The city and world gather to bury their hero in Superman: The Man of Steel #20.
Superman: The Man of Steel #20
Triangle Number: 1993 – 5
Writer: Louise Simonson
Penciler: Jon Bogdanove
Inker: Dennis Janke
Colorist: Glenn Whitmore
Letterer: Bill Oakley
One thing that all of the cuts to the original omnibus do is remove almost everything but the bits that focus directly on Lois Lane and the Kents. Looking at the credits of the collected edition, it was edited by Bob Harras and Peter Hamboussi. Together, they made the decision that no other storylines in this arc mattered enough to get collected in the omnibus.
One storyline that got completely gutted from that collection was the Lex Luthor II storyline. Scenes that were cut from Action Comics established both that he was the one funding a massive funeral and tomb for the deceased hero, while also establishing just how angry he was that it wasn’t his hand that killed Superman in the first place. Man of Steel opens with that plot, starting with some construction workers talking about the never-ending reconstruction of the city. It’s a great little gag, and it makes you think about how that has to be an absolutely booming industry in any superhero city.
Meanwhile, Luthor himself is busy wrangling all the details to the massive funeral. But what this issue and the previous one make clear are that he’s not doing this to honor Superman — he’s doing this so that he looks good. No part of that is more evident than when he determines who gets to be there. Only world leaders get to attend Superman’s funeral, because those are the only people Lex cares about impressing.
One heartbreaking ramification of that is that Jonathon and Martha won’t be able to be there when their son is put to rest. It is the unforeseen consequence of a dual life meant to keep them safe from his enemies, but now in a time of grief, it means that nobody can actually know why they’re grieving. Since they’re unable to be at the funeral, they have their own smaller burial on the farm. They can’t bury the body of the boy they raised, so they do what they can, and bury remnants of his childhood, including Ma Kent’s infamous “disasters being averted” scrapbook. It’s a quiet and heartfelt scene and so immensely sad, it runs in contrast to everything else that happens in the issue.
One of the few subplots that does make it through to all the collected editions is that of Jimmy Olsen’s immense feeling of survivor’s guilt. His photographs of that fateful battle are the best of his career, but they came at such an immense cost. His entire arc throughout this chapter is about dealing with that guilt, that feeling of profiting off of tragedy. At the funeral, he’s accosted by Rex Leech (he’ll be a bigger deal later) and saved by his “pal” Robin (you still owe Jimmy a new car, trust-fund).
The rest of the issue is intact in the omnibus with two exceptions, both of which are more understandable than most of the other cuts that get made. The first is a scene shift to space where Lobo finds out about Superman’s death. Even as a kid, that page felt a little superfluous, but it was still interesting to see that the news affected the entire universe, not just Earth. The other scene that is cut is Batman stopping a suicide bomber (modeled on Action Comics inker Denis Rodier). Which again, easy cut to make, doesn’t impact the actual story of the funeral at all.
Before talking about the main threads that run through the funeral, I want to touch on a single page of subplot that occurs as the procession passes by the children’s home. This is our moment to check in on Keith, as we tend to do in issues of Man of Steel. More importantly, this little scene touches back on Man of Steel #16’s domestic abuse plot. As Teddy gets abused by his older brother, Keith takes a page out of Superman’s playbook and provides warmth and comfort for the younger boy, removing him from the situation and letting him hold Tiger. It’s a really sweet scene that connects to long-running Man of Steel threads.
On to the main plot of the issue, Lois is still struggling with her grief, still keeping everything bottled in, because she has to show that façade of Clark still possibly being out there, somewhere, alive. She can’t bring herself to call Jon and Martha, because that will somehow make it all real in a way that it isn’t. She declines Perry’s offer to take his place at the actual burial too, for the same reason. It’s not until she’s watching the funeral procession for the man she loved that she allows herself to actually grieve.
At the funeral itself are thousands of people watching the procession, and eagle-eyed fans are able to identify members of the Superman creative teams among those in attendance. This includes Roger Stern, who is hawking “Death of Superman” merchandise. Bibbo takes offense to this, but again, like Keith, he takes a page out of Superman’s book and buys all the merchandise, and offers the man a job instead of taking his anger out on him. With the masses of people in attendance and the restrictions on who could actually be there to witness the burial, things happen about how you’d expect with basically a riot breaking out of people trying to get closer to pay their respects.
In one last note about the funeral itself, in attendance were Bill and Hilary Clinton. Man of Steel #20 was published on December 15, 1992; just a month and 12 days after the election. That is some incredible turnaround time on that page, and it makes me wonder if there’s another version of it out there somewhere.
The issue ends with Lois finally breaking down and calling the Kents, and them immediately realizing that what they all need is each other. This is grief that they have to share because they only have each other to share it with.
Miss any previous entries in The Never-Ending Battle? The early entries can be found at Comfort Food Comics, while more recent ones can be found here at The Beat.