The iconic Death of Superman story is coming up on its 30th anniversary, so Screen Rant sat down to talk with one of the original series’ writers, Dan Jurgens.
When DC Comics released The Death of Superman in 1992, no one could have predicted how monumental the event would be. The news of Superman’s death was so big that it even earned coverage from major news outlets. Though Superman eventually came back, the shock of his climactic death at the hands of Doomsday is a moment no comic fan can ever forget. There’s a reason the event has been adapted into multiple mediums. Now, DC is celebrating The Death of Superman’s 30th anniversary with a new book that will show the event from the perspective of characters who didn’t get as much time in the spotlight originally.
Since the anniversary special brought back The Death of Superman’s original creative team, Screen Rant spoke with writer Dan Jurgens about the original event and its impending follow-up.
Can you talk a little bit about what exactly this anniversary special is and what fans can expect from it?
Dan Jurgens: Sure, I think what this is, is a look at something that was truly epic for Superman in its time. And also epic for the business as a whole. If you think back to the Death of Superman when it came out in 1992, and how it just was everywhere, in every form of media, it was on the national news networks, it was on your local TV news networks. It was in newspapers of every size. It was on the radio, it was everywhere, and has since been adapted into so many different media, whether it be you know, live action, animation, radio plays, a prose novel. It was a singularly unique moment in comics. This is our chance to take a look at that. If you were there 30 years ago, and remember what it was like when you went to your local comic store, and there was a line around the corner and down the street? Well, this might bring back some fond memories, if you weren’t there, and this is new to you, I think we have some fun surprises for you and a little bit of commentary on what it might have been like in those days. So I think it’s something that works for both older and newer readers alike.
How does it feel returning to this era-defining story 30 years later? Did you have to go back and reread the whole event and all the fallout?
Dan Jurgens: I did go back and look at it because I wanted to say, “Okay, what’s there that can be worked with now?” Kind of remind myself of some of the things that happened and look at the stories that the other creative teams did in those days. Because the fact is, it’s been a long time since I actually read it, looking at it is different than reading it and, pulling out the notes and seeing what we could do with a special that hopefully, people will love today.
How do you feel about the comic’s legacy in 2022? You already spoke about how it was this mythical once-in-a-lifetime comic event. So looking back, how do you feel about it?
Dan Jurgens: I look back at it and I think that what we set out to do was to tell the best Superman story that we could. Part of what we wanted to do was address Superman’s importance to the world by having him die, you know, taking him out of the book. So we could see what happens to the world without a Superman. What happens to the Justice League? How do Ma and Pa Kent react? You know, all of those things. Along with that, that’s what the rest of the world was writing about as well. Columnists were writing opinion pieces that very much reflected our stories. Fiction and reality came together in this weird way that we never could have imagined. At the same time, I also look back at it and say, “We did what we set out to do in terms of telling that story,” and added mightily to the Superman mythos. Along with that, that’s why we have seen it adapted into a couple of different animated movies now. Part of live action was Batman vs. Superman. With Doomsday appearing in so many different forms and so many different places. Steel resulted from all that and he had a movie. I mean, these characters have lived on in a truly epic fashion, both for Superman, DC Comics, and the industry as a whole.
Do you have a favorite character that was invented for The Death of Superman that has like gone on to have a life of their own?
Dan Jurgens: I don’t know if I have a particular favorite. I just have this sense of wonder about how it has continually evolved. It was 30 years ago that we did this story, but it’s never ended because there was an animated movie and then another animated movie. Whether it was Doomsday on the big screen with Batman vs. Superman, or even Doomsday on Smallville or Krypton when that was on. This continual evolution of the story and the ability of the story to stay alive, I think is what I’m fascinated with. You know, the other part of it is bad stories don’t live on. Good stories live on. So I think the fact that it’s continued even now is a testament to what we were able to do at that time, just in terms of putting together a really good Superman story.
What was the process like for coming up with Doomsday? Were there any earlier ideas that you didn’t end up using for the villain that would kill Superman?
Dan Jurgens: We spent an awful lot of time. So the way it worked is, as we talked about doing the Death of Superman, what really captivated us was the idea of, if Superman died, then what do you do? So in a way, we kind of went into the world without Superman stories first, because we were talking about the funeral and Justice League with no Superman, and how it would impact Ma and Pa Kent. What would the impact be on Lois Lane? You know, that kind of thing. We had sort of decided to kill Superman but hadn’t figured out exactly how we were going to do it. The back and forth of it was, should it be Lex Luthor, or should it be Brainiac, or should it be someone new? I just said I just want to do a big Superman flight, you know, I written down on a notepad and presented it. You know, monster crashes metropolis. So, as we talked about that, “Well, if it’s just a monster, what is the story?” What we got hooked on there is the idea that this monster would be the opposite of Superman. That if Superman is this creature of reason, that this monster Doomsday is more a force of nature. It’s like a hurricane. There’s not a specific agenda so much as something roaring across the country toward Metropolis.
As we got caught up in that, we thought it would be something very different. So we talked about what Doomsday might be. We had four artists in the room, so I started sketching out an idea, as did John Bogdanov, Tom Gromit, and Butch Guice. We kind of held them up and we ended up going with mine. That’s how it was born. That first sketch of Doomsday was done on a yellow legal pad. So that’s where he evolved and that’s where it started. It’s been going on ever since. Humble beginnings for a true icon.
