Thursday night I attended a sneak preview of “The Avengers: Endgame,” the apparent culmination of over ten years of Marvel Comics movies that started with 2008’s “Iron Man,” and picks up where the relatively bleak cliffhanger of last year’s “The Avengers: Infinity War” left off.
If everything I just mentioned in that paragraph is making your head hurt, then I don’t blame you. You’re probably what they call a “grown-up.” Even now I pause to reflect that here I am, a grown man, still spending brainpower on virtually the same comic book crudola I was obsessing over when I was a pre-teen, having my parents drop me off every Saturday at the oft-written about (by me anyway) and still-missed Cosmic Blue Comics, formerly of Broadway Avenue, formerly the Book Exchange and subsequently now just a vacant lot. Alright, it’s technically a green space with a band shell, but still…you can’t pick up that week’s items from your “pull list” at a bandshell.
And with that I bring to you, from the Sept. 23, 1992, Journal Gazette, this little piece of local journalistic history from staff writer Debbie Carlson commemorating the last moment that comic books themselves, the source material that all these movies sprang from, mattered on a national scale: the phenomenon known as “The Death of Superman.” That accompanying picture of the inside of Cosmic Blue Comics so captures the experience of actually being a comic book dweeb of the ‘90s that I’d like to crawl inside of it Twilight Zone-style and spend the rest of my days there. Oh, and there’s a quote from a guy I went to high school with.
For those of you who weren’t there, either because of your age or because you were one of those cool kids hanging out at Wranglers Roast Beef or surreptitiously sneaking cigs from the 500 Platolene, then I’ll give you the short version. And by “short” version, I mean the opposite of what I did the time Dr. Kory over in the English department at EIU trusted me, as one of the grad students, to give a “brief” presentation to the class about the 1987 graphic novel “Watchmen.” So excited was I to talk with authority about something that I actually knew something about that I prattled on for roughly 30 straight minutes, practically did voices while walking everyone through a “scene” on the overhead projector, and admitted to them that I once read the entire thing to myself out loud just to time how long it would take to put the entire text into a movie. I remember watching one of my friends slowly hide behind her hands at that last bit.
So -- ahem -- sometime around the early ‘90s, the comic book industry was in a bit of a funk because hey, you loved them when you were a kid, then you discovered girls and/or cars and then you moved on, leaving your younger brother to pick up all your old comic books and go from there, except all those younger brothers were suddenly too busy playing Nintendo to care. The solution? Why not refocus the industry into being a marketplace for “collectors”? Why let all those preppy-kids passing the Beckett’s Sports Card Price Guide around the back of the school bus have all the fun?
And that brings us to poor old, always-square Superman, who in the early ‘90s couldn’t have been any more square than he already was, despite DC publishing a whopping four monthly titles featuring the guy. According to comic book urban legend, while at a long brainstorming session about how to perk up Superman sales, one of the frustrated writers jokingly said, “I don’t know. Why don’t we just kill him already?” At which point everyone laughed before suddenly, light bulbs went off.
When the “outside” media picked up the story that Superman was going to “die,” boom! It was off to the races as comic book shops filled with folks who hadn’t picked up a comic book in decades and wanted bagged collector copies of the issue where Superman met his demise at the hands of a weirdly designed Kryptonian monster called “Doomsday.” You even got a black armband to wear to show your coworkers or any potential dating partners that you were in mourning. But that’s if you dared to open the bag the comic came in.
If you’re wondering if I ever opened that bag, the answer is no. They were sold out by the time I got there. The damage was done though. I had caught the comic book bug again and thus proceeded to spend the next two or three years spending every Saturday at Cosmic Blue. And hey, the next year, they had plenty of copies of the big “Bloodlines” summer crossover where the DC Universe was invaded by alien parasites that looked like a cross between dinosaurs and giant water bears. I’m still waiting for that movie to come out.
Of course, it’s ridiculous to think that there would be no more Superman. But we all fell for it. And DC played into the unexpected hype by announcing that once the funeral was over they were terminating the publication of all their Superman titles. Even the caption in the article photo notes this. This was, according to them, the “end.” And it worked.
Sort of like how, as the end credits were rolling at “Endgame,” I looked over to find a couple of my friends, who by all accounts could be called well-adjusted parental types with kids, mortgages and all that grownup stuff, were dabbing tears out of their eyes.
I did my best to not laugh in their faces. I even reassured one of them who was taking it real hard that as a comic book reader I’ve seen virtually all these characters go through all this and worse at least a hundred times over. But when I suggested that she could always try reading the comic books, the reproachful look on her face screamed, “Why would I ever want to do anything as dorky as read a comic book?”
Comic executives of America, take note please.