As part of the “Tales from the Dark Multiverse” series, Jeff Loveness and Brad Walker tackled the most seminal story of my youth, The Death of Superman. This was the story that made me a comic fan, and it was my pleasure to get to talk to them about their take on it.
Jeff Loveness: My first memory of The Death of Superman is my dad buying the comic, storing it in the garage and never letting us read it because it would be “Too Valuable.” I think it’s maybe worth 5 dollars today? Not quite the retirement he was planning on. But I appreciate his keen investor mind.
I was really little when the story first came out, but I knew who Superman was. The concept of him dying felt so somber and colossal. And when you re-read it, you’re struck by that all over again. It’s so majestic and sweeping. It was so much fun trying to tap into the epic language that Jurgens utilized so well.
Brad Walker: I heard about it at the beginning of it all so, whatever the issue of Justice League was where Doomsday was wrapped in the suit and goggles and binding and stuff. Somehow I picked up that issue because I heard that this big event was going to happen with Superman and I hadn’t been reading Superman. So that was the storyline of my introduction to Superman comics. It was really seminal, and going back and rereading it now, I hadn’t reread it since it came out, and I reread it going into drawing this. And it really motivated me, drawing this 48 page issue, which is a huge undertaking, a larger undertaking than you think it would be, considering its just two and a half issues. But I spent the summer doing it and having just reread the storyline, how powerful it still reads was really motivating and made it really exciting to, you know, geek out referencing the original and trying to bring so much of the storytelling sensibility and the little visual detail and stuff like that. It definitely took me back to high school when I was reading.
The Beat: Well, you certainly got a lot of that sensibility down pretty well. There are some moments, especially in the beginning with the Doomsday fight, where your pencils looked almost exactly like Dan Jurgens. How difficult was that to replicate?
Walker: I didn’t want to want to try to ape anybody’s style. I think that my work probably as much as I have any perspective on it I think it’s pretty classic and large scale. And I definitely wanted to bring that like I said that epicness to it. In those first pages, I wanted to try to get, if not, several splash pages in a row, I wanted to try to get close to splash pages. You had that one page where he’s actually dying, with a couple of inset panels of Lois’s reaction as we sort of veer off into her perspective but I wanted to feel like it’s done right out of issue #75. And just goes off in a different direction. And I wanted it to feel like it, short of Dan drawing it himself, that this could have been continuing on from that issue, which seems like if you’re gonna do it. If you’re going to take on a project like this. You know, make it make it feel very connected and very related to it. I didn’t want to make it about myself and redesign Bloodwynd or something because I have a better idea. I wanted you to feel like that was the Justice League that was there when it happened. And that’s the Joker from that era. All those little details were a lot of fun, and I didn’t feel like I did it to a constraining point, but just referencing it alone was a lot of fun, some of the most fun I’ve had with a project.
The Beat: Speaking of the Justice League, Lois has a legitimate gripe with the big guns. As a reader, I get that most of them weren’t part of the Justice League at the time, and it still never made sense to me why they weren’t there though. What made you guys decide to bring them in right as Superman died rather than at the funeral like in the original story?
Walker: Because it’s been 25 years since the original, I think it was important to acknowledge the characters that we all think of as important, rather than just the ones who actually were there who are now not important. Nobody’s thinking about Ice or Guy Gardner as Justice Leaguers in this day and age and i think addressing the failure of the other characters. We had a certain amount of real estate to tell the story and I don’t think that you wanted to spend a huge amount of page space with Lois going around to those characters and questioning why they weren’t there, why they failed him. So I think they all kind of need to show up really quickly. I also think it needs to be there. You don’t want Lois to pop off on Bloodwynd and Ice just because they were standing there, it’s important for her to address the Batman and Wonder Woman, why they didn’t save Superman, even if reading the original story it makes perfect sence why they weren’t there, you know, I think there’s a lot of fan conceit these days, as we all discuss comics on Twitter that if something important happened, and if it feels important to us as the reader, it should be equally as important in story, and these characters should all just show up. That’s just not how life works, you know, just because we think that Batman is the most important character in DC, because he’s theone that sells the best, it doesn’t mean that Batman is everywhere having his hand in everything. So there’s a little bit of fudging, to make sure that he’s there to have Lois express that to him. But the idea that all those characters couldn’t get there and save Superman makes more sense to me than if they had gotten there. I think that’s something that we as readers question after the fact and don’t take into account that every what if thing like that, you know “What if the Avengers had saved the Fantastic Four from Galactus?” Suddenly you have no story. And things fall apart really quickly. Sometimes its just better to let the story play out for the emotional arc of the characters that drive the story, rather than have every Deus Ex Machina occur that makes sense to us.
Loveness: I wanted to drive a wedge early between Lois and the rest of the ‘Heroes’ – who were too busy or scattered to save Superman. Then, by the time of the funeral, she’d have a legitimate gripe to explore as they are suddenly center stage, taking in all the accolades and ‘honoring’ the man they let die alone. Plus, it was fun to see Brad nail all those big 90’s looks.
The Beat: So full disclosure, it’s Halloween and I’m in a Supergirl costume today. I noticed that you guys didn’t include the Matrix Supergirl in the story, is there a reason why?
