Following in the footsteps of ‘The Death of Superman’, Superman: Doomed is an action-packed heavy hitter whose significance depends on how the story unfolds from here.
Since Superman made his début back in 1938, the world’s most powerful hero has anchored the DC Universe, appearing in a number of titles including Action Comics, Superman, Superman Family and Justice League of America; the list goes ever on. His logo, the crest of the House of El, is one of the most universally recognised symbols on the planet. All of this cultural history made his death in 1992 all the more shocking.
The at-the-time appropriately titled ‘Death of Superman’ chronicled the Man of Steel’s battle with the monster Doomsday – a creature so powerful and single-mindedly ruthless that defeating it cost Superman his life. Of course, where superheroes are concerned, death is far from an absolute, but even after Superman made his triumphant return just a few months later, Doomsday’s legacy was cemented.
Fast-forward a couple of decades – and several continuity shifts – to this week’s release of Superman: Doomed, a one-shot lead-in to a multi-title crossover chronicling the New 52 incarnation of the battle between Superman and Doomsday.
The one-shot, co-authored by Scott Lobdell, Greg Pak, and Charles Soule (all of whom are continuing the story through their own related titles), and the arc as a whole have promised not merely to remake the iconic clash but also to find new avenues for the rivalry. That sounds good on paper, but is much more difficult in practice, when one considers that there isn’t much more to Doomsday than being powerful and indestructible and smashing things. Where is there to go with such a notoriously one-dimensional character?
To their credit, the writers have added a new level of destruction to the creature that does not involve smashing: he is now drawing the life and energy out of everything around him, teleporting elsewhere when Superman tries to confront him.
In consultation with Shay Veritas and even Lex Luthor, we learn that Doomsday is using the Phantom Zone to move himself around Earth, and that he is evolving and growing with each portion of energy he consumes. And, as Luthor observes, there is no greater reserve of energy on the planet than Superman.
Knowing that he is the ultimate target, and continuing to wrestle with his own morality regarding killing, Superman attempts to move Doomsday off-planet. The fight returns to Earth and Superman manages to defeat the creature in an incredible display of strength.
Woven in between the Superman action scenes are a couple of rather lovely Clark moments: a very paternal Perry White gives Clark advice on a thinly veiled metaphor, while Clark gives Bruce a key to the Fortress in case he does not return. Additionally, assistance in the form of Steel and Wonder Woman helps to fill out Superman’s world; he may be the only one who can succeed against Doomsday, but he is far from alone.
The artwork, provided by Ken Lashley, captures the intensity of the physical conflict very well. There has never been a Doomsday so terrifying or so large, and the sheer brutality of his attacks is represented in the fractured, rapid-fire paneling used.
However, in some of the quieter moments of the issue, faces tend to be a bit of a problem. Whether it’s Perry White or Luthor or even Wonder Woman, some of the proportions and just the general shape of the features seem off.
What is perhaps both the greatest strength of the one-shot is also its greatest weakness; that is, its structural similarity to ‘The Death of Superman’.
No matter what the enhancement, the Superman/Doomsday battle was as it ever has been – a brutal super-powered punching match. Moreover, Superman sacrifices himself to quell Doomsday, but whereas in 1992 that sacrifice was his life, this time it was inhaling the plume of spores pouring from his defeated opponent.
But the most unfortunate similarity is that the most interesting part of the story comes in the aftermath of the battle. Superman’s ‘death’ was only made important by what happened in successive issues: the mourning superhero community, the rise of four challengers to Superman’s mantle and the return of the Man of Steel himself.
This one-shot is the same. Without delving into the details, the next two chapters of the story (in Action Comics #31 and Superman/Wonder Woman #8, respectively) are far more engaging in terms of the story. Seeing the effect of the battle, the unfolding subplot of the comatose Smallville and – of course – the spores that Superman ingested is what this series is really about.
Superman: Doomed completely lives up to the precedent set by the Doomsday battle of the 1990s – both the good and the bad. It is viciously colourful, with strong active art and writing that’s solid enough to get the reader from fight scene to fight scene. More importantly, it shows a Superman pushed to the physical limit in a way few adversaries can muster. But as far as story is concerned, like its literary predecessor, the best is yet to come.
Scott Lobdell, Charles Soule, Greg Pak (W), Ken Lashley (A) • DC Comics, $4.99. May 14, 2014