Doomsday Was Not the Real Villain of The Death of Superman


As some of you know, I’ve done a couple of posts analyzing some of my favorite Superman stories. Since the 30th anniversary of The Death of Superman just recently went by, I’ve decided to do an analysis of that. As much as I really dislike most of what was going on with Superman in the 1990’s, I would be lying if I said this one wasn’t one of my favorites. The Death of Superman was the story that got me to read Superman comics as a kid, and it had a profound effect on the way I still see a lot of DC-related concepts. For instance, it’s probably part of the reason why I have a strong attachment to the Blue Beetle heroic legacy.

That being said, if you take off the rosy-colored nostalgia glasses, The Death of Superman is a pretty flawed story. One of the reasons for that is that it isn’t even the major Superman story that the writing team wanted to tell at the end of 1992/beginning of 1993. The Superman writers were building up to the wedding of Lois and Clark to be the major Superman event for the end of 1992. However, the DC brass decided that story should wait until the wedding took place on their new show Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman because…synergy! You can read about that a bit more on this CBR article. You can even catch a glimpse of what that 1992 comic wedding timeline might’ve looked like in Superman Annual #3 from 1991 (which is, oddly, not on DCUI, but you can probably find it in the dollar bin of your local comic shop, if you’re interested).

What I’m saying is, The Death of Superman wasn’t a story that they had been working up to for years. It was a replacement for the Lois and Clark wedding story that they really wanted to tell (and it would be years before they were able to tell it, so if it ever felt to you like they were killing time with some of those 90’s plots… they kind of were). That’s possibly why the plot is a bit flawed. For instance, I’ve often argued that a random monster shouldn’t have been the one to kill Superman. It probably should’ve been Lex Luthor. The Superman/Luthor feud was a major strength of the Post-Crisis era, and, at the time, Luthor was in a prime position to be the killer (posing as his own long-lost son in a cloned body). Luthor killing Superman would’ve fit the narrative of the story they had been telling for years and would’ve had a profound emotional effect on the long-time Superman readers. However, that was not the story the writers wanted to tell with The Death of Superman…

Which, FINALLY, brings me to my point that Doomsday is not the real villain of The Death of Superman. Doomsday is the plot device which kills Superman, but he is not the true, thematic antagonist. So, if not Doomsday, who is? Well, first we need to establish what story the Superman team was trying to tell with The Death of Superman. I believe that 90’s Superman editor Mike Carlin sums it up best with this quote from the Look Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman documentary: “The world was taking Superman for granted. So we literally said, ‘Let’s show what the world would be like without Superman.’” (That quote can also be found in the CBR article I linked above).

What Mike Carlin was referring to was the fact that Superman was hardly the most popular superhero of the 1990’s. The 90’s were an era for anti-heroes and characters like Wolverine, Lobo, and Venom were having their heyday. It seemed that the appetite of most 90’s comic book fans was more geared toward violent heroes with combative attitudes who weren’t afraid to kill. In that climate, it felt like they could not appreciate what a superhero like Superman stood for, and, prior to his death, Supes’ comics were struggling a bit.

So, the real villain of The Death of Superman is, essentially, comic fans of the 1990’s. The fans who craved the death and destruction of those extreme 90’s stories are the fans that The Death of Superman is trying to speak to. Of course, you can’t actually put the fans in the story, so they created a proxy character or a representative for those fans: Mitch. Mitch is the actual villain of The Death of Superman.

We first meet Mitch in Justice League America #69 when we see him react to Superman’s student Q&A for The Cat Grant Show:
Mitch Guy Gardner
The first thing to note is that Mitch, obviously, prefers Guy Gardner to Superman. Now, Guy Gardner was an interesting character in the late 80’s through the 90’s. In Giffen and DeMatteis’ Justice League International, Guy was characterized as a parody of an anti-hero from that era. Gardner was a combative, aggressive, toxically-macho blowhard. It was meant to be a joke, but, because this was the 90’s, portraying Guy this way ironically made him very, very popular with the fans. This is the kind of superhero that Mitch respects and wants to see.

In Superman #74, Mitch communicates his disdain for Superman while reacting to Supes taking a punch from Doomsday:
Mitch Too Slow
Mitch is so unwilling to give Superman any credit that he watches him stand up to a blow from the creature that just dismantled the Justice League and essentially says, “big deal…” I should also take a second to note that Doomsday is built like the kind of anti-hero that people craved in the 90’s. With his bone claws and unreal musculature, Doomsday looks like a cross between Wolverine and the Hulk. His behavior channels the most cynical reading of those characters as Doomsday only craves violence, destruction, and death.

