[Spoilers for Superman #52.]
It's not like readers weren't given a fair warning, but it's still surprising that DC is actually going through with it.
Superman is really going to die.
For the last few months, writer Peter Tomasi has been telling a story in the various Superman books with the title, "The Final Days of Superman." And DC had already announced that a different Superman would be taking his place in June — the older, married post-Crisis Superman that has been secretly living in the "New 52" universe with his wife Lois and now-superpowered son Jonathan as seen in Superman: Lois & Clark.
Yet it's still shocking to learn that, in this week's Superman #52, Tomasi's story actually depicts the death of the "New 52" Superman. Without getting too deep into spoiler territory — since, you know, the issue hasn't even come out — "New 52" Superman makes the ultimate sacrifice after knowing for months that he is going to die. After being infected by Doomsday, having his powers drained in "Truth," and his recent purposeful exposure to Kryptonite — all done to save the world — the character was terminally ill, enlisting some help from friends to put his affairs in order before the end.
His death is among several surprising revelations in this week's releases from DC. Setting up the company's summer relaunch Rebirth, DC's releases this week include the DC Universe: Rebirth #1 one-shot that shakes up the status quo of multiple characters and concepts. (Details of that book and others out this week were leaked then officially released online Friday, including the revelation that New 52 Superman will die.)
Newsarama talked with the writer to find out more about his approach to this Superman's death, why he approached it the way he did, and whether readers can really believe he'll stay dead.
Newsarama: Pete, the storyline you're finishing in this week's Superman #52, "The Final Days of Superman," sets up Rebirth in a big way. We met the Chinese characters who are playing a role in the new title New Super-Man, and we've discovered Supergirl's situation as a set-up for her Rebirth book. And now Superman #52 appears to clear the decks for the post-Crisis Superman to take over?
Peter Tomasi: Really, the way to look at Superman #52 — as was the seven issues previous to it — it was really, the opening salvo. It's the inciting incident, in terms of Superman's story.
Because Superman will obviously be dead at the end of this story. As readers will find out, pre-52 Superman will be the star of the Superman book.
So that's the way to look at Superman #52, as the end of a big, epic arc that leads into a new status quo for the Superman book that Pat Gleason and I are doing.
Nrama: When you were tasked with Superman dying in your story, did you feel like you had to do this in a completely different way from the last time DC had a Superman die, in the much-hyped "Death of Superman" story?
Tomasi: I definitely felt like it had to be something off the beaten track. I wanted to make sure we were changing the venue where it was happening, that we changed the area where it was happening. And obviously we had some more personal interaction with some other characters during the course of it than the original Doomsday battle back in the day.
It was important to at least give it a different feel, because I didn't want to just retread old ground and have a Doomsday character or that kind of thing. So it was important visually, story-wise, and character-wise to make sure we had a story that at least felt a bit off track from the original death back in the '90s.
Nrama: You've made it clear who the people are that this version of Clark Kent values most, surrounding him with those characters in the end. In what way did this storyline help to identify who this character is?
Tomasi: Yeah, we knew the "New 52" Superman was going to die, so we wanted to put a good stamp on him. We wanted him to go out not only in a blaze of glory, so to speak, but also in a more character-centric story.
When you look at all eight issues, there's a lot of character building for him during the course of the story. So it was key for us to make sure we did that. So people who maybe haven't been following Superman for some time and maybe picked up the story when they heard that this was happening, or just picked it up recently, we've been in such a big crossover mode, and such an epic story mode, that I wanted to make sure we were really focused on the character.
I really felt like it was key for me to build the character-centric stuff for these issues leading into Superman #52 so that we really felt the pain not only of Clark, but also the heroes around him.
And I'd say one of the main things you realize about Superman is that sacrifice is a key factor in everything he does.
Nrama: Well, yeah. His death is because he's been making so many sacrifices over the past couple years. It's all catching up with him. And at the end, he makes the ultimate sacrifice.
Tomasi: Yeah, that's one of the reasons it was very key to keep it small scale. You know, we didn't go all around looking at the world and the cities to say "this is what Superman meant." We really just kept it in the perspective of the people close to him, not burning up real estate showing what he meant to the world. In a way, we're assuming he meant so much to the world around him, with all the sacrifices he's made since the beginning of the "New 52," with the Parademon invasion, and Darkseid and everything, and then the stuff that made him sick — the ARGUS Kryptonite chamber room, "Darkseid War" and the trip to Apokolips where he was affected in the fire pits, the battle with Rao that really kicked the hell out of him, the identity stuff — just all the things that have gone down on poor Supes.
So it was already part of the story, that Superman has saved everybody's asses a million times. We decided the story should focus instead on the characters close to him and himself.
Nrama: We've seen a Superman die before. Granted, it was a different Superman, but he came back to life. Do you think readers might say, "Eh… he'll come back to life soon, because I've seen this before?"
Tomasi: We'll address that. The pre-52 Superman obviously knows about that. So we'll address it.
But for me, this story was less about worrying whether readers would think something like that, and it was more about telling a great story that gives us a clear sense of this "New 52" Superman's character and his sacrifice.
In this story, we can't worry about whether people are overly familiar with "Death of Superman." Everyone has their own era, and I have to imagine that there are people who haven't read the "Death of Superman."
So this story is also for those people. It's for the 10-year-olds now reading the book for the first time, or the 15-year-olds or whoever. They're reading their first death of Superman story. I've been at cons where all these people were reading comics, especially younger kids, they were reading the "New 52." That was their first foray into DC Comics. So this is probably their first foray into a death of Superman.
Nrama: Yet when you think about those fans, it's a little sad to lose this guy. Was the thought that he had to go to make room for the post-Crisis Superman?
Tomasi: It was really just setting a table, making sure that a character we spent five years with has a great story to go out on, and that we feel for him.
And in a way, it's like I want to say, "Hey! You're going to miss this guy!" I'm kind of getting a sense of it. I think people are sorry to see him go. And for me, that's mission accomplished. That's what I wanted.
I wanted people to plug into him and feel empathy and gravitate toward him, if they haven't during the course of the "New 52," and say, "Dammit! What the hell? They're killing him off now? I'm pissed off!"
That's a good feeling to have, as a writer, to know that people will be feeling that way.
We've got a lot of big surprises in store and a lot of great character-centric stories coming up in the Superman series I'm doing with Pat Gleason starting in June.