Armagideon Time

I was cleaning out the mess of “out of sight, sale out of mind” junk I’d thrown in the bottom cabinet of my entertainment center a while back. Wrapped up in the tangle of busted joypads and old cassette tapes was the mourner’s armband which came packed as a “collectable” extra in the 1993 Death of Superman special.

It belonged to my little brother, whose Marvel fandom was momentarily overridden by morbid curiosity and the blinding hypestorm which surrounded that event. (It wasn’t enough to make him actually wear the armband to high school on the appropriate day, though he had a more suggestible pal who did.)

As much as DC sidestepped the worst excess of the Chromium Age, there’s no incident that cuts to the sclerotic heart of that era in my mind as the publisher’s decision to kill off and resurrect the Man of Steel. Between the cultivation of mainstream media publicity, the resulting rush to speculative purchases, and the vastly diminished returns it left in its wake, it’s a depressing little snapshot of the moment when intoxication passed into desperation.

It also didn’t help that the associated comics were overwrought and undercooked drek assembled to fulfill a laughable (and obviously ephemeral) publicity stunt.

The climax — in which Superman and the rejected mascot of some third-rate thrash metal band pummeled the shit out of each other until both keeled over from embarrassment — was limp enough, but the extended epilogue-slash-return-to-the-status-quo was downright tragic in its assumptions that passing hype abetted by a slow news week would translate into a lasting spike in sales.

Four potential “replacement Supermen” tooled around for a few months in complex and tiring dance of overlapping plotlines which tried to distract from the foregone conclusion of the real deal’s resurrection.

It would have been bad form to return the Man of Tomorrow to his pre-death status quo without making some token gesture which acknowledged the trauma of that experience. You don’t simply off a character who is not just a company flagship, but also a cultural symbol for superheroes in general, without doing something to recognize the gravity of event, right?

So how was post-rebirth Superman differentiated from his previous incarnation?

By the addition of a Supermullet, of course.

The comics industry’s ill-advised appropriation of passing fashion trends is nothing new (see Mike Grell’s Phantom Girl or any given Archie issue), but Superman’s new Gretzkysian mane had the double misfortune of falling under another longstanding funnybook trope — namely, the extremely after-the-fact adoption of said trends.

Tony Stark’s attempts at John Oates cosplay and the Beyonder’s white boy Jheri curls may have been laughable, but they did reflect the prevailing popcultural zeitgeist. By the time Superman’s post-demise ‘do made its debut, the mullet had receded from its period of mass acceptance and lingered only within its traditional pro wrestler/lesbian/”new country” singer demographic strongholds.

Maybe it’s just me, but Superman’s looks should evoke “truth, justice, and the American way,” not “Drakkar Noir, an IROC-Z with a dented left quarter panel, and getting cornered in Sears Auto Zone lobby by a one-sided discussion about Joe Satriani’s latest album.”

The Supermullet turned out to be astonishingly resilient, surviving for nearly three excruciating years before abruptly vanishing during the Superman Red/Blue arc.

Though Superman’s iconic design has undergone some fairly ludicrous (and unnecessary) changes over the past two decades, none have managed to evoke the mephitic echoes of that strange and horrible era where the only things separating the Man of Steel from Kenny G were a saxophone and a Todd Terry remix. For that reason alone, the Last Ape Drape of Krypton deserves a place in the cut-rate salon of Nobody’s Favorites.

16 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Under a redneck sun”

  1. asifandwhen

    Man, I think I discovered DC comics at *exactly* the wrong time, as this hit at an incredibly impressionable age and is pretty much how I will always imagine Superman looking.

  2. sallyp

    As usual, Hitman had the best response to the whole thing.

  3. Brad Curran

    I started reading Superman around the same time (previously, my DC interest and had solely been Batman and the Flash), but I’m not nostalgic about the mullet. I do still really like the Kessel/Grummet Superboy, but that’s about it.

  4. Zeno

    I remember listening at the time to a coworker’s impassioned defense of the Supermullet about how it was a good move because it made the Man of Steel appear more “godlike”. This, of course was coming from a fellow sporting that Jason Newsted-circa-1992 coif (or, as I think of it today, the “proto-Skrillex”).

  5. LCB

    Oh man, Death of Superman. Weird times, man. Weird times. Even after the 90s mess.
    Back around 2003 a comic shop I used to frequent almost had to call mall security. Some balding guy in his fifties came in one day with a longbox and started pleading and then yelling at the clerks behind the counter that “You’ve go to take them back! YOU’VE GOT TO!” He slammed the box down on the counter and started screaming to everybody else in the store that the place was run by “A–holes!” and he wanted his “MONEY BACK RIGHT NOW YOU B—–! His face had turned red and he was kicking the counter, until the manager picked up the phone and started calling the mall cops, at which point the guy grabbed his box and ran out.
    I knew one of the clerks quite well and he told me the story behind that. A few weeks before hand, this guy had come right in and demanded to know if they had any copies of the Death of Superman comic, because he wanted to buy all of them. The manager was glad to sell them because they’d just been sitting on a back shelf for ages, collecting dust. He sold a short but thick stack of that comic and the issues related to it for about, I can’t remember, it was something like $20 or so.

    So weeks later he had come back that day and had started demanding that the manager buy the books back from him because he been trying to sell them, thinking he’d make a fortune off of these books, he’d apparently been asking ridiculous prices for them and surprise, they weren’t selling.
    The manager told him he wasn’t interested in buying them back and the guy had his freakout. I understand, days later he started calling the store and yelling at the manager about suing the store but nothing came of that.

  6. Doug Frye

    And mulleted Superman returned from the dead at the exact moment Clark Kent turned up again sporting a ponytail- and still it went unremarked by his closest associates.

  7. Tim O'Neil

    For the 90s, the comics surrounding the Death & Return were actually pretty good. Buying them on a weekly basis, it was a fun little rollercoaster ride. This was, of course, keeping in mind that only an idiot would have thought the comics could ever be worth anything (a principle that LCB demonstrates well), and that back then a weekly investment in $1.50 for 10-15 minutes of harmless superhero soap opera was far less offensive than the equivalent $3.99 or however much for 5 minutes today.

  8. damanoid

    Still, it was all worth it for the Hal Jordan murder rampage.

  9. Boosterrific

    I left a post on a website not too long ago where I made an offhand comment about Superman’s 90s mullet, and the next commenter jumped on my post, defending Superman’s 90s hairstyle. So I guess the mullet is still somebody’s favorite.

    True story: I still wear that black Superman armband safety-pinned to the left sleeve of my black leather Superboy jacket. (Yes, I wear a jacket modeled after the one seen on the cover to ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN 501, and no, I feel no shame about it.) I have to buy a new polybagged SUPERMAN 75 every few years to replace the armband as it wears out.

  10. D

    I got a Superman #75 as a freebie with an eBay purchase a couple years ago. Still got it somewhere, still bagged and everything, but I didn’t know there was an armband in it! I might have to rip the puppy open and put it on.

  11. Tom Hartley

    super-armband = chick magnet

  12. Harley McCarthy

    Even in my worst X-Flavor of the month polybagged trading card die cut glow in the dark multiple covers buying hysteria, I never had the slightest intention of buying into Knightfall or the Death of Superman.

    It was a kind of confluence of events, I guess…I had given up my mullet and Winger tapes for a style more in keeping with what was becoming popular in Seattle at the time. My comics buying tastes were beginning to emphasize Sandman, Doom Patrol, Cerebus, Hellboy, and Grendel. I never cared for Dan Jurgens, I always thought he was extremely mediocre. Then there was the dawning realization about all the speculative tomfoolery and gimmickry of the era was no longer worth parting with my “hard-earned” dollars with, and never had been.

    Funny how this is DC’s strategy to bring in new readers, by bringing back the same tired shit that couldn’t fool a 17 year old in ’93 that had the “proto-Skrillex” haircut and thought it was the height of fashion (although Jason Newstead might have been the reason I got it in the first place)….I’m looking at you, Bob Harras, Scott Lobdell, and gimmick covers. Aren’t they supposed to do 52 variant covers for a single issue of a new comic? Sad, considering there has been a few really good books to come out of the New 52.

    But I digress, can we just pretend the whole super-mullet was just the side effect of red kryptonite and not something that lasted three years, and the first story arc of Morrison’s JLA?

  13. MrJM

    I started reading Superman books after his death and quit upon his resurrection. Taken as an isolated bit of weird, the replacement Superman arc was a fun run of mags, IMHO.

    — MrJM

  14. Sumguy

    The moment I saw this, I thought, “I am totally going to make a Hitman reference in the comments and you guys will be all ‘oh he reads moderately obscure but high-quality 90s books have my babies,'” but then you did it for me. So I’ll merely have to content myself with mentioning the scene where Sixpack sees a newspaper with Superman Blue on the cover, and his reaction is basically “Oh, come on!”

    That said, though… “As much as DC sidestepped the worst excess of the Chromium Age…” Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? DC’s REAL Chromium Age happened fifteen years behind everyone else’s. You’re living it.

  15. suedenim

    A couple belated comments:
    1. Was Superman’s look properly a “mullet” or just “long hair”? Most of the time, I think it was more like what Sawyer invokes – Fabio hair. But these images are probably Superman at his most mullet-ish. (Interestingly, Sawyer herself seems to be sporting a bit of a mullet.)
    2. What amazes me is that (unlike the “Death” storyline itself), DC apparently thought this would, indeed, be a permanent change for Superman. There was a ton of licensed material produced with Superman’s long-hair look, and I distinctly remember coming across long-hair Superman licensed products well into the 21st century.

  16. Nataniel

    I know this is an almost two years old post, but I just stumbled upon your blog and I’m enjoying it quite a bit.

    All I wanted to say is that it’s not quite fair to judge Superman’s long hair by our modern standards. At the time, having long Fabioesque hair was the pinnacle of male coolness. I remember being at the movies watching “Interview with a vampire” and girls shouting everytime one of the stars of the film appeared for the first time on screen, and guess what… all of them showed Rapunzel-like hair! At least here in Buenos Aires all the “good looking-popular” boys followed that trend, so the idea of having Superman follow it too was actually “edgy” (at least that’s what my 15 years old self thought)— Also: Tom Grummet made it more like a MacGyveresque mullet, meanwhile Bogdanove and Guice draw it really long!

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