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The ’90s Revisited: Superman #77

90s_revisited

superman_0077The End

Words & Layouts: Dan Jurgens
Finishes: Brett Breeding
Letters: John Costanza
Colors: Glenn Whitmore
Assistant Edits: Jennifer Frank
Edits: Mike Carlin
Cover Date: March 1993
Cover Price: $1.25
Published by: DC Comics

While this issue’s cover isn’t “bright and flashy” and no “gimmicks” and it’s just a singular cover, period–no variants, no sketch versions, no blank versions, etc…it’s deep. It’s simple, but meaningful. It’s labeled “The End” on the cover. And for a couple months, it WAS. In a way, this was truly the end. Superman was dead. There’d been a funeral. Respects paid, memorials. This was an ending for sure.

The issue opens on Luthor in a training session; he’s none too happy to take a kick in his distraction, reflecting on what he’s himself lost with the death of Superman. Lois and Supergirl interrupt with the revelation of Cadmus’ involvement with the missing body. “Meanwhile,” Jonathan Kent–code blue–is being rushed through a hospital with a distraught Martha nearby. We see parallels of the present with Jonathan’s perception/memories of the past and his boy. Also meanwhile, Jimmy’s meeting with higher-ups of the Planet and Newstime, as his photos will be used for a memorial issue of the magazine…and he–Jimmy–should be the one to choose the photo for the cover. Someone attacks Sasha–one of the trainers–in the locker room; while Supergirl leaves Lois outside of Cadmus when she realizes the reporter isn’t entirely in the moment. Supposedly for her own safety, but that leads Lois to join up with some “Outsiders” to get in. While Cadmus security is well aware of someone breaching, they prove no match for Supergirl…who Lois and the Outsiders meet as she bears the body of Superman from the facility. At the hospital, medical personnel fight to save Jonathan, as Superman fought to save others. In Metropolis, Superman’s body is returned to the crypt, and a new casket is provided. Lois says one final goodbye, and Luthor asks for a moment alone…where he gloats over the casket.

At the hospital, the doctor pounds Jonathan’s chest, urging him to breathe! He opens his eyes–horrified at the idea of Doomsday, urging Clark to look out–and he fades. The heart monitor sounds its alarm, Martha rushes toward the bed, Jonathan “sees” Clark–as Superman–telling him not to be afraid, and reaching for him. As Jonathan takes Clark’s hand, Martha grasp’s Jonathan’s…the monitor remains flat, as Martha holds Jonathan’s hand, begging him not to leave her alone.

The End.

The issue actually ends with those words. “The End.” It’s the end of the issue. End of the story. Superman is gone. Jonathan’s heart’s given out, Martha’s left holding his hand, now losing her husband on top of just weeks earlier having lost her son. There’s no solicitation for Superman #78. There are some of stand-in books: The Legacy of Superman, Supergirl and Team Luthor, the Newstime special. But no Superman #78. No Adventures of Superman #500. No Action Comics #687. No Man of Steel #22.

Jurgens’ art is just about my favorite for Superman–character and this comic series–but it feels more subtle here, somehow. It just IS…it doesn’t call undue attention to itself, nor does it distract. I recognize some of Jimmy’s photos…I’m not sure if I did originally when this was published, but knowing what I do in 2022, I’m pretty sure one photo may have been the one Jimmy took at the end of the Exile arc. Another maybe around that time with Matrix standing in for Clark. And of course, the iconic Newstime cover photo of the shredded cape; and the iconic images of Superman on the pavement where he fell; as well as the combatants falling away from each other from the final blows. This “re-using” of art may or may not be direct…but it’s close enough to assume it’s “re-use.” I normally would consider it a cop-out, especially on a full page…but here, it serves as actual continuity; the images are–if I’m not projecting–from multiple previous issues/instances that a reader can go back and find on-panel of Jimmy taking!

Story-wise, I still could do without the Cadmus stuff; but at least it was minimal. I did not even remember the “Outsiders” in this issue until I got to their page. I remembered Lois’ daydream/flashback, but not that it was while she was with Supergirl. Jonathan’s memory/hallucinating of Clark and the old car fits right in with what we saw in Man of Steel #21; though jumping between the present and past with doctors and the hospital rather than Jonathan being in different places at the farm differentiates.

I can only imagine Lois’ horror at seeing someone carrying her fiance’s body “loose,” mostly covered with a cape, but no casket/stretcher/etc; no dignified transport. And seeing the body in a casket, one last look before knowing one’s earthly eyes would never again see that person…I “get” that.

I knew coming into the issue–even this entire story–that this final scene with Jon, Martha, the hospital–that it would be hard on me. Because while I could read the words on the page, see the images on the page, KNOW that this is fiction, that it’s a story with these fictional characters–Jonathan Kent, his wife Martha, their son Clark–a superhero, a Superman–the imagery obviously rooting it in the events of the Doomsday arc, the Superman comics of the early-1990s…its parallels struck me in the reading, even as the memory of them had crossed my mind in a hospital room just hours shy of six weeks ago as I TYPE this. [EDIT: 9 weeks tomorrow, as this post has gone live]

These pages were a gut punch in the past. I remember at least one time reading them, and FEELING them, and being moved to tears. I don’t remember exact time, just that I have that memory. This time, they’re far more personal, too personal, too identifiable. As I imagine it is for many more than just me.

“The End.”

Of life as it was known. As it was with people important and crucial to our lives. Even IF a larger story continues…there’s still that ending.

And so we have that here.

I know what comes next; and I kinda remember that sense of finality with this issue initially. I’m far from impartial here.

But it’s possible that I even dove into this story now when I have, and stepped through each issue individually…not so much “for” the “29th anniversary” of their seeing print…but as a part of processing my own loss, of my Dad. I don’t remember talking to him, really, about these issues…but I’m confident that I remember THAT he’d read this entire story. Pretty sure he did not read Adventures of Superman #500…but he read Doomsday with me that night in November 1992, and I am pretty sure he read these issues, too, as they came out, as he took me to Capp’s Comics each week to get them.

There are few stories out there that have stuck with me so much. Sure, I forgot a lot of small details…but other details and “moments” throughout Funeral for a Friend were either very clearly in my memory, or had left their marks on my memory. Part of the significance is surely that it was such a momentous time in comics in general, and I was there. I was a kid and hadn’t yet been jaded by the “industry” and such; I didn’t yet realize “the speculator” stuff; etc.

And I got to read comics with my Dad.

Funeral for a Friend is “the heart of the story.” It’s why there was a Doomsday!, why we had The Death of Superman. So that we could get this. It took a 7-issue story to show Superman’s fall; these 8 issues to take us through the aftermath and the deep moments and reflections of the supporting cast and guest-stars; and sure, it left us with a five-month saga later to get the pieces put back for “status quo,” but that’s something for another time.

You don’t have to have read Doomsday, you don’t have to read Reign of the Supermen. But if you want a deep, moving story about Superman…this is it. Even though he’s not even truly “in” it…it’s about him, it’s about his impact on others, how they deal with losing him…even if you cut out a couple chapters, the first 3-4 and this one cover a lot of ground.

Definitely recommended–especially as a complete story.

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