Walker: Probably a better question for Jeff. She is actually in a photo on Lex’s desk. I’m guessing that part of it would have to do with the specific continuity of who Supergirl was at that time, and trying to explain that to modern audiences. We already had sort of a suspension of disbelief at a Lex Luthor with big red hair and a red beard. There are lot of period specific things that we just kind of half-heartedly mention, because we needed to get to the story that is at hand. And we only have 48 pages and you can’t rehash too much. And I think for a lot of modern readers who weren’t old enough to be reading in the nineties, having to explain the protoplasmic Supergirl who was in love with Lex Luthor and was not Superman’s cousin but he sort of treats her as one, a lot of that would have taken up a lot of real estate that we just didn’t have. I would have loved to draw her in the last fight against Cyborg Superman, just because I love that era of Supergirl. And also at the beginning, in Superman #75 she’s incapacitated, so that would have been more explaining, why she wasn’t at the funeral, because she was a big blob of plasma. So, to have her come back for the fight at the end would have felt like shoehorning her in.
Loveness: I wanted to focus on Lois more so than any Death and Return characters like Supergirl or Steel/That weird Mitch kid with a mullet whose house burns down. While this is a Death of Superman story, I wanted it to be a good standalone Lois Story. I love Supergirl, but I couldn’t find a way to organically get her in there beyond a fun mention.
The Beat: So which of the four pretenders was your favorite of the the knockoff Supermen, and if not your favorite, which one did you think was the real deal?
Walker: At the time, I probably enjoyed Superboy the most. Drawing them now? Far and away, Cyborg was the most fun. It’s such a cool design, and you don’t really realize what a simple and elegant design it is until you’re drawing it. And it looks very complicated and busy, but then you draw it and it all makes perfect sense and I could do it from memory, after a page or two which is something that you can’t say about most designs these days, you know, I still sit there and have to reference. I’m drawing a Flash short right now, and just drawing all those new little zig-zags on Flash that are completely arbitrary. No offense to Jim (Lee) or Francis (Manapul), whoever designed that one. And I have to look at them every single time. But you draw Cyborg Superman once or twice, and all those little mechanical bits over the costume make total sense. And I could do them straight out of my head still despite being finished with the book now for a couple months. So he was a real blast to draw, but all of them were. I didn’t get to draw a proper Eradicator because Lois takes his powers, but Superboy, Steel and Cyborg were all alot of fun to do. And when will you ever get a chance to draw them the way that they were when when they came out, when we all loved them, you know, I’ll never get another chance to tackle those characters again. That was a really fun part that I didn’t realize I was going to enjoy so much until I got to the end.
Loveness: I always liked Steel. He’s not even a Superman doppelganger. He’s just a guy with a hammer. It’s such a fun 90’s design. But then, on a character level, I really like that there was a character who embodied Superman’s ideals more so than his power. That was a really smart idea.
The Beat: How satisfying was it for you get to get to kill both Lex Luthor and the Joker?
Loveness: Oh wonderful. I’d argue that they’ve both had it coming for a while and it was a great way to showcase the killer “Lady Stoneheart” vengeance of Lois. Joker has killed Lois at least twice in the comics, so it was very satisfying to have her finally return the favor- and not letting him get a word or laugh in edgewise. Very satisfying.
Walker: The Lex Luthor one was great because that was a really cool sequence. I think we decided at about the lettering stage that there’s physics there that don’t really work that you would only burn in reentry not on exit of the atmosphere. There was some issue there that somebody noted and we just decided to leave it because it was a better visual moment. I enjoyed drawing this version of Lex a lot, you know every version of Lex I’m always surprised is such a blast to draw.And then the Joker was just a nice, very fast scene. And drawing that more on the page version of the Joker was great to me, because that’s how he looks in my head, so that one shot I got to draw of him running was a joy. To get to draw that big chin, and then immediately burning him to death was a lot of fun. You just don’t get much chance to do that
The Beat: So last question. Are there any other seminal DC stories that you’d like to take a Tales of the Dark Multiverse stab at?
Walker: Honestly? This would probably be my favorite one. There’s probably some Mark Waid Flash stuff that would be really fun, or something out of those early Geoff Johns and Scott Kolins did that kept coming up, but I can’t think of like one specific story like this that was that seminal for me. Death in the Family was probably slightly more impactful to me. Because that’s when I started reading comics in general, probably moreso than the Death of Superman. So you know throwing Jason Todd in the desert, finding his birth mother and her betraying him and all that kind of stuff like that would have been really a blast. I would love to spin something out of that, just because this was so much fun. So the answer is probably yes, off the top of my head, that’s probably the next most important DC story to me was Death in the Family.
Loveness: You never know. I’d love to explore more of Eradicator Lois. It’d be fun to give Superman his own Magneto-type of character who challenges his worldview.
Hmm seminal stories… I’d love to a Dark Multiverse story about the time Superman wore that Pope Hat and called himself King Superman. Feels like there is an abyss of darkness to cover there.
Tales from the Dark Multiverse: The Death of Superman is available at your local comic shop or on ComiXology.