Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Death and Life of Superman

Title: The Death and Life of Superman
Author: Roger Stern
Published: 1993

We're all aware that DC Comics killed Superman back in the early 90s, right? In fact, it wasn't that long ago that I wrote about the original comic book storyline. Well, this book is a pretty exhaustive novelization of that comic book storyline.

And when I say exhaustive, I mean exhaustive. The thing with comic books is that the stories are told to build upon years of history and storytelling. What Roger Stern attempts to do with this novel is make the "Death of Superman" story accessible to any and all possible readers.

In a way, this is good. If someone who had never picked up a Superman comic book in their lives decided to read this book, they would have all the information they could possibly need in order to understand how Superman could be beaten to death by the monster called Doomsday. They would have the information necessary to understand who Lex Luthor II was; who Supergirl was; who the Eradicator, the Man of Steel, the Cyborg-Superman, and Superboy all were. It's complicated.

In a way, it's bad as well. It's not just complicated. It's super-complicated. Comic books are filled with back story and plot threads that can stretch back for years, even decades in some cases. Considering all the information Stern had to condense into one book, he did a pretty good job. But it was a lot of information.

This book originally came out when I was 13 years old. I know that's when I bought it. And I'm fairly certain I read it all the way through way back when. But this is not a book for children. It isn't that it contains anything that's solely meant for a mature audience. It's just so dense, I'm not sure that my 13-year-old self would have really enjoyed or fully comprehended all that I read. To be honest, I had a difficult time choking through it at the age of 30. And I'm about as big a Superman fan as you can find.

For me, "The Death of Superman" storyline was always an awesome piece of storytelling. And the stories that followed it, "Funeral for a Friend" and "Reign of the Supermen," were equally exciting. But they just don't translate well in novel format. Part of the excitement of reading the comics as a kid was seeing all the artwork that would practically jump off the pages. I've got a pretty good imagination, but after seeing it in one medium, imagining it based on words alone is entirely different.

It wasn't a bad read. But it's not something I'll be picking up a third time to read again. Well, maybe again in another 18 years.

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