By the summer of 1992 the comics industry was in a completely frenzy. Image Comics had begun their publishing onslaught with Spawn #1 selling almost 2 million copies. On the back of Image’s success, the entire industry found new life and new opportunities to sell books and make money. In order to catch eyes on the shelves, gimmick covers became big sellers to comic speculators buying multiple copies and hoarding them in closets and safety deposit boxes all over the country. These buyers scooped up every “Collector’s Edition”, foil cover, and artist variant while envisioning the mansions they would buy and the college educations they would fund with their shrewd comic investments. Of course what these “investors” didn’t realize is that the books they were buying would be worthless very soon. It wouldn’t be clear for another couple of years but the damage was done the moment the purchase was complete. Publishers feed the market with variant covers, ALL NEW #1s, poly-bagged books, foil covers, holograms, and various gimmicks of all kinds. It was in the shadow of this exploding market that DC Comics launched what would become the biggest comic book event in history.
I had just come back to comics earlier that summer and it was a gimmick cover that caught my eye at the time. I hadn’t yet become a big buyer but my subscription list was growing on a weekly basis. My local shop had a graduated discount structure so the more I bought the bigger my discount became. This encouraged me to continually add to my weekly subscription. As I earned more money I spent more of at the shop. I wasn’t buying Superman but the news that something big was going to happen to the character started to spread and I immediately added all the Superman titles to my pull-list. During this period, there were four different titles with one continuous story line so the only way to have a complete story was to buy them all. It allowed for creators to tell long stories but it also had the potential to sell four times more books. My subscription instantly grew by four titles as I fell for the upcoming major event.
I added the books early enough to get “Superman: The Man of Steel” # 17 which is the first, partial appearance of Doomsday who would go on to kill Superman. Well, maybe he kills him or maybe they both die of exhaustion or maybe they kill each other at the exact same moment or some other nonsense but yeah, Doomsday is the main bad guy of the story and has since become an important part of the Superman legacy. In the Summer of 1992, however, this character was a complete unknown and the first glimpse of him in this book piqued my interest. Still, I wasn’t exactly excited for the the story, i was just glad I jumped on at the right time. I was caught up in the hype as much as anyone else.
The big issue, Superman # 75, came out on November 18, 1992. What I remember most about this event is the actual day Superman 75 went on sale. The buzz had been building for weeks with local and national news covering the “Death of Superman”. Every newscaster and network was trying to put their own spin on what this would mean for the great American icon. Eventually the entire country knew what was happening and it became a major cultural event. Killing a symbol of America was not taken lightly, well, except all of those other times Superman died but didn’t have a big marketing push behind it but hey, THIS TIME it was for real! In the video below you can see some of the national coverage from major entertainment news outlets like E! News and Entertainment Tonight. Every local news outlet covered it as well, especially if there was a local comic shop in town.
All of this coverage put the book in the public consciousness and a LOT of people that had never bought a comic decided they needed a copy of the death of Superman. Many thought this would be a valuable book in the future and they lined up at shops long before they opened for the day. DC, of course, had printed MILLIONS of the book to satisfy expected demand but many shops sold out almost instantly and many of those that didn’t quickly jacked up the price on every version of the book. I must have been out of school for the Thanksgiving/Christmas break because I remember riding around town all day with a friend and fellow comic book geek stopping at store after store just to see what was going on.
I had already picked up my copy at my favorite store, The Comic Strip. Like every other store they were selling out when I stopped in. I didn’t even get a first edition of the non-bagged version and I wasn’t about to open the black poly-bagged copy which meant I didn’t even get to read the story on the day it was released. I eventually got a 2nd print a week or so later and was able to read the story. There were half a dozen shops in town at the time and we got by all of them before the evening was out. Each store was consistently full of people and almost all of them had never set foot in a comic book store before. We saw prices for the book go from $10 to $25 to $75 to $150 into the evening and stores were staying open late to try and serve the demand. We would make the circuit from store to store and on each stop the advertised price had gone up from our previous visit. I am sure there were people that made a good profit that day. I even considered selling my book to someone but just couldn’t bring myself to let it go. I got caught up in the hype and couldn’t wait until it was worth a few thousand! I should have sold it that evening or the next day when prices got really crazy. Today it is worth about $10.00 if you are lucky. I could have sold my copy for $75-$100 and then bought it back a few weeks later for under $20.00. Opportunity missed I suppose. A few months later I did try and buy up a bunch of copies of the Return of Superman and resell them. That did not turn out as well as I had hoped. The frenzy was long since over by then.
The night ended and over the next few days the mania died and the entire event was eventually forgotten by the general public. Superman came back less than a year later but “The Death of Superman” became an historic even in comic book history for a lot of reasons. It was indicative of a new trend of killing off major characters in big ways. During the same time they broke Batman’s back and while it wasn’t as big of a deal as the Superman event it also got a lot of press. Hal Jordan, Green Lantern, went evil and was dispatched. Aquaman lost his hand. Other characters also saw major revisions to “modernize” them for new audiences. The event also legitimized the gimmick cover trend and it exploded in the months and years after. Every publisher chased the Superman #75 success and the poly-bag is still a big marketing gimmick that comes back every few years. The Superman #75 hysteria also fueled the speculator boom.
The Death of Superman is often considered the beginning of the boom but it also was a signal that the end was coming. The people trying to find good investments in comics eventually realized that this book would never be worth what they hoped. That led them to also begin to understand that no modern book would ever be worth the thousands like “Action Comics” #1 and they began to dump collections for pennies on what they paid. Shops who hoarded “key books” found their investment worth nothing and with no more speculators buying up their stock they struggled to survive. It wouldn’t be long until all of these customers left the market and shops that sprung up like weeds during the early 90s started to close. There is a good series on the boom and bust at Comicbooked.com if you are interested in further exploring what happened in the wake of “Superman” #75.
As the industry entered collapse, my interest also waned. My store moved locations and then sold to the local competitor which I kind of despised. Predictably, they started shorting customers on books and the certainly didn’t do anything to keep me as a customer. I closed my account in 1996 and the store itself closed sometime after that. I would be gone for about a decade. I still have most of my collection acquired during the 90s. I have sold some stuff including all Marvel books and much of the Image books I purchased during that time but the majority of it is still there, in the closet, waiting to be read again. Shown below are my copies of Superman #75. The black bag edition is still unopened but I have the 2nd print of the standard edition that I can revisit as needed. Maybe one day I will sit down with my grandchildren and open the book like some kind of time capsule. That might be fun or maybe one day my family will sell the entire collection and have a nice dinner after I die. Either way it was a fun time and I have great memories of the day Superman died.