SPOILERS BELOW READ AT YOUR OWN RISK
There was a time when all I read every Superman comics. I made sure never to miss an issue of Adventures of Superman, Action Comics, Man of Steel, and Superman. The 1990’s Death of Superman storyline hit about the time that I was just starting to collect comics, and to this day, that storyline and the ones that proceeded it (Funeral for a Friend, and Reign of the Supermen) are my all-time favorite Superman stories. For some reason, other Superman stories seem to pale in comparison.
I tried to give the New 52 Superman a shot but for some odd reason Grant Morrison’s Action Comics didn’t do it for me – and I usually dig Grant Morrison’s stuff. I guess I just couldn’t get past the S-shield t-shirt and jeans.
I also gave the New 52 comic titled “Superman” a peek, but the stories found in there were not up my alley. Then the DCYOU re-imagining of Superman as a mostly depowered version of his former self came along. The idea seemed original and fresh, but unfortunately the stories were not as solicited, and Superman (depowered, mind you) was doing a lot of super things.
I haven’t read a New 52 Superman comic since approximately July 2015, but when I heard that in Superman #52 Superman was going to die, I had to pick it up. Going into the issue cold was a bit tough, but enough was explained to help you understand the conflict Superman was going through. From what I could tell, a guy named Denny Swan was hit by a bolt of “sentient energy” and the energy, infused with a mutated copy of Superman’s genome, caused Swan to believe that he is actually Superman.
Remember the blue lightning bolt Superman – the Superman that looked like he was ready to party hard at Cochella?
Well, Swan looks like that – only he’s orange and yellow and ready to explode.
Yep, he definitely has the villain of Superman IV look going on. So yeah…that’s cool.
Supes decides to take Swan into outer space so that when Swan blows up, or decides to bring disco back, humanity will be spared. As Supes is taking Swan into outer space another Superman dressed in black arrives to help him.
The Superman dressed in black is the Superman from the universe where Superman died at the hands of Doomsday (the 90’s storyline I referred to earlier). The Superman dressed more traditionally is the Superman from the New 52 universe. I’m not exactly sure how two Supermen are in the New 52 universe – I believe it has something to do with last summer’s DC event called Convergence – but I could be wrong. Regardless, New 52 Superman does not recognize who “black” Superman is but accepts his help for a moment before punching “black” Superman back to earth to protect him from Swan who is about to explode. As he does that he says something like, “Earth is going to need you.” From what I could tell from their interaction, they just met because New 52 Superman asked “black” Superman who he is. Why New 52 Superman would bestow the protection of Earth to a guy he just met is reaching in storytelling a bit, IMO, but whatever.
Swan explodes and the New 52 Superman absorbs all of the energy from the blast. Why Superman decided to absorb a blast in outer space is hard to tell and never explained. It wasn’t like he was protecting anyone. That aside, you get what writer Peter Tomasi was going for – a situation where Superman had to sacrifice himself to save humanity.
Absorbing all the energy that he did, New 52 Superman’s body ends up exploding into a pile of dust and being pronounced dead by Batman (no crap dude, Supes is a pile of ashes).
Remember I’m sympathetic to the 90’s Death of Superman storyline, that aside though, if we compare just the issues where Supes died, Superman #75 wins by a landslide, and here’s why – heart. All throughout issue #75 your heartstrings were being pulled as you saw Superman battling Doomsday through the eyes of his parents, friends, and lover. Not only that, but the art was crafted in such a way that it choked you up.
Below is the final death scene of Superman in Superman #75 printed in 1993.
Below is the final death scene of Superman in Superman #52 printed in 2016.
Again, I’m partial to the 90’s storyline, but I think you can see the difference. Consume. Review. Repeat. gives Superman #52 six out of 10 piles of ashes.