THE COMIC COMPENDIUM: Superman: The Death of Clark Kent (1995)

Before watching The Death of Superman Lives, how about a classic comic? The Last Son of Krypton suffers some alter-ego concerns in this famous DC Comics run. 

Who made it?: Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson, Karl Kesel, David Michelinie, Roger Stern (Writers), Stuart Immonen, Dan Jurgens, Jon Bogdanove, Jackson Guice, Tom Grummett, Gil Kane (Artists), DC Comics (Publisher).

Who’s in it?: Superman, Conduit, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lex Luthor, Perry White.

Original run: Adventures of Superman #523-525, Action Comics #709-711, Superman #99-102, Superman: The Man of Steel, Superman: The Man of Tomorrow #1.

Published: 1995.

Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Superman is almost certainly the most iconic superhero in the world, although in the past ten years he has lost some popularity due to characters like Spider-Man, Batman and even super teams such as the X-Men and The Avengers snatching the limelight. While it got a lot wrong, the dreaded Superman Returns also asked a pertinent question of comic book fans: is the character still relevant? The Kryptonian represents American ideals from the 1940s, despite being an alien, and there seems to be little love left for such an altruistic character in these bleak days of tragedy and terrorism. While Superman is hardly the most sophisticated character, there should always be room for a little light in the darkness.

Since the New 52 reboot, Batman now regularly outsells Superman’s Action Comics. What has happened to Superman to retract the popularity he once had? You regularly see his logo on t-shirts, lunch boxes and assorted merchandise paraphernalia, but it appears that his comics have just become a side-line for DC, as if it’s not that important for Superman “the brand” to have a popular comic any more. But it really is.

The Death of Clark Kent doesn’t have quite the same pull as The Death of Superman, but it’s certain to get people’s attention, as the name Clark Kent is just as famous as the name Superman. For the adversary here, however, finding out his identity is the ultimate attack. That all-important knowledge that evaded Lex Luthor all those years could be enough to destroy him from the inside out. And this is exactly what chief rogue Conduit does. Born on the same night that Kal-El fell to Earth in his rocket, his proximity to the landing caused Kenny Braverman to suffer from radiation poisoning, which led to his development of Kryptonite-based energy manipulation, which allowed him to harness and fire energy. A classmate of Kent, he grows intensely envious and jealous of Clark who beats him at all sports, causing him to eventually become a super-villain. After somehow deducing that Kent and Superman are one and the same, he attacks his family and friends. Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Perry White and Jonathan and Martha Kent are all targeted by Conduit and his henchmen, a group known as “Pipeline.” When Superman believes those closest to him have died, he decides to give up being both Clark Kent and the Man of Steel, as it is too dangerous for those around him.

Of course, this lasts around five minutes. Literally. He announces he will give up, is attacked, discovers his parents are alive and becomes Superman again. He tries to stop being Clark again later, but going out for a coffee dressed as Superman stops that, so he decides to be Kent so he can get some privacy. Seriously, despite the fact that this could cause people to die, he wants to be able to have a cup of coffee without being stared at.

Conduit also magically has millions if not billions of dollars to spend on high-tech tanks, jets, weaponry, super-powered replicas of himself, unlimited minions, bases, and a replica of his hometown populated by robot versions of the people who live there. They cheer him on as he fights Superman to the death. His minions are completely incapable of killing two old people, a journalist, and a couple who have the common sense of a mouse who thinks, “ooh, that cheese looks nice, I’ll just walk over this weird metal thing to grab it.”

Is this seriously how DC wrote comics back in the 90s? Did they believe that the people who read them have absolutely no sense? I know there’s no point taking comics too seriously (although I do, a lot), but they should have some form of imagination and internal logic. Another thing that never makes me super happy is the use of multiple writers, as this can cause the story to feel disjointed. Although, seeing as The Death of Clark Kent storyline was spread over the four Superman titles it’s understandable. The problem, however, is that Simonson, Jurgens, Kesel, and Michelinie appear to jump from issue to issue (with an appearance from Roger Sten at the end), intersecting the main story with obscure plot points which would mean something if you’d read every previous issue. Which is fair enough, apart from the fact that they dump them in at random, with no thought for what is happening around it. It’s like they’ve been told the story they have to write for their own issues, but were given only a small idea about what has happened in the others. This completely schizophrenic writing is also filled with utterly random quips and awful “woah is me” monologues, making what’s an already fairly boring storyline even worse.

The art, due to the multiple titles, is drawn by multiple artists but apart from the occasional change in character design, most notably Lois Lane, it all looks exactly the same. This especially disappoints me with Stuart Immonen, who went on to draw Ultimate Spider-Man and the Fear Itself mini-series for Marvel. There’s no creativity with the art, and I see this as a major problem for almost every Superman comic from the 80s until the early noughties, with every issue looking basically the same with few exceptions.

The Death of Clark Kent is a prime example of why Superman is now a brand in decline. The comics pull you in with flashy covers and fancy titles, but when you get into it there’s absolutely nothing worth reading, leaving you with nothing but disappointment.

Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? DC killed him with shitty comics more effectively than Doomsday ever did. Although, there just might be a film to turn the tide…

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