Mitch, eventually, learns the error of his ways in The Death of Superman. Doomsday’s rampage through his neighborhood leaves Mitch, his mother, and his baby sister trapped among the burning wreckage. Can his hero Guy Gardner save him? Nope. Guy’s aggressive behavior got him injured early on in the fight which lead to him being unconscious by this point. So, in Adventures of Superman #497, Mitch is forced to turn to the hero that he does not want to turn to:
Mitch Help Us

And what does Superman do? He acts like Superman. He leaves the field of battle with Doomsday to save Mitch and his family because, to Superman, every life is worth saving. In doing so, Superman gives up a chance to stop Doomsday before he reaches more civilians. He knows he is potentially risking more lives that way, but Superman can’t help it. His heroic ideals make him the guy who does whatever he can to save whomever he can. Those are the ideals that stand Superman apart from the anti-heroes of the 90’s, and that’s why he was able to be Mitch’s savior on that day. That’s why we’re all supposed to miss him when Superman inevitably is killed by Doomsday. If he’s gone, who will stand for those ideals?

Essentially, that is my reading of The Death of Superman or, at least, that’s what I believe the core of the story is. Even in that, it’s not perfect. The portrayal of Mitch kind of feels like a straw man argument or like a younger generation being a bit unfairly characterized by an older one:
Mitch Soda
(Who blows up like that over soda?)

However, The Death of Superman got the job done. It successfully communicated to readers why Superman is important, and we all really, really missed him when he was gone. Superman not only defeated the monster, Doomsday, but he vanquished Mitch’s notion of a hero only being valuable when they are aggressively violent. That is what makes The Death of Superman one of the best Superman stories of the modern era. What do you think of my assessment? Are there any other notable moments or elements of the story I may have missed? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!


I used to feel this way, but I’ve since changed my thinking. Luthor has killed him before, and will always be Superman’s number 1 arch nemesis. He didn’t need the boost.

Giving this honor to our new rampaging monster forever established him as a massive threat. Everytime we see Doomsday now, we know without a shadow of a doubt that this looks like a job for Superman.


I hear that, and, you’re right, Lex didn’t need the boost. I still think that, based on the 7 years of Superman stories prior to The Death of Superman, Lex still would have made the most sense and would’ve had the greater emotional impact. But… that’s not how it went down.

This certainly did “make” Doomsday. From zero to one of the biggest villains in the DCU.


I actually just finished reading all the way through the Death and Return of Superman, and really liked it. I do agree that it really felt like Doomsday just came out of nowhere. On the one hand, I kind of would have liked if there had been a little more build up to him, but I also think that having Superman die on a day that started like any normal day to a monster nobody had heard of before did a good job of highlighting how dangerous what he does is, and how brave he is.


I guess there is that sort of firefighter-esque “danger on your day to day job” aspect to it… Thanks for reading!


I agree- if they had included even just a few pages of Lex discovering the monster, taking an assessment of it’s threat andynleashing it upon the world regardless, I think that would have been enough for me.

Doomsday is still the bullet that put Superman down, but Lex is the one who pulled the trigger.


And no one would know it was him and he’d pretend to be taking on the heroic responsibilities of Metropolis in Superman’s place… think of the heat that would’ve drawn…


No one but Lois, who would be relentless in her persuit until she uncovered the truth.


I do think it could’ve been hard having an existing villain, like Lex, kill Superman, mostly because they would almost certainly have to do it using Kryptonite. I don’t think that would’ve been as effective or scary as having something like Doomsday who can physically defeat Superman.


Eh, they wouldn’t necessarily need to use Kryptonite. They could also use magic or red solar energy (Lex beat him up that way in the Silver Age). But, even if they did, I would ask how much different Doomsday is from Kryptonite. The big K has always been a plot device to put Superman in peril which was basically what Doomsday was. In The Death of Superman, Doomsday had no backstory (that would come in 1994) and barely any personality. He was a plot device in monster form which made him sorta like living Kryptonite. Having it be Doomsday maybe made it scarier and definitely made it bloodier. But does that really make it more effective than having it be a blow-off to the seven-year Superman-Luthor feud? …For me, no… but, that was not the story they wanted to tell.