The Anniversary Special has such a unique hook of following the response of characters who weren’t followed in the original. How were the individual focus characters decided for the special?
Dan Jurgens: That goes way back to the way this special came together. One of the things I said is, “What would really be nice is something that gets all the original creative teams back together.” So that meant Louise Simonson and John Bogdanov would do his story. Jerry Ordway and Tom Gromit would do a story as would Roger Stern and Butch Guice. And then I would be working with Brett Breeding on our first dc collaboration in 25 years. So the editor, Brittany Holzer and I went to the individual writers and said, “You know, here’s just a couple of ideas, what you might want to go with, if this works for you, great, if not, shoot us whatever ideas you have.” And for John and Guice, it was John Henry Irons and what was his experience in those moments? Roger Stern came up with the idea of using the Guardian who was on the streets very much in those moments as a first responder. What was his life like at that time? With Jerry Ordway and Tom Gromit, once Superman dies, and they take out this photo album and start to go through it. What does that have in terms of meaning? So what I think we ended up with is a vehicle that if you were there 30 years ago, and you remember what the story was like, and you saw the lines around the block and the way the world was reacting to The Death of Superman? I think this will bring back some fantastic memories. If you weren’t there, and some of this is new, I think it’ll add some fun stuff there and open your eyes a little bit.
You mentioned the special is like opening a memory book. Was Jon’s story an attempt to reach out to fans who were too young for the original event?
Dan Jurgens: I would put a slight rephrasing to that and say that what it is is very true to John Henry. That if you go back to what we saw very early with the Man of Steel series, in terms of John Henry’s career, showing how John Henry was inspired by Superman to become Steel. So it’s very appropriate to the character, and I think, therefore, of interest to both old readers and new.
How was it getting all the original event’s creators back together? Was there a sense of getting the band back together?
Dan Jurgens: Very much, that’s a great way to phrase it. So back in the day, everybody on the team from writers to pencils, to inkers, everybody would get a FedEx package dropped on your doorstep that would have the work that was turned in by everybody that week on their books, because the four Superman titles were definitely connected. So as we did that, and started working together again. Now FedEx isn’t bringing me a package with their stuff in it but I’m certainly seeing it come across my computer screen. It’s like, oh, look at what John is doing with this story. There’s Jerry and Tom Gromit together again, and here’s Roger and Butch. It’s, you know, seeing Brett on panel stuff again. So there was definitely that sense, and it’s actually the sense that I want readers to have as well. So hopefully, it’ll come across that way.
With the original event was there ever any thought of killing Superman off for a longer period of time?
Dan Jurgens: When we made the original decision to do it and plan the story, we knew at some point that Superman was going to come back. We didn’t have the timing down exactly. We had no idea how he would come back or exactly when. We sort of said, “Yeah, it’ll probably happen in Adventures of Superman 500,” but didn’t have a rock solid plan as to when that would happen. What we had decided to do is, you know, Superman died in Superman 75, the story of a world without a Superman, you know, kind of ran through Superman 77. Then we stopped publication. So you had a couple of months where there were some specials and things like that. But really, you know, for a few months, Superman was disappearing from the newsstands. That was a bold move by DC. It was a welcome move on our part because it allowed us to take a break. I mean, we were all “It was great to be able to catch our breath.” But it also set us up with time to then get back together later and have a meeting and say, “Well, now what are we going to do?” In that meeting, Mike Carlin, our editor stood up and said, right from the get-go, the whole world is watching what we’re going to do here so what we come up with better be good. And that’s how we started to do it. So yeah, when we made the decision to kill Superman and then have him leave the stage, we didn’t know exactly how or when he would be coming back.
Did you get any outrageous reactions from fans? Did anyone ever go up to you and say, “You’re the guy that killed Superman!”
Dan Jurgens: I still get that today! I think I at the time, one of the things that surprised us all is when the news first came out, so the news came out well before the books did. So when the news started to come out, the level of anger that was expressed was something else. I mean, if that happened today with Twitter, and Facebook, and social media in general? But we were caught up by that, we were caught off guard by that. So my phone would ring at like 11 o’clock at night and people would call up and say, “Are you the one who’s doing that comic where they kill Superman?” You know, stuff like that. It was rather disconcerting for my wife and son at the time. But that took us by surprise. And to kind of get over that hurdle later, and have it become something that was recognized as a good rollicking, epic Superman story. To me, that’s the win.
Did you guys have any idea at the time how massive The Death of Superman would be?
Dan Jurgens: No, there was no way possible to do that. So we plan the story out in early November of 1991. Then, you know, it wouldn’t come out until November of 92. The story started really appearing in September with the advance issues, I think there were the solicitations a little before that. But we had no way of knowing that that’s what it was going to become. We just wanted to tell a big Superman story. We had experienced or experimented a couple of times with connected stories across the four Superman titles. We used this, I think, to really perfect the technique. The story lived up to the formatting that we gave it. And the creative effort lived up to all of that and told this really incredible story about Superman that does and has continued to live on through different media and does continue to live on yet today.
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