I have read comics nearly all my life, since I could read pretty much, and they have been a much loved part ever since. Being a British boy I was weaned on the likes of The Beano and The Dandy but soon found my way to the episodic adventures of superheroes. Batman was my first true love, I'd collect the cartoon series tie-in comic and revel in Bats' ability to outwit his opponents but I soon ended up getting hold of 'proper' comics.
In Britain in the early 90s it was a bit harder to get your hands on American comics than it is today. Of course there were comic shops around but, as a boy of 9 it was tough to get there on your own. Fortunately for me Batman and Superman comics were collected and reprinted and could be found in most reputable newsagents.
That is where I saw this image for the first time...
It was as if I was drawn to the shelf the comic sat on. It was the last issue there and I quickly noticed other pre-pubescent boys circling around, trying to get a glimpse. There was no way I was dropping that comic.
After a short spell of pleading with my mother to buy it for me (I was incredibly cute as a child so she was powerless to resist really) I took it home and got reading.
I almost completely ignored the Batman section of the book and delved into 'The Death of Superman' with baited breath. How? I thought. How could Superman ever be killed? Sure there was Kryptonite but the hero always lived to fight another day...or so I thought. It was odd, in a way, how affected I was by the storyline. I'd never been that close to Superman myself but he was the superhero...nothing could stop him. After finishing the story and closing the book I was left sad, depressed even that this icon, this paragon of heroism had been ended by a simple-minded monster. Lots of imagery stuck with me from those pages, Lois cradling a beaten and bloodied Clark in her arms being foremost in my mind.
Of course now we know that the Boy Scout doesn't actually die at all! He was faking! Okay he wasn't faking, but he wasn't dead either. And neither was Doomsday!
In case you are unaware Doomsday, like Superman, is from Krypton. He's best described as a (near) unstoppable killing machine created by a scientist called Betron. His back story is a little complicated but the short version works out like this: On pre-historic Krypton, scientist Bertron releases an infant into the planets' inhospitable environment. The child quickly dies from exposure but it's remains are cloned and a new improved version is the result. This process is repeated many, many times over until the creature (sadly no longer an innocent child) becomes able to adapt to what had killed it before and, due to all the suffering it had endured, has grown to hate all life.
The important part to take from that is that Doomsday learnt to adapt meaning that whilst it could be killed, it would return to life improved and that method of death would never work again.
This is where I have a problem.
Doomsday lands on Earth having lived for thousands of years, facing countless foes and killing pretty much all of them. He has seen endless battle since his conception and died and come back over and over again. So here's the question...Just how the hell did Superman kill this thing?
As a boy reading the story (and for several years later) I never gave it a second thought. It was more about Superman sacrificing himself for the people of Earth than the monster that did it. But as the years went by and my knowledge of and love for comics grew, I returned to the story and began to think again.
Here's the blow that does it...
As far as I can tell it's the double-fisted strike favoured so much by Captain Kirk that ends the monsters' life.
Now I'm no expert in alien physiology but there can be only a couple of ways that this kills Doomsday; either Superman's blow breaks it's neck/spine or the creature's brain is completely turned to mush following the strike. So the next question is...How has this not happened before?
As mentioned above, Doomsday has lived for thousands of years and been killed in countless ways. You've got to assume that one (or even several) of these ways was due to being hit really, really hard just as Superman did either resulting in a broken back or a dislodged brain. Let's remember there is no wearing Doomsday down. There's no getting him on the ropes until he's so worn out he can fight no more. He doesn't stop unless you kill him and it's got to be a new method every time.
There is of course a (slim) possibility that it had never been killed this way before and the story ending with Superman's death and the monster still rampaging might not have had quite the same impact, but if you're going to do it at least write it to make sense!
And so here I am, twenty-something years on from first reading that story and I'm still puzzled. Don't get me wrong, I don't lie awake at night trying to reconcile the contradictory information in my mind, I've never written to DC asking for a full, detailed explanation of what went down, but it has always stuck with me and is (for me) an enduring mystery of the comic book world, right up there with how the Hulk's pants stay on.
And, on a final note, if you ever face down an indestructable killer from another planet, don't battle it to the death in the middle of a populated city...do things the easy way and just throw it into space!
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me and let me know your thoughts. Have I completely missed something? If so, please help me complete my knowledge!