So now that Superman’s dead, what’s next? We let you all mourn for a week, but life goes on, and so did the Superman titles, for a bit anyway. Adventures of Superman #498 picked up right where Superman #75 left off, with a dead hero and a grieving city.
Adventures of Superman #498
Triangle Number: 1993 – 3
Writer: Jerry Ordway
Penciler: Tom Grummett
Inker: Doug Hazlewood
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Albert DeGuzman
Adventures of Superman #498 is the other single issue that I found under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning 1992, and as much as Superman #75 may have shaped my love for the character, this is the issue I came back to most frequently. This is the issue that sets the tone for the entire “Funeral For A Friend” storyline, for what would be the heart of the entire Death and Return saga.
Again, it’s important to start with the cover of this issue, as it’s another iconic cover, a perfect one-two punch with the cover of Superman #75. The stark simplicity of the cover is its greatest strength, as the image is a black and white photograph taken from above of a lifeless Superman on the shattered pavement. It’s stark and powerful, and clearly illustrates the sacrifice and loss of the situation.
This issue does a spectacular job of really establishing the reactions of a massive chunk of Superman’s supporting cast to his untimely demise. As what would be many people’s introductions to these characters, this proved to be a fantastic touchpoint for them. It’s been 28 years since I first read this issue, and yet the emotional beats of it hit the same as they did back then (some of them hit even harder now because I know the characters better).
Part of the power of the issue is just how good Tom Grummett and Doug Hazlewood are at expressive faces. In an issue that absolutely requires the emotions of the characters to live on their sleeves, the art team excels at bringing those feelings to life. As early as pages four and five of this issue we get an angry, heartbroken, and hopeless Lois Lane pleading with everyone to do something, anything to bring him back. The look on her face is just soul-crushing because you know that as devastated as the world was by this loss, she lost so much more. The love of her life died in her arms, and only three other people in the world know that.
Guardian and EMTs do their very best to revive Superman, but the defibrillators are basically useless. It is here that Grummett and Hazlewood deliver another incredibly emotionally charged panel as a frustrated Guardian screams at the EMT to keep trying. The entire issue is just full of characters who are whittled down to their raw nerves.
Case in point is Jose Delgado, Gangbuster, who readers haven’t really seen in some time. He’s watching Cat Grant’s son while she reports on Superman’s death, and as Adam Grant has an inconsiderate response to the news, Jose loses his temper. Rather than sad, Jose is just angry at the world around him and any little thing is going to set him off, so much so that he chucks his Gangbuster helmet through the TV when the anchor has an insensitive joke about Superman’s death. Now it’s important to note that if you read this story in the original 2007 version of the omnibus that was put out to collect the whole saga, you would not get this sequence at all. That omnibus notoriously cut entire sequences, entire plots, and sometimes entire issues from the “Funeral for a Friend” portion of the story.
The following page is potentially the saddest page of the whole very melancholy issue. Martha and Jonathon Kent watched their son die on national TV, as though he were a spectacle to be gawked at. They saw him collapse lifelessly in the woman who would have been their daughter-in-law’s arms. Parents should never have to bury a child, but this is so exceedingly tragic because they had to helplessly watch him die. The panel where they hug and pray is just an absolutely devastatingly well-laid-out panel. The way it makes use of negative space, to mark the hole in the Kent’s lives that may never be filled again is just superb, as is Glenn Whitmore’s coloring of the negative space, a darkening gradient from the top until about the point on the page where the eye is on a level with the Kents’ hearts.
If you came into the Superman line with Superman #75 as I did, then Adventures of Superman #498 was probably your first introduction to Supergirl. The thing is, DC and the creative teams didn’t exactly expect Superman #75 to be a jumping-on point for hundreds of thousands of new readers. As such, this introduction to this version of Supergirl could be extremely confusing. She’s rescued by Lex Luthor II after having reverted to a protoplasmic state in Man of Steel #19, and she looks a lot worse for wear, like a person made of used chewing gum. She then converts back to her Supergirl form, albeit with bruises. Going back to that ill-fated 2007 omnibus, one of the most baffling things that got cut was the page where Supergirl transformed from the protoplasmic form back into her costume. For a plot point that was already super-confusing, this just is an omission that I don’t understand at all.
This issue also establishes a plot that will run through the entirety of the “Funeral for a Friend” arc, in that Cadmus has claimed both Doomsday’s and Superman’s bodies for genetic research. Their quest to retrieve said bodies in this issue however is prevented by Maggie Sawyer and Dan Turpin, the latter of whom delivers a fantastic gut punch to Director Westfield.
Professor Hamilton and Bibbo show up with an energy collector, and one of the professor’s forcefield belts to try to get a big enough charge to get Superman’s heart started again. The result is an electric jolt strong enough to look like a flashbulb went off and to send Bibbo flying through the air. Sadly, it’s still not enough, and Superman remains lifeless on the concrete.
The last sequence of the issue is possibly the most heartbreaking of all of them. This one is set in the somber Daily Planet newsroom, where Jimmy is having a crisis of conscience about profiting off of his friend’s death. These are the best pictures he’s taken in his career, but they came with such a cost that he feels guilty. Perry convinces him that his pictures are going to be how people will memorialize and remember Superman, and that’s incredibly important as well.
Their conversation turns to Lois, as they talk about how not only did Superman die in her arms, but that Clark is among the hundreds of people still missing in the destruction. Once again, she’s burdened by the secret that only she knows and when Perry and Jimmy try to comfort her by telling her that Kent’s always been lucky before, she responds with the saddest line of the whole issue, “His luck ran out when Superman died.” 28 years later and this issue still absolutely destroys me.