A spoiler-free discussion.
Every so often, a new story concept would emerge that subsequently impacts the comic book world quite significantly. One such momentous occasion, probably the most shocking and memorable of them all, was the heroic death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday in 1992. Of course, it has to be mentioned that this epic moment in pop culture was not a meticulously crafted pre-planned affair. In fact, as the writer, Jerry Ordway, candidly noted after the massive success of the story arc, the entire concept of having the Man of Steel meet his end began as a joke. In actuality, the writers had been working on a marriage story arc between Clark Kent and Lois Lane before it was postponed by the publisher in order to coincide with a similar story arc for the Lois & Clark television show.
Why The Death of Superman story arc worked in 1992
The iconic image of Superman dead
Superman #75 sold six million copies making it the highest-selling single-issue comic book in 1992. What began as a joke proved to achieve the level of success it had intended to as interest in Superman comics began to increase from then on. The worry of dwindling sales was now negated, as the story arc captured the Man of Steel in an entirely new light, one where the long-thought-of-as immortal Kryptonian had finally met his match and perished in a blaze of glory. The biggest attribute the comic had going for it was the familiarity that comic readers around the world had with Superman. After all, the Man of Steel had already been around for nearly six decades at that point. Hence, shaking things up a little was the next best thing for the character’s popularity.
Why The Death of Superman story arc failed in Batman v Superman
Superman’s death scene in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Like many aspects of this film, Batman v Superman was chock full of moments that, while appearing to achieve narrative plausibility on the page, did not successfully translate as well on the big screen (at least, on first viewing). Arguably the biggest letdown in the movie was Superman’s death. The easiest reason to point out as to why the scene itself took a kryptonite spear to the chest simply boils down to character establishment. Unlike Superman in the comics, with nearly 60 years of established rapport among comic readers under his belt, the Man of Steel in the DCEU had only ever appeared in one other movie, which was his origin film back in 2013.
Unfortunately, this relatively fresh Superman was not allocated the adequate amount of time (or movies) to make his death resonate strongly with viewers. To put it simply, how can one genuinely empathize with the death of a significant character if one has not spent enough time with them? It would be akin to Ned Stark being beheaded in episode two of Game of Thrones instead of episode nine or Iron Man sacrificing himself in his sophomore film as opposed to Avengers: Endgame.
In short, Superman’s death in Batman v Superman received the polar opposite reception from the one the character got in the comic books simply because it carried no weight. It is the time spent with a character that gives them this weight with audiences, and sadly, Batman v Superman simply forgot about this most crucial element of storytelling – and the rest, as they say, is history.
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