The Death of Superman (1961) by Earl Geier

May 24, 2022 Articles

The Justice League is DEAD! And comics will never be the same! Until it’s all undone and they come back.

But it reminds me of the Death of Superman. Not the famous Doomsday story that made the news. But the 1963 Imaginary Story, The Death of Superman (1961), a story authored by Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan in 1961 and published in Superman (Volume 1) #149. After years of exile from DC, Siegal’s wife, the story goes, embarrassed DC into buying stories from him again, albeit as only a work-for-hire scriptwriter. Uncredited at the time, current reprints show just how many excellent stories he wrote in the Silver Age.

To understand the impact of the Death of Superman, you really have to look at other Silver Age stories. There were the occasional emotional moments, when a robot or alien would sacrifice themselves for the hero. But there was nothing like this smacking young readers in the face.

(Spoiler Alert) The story is often reprinted, in Best of collections, if you want to read it. Here is a brief synopsis:

Lex Luthor, in jail working the rock pile, discovers a piece of a meteor, which he uses to concoct a cure for cancer. He declares that he wants to make amends for his criminal past, and with Superman speaking up for him, parole is granted.

The underworld is upset with Luthor’s turning good and attempts to assassinate him.  Superman eventually devises a satellite laboratory where Luthor can perform his experiments in person.

The day comes when Superman receives the alarm from the satellite, and flies to Luthor’s aid, only to be struck powerless by a kryptonite ray. Luthor fastens Superman down and, before the eyes of Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane, slowly kills Superman by turning up the ray. It was only a few panels but It’s really an incredibly sadistic scene for comics code comic.  True, it’s an imaginary story. But then ALL comics are imaginary stories. How the code past the story I’ll never know.

The witnesses are returned to Earth with the body by a gloating Luthor, and funeral is held, with heroes and regular people filing by, including Krypto, bidding him goodbye. Luthor is feted by the underworld, recounting his triumph, until Superman’s then secret weapon, Supergirl, bursts in and takes Luthor to the bottled city of Kandor for Trial. Luthor tries to bargain, offering restore Kandor’s size, but is brusquely rebuffed, and sent to the phantom zone.

It had an incredible impact. There was nothing like it in comics then, and nothing to match it until next year, when Superman was stricken with Virus X-Not a Hoax! Not a Dream! But REAL!

That’ another story.