Yeah, Doomsday kind of is little more than a walking plot device in the story. I just think having someone else build a device that kills Superman probably wouldn’t have had the same lasting impact, but I could definitely be wrong. I think if I was writing the story I wouldn’t even have someone kill Superman, but would rather have him give up his life trying to save people from some disaster. Maybe there’s an explosion that gives off red sun radiation somehow, or kryptonite energy, or even a magical leftover from the Blaze/Satanus War. Some situation where Clark goes in one last time trying to look for someone to rescue and it’s just too much for him.
Of course doing it that way you wouldn’t have been able to have multiple issues of buildup with the Justice League and Superman fighting Doomsday. I think it would’ve been best if they’d kept the death a total surprise, so readers would react the way the characters in the story did, who just assumed Superman would be fine because he always is. But that probably would’ve been terrible marketing. :stuck_out_tongue:


Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Doomsday fan, and I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong in my assessment. But… I honestly don’t see much in him past the fact that he’s a monster that encapsulates the mindless violence and destruction the writing team saw out of 1990’s superhero comics. Even after they gave Doomsday a backstory (which was pretty good), I’ve never really found him all that interesting past the point of: “Oh no, it’s Doomsday and he’s a threat because he killed Superman!”

In contrast, I get why people get sick of Kryptonite because it has been well overused in Superman plots. However, I’ve always liked it because Kryptonite is radiated shards of the lost planet Krypton. The metaphor there being that the past trauma of the loss of his home planet will always come back to haunt Superman. So… overused, yeah, but, if used in the right way…

Those are some good ideas! And, also, props to @TheTerrificToyman because his idea of having Lex find Doomsday and unleashing him on Supes also works well as an alternative.

:laughing: Yeah, the publicity and hype before it happened helped make this story as big as it is.


Yeah, I’ve read a fair amount of Doomsday stories and he’s not really one of my favorite Superman villains. And that does capture one of the more interesting (and stranger) aspects of the storyline to me. A lot of the Reign of the Supermen arc seems to be a commentary on nineties characters and how nobody can replace the one true Superman. But then the whole storyline was kicked off by Superman graphically getting beaten to death for multiple issues, and it seemed like after he died the violence really kicked up a lot in the art. My parents bought my brother and me copies of The Adventures of Superman #500 and I was super shocked at seeing a charred half of a person with exposed ribs prominently displayed. And I was still shocked when I re-read that issue a few weeks ago. :stuck_out_tongue:


That’s a very on point take because that’s EXACTLY what they were doing in Reign of the Supermen. They just happened to create some lasting new characters in the midst of doing it.

:laughing: I must’ve been really desensitized at a young age as I just blew past things like that and still kind of do.


One of the first comics I ever bought opened on a character climbing up a massive mountain of skulls on the very first pages, so I’m not sure how I wasn’t desensitized at a young age. :stuck_out_tongue: I’m also glad my parents missed that or I may have never really gotten into comics.


If Doomsday doesn’t do it for you, I won’t try to argue otherwise. You can’t prove an opinion, and its ok to disagree.

When done right, I think it’s Superman vs a force of nature. Like trying to stop a hurricane, and then helping everyone deal with the damage it caused.


I think he’s a very good character as far as being a force of nature who is almost unstoppable and is pretty much guaranteed to cause massive damage. I do like him, actually, but I usually like stories with other villains like Brainiac, Parasite, Toyman, or Lex a little more. They’re just a different kind of threat and challenge for Clark. Plus one of my favorite aspects of Superman is how he’s always hoping his villains will shape up and turn their lives around, and that doesn’t really seem to be a possibility at all for Doomsday, for obvious reasons.


:laughing: I would love to see the attempt at rehabilitating Doomsday. Like Doc Savage, Supes could send the beast to an “upstate New York establishment” where he “would be made into an honest man whether he wished it or not” (from Doc Savage- The Red Skull).


I would like that too, actually, and was thinking about what that would look like when I was reading the story. I feel like it would take some really long and intensive work and he’d probably need a ton of psychic “deprogramming” to undo everything that makes him so hateful. Honestly I think he would probably just be resistant to anything like this, since he can evolve and adapt to become resistant to weaknesses.
The only possible way I could see it working (although I know there is never any chance he’ll change or become slightly good) is if he somehow realized that being an unstoppable killing machine was actually hurting him in some way, and that he needed to change his ways for his own benefit, but I can’t really imagine that happening.


Doomsday was so shamelessly 90s that I’m surprised he didn’t have a string of pouches wrapped around one of his legs.

But I still hold that Superman #75 is a splendid comic, even if the Death of Superman arc in general is underwhelming and borderline plotless.