Friday, December 25, 2015

Countdown To Doomsday! (DC)
Superman #74 When: December 1992 Why: Dan Jurgens How: Dan Jurgens & Brett Breeding

The Story So Far...
It came from out of the blue! A hulking monster clad in green garb and binding tubes! The severity of its hidden face -- completely alien in the surrounding countryside. It's reason for being -- obscured by mindless carnage!

The Justice League had no way of knowing what they were confronting when they intercepted a call for help from an inter-state highway! They couldn't have anticipated the sequence of events they would trigger -- events that will change their world forever!

With Blue Beetle barely clinging to life, Maxima is compelled to leave the fight to usher him to safety. In her place, Superman arrives to aid the league in their effort to stem the monster's destruction! The Man of Steel will not face any ordinary alien menace on this day. This is the coming of Doomsday!

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Doomsday 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Superman 4 (Tactician)
Speed: Superman 6 (Mach Speeds)
Stamina: Doomsday 7 (Unstoppable)
Agility: Martian Manhunter 7 (Unlimited)
Fighting: Doomsday 7 (Born Fighter)
Energy: Guy Gardner 7 (Cosmic Power)

Justice League America are: Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Bloodwynd and Superman. Otherwise occupied are Maxima and Blue Beetle (Ted Kord): the latter of which was injured in a preceding skirmish with Doomsday.

Ah! Major comics properties in the 1990s... A decade that demands clarification in the Tale of the Tape, as much as analysis! As you've already seen: the Justice League were a far cry from the "Big Seven" roster you may be more familiar with. Even Superman is here as a tagalong drawn in by the fighting - and not part of the active line-up! For the uninitiated, there are a few other important differences in character to note.

Former Green Lantern Guy Gardner wields a Qwardian yellow power ring at this stage of his career -- better known in the future as the weapon of the Sinestro Corps! The mysterious figure known as Bloodwynd is in actual fact Martian Manhunter, who is impersonating a lost hero under the mind-altering influence of the Blood Gem. The true Bloodwynd is trapped inside with the demon Rott.

It's a bit of a mixed up time for the JLA, but they're by no means at their worst. In terms of firepower they're stocked with: Booster Gold's super-strong, super durable powersuit from the future, Guy Gardner's experience as a Green Lantern and the diverse properties of his energy ring, Bloodwynd's mystic powers via the Martian Manhunter's own blend of super strength, invulnerability, mental powers and more. Fire commands green flame and is capable of reaching states of intangibility. Ice is probably the weakest member offensively, but even she offers strategic advantages with the use of ice magic.

Each member has their own individual weaknesses, but what they lack as a whole is cohesion. In battle with Doomsday, Guy Gardner may be their pinch hitter, but his brash attitude and fearlessness means he can be isolated, or even redirected against his teammates. Martian Manhunter's vulnerability to fire could be exploited with Fire on the team, and Ice will need to be on her toes as well, especially surrounded by so much super-powered muscle!

It's impossible to separate this match-up from its inevitable end. This is part of The Death of Superman - a story that implies an end. Doomsday's primary threat at this stage of the game is physical. He's a sadistic, invulnerable brute with a penchant for punching, and throwing large objects. Ordinarily, that's a day at the office for Superman -- but Doomsday's Kryptonian history, and steeled origins through cruel evolution mean he's uniquely suited to withstand most physical threats.

Conventional wisdom says Bloodwynd/Martian Manhunter may be the best way to deal with Doomsday. The mystic Blood Gem can create illusions, teleport the possessor, and project fear through the "Sentence Stare" -- valuable tools in turning Doomsday against himself. Likewise, the Martian's natural telepathic potential could also be used to assault Doomsday's mind, although given his mindless bloodlust, it's impossible to know if he could be manipulated in any meaningful way. His rage may be too great! Let's see what happened...

The Tape: Superman Ranking: Superman (#6)

What Went Down...
A domestic scene like any other. A broken family, tempers flare. A sense of normalcy rudely interrupted by the shattering of glass and the limp body of the heroine called Ice!

