It's supposed to matter when Superman dies. This time, it totally doesn't. DC Comics has killed Kal-El again. Most devoted comic-book readers aren't surprised by this, since the publisher announced months ago that the latest version of Superman wouldn't be part of the post-Rebirth universe. And since he's the first-ever superhero character, this isn't the first death that Superman has suffered. It is, however, one of the most meaningless.
This version of Clark Kent is dying because of the cumulative effects of the last year's adventures, during which he absorbed energy from the fire pits of Apokolips and exposed himself to massive amounts of Kryptonite to try and get his lost powers back. Out this week, Superman #52 is the last entry in the eight-part "Final Days of Superman" storyline that's been running through various titles, showing the title character saying goodbye to Batman, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman and others. The latter half of the storyline has had Clark, Diana and Bruce working to track down and stop a delusional man imbued with remnants of solar flare energy released by Superman in a few big battles.
Part of the problem with this particular death-of-Superman storyline is that there's already another Superman waiting in the wings to fly up, up and away into the skies. He's the version that debuted after Crisis on Infinite Earths and wound up in the New 52 version of the DCU after last winter's big Convergence crossover. Married to an alt-universe Lois Lane and father to a young son, bearded-Clark shows up to help defeat the power-mad impostor.
This is the Last Son of Krypton that some fans have wanted to come back for a while now. But his very presence dilutes any drama from how New 52 Clark shuffles off this mortal coil:
I've liked a lot of Peter Tomasi's output over the years, including The Mighty, a great Nightwing run a few years back and even the recent Superman/Wonder Woman storylines after Clark lost his most of his powers. However, his writing on these books feels it's just dutifully hitting beats and moving pieces around for whatever comes next. There have been a few good moments in the "Final Days of Superman" stories — like Batman dealing very poorly with Superman's incurable, fatal diagnosis — but nothing that feels like it will stand the test of time.
Let's not forget this is a version of Superman that was initially shaped by comics legend Grant Morrison. The idiosyncrasy of Morrison's approach was a big part of what I liked about the New 52 Superman, which started off by hearkening back to the character's roots as social justice crusader.
The New 52 version of the Man of Steel wasn't any weirder than the iterations that preceded, with all the subtext-heavy Red Kryptonite transformations and secretly taped super-sex videos. But he had his charms. This was a Superman who had an intelligent emotive cosmic baby carriage that sung songs to infant Kal-El through hyperspace, went to sleep and waited for him to come of age as the champion he was fated to be. "Ha-la-la." I loved that.
This was a Superman who revelled in the taste of a burrito when he was no longer invulnerable…
…and wrestled other metahumans when he needed cash.
I've written before about how each era gets a different take on Superman. In the 1990s, the "Death of Superman" storyline turned into a huge media event, followed up by storylines clearly meant to milk the curiosity of newcomers and speculators thinking comics could be lucrative investments. This time, Kal-El's passing barely makes a ripple in the larger public consciousness. DC's latest crack at reinventing the Man of Tomorrow for a modern audience will be getting replaced by a previous version who's a married dad. It's telling that the curtain call for the New 52 version of Superman comes as DC tries to recapture the legacy it jettisoned years ago. The same old cycle continues, with a stubborn, naive hope that the next reconfiguration will do better.