Trading Card Set of the Week – Doomsday: The Death of Superman (1992, SkyBox)
There was always a ghoulish element to DC’s best-sellingest of best-selling arcs, “The Death of Superman.” A somewhat craven ploy to boost sales and garner mainstream media attention, it certainly delivered on both those counts, and big-time — the number of black-bagged unopened comics you still find in bins is a testament to that. But the impulse to drench a beloved American icon in his own blood, and plaster images of his shattered, lifeless body all over GOTTA BUY THIS marketing? Isn’t there a snuff video quality to that, a Faces of Death perversion in pimping the loss of life (fictional, granted) in such a way, knowing months in advance that big blue is going to bite it?
Maybe, maybe not. And to be sure, comic book deaths are the most well-worn of tropes, sometimes even handled with hints of elegance. But when you add trading cards to the macabre circus, the scales tilt a bit more towards “maybe.”
Befitting their profit-motive impetus, the Doomsday: The Death of Superman cards are the very definition of a rush job, hurried to store shelves to capitalize on the sanguinary bestseller. Produced by corporate partner SkyBox (which had inherited the Impel clientele when that company joined its fold), the base set simply reproduces art from the four Superman titles that carried the Doomsday storyline, as well as the brief sojourn into the Justice League book. (Remember when Doomsday slammed Booster Gold’s head in a car door? Fun!)
Distributed in boxes of 36 packs, eight cards per, there were 100 cards in the base set: 90 cards retracing the Doomsday rampage, a checklist, and nine with covers for the “Funeral for a Friend” epilogue with their backs pieces of a puzzle of the poster included with the polybagged Superman #75. (Two asides about that poster: 1) Who invited Darkseid to the funeral, and 2) J’onn J’onzz can duplicate himself? Because he’s in there twice.) The borders were a black and gray mishmash, which screams “we didn’t really put a lot of thought into this”:
The bare bones explanatory text on the back offers even less. There are only so many ways that you can embellish repeated fistfights, after all.
If there’s a saving grace, it’s the chase cards — which are neither numerous nor great, but have a certain charm, mainly thanks to their modest originality. There are the two bleeding “S” cards, which come together to form the grisly Superman shield (the other sides are halves of the tombstone, also on the promo card above):
There are also four Spectra-Etch cards, the en vogue chase style of this era. They depict yet more scenes of the battle and the mourning, with all four done by the art teams from the different Superman books of the era. The third, from Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding, shows a spectral Man of Steel and the landmarks of the Metropolis skyline: the Daily Planet, Galaxy Broadcasting and a somewhat phallic LexCorp:
Just like the Doomsday-Superman deathmatch had sequels, so did this set. For the Reign of the Superman and the return of the real thing, Skybox pumped out a similar product, though it would have less allure than its Death predecessor as the years went by. Unopened Doomsday boxes and complete sets with all the chase fixings fetch more than other mass-produced products from DC, like the two Batman-less Cosmic sets. They’re neither all that attractive or all that impressive content-wise, but thanks to their association with the biggest publishing event the comic book industry ever saw, they pick up collectability almost by osmosis. Superman probably deserved a better “end” than he received, and he probably deserved a better bunch of cards to commemorate it, but this is what he got. And what we got too.