The rest of the Justice League are unconscious or indisposed. Ice stands alone against a monster who moments earlier matched the league with one arms tied behind its back! Thrown miles from the fight - the hero of the future Booster Gold bumped into Superman. He introduces The Man of Steel to the concept of the threat by giving it a name: Doomsday!

Arriving on the scene: Superman fearlessly confronts the monster - taking a body blow from its free arm chest-on! The monster recognizes a need to up the ante, leaning back to unleash a kick that winds The Man of Steel, and sends his limp body hurtling through the nearby housing project!

With Superman out of the way, the monster turns his attentions back to Booster Gold. He grabs the hero by the skull and introduces his face into a nearby tree! Booster's suit tech cushions the blow, but he's still left slumped on the stump.

As if drawn to suffering, Doomsday explodes into what remains of the demolished project home. He gravitates toward Ice - unconscious inside the house when it collapsed! He drives his fist down and laughs at the cracking.

Just as the beast set eyes on an innocent woman and her baby, Superman rallies to knock it back! Superman pledges to cover her escape as the available members of the Justice League rejoin the fight! With Booster Gold, Fire, Guy Gardner, and Bloodwynd at his back - Superman leads a frontal assault!

The assembled Leaguers focus their fullest powers on their rampaging foe! Superman's heat vision, Fire's flame, Booster Gold's energy gauntlets, Guy Gardner's yellow power ring, Bloodwynd's eye blasts! They give it their all!

The maelstrom of energies obscures Doomsday in a haze of pure power and smoke! It gives the injured occupants of the demolished home their opportunity to escape, but as Fire begins to flicker out, and Booster's power cells deplete, the horrifying truth begins to emerge. Gardner can't imagine anyone surviving their efforts. Survive Doomsday has! And with his restraints broken by the blast, he is unbound for the first time - and ready to attack!

Doomsday rushes the league -- too fast to be avoided! The alien behemoth's charge launches the heroes across the battlefield!

His spiny fists free to do their wicked work, the monster again targets a now vulnerable Booster Gold. Clutching his throat he throws a furious right hand, and lets out another "Ha!" with a rising left. Doomsday then drags Booster to the nearby wrecked family car and slams his head shut in it!

Blinded from the earlier battle - Guy Gardner can only hear Booster's bones as they break. He's too slow to aim his ring and hope for the best. Doomsday tosses Booster's broken body and eliminates the meagre threat.

Superman and Bloodwynd fly in for a two-front assault, but Doomsday is prepared to neutralize that threat, as well! A couple of well placed, unbound backward jabs stop both powerhouses in their tracks -- and send Bloodwynd's eye beams wildly off target!

The stray blast ignites a powerful fire. It isn't long before the flames reach the housing project gas line. The resulting explosion engulfs everyone present in a raging inferno! Ironically, Fire is knocked unconscious in the chaos.

Unaffected by the heat - Doomsday launches himself skyward. Superman sees his leap and takes pursuit, but with the Justice League and the endangered family home owners vulnerable he has no choice but to abandon the chase!

They will meet again soon enough...

The Hammer...
With Superman the only Justice League hero still conscious, yet tactically neutralized, I have no choice but to call Doomsday the winner! I don't think the brutalized JLA will be able to disagree!

It's an explosive victory for the villain's long awaited Secret Wars on Infinite Earths debut, and a big finish to a massive month of 10th Anniversary celebrations!

Back at the beginning: I promised to mark the occasion with a mix of modern classics and frequently requested favourites. Doomsday has consistently ranked among the most sought after characters - and it's The Death of Superman that is the reason why!
Admittedly, it's the big final showdown that's usually the one people want to see, but I couldn't help but go for something a little less obvious.

Doomsday is on the verge of making the leap to the big screen in next year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In the movie, their version will confront the seeds of what is to become a film universe Justice League. Since people often forget the Justice League had a noteworthy role in the original introduction of Doomsday -- this seemed like a natural place to start Doomsday rolling!

I have to admit, it took all of ten years to get here because it's a bit of a double-edged sword. The very thing that makes the character notable is also the thing that makes him somewhat uninteresting. The headline is ultimately what's most important: The Death of Superman. By introducing a never before seen brute to fit the task, DC Comics created a character who seemed utterly perfunctory.

