When it comes to commemorations in comics, the 30th anniversary of Death of Superman this year may be among the more iconic. Not only did this event make national news back in the day, but it was inspiring columnists to reflect on a world without the great hope Superman represents. All that’s is why DC Comics is really rolling out the red carpet by releasing both an 80-page special in November (complete with all-new stories) as well as a deluxe edition of the new collection in December.
The aptly-titled Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special will be a chance to explore new ideas and perspectives surrounding the classic comics event. The stories themselves are set in and around the death of Superman, adding new context from across the larger DCU. And the whole project is in good hands, as it’s headed up by the event’s original writer and artist, Dan Jurgens. He’s joined by a slew of talent, including comics legends Jerry Ordway, Tom Grummett, Louise Simonson, Jon Bogdanove, Roger Stern, Butch Guice, and Brett Breeding.
I spoke to Jurgens about the project just before it was announced on Wednesday. We addressed not only the anniversary itself but the larger creative approach for both Jurgens and his comics collaborators. We also talked about what kinds of memories the project drudged up and what we can we expect from these brand-new tales, among other tidbits.
This interview has been edited and trimmed down. You can listen to the full chat on the AIPT Comics podcast this Sunday.
AIPT: If you could go back and give your younger self advice around when Death of Superman came out, what would it be?
Dan Jurgens: You know, at the time, I thought I was taking it all in. I thought I was taking as much appreciation out of it as I could have. Going back, I would’ve documented even more of it with photos and videos and whatever, and really make sure to take the time to soak it in because, in retrospect, I could have done a better job of that. And I wish I had.
AIPT: The Death of Superman 30th Anniversary Special gives us new perspectives and POVs on Superman’s death. How long has this idea been percolating for you?
DJ: Not that long. What happened is, earlier this year I realized that this was gonna be 30 years since we had done the death of Superman. So in just a couple of casual conversations, I had mentioned to a couple of the good people at DC, “is this something we wanna do anything with? Do we want to do a story or something that touches on it, some way somehow?”
I wrote a little something up and suggested something that could kind of address that idea of that story. Use the original creative teams to do it. And DC was totally on board and said, yeah, let’s go for it. And really got behind it and has been adding all sorts of fun things to it ever since. So it’s been a lot of fun.
AIPT: Were you involved in curating the teams and all four stories?
DJ: Curating is certainly too strong a word. What I suggested is, that I’ll do a story, and I want to get Brett Breeding to ink it. It’ll be our first DC work together in like 25 years. Obviously, we want the teams of those days to do it. Roger Stern and Butch Guice will do a story. And Jerry Ordway and Tom Grummett will do a story as will Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove.
Fortunately, all those people said yes, and I’m so glad they did because I kept telling them if they waffled at all we can’t do it without you. And I truly mean that this has to be those teams, everybody together with a chance to say what it is they want to say, or do the story they want to do that touches on those days and kind of that story and what happened with Superman.
AIPT: Was there any nostalgia with this project or even maybe some frustration where you’re like, oh, “I remember this thing I drew is hard to draw, and I hate drawing it” or something like that?
DJ: Yes! So the nostalgia that did that to me was drawing the Daily Planet building again cause you go back and look at the Daily Planet building of that time. It has these art deco copper panels on it, and each one has a little art deco floral sort of design. When I did the cover for this we have a three-page cover that folds out and I had the Daily Planet building on it. And as I was drawing those things, I thought, “my God, I forgot how much I hated to draw this building.” That definitely came back.
But at the same time, it’s that fun sense of familiarity. Whether it’s working with my colleagues from those days or whether it’s just redrawing those characters. Barry White with the open vest and the loose necktie and all of that again, it’s like going home, in a way, to family.
AIPT: Speaking of family, your story “The Life of Superman” involves a nine-year-old Jon Kent being told that his dad had died. That’s a really unique perspective, especially since Jon Kent’s relatively new to the DC comics universe. What made you think about using John Kent in this way?
DJ: Having done the Rebirth stuff that brought Jon Kent into everything I thought that Jon has always added something so nice and unique to the Superman mythos. I really think he is a tremendously valuable storytelling device and character to have in the books. Because through him, we can kind of reframe Superman a little bit, and in this instance, it’s sort of like saying–if you look at the purpose of this special–if you were there 30 years ago, this is gonna bring back a lot of very fun, very fond memories. If you weren’t there 30 years ago, because you’re younger than that and you’re seeing it for the first time.
