MARTHA THOMASES: The Death and Marriage of Superman
The Internets (by which I mean, mostly, Facebook) buzzed this week with a YouTube video, The Death and Return of Superman. It’s really funny, written, directed, and starring Max Landis, son of one of my favorites, John Landis, and also the writer of this week’s box-office champ, Chronicle.
If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look:
I like everything about this but the premise: that the powers-that-be at DC Comics decided to kill Superman because it was an easy way to draw attention to their flagship character and thereby increase his popularity.
Not true. If anything, in 1992, Superman was more popular than he had been since the John Byrne relaunch.
If DC was going to pull a stunt to make Superman more popular, they would have done it when I was first hired to be publicity manager at DC, in the summer of 1990. I remember going to a meeting about upcoming story lines, and being told that the big event for that fall was that the new Robin (Tim Drake) was going to get a new costume. Not just any costume, but one with a design actually approved by Tim Burton.
Oh, and Clark Kent was going to ask Lois Lane to marry him. And then she was going to say, “Yes.”
“That’s a much bigger story,” I said.
“No one cares about Superman,” I was told. “But the fans will want the first issue with the new costume. Push that story.”
I pushed them both, but, as instructed, I devoted more resources to Robin. I spent thousands of dollars having a costume made and finding an actor to wear the costume for a press conference. I got approvals up and down the Time Warner hierarchy.
For Superman, I sent out a simple press release. And that story exploded.
Over the next two years, Superman became more and more popular. The public followed the stories about Clark and Lois like they were Kardashians (only really in love). The wedding became such a hot story that Warner Bros. television wanted in, and created a series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
There’s more money in television than in comics. The wedding would have to wait.
Here’s the part I didn’t know about until years later. The powers-that-be at DC needed a reason to stop the wedding. To their credit, they turned the problem over to the editors, writers and artists who worked on the series. Why would the wedding be postponed? Could Clark and Lois fall out of love?
No, that wasn’t in character. Even though they hadn’t taken vows, they were going to be together until death did them part (or, as fate would have it, The New 52). The only way to stall a wedding would be for one of them to die. Whose death would be more dramatically interesting?
The Death of Superman was never about killing Superman. It was about setting up the next storyline, World Without a Superman. These stories showed how the world went on without the Man of Tomorrow, and how he continued to have an impact on our lives.
We know Superman came back, and Landis does a great job of pushing the more ridiculous aspects to their (il)logical extremes. It’s funny stuff, and it’s funny because he actually knows something about comics.
Still, twenty years later, we’re still talking about it. The stories remain in print. Whether or not you liked it, the fact remains that the stories resonated with readers.
We all remember where we were when we first heard that Superman died.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman