It's Doomsday for Superman

November 19, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff Writer

Superman is dead; good career move.

Never before has the Man of Steel leaped such tall sales figures with a single comic book, an issue that yesterday sold faster than a speeding bullet in stores across the Baltimore area. Yes, it's Superman, pronounced dead at Metropolis General Hospital, yet soaring in D.C. Comics' never-ending battle for market share with the dreaded Marvel.

Look: Geppi's Comic World up on the second floor of the Light Street Pavilion, a store scarcely bigger than Clark Kent's phone booth. Customers started jamming the place around noon, and business didn't slack off until the store had sold some 500 copies of Superman comic No. 75, telling how Superman met his bloody end on the streets of Metropolis at the hands of the monster Doomsday.

"We had a mob in here," said Geppi's assistant manager, Shawn Robertson. "We had people outside even before the store opened."

"I was sold out before I even opened," said Gene Pierelli, owner of Cosmic Comix & Cards in Ellicott City. On the strength of advance orders alone, he said, he sold 150 copies and added, "If I had 400 I could have sold them."

In Millersville, Bookcom sold some 500 copies of the special plastic-wrapped collector's edition at $2.50 a crack and 100 regular newsstand copies for $1.25 apiece. After two hours they were left with just a few newsstand copies. In a normal month, the store sells between 15 and 25 Superman comic books.

The customers came in droves and many bought in bulk. With the price of the collector's editions expected to leap, speculators scooped up 20 or 25 at a time where stores were not limiting sales to one or two per customer.

"It's a great investment," said Ronald Rego, owner of Bookcom, who expects to see the collector's edition -- also containing a poster, trading card and black satin armband-- soon sell for $10 to $15. "For $2.50 you can't go wrong."

Comic book fans have known for months that the end was near for the only survivor of the doomed planet Krypton, who since 1938 has fought a battle for truth, justice and the American way. Some eight weeks ago D.C. Comics started pumping the hype associated with the Doomsday series, which features a fearsome gray hulk with bones protruding from its body who has been lumbering toward Metropolis, destroying everything in its path.

D.C. Comics is not saying how many editions it printed, but Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., the world's largest distributor of American comic books, estimates the run at 2.5 million to 3 million copies. That's 10 times the usual printing, said Roger Fletcher, spokesman for the Baltimore-based company.

Diamond's newsletter for store owners reported that wholesale orders of this issue had triggered a 10 percent jump in D.C. Comics' market share last month, dropping Marvel's share below 40 percent for the first time in two years. Normally, Mr. Fletcher said, Marvel tops D.C. in market share 50 percent to about 25 percent. The newsletter reported that Superman's all-powerful, goody-goody image has been a dud with today's comic readers and that it was apparently hoped death would do for him what it did for Vincent Van Gogh and Elvis.

The collector's edition features a headstone on the cover and includes Superman's "obituary" as it appears in the The Daily Planet. But comic hounds have seen this sort of thing before and were not about to begin mourning Lois Lane's fallen fiance.

"I think it's a big sales stunt," said Chris Kincade, 19, of Glen Burnie, who waited for his copy at Twilite Zone in Glen Burnie. Mr. Kincade, boasting a collection of some 6,000 comic books, said superheroes have a penchant for death and resurrection. Superman, he said, has seemed to die before only to return triumphant.

"It happens a lot," Mr. Kincade said. "They're saying he's not coming back. It would be a landmark thing for him to die and not come back. Especially for such a major character."

"They can't keep him dead too long," said Derrick Rowley of Severn, a 22-year-old McDonald's employee who spent his afternoon cruising from comic store to comic store, accumulating three copies of the collector's edition. He said he expects to see Superman back next year.

"I don't think they'll bring him back until June or July," said Mr. Rego. "I don't think they'll do it before then because they want to keep the dealers happy."

To make the story of his death all the more convincing, D.C. has announced it will "suspend" publication of all Superman comics in January, Mr. Rego said. Until January, the comics will focus on Superman's funeral and the impact of his demise.

Of course, officials at D.C. Comics are mum on the question of whether Superman returns, or how.

"D.C.'s not crazy," said Mr. Rowley. "They got it all figured out."

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