You kind of get to be like Jon in this story where he experiences it for the first time because what happens is Jon is in school one day, the family had just moved back to Metropolis and there’s someone in class who says, “I’m here to talk to you about one of, if not the most famous days and the history of Metropolis and that’s the day that Superman died.” At which point Jon loses it because his parents never bothered to tell him about those moments. So that gives us a reason that when Lois is walking him home from school, he can say, “So why didn’t you tell me dad died and came back from the dead and what’s with that!”
I think that’s where Jon becomes a very valuable character both in Superman, in general, and in this story because he gets to find out for the first time what it was all about, even as he experiences something new happening in the streets of Metropolis.
AIPT: It kind of reminds me of the story you did with Josh Williamson for the Road to Dark Crisis, where we have Nightwing and Jon talking about how death isn’t permanent in the DC comics universe. That story must have been drawn probably earlier than this project had started, or were you working on those two simultaneously?
DJ: I had already written the special, then I drew Josh’s story just before starting to draw this one. And I did tell Josh, here’s what we’re doing, and we gotta be very careful with the verbiage here, but yeah. And he did that. I mean, Josh is a wonderful guy and very accommodating, and he did a wonderful job of making his point in that story and also leaving us room to make our point ours.
AIPT: There are four different perspectives in this special. Obviously, you have Jon, Clark Kent’s parents… were there any perspectives that you were thinking about maybe trying out or sticking into this special and didn’t quite make the cut?
DJ: The one thing we had talked about at one point is, is there a way to do a unique take on it from Luthor’s perspective? That is one thing that didn’t make it into the book. I think that when you see these stories, you’ll see how they really reflect the individual creative teams. Because Weezie [Simonson] and Jon did this nice, nice, wonderful story with John Henry Irons and how that then all contributes to his development as Steel later after Superman dies.
Roger and Butch do a very nice story with The Guardian, who was very involved in our books at that time and on the streets of Metropolis. Jerry and Tom Grummett do this wonderful story where Ma and Pa Kent are at home on the farm, and here is everything that’s happened. So what do they do? They take out the photo album and page through it. I think it’s filled with wonderful moments, and the book is turning into exactly what I would have hoped it would be, perhaps even better.
AIPT: You’re introducing a new villain here, Doombreaker. That’s not an established character. What went into the name Doombreaker?
DJ: So the idea was, I gotta be careful what I say here, so we wanted to get a new threat into the book and something that would be fun. So if you go back to our original story, Doomsday doesn’t exactly show up and say, “Hey, my name is Doomsday. I’m here to kick butt.” There comes a point where he’s fighting the Justice League, and he sends Booster Gold flying halfway across the continent, and Superman catches him and says, “What’s going on?” And Booster is like “It’s awful. There’s a monster it’s like Doomsday is here.” That’s where his name came from.
And in this story, it’s actually Jon who names this new threat Doombreaker, which I think is kind of fun. I think it’s very much a nine-year-old type name that will be appropriately cool.
AIPT: Whenever a superhero dies now post Death of Superman I always think of Death of Superman.
DJ: Everybody does.
AIPT: It was so groundbreaking. So I’m curious from your perspective when you see like Captain America dies and it’s on CNN or Spider-Man dies and it’s on CNN, is Death of Superman running through your mind at all and the memories you have experiencing that response?
DJ: So I’ll be careful here, but at the same time, one of the things I think of is when it comes out, it’s like, do you really want to compete with that? Cause that is what goes through everyone’s mind. I think in each instance, each creative team is doing what we did, which is to set out and tell the very best story that they can regarding their character. There is also that reality of realizing, you know, that’s what you’re competing with. It’s like, if I was gonna do a story with Superman fighting the heavyweight champ of the world, it’d be like, you really want to compete with Superman versus Muhammad Ali? No.
AIPT: It’s kind of amazing, it’s so ingrained into history, I would say, not even just comics history, but people’s memory of these things.
DJ: That’s what happens when you have the media coverage we did. And it also makes Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno did something with it on his show. It was just everywhere, and that’s nothing we ever could have anticipated. It strung with us as we did the entire story, and as I’ve pointed out, you did have fiction, in reality, to combine for a while. Because we’re doing stories about a world without Superman and plenty of columnists were writing those columns.
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