Louise Simonson, Cat Staggs, Superman, The Wake
by Travis Hedge Coke
Twenty-five years after the original Death of Superman storyline, when did the original architects of that classic event, Louise Simonson, teamed with Cat Staggs and a fantastic support team, including Simonson’s old Superman partner, Jon Bogdanove, to revisit, retell, honor and complement both the original storyline and the 2018 animated feature based thereon, in The Death of Superman: The Wake.
A retelling, this twelve-part sequence permits Simonson, as the solitary writer and guiding force, to repurpose how we understand the original storyline, The Death of Superman, and it’s animated adaptation, without worrying about sacrificing or losing those versions. With her cache of artists, she is able to move liminally from the central action narrative of the original comics, concentrating on short character pieces, in building both world and arc distinct from the original comics’ stop the bomb what happens next drive.
The Wake, even before the chapters that play as a wake, is an elegiac sequence, timeless and alive in a way I have not felt with a newer Superman comic, ironically, since Grant Morrison and Rags Morales’ The Second Death of Superman.
Traditionally, in a superhero comic retelling older from superhero comics, the venture is a twinned enterprise, focusing its efforts on distillation and nostalgia. The idea, the mostly unspoken, is that decomplexifying narrative and upping the charm levels will open the general story to a wider in fresh or audience, with turning away I was already familiar with the original version.
Nostalgia relies on mimicking, not the original as it was in context, smooth over memory or received understanding of an audience.
Utilizing one of the original Death of Superman writers, as well as one of the original visual artists, the familiar to the world trademark DC superheroes, Superman (of course), Wonder Woman, Batman, et al, would seem to make the nostalgia wave a sure thing. Louise Simonson does not trade on such a rose-tinted reading, though many of these shorts that make up this sequence, possess the verity are the early 90s Superman era.
Aside from the costume and hairstyle details which bring these comics in line with contemporary DC Comics continuity and prescribed models, the stories in The Wake slot perfectly in between elements of the original Death of Superman crossover.
Visual design elements such as hairstyles and busy lines root this comic in the 21st century, as much as the haircuts and equally busy costumes qualify 1993 in the original Death of Superman. Simonson, Staggs, Laura Braga, Wendy Broome and the others, promote a modern sensibility in their storytelling MO, it makes The Wake feel more contemporary and more representative of the tone and style of the original storyline from which they riff.
There is a purity and clarity in the characterization of Batman, a bar owner, Bibbo, at a depth of life and life story in the handling of Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, even Superman’s pet cephalopod.
In many ways the stories of The Wake, stories that would have been rejected as full-length narratives during the original crossover. They rarely end on cliffhangers. They are not set pieces for a fight scene and denouement. Causally disjointed, are unified in their nature as remembrances, as moments and elegies.
It is in their liminal, emotionally viable, emotionally voluble nature that the stories comprising The Death of Superman: The Wake find their strengths. One of Simonson’s principal strengths as a writer, and elsewhere as an editor, has always been her ability to balance myriad elements towards enhancing a humanness.
The Wake is not structured as a traditional wake, the comic is not simply one mourner after another stepping before a coffin to extol and inspiring somewhat witty tale. There are confessional stories, several first person narratives the only collective audience for which they are told is us.
Metallo, Jimmy Olsen, and Aquaman are not pouring last one out for their homie. Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman’s disembodied ghost are not charmingly in the front row.
Superman’s wake is a living thing told not in a room, held not in the moment, but gems strung on a necklace. And it is a necklace we can all wear.