23 YEARS AGO TODAY…

Superman #75 was published.

I see posts on this date every year asking a simple question.  Where were you on November 18, 1992?  In a perfect world I would have this grand story of how I counted the minutes until school got out so I could get to the comic shop.  Maybe there would be a mishap or two along the way to sweeten the story.  A flat tire.  A run in with the police.  An alien invasion.  Something to take what happened from a simple anecdote to a quirky independent film.

None of that happened.

The truth is I really don’t remember much about November 18th, 1992 and I wouldn’t get my copy of the comic where Superman died until a few days later, which is the opposite of a perfect story.

Why the wait?

Well, there are several answers to that question.  For one thing despite being sixteen years old and a junior in high school I did not yet have my drivers license so I was still dependent on the kindness of family and friends to get me to the comic shop.  Another reason is that while I had been reading and collecting the Superman books since 1987 I was not at the point where I was going to the shop on a weekly basis.  Sometimes a month would go by before I would get my books.  This did not diminish my love for them or this era.  In fact it made getting those comics even more special because it was more of an event than an errand.

The main reason behind me not getting my copy of Superman #75 on the day it came out was theatrical in nature.  That fall I was in the cast of the Senior Class Play at Emmaus High School because I was into that sort of thing.  We were putting on a production of The Pink Panther Strikes Again and while I did not have one of the main roles I was one of the secondary characters with a fair bit of stage time.  The week Superman died we were preparing for the show to finally go on so if I had to guess I would say we were running through another dress rehearsal that Wednesday as Thursday was opening night.  I was so distracted by this that I did not realize that the comic had come out until that Saturday morning when I saw something about it in the newspaper.

This is the exact article I clipped out of the Morning Call (Allentown, PA’s biggest newspaper) that morning.  It was a bit exciting and nerve wracking because I realized Superman #75 was out and I didn’t have my copy.  Luckily (or maybe unluckily) I didn’t have a whole lot of time to dwell on this fact as the final performance that night distracted me from my lack of a dead Superman.  It wasn’t until the cast party after the curtain went down that I was once again reminded that the Man of Steel had passed on and joined the choir invisible.  Someone (I have no idea who) put on Saturday Night Live and I walked in just in time to see this skit.

I thought the skit was funny back then and to be honest I still think it’s funny today.  The Chris Farley Hulk bit was great and I particularly like Al Franken playing Lex Luthor.  My most vivid memory of watching this at the party was the moment where Batman doesn’t recognize Black Lightning.  Without thinking I blurted out, “That doesn’t make any sense.  Black Lightning and Batman were in the Outsiders together.  He should totally recognize him.”

I won’t say a hush fell over the room because that didn’t happen.  I won’t say I was roundly mocked for being a nerd because that didn’t happen.  I was in a room full of theater/band/chorus people and we were well aware of our glass houses.  I will say there were some strange looks and for one of the first times in my life I realized I was the only comic geek in the room.

So at this point the story should have been that I got home on Sunday and told one of my parents that I needed a ride to the comic shop.  There would be some begging and pleading and finally my Dad would have relented because he was like that.  I would have gotten the issue and read it in my room, maybe with my tape of the Superman score playing in the background.

Somewhere a dog would have barked.  It’s that vivid in my head.

Well, that didn’t happen.

I got home that morning around eight or nine and quickly fell asleep as the adrenaline of doing a show and being at an all night party finally wore off.  Later that afternoon I woke up and felt like crap.  I had a nasty head cold that somehow skipped all the normal preamble of the itchy throat and the stuffy head and the inevitable invasion of my chest with the coughing and the wheezing and all that.  This cold decided to hit me all at once.

I didn’t get sick often but man I was down for the count that day.

I was so sick that I actually stayed home the next day, which is saying something because I wasn’t absent all that often.  By early afternoon I was up and around and feeling better when when it hit me.

I still didn’t have my copy of Superman #75.

Suddenly I began to worry.  Were they sold out?  Would I get my copy?  Would I have to wait even longer?  Would I have to go to a bunch of stores to find it?

Then it hit me.

I had a hold box at the comic shop.

In 1992 my home base for buying comics was The Comic Vault.  I had been going there since they opened in the summer of 1990 because of all the shops in the Lehigh Valley they were the closest to my house.  They were also right across from one of the main movie theaters in the area so it was convenient to go there before or after catching a film.  It was the first shop where I had a hold box or subscription service or whatever your shop calls them and while stocks would rise and fall, utilities and transportation services would collapse and the X-Men titles would be no damn good the Superman titles were always on my list.

“Remember,” my father was fond of saying.  “Always have the Superman titles on your pull list.”

There was hope.  I called the shop and asked if they had held my copy of Superman #75.  I was informed that my copy was there as were the issues leading up to the big moment.

And suddenly life was a lot like this.

