumpstart because fanboys and girls already know that it took a MASSIVE nosedive when they decided to do ULTIMATUM. Even Millar, a writer I have great affection for (despite him hawking every new property he creates to the film industry either before or concurrent with the book coming out) has not been putting his best foot forward in his current Ultimate U work, which is sad because his best work to date was on THE ULTIMATES. I don’t think this will have the impact Marvel thinks it will. Lest we forget, the Ultimate U killed Wolverine, which is arguably Marvel’s most popular character and no one batted an eye. So, this will come and go and the industry will be no better or worse off than it is now.

  29. Oh hey I read in USA Today they are changing Wonder Woman’s costume. blah. This is not a story. All super hero’s die. It’s been going on long before the death of Superman. I was working in a comic shop when the industry started tanking and it had little to do with the death of Superman. It had more to do with the greed of all the publishers and an influx of speculators, mostly from the dying sports card market. What about multiple covers for every comic, bagged versions, holographic covers and so on. That was what almost killed the comic industry. Anyone who was a comic fan knew Superman wasn’t going to be killed off for good. I mean come on. Why would DC do that?

  30. MrWilsonUSM says:

    Didn’t they already “kill” Ultimate Spidey in Ultimatum (at least that’s what we were led to believe)?
    There will be a nice little bit of publicity – a few fluffy news pieces complete with a 7-year holding the issue while a single tear follows the contour of his pudgy, little cheek, the requisite tap-dance to explain/tie-in how this “death” will affect the “resurrection” of the film franchise, a brief recap of “outrage” from fanboys and grrls on the “worldwide interweb” – and a temporary spike in mainstream interest.
    That being said, I don’t see this as a death knell for the industry. I think your comment that Bendis and Millar may put some thought into this will come to fruition and we’ll get something worth reading – and something again the following month when UltiSpidey returns, satisfyingly or otherwise, to help the UltiAvengers escape certain doom (or Doom).

  31. Wait, I thought Spider-Man was dead already? Oh, no that’s right I just stopped reading it with the last ridiculous stunt they pulled. What was it? One Brand New Moment In A Day? Great article by the way!

  32. Tirua says:

    Why didn’t say that superheroes went to a long vacation instead of dying? That would be more credible…

  33. Matt says:

    Great article. Made me sad though. I haven’t been hardcore into comics since I was a kid. Once I had kids of my own, I came back into the fold as a casual observer. I new things went sour for the industry when I picked up Final Crisis and found out that Batman was ‘dead’, only he wasn’t, he was sent back in time and Dick Grayson had stepped in for Batman… How can integrity be restored to a dying industry?

  34. Peter_Parker says:

    They killed Spidey off once before, rember ‘The Other: Evolve or Die’ arc. I thought that was well handled and I am sure that Marvel will handle Spidey’s death in much the smae manner. Either way, they’re only killing off Ultimate Spider-Man and no one really cares about that since they basically rebooted the whole series.

  35. Mark says:

    As long as they’re only killing off Ultimate Spider-Man, all the power to them.

  36. John Garrett says:

    I’ll co-sign with the others about the Ultimate thing.

    Dear Marvel, please don’t stop the killing with Spider-Man, finish the job and take the rest of the Ultimate Universe with you.

    That Death of Superman back in the day at least brought us a couple of semi-cool enduring characters in Steel and Superboy. I’ll admit I don’t care for either of these characters at the moment but they do have potential depending on who’s doing the writing.

  37. Alan Stowe says:

    Killing Superman didn’t kill the comic industry in the 90’s. That’s like blaming the fall of Rome on one thing out of the many.

    The main thing that killed comics in the 90’s was the realization that it had become collectible and the subsequent race to put out as many titles per bankable character as possible sporting as many alternate/holographic covers as possible. Overprinting and over saturation without waining demand throughout the industry killed comics in the 90’s. Didn’t help action figures either once everyone thought their 97 Luke was gonna touch the prices of 77 luke.

    Death of Superman was just one of many riding that wave.

  38. LPcomics says:

    I’m kind of torn really. Because it’s the “Ultimate” series so there isn’t necessarily a need to resurrect Spidey (and I say fuck what the mainstream press has to say). But it does seem to be a cheap way of selling comics. I mean, if you kill a character it should be a total surprise. It may lower sales but it will make a far greater impact. Karen Page, anyone?

  39. Robert says:

    Milar and Bendis are F((*& Morons.

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