I never thought a simple comic could make me so emotional. I should have known better.
Death is never the saddest part of a story; no, the heart-wrenching emotion comes later, as the deceased’s loved ones try to come to terms with their loss and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. It’s easier to view Superman’s death in The Death of Superman as an act of heroism. After all, he died saving an entire city, and likely an entire planet, from utter destruction at the hands of a madman. As the dust settles and the remaining characters try to deal with all that’s happened, the sadness begins to set in.
World Without a Superman is first and foremost a story of loss and grief. While there are storylines showing a secret government agency stealing the man of steel’s body in order to create a clone, or Luthor’s mixed emotions about Superman’s death by another’s hand, the primary focus of this trade is the aftermath of such a tragic loss for Metropolis, and the world.
The comic slowly and touchingly recounts the impact Superman had on the world around him, without ever feeling like an “in memorium” tribute. Instead, the reflections are organic and poignant, allowing various characters to face their emotions.
Bibbo’s scenes are especially heartfelt, as the poor man can’t comprehend why his “fav’rit” hero had to die.
The comic continues with the funeral and tribute that one would only expect for Earth’s mightiest hero: all of Superman’s hero-friends in attendance, remembering what a profound impact he had on the world.
His impact was wide-reaching, yet it was most visible at ground level, with the everyday people whom Superman had saved or inspired.
This young boy comforts a friend and fellow mourner after seeing him being bullied because, as he notes, “Superman wouldn’t like that.” This child was inspired by his hero to help another, and while it may not be a life-saving event, it’s still incredibly moving.
Scenes like this make the reader aware of just how powerful Superman was, not just as a superhero, but as a symbol. There are plenty of other superheroes on the planet, but these citizens look up to Superman in particular; not because he has super powers, but because of the man he chose to be every day.
This got me thinking about who made Superman that way, and I came to view this comic in a new light. Jonathan and Martha Kent had raised Clark since he was a baby, and instilled in him the beliefs and values that they held dear. They were the ones who held him when he was sad, or offered advice when something was troubling him.
Superman may have gained his powers from his Kryptonian parents, but it’s no secret that they were from a somewhat cold, scientifically-focused race. Clark’s belief in justice and preserving human life came from his human parents. It is these beliefs, far more than x-ray vision or the ability to fly, which made Superman so inspiring in the eyes of the people.
The comic seems to press this point when, utterly exhausted from the stress of losing a son, Jonathan Kent collapses. As he lay dying on a hospital bed, we see him traveling far and wide, on a quest that even he doesn’t quite understand.
All becomes clear as he sees Clark being led away by a procession of demons disguised as Kryptonians. Frantic, Jonathan calls out to his son and begs him to realize what’s happening. These pleas are eventually answered as Superman acknowledges his father and brings him to an ominous-looking portal which will presumably return him to the land of the living. Initially Superman refuses to join Jonathan in this return, but his father insists:
Clark and Jonathan travel back together, as Jonathan wakes up in the hospital exclaiming, “He’s back! Clark’s back!”
The comic comes to a pretty abrupt and rather coy end, as there are reported sights of Superman flying around Metropolis. The story ends with Lois venturing into Superman’s tomb and finding his body gone, suggesting that he has returned from the dead.
I’m still a little skeptical at this point, as there could be another explanation for this disappearance (perhaps a clone, or another one of Luthor’s ploys?) Still, a large part of me hopes that it’s real, not only because I want Superman alive again, but because I really enjoyed the way in which Jonathan Kent was responsible for bringing him back to life. The story somehow managed to be touching and spiritual without ever veering into the realm of religion. Having Mr. Kent be responsible for returning his son to the world would make for a rather fitting twist to the story. Superman spent the better part of his life saving the world; it’s quite touching to imagine him being saved once again by the very person who rescued him when he first came to Earth.
The Kents’ role in raising a boy who would become a hero to all is not specifically emphasized in this trade, and that’s for the best. The understated nature of their impact on Superman’s life makes for a far more touching story. What’s more, we get to feel as though we’re privy to a secret, sharing in the Kents’ pain and loss in a way few others in the comic could. The world within the story may not know the impact the Kents had on raising such an influential and righteous man, but thankfully we as readers have been granted that privilege.