My mom happened to be off from work that day so I asked her if she would run me to the comic shop to get the death of Superman.  I’m not sure how I asked her but I am fairly certain that the words “death of Superman” were in my probably incoherent ramblings.  My parents were always enablers when it came to my comic addiction.  They didn’t like it and I know they didn’t understand it but I was into it and that was enough for them.  That night Mom drove me to the Comic Vault and even lent me the money to buy all of the issues when I came up a little short.

I hope I never forget that moment.  That was the last time my mother drove me to the comic shop.  A little over a year later she would pass away from breast cancer so the memory of getting my copy of Superman #75 will always have that slight twinge of sadness to it.  She didn’t have to lend me the money but she knew this was important.

It meant a lot to me then and it still means the world to me now.

We got home and I went upstairs and read the whole Doomsday story in one sitting.  I was so intent that a lot of the little details, such as the number of panels per page shrinking from four to three to two to one as the story went on, escaped me.  It’s weird to think about it now but getting to that final moment was the goal.  I needed to see how Superman died.  That’s so strange.  Why would you want to see how your favorite character met his maker?  I can’t quite explain it but as I carefully tore into the sealed bag I was intent on witnessing Superman’s final moments.

After I finished Superman #75 I had this overwhelming feeling of sadness.  I didn’t cry but there was a finality that hung in the air for some time before I snapped out of it, gathered my comics together and put them in my room.

The next day I wore the black armband that came with the comic.  That lasted until second period.  I found a rather unflattering drawing of me wearing the band and quietly took it off.  Part of me will always feel that I should have kept it on.  I mean I know it was a tad silly but at the same time it was a big deal to me.  I should have been able to stand up to the mockery of my classmates but that didn’t happen.

Not that the day was full of adolescent humiliation.  I was far from the only kid in school that was into comic books.  We didn’t hang out or anything because I was into the Superman books and they were into the X-Men and Spider-Man titles and by November of 1992 the few Image books that had come out by then.  They were the cool kids.  I was the geek that read Superman, a character that was roundly mocked and despised but now he was dead and the issue he died in was a big deal.  A few of them came up to me that day and asked if I had gotten my copy of Superman #75.  I told them yes.  In fact it was just waiting for me at the store.  I had been reading the books for five years.  Comic Vault had been holding them for me for the past two years.  Of course I got my copy.

And suddenly for the first time in my comic collecting life I was ahead of the curve.  I went from being the guy that took a fair amount of crap for reading Superman to being the the guy that didn’t have to struggle to get the hot comic that everyone wanted.

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t take such glee in that smug feeling of satisfaction.  Another part of me tells that part where to stick it because sometimes you have to take your victories where you can get them.

The next year was pretty hectic but I was still following the Superman titles.  I remember that weird feeling after reading Superman #77 when I realized that there wasn’t going to be another Superman book coming out the next week.  I remember hearing about Adventures of Superman #500 and the amusing circumstances behind me getting my first copy.  I remember buying most of Reign of the Supermen all at once because my summer was consumed with a theater workshop.

And that is my biggest takeaway from the entire Death and Return of Superman saga.  The stories were exciting.  The books were well written with fantastic artwork.  Superman was getting is due for the first time in years.  All of that was important but above and beyond anything else are the memories I have of that time period.  All of those little moments that stick out in my mind.  Where I was when I bought certain issues.  Changing comic shops right at the beginning of Reign.  The day I got my copy of Superman #82.

It was such a great time and so much fun.

Superman #75 itself is an interesting contradiction.  On one hand it is an action packed issue that doesn’t work as well without reading the previous six installments of the Doomsday storyline.  On the other hand Dan Jurgens writes these beautiful moments where we realize how sad it is that Superman has died.  Showing the Kents right there at the end still gets me to this day and those final pages of Clark dying in Lois’ arms are emotional.  I still get that feeling I got back in 1992 when I reached the end of the issue and my favorite character was, for the moment, dead.  Rationally I knew he was coming back.  I didn’t know how and at that moment I didn’t care.  I was wrapped up in the myriad of emotions that his death made me feel and that’s powerful.

That’s why I buy every new edition of the trade paperbacks and hardcovers.

It’s why I have a sealed bagged edition, an open bagged edition, the Millennium Edition and all four printings of the newsstand edition.

Yes part of that is the collector in me but it’s also important that I have every version of the story that I can get my hands on and that I support the trade paperbacks and the omnibuses because if those keep selling DC will keep reprinting them and the story stays fresh and new for the current generation.  I feel bad for the newer readers because certain things like Lex Luthor the Second and Supergirl probably make little to no sense to those that aren’t familiar with their backgrounds but the heart of the story still shines through.

I don’t remember where I was on November 18, 1992.

I do remember the first time I read this issue and how I got my copy.

And with luck I always will.

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