thrift store finds: superman/doomsday: hunter/prey

(Thrift Store Finds is a mostly-weekly “column” of sorts where I discuss some of the cool books I’ve happened upon in my neighborhood St. Vincent DePaul store. Please don’t mistake me for an expert on any of the books I am writing about… I’m just a fan of a bargain.)

I started collecting and reading superhero comic book in 1992.

In 1993, DC Comics orchestrated one of the biggest event stories ever done in superhero comics when they introduced The Death of Superman to readers. A comic story line that did exactly what it set out to do, The Death of Superman was not only a huge seller amongst regular comic book readers, it was the rarest of beasts: a comic book that crossed over into the general population. I don’t know if it was a slow news day or whether people were actually emotionally invested in the idea of Superman shuffling off this mortal coil, but folks went absolutely batshit crazy over these comics. The major news outlets reported Superman’s death at the hands of the brawling monster Doomsday as though it was hard news, and people responded in kind. Folks who had never before darkened the door of a comic book shop bought multiple copies and stashed them away.

Readership was at an all time high in ’93… but eventually, things died down. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Superman returned to comics about a year later in a grand resurrection that involved four different people claiming they were Big Blue and many, many crossovers and tie-in comic books.

I read The Death of Superman in ’93, but I remember marveling more at the amount of tie-ins and special die-cut, poly-bagged enhanced covers than enjoying the story… which, by the way, left one huge plot point completely unanswered for readers. Superman is killed by a rampaging Hulk-like monster called Doomsday… but Doomsday is left trapped on an asteroid, alive and well by the time Superman came back to the land of the living, sporting a brand new mullet hairstyle.

All that’s the long way around saying “Hey, look what I found at the thrift store this week! The defacto sequel to The Death of Superman, Superman/Doomsday: Hunter/Prey!”

I should mention that one doesn’t often see modern comic trades in the paperback stacks. Every once and awhile, I’ll come across a trade… but for the most part, this was a rare find.

This trade paperback collected the three issue Hunter/Prey miniseries from 1994, written and drawn by Dan Jurgens, with inks from Brett Breeding. The original mini-series had a price tag of $5 dollars per issue, which put it firmly out of my price range when I was thirteen years old. By ’94, I had largely moved on from Marvel and DC, so I don’t remember being bummed out about this or anything. Still… $15 dollars for three issues of a comic book? In 2011, that’s a lot of money for comic books. In 1994? It was obscene!

Luckily for me, I waited almost two decades to pick this up at a thrift store for $2 dollars.

Although there are some subplots and characterization that I’ll address in a moment, Hunter/Prey is largely a gigantic rematch between Superman and Doomsday… which is something I am sure many readers were anxious to see.

Hunter/Prey also bends over backwards to give Superman a brand new costume, which is one of the dumbest looking things I’ve ever seen… and that’s coming from someone who has been reading superhero comics for almost two decades.

When I see this costume, I have to wonder “Why?” I would then hazard a guess that Superman’s fancy new duds were created to keep him in line with some of the more edgy looks of superheroes of the 1990’s. In 1994, shoulder-pads, useless arm-bands, and gigantic guns were de rigor. This costume seems designed to cater to that fad… although I’m guessing Superman’s “extreme” look never caught on. I haven’t seen it since.

One of the problems in writing Superman must be the fact that he’s all-powerful. There are very few physical challenges that can be thrown the character’s way which provide much of a headache for the guy. As it stands, most of his villains are normal dudes in suits- Lex Luthor, The Toyman, The Prankster… and so on. Doomsday was created, I am guessing, to address this problem. He’s a brawler with no agenda besides destruction. In and of itself, that would probably have been enough for most comic readers to go on, but Jurgens crafted a pretty canny origin for Doomsday.

He’s a product of cloning… a bunch of scientists would clone a baby, and toss it out into a harsh environment where it would inevitably die. Then those scientists would take the cells from that dead baby and re-clone it… only to toss the new clone out into the harsh world, have it die, and repeat the process ad infinitum. Eventually the recloned monster would build up all sorts of natural resistances to every danger and become able to withstand a massive amount of punishment.

That’s comic book logic to a tee, but it’s fun armchair science and far more than I expected out of an origin for Doomsday.

The story also makes an attempt to deal with a Superman who is somewhat emotionally vulnerable. Hunter/Prey makes the case that, for the first time, Superman is afraid