In 1992, the stunt was unique enough to receive global press. On the one hand, it seemed inconceivable that there wouldn't be any more Superman comics published by DC. On the other hand; the explosion of the Image style, X-Men, and other flavours of the fast moving early nineties had unflinchingly challenged Superman's playground relevance. In an era of sound and fury signifying flashy change, DC had promised a death. Barry Allen was still dead. Superman's movie cred was in the toilet. Believing them was a strong option.

The Death of Superman is still one of the highest selling comics of all time. It opened the Pandora's box of public execution, and "dramatic change" as sales pitch on a scale unlike any other.

Supes didn't stay dead for long. A few years later, newspapers were covering another stunt -- Superman goes electric. With that, the box arguably slammed shut. Nobody believed Electric Superman would last. If DC weren't going to kill their mascot off, they sure as heck weren't going to keep something that stupid going for long. They'd managed to snap Batman's back and turn Green Lantern into one of their biggest villains along the way, but it all started to seem as pointless and desperate as it was. Readers got wise. Sales plunged.

Attitudes toward crossover events of the nineties seem to have changed over the course of the last ten years. There's always been an audience, but when "big two" comics doubled down into the 2000s on more sophisticated storytelling and characterization, the sins of the chromium age were ready to be cast out.

The aggressive rejection of crossovers and stunts threw the dead super-baby out with the bath water. It hadn't all been bad! By the middle of the decade, an inevitable rethink was coming. Green Lantern: Rebirth paved the way by undoing the one nineties stunt that stuck - Hal Jordan as super-villain. The 20th anniversary of Crisis on Infinite Earths kicked the 'event' doors wide open soon after with Infinite Crisis. 2009's Blackest Night and Final Crisis escalated line-wide events almost as far as they could go. In 2011, they finally killed the DC Universe. Doomsday returned in varied forms. The early nineties struck back with a vengeance.

Given the perfunctory nature of the original Doomsday, it's easy to see why the idea would be repurposed. In his acclaimed All-Star Superman, concept wizard Grant Morrison transcribed the language of Doomsday as supreme threat into a more insidious, soul destroying genetic weapon. In isolation, it was an exciting, thoughtful way of repurposing the power of an attack through the lens of wacky, Silver Age pop and modern man's fear of the Superman. If it didn't invent the concept of a genetic Doomsday, it certainly popularized and validated it with a finesse lacking in subsequent versions. Just another wacky transformation for Jimmy Olsen. Another sci-fi contingency weapon run amok.

If trailers and scuttlebutt are to be believed, the movie Doomsday will use a similar premise to adapt the corpse of Man of Steel villain: General Zod. If it can be done to Zod, it can probably be done to fellow Kryptonian Superman. This has been the case in New 52 comics, where Doomsday became a Jekyll & Hyde proposition - a virus infecting Superman's genes. A validation of the resentment toward the ultimate superhero. The hero as monster. An on-going assassination of character. The death of the myth, if not the Superman.

I never really viewed The Death of Superman with quite the disdain of my peers, but I can understand the pessimism. I certainly had my share of doubts as it was all unfolding, and I came to view characters like Doomsday as avatars for shallow, if forgivable times. I avoided a lot of the worst of the 90s with budget conscious reading, and in that respect, I always felt I was ahead of the curve. Now that stunts like The Death of Superman seem to inform so much of the modern approach to DC comics and movies, I'm starting to wonder if it was the intolerant naysayers who really saw the writing on the wall.

The legacy of the story has become undeniable as the reading of sales statistics seems to overwhelm long term thinking, and the strengthening of home brands. The short dollar is king. Invest in reader anxiety. Hollywood high rolling on a monthly schedule.

I'm pleased to have finally opened the book on this landmark, much requested story! I'm sure we'll explore more facets of its unique importance sometime in the future. In the mean time, I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Thanks for joining me for a big month of anniversary superhero smackdown! If you'd like to see more in 2016, be sure to leave a comment and keep diving into the infinite archives!

Winner: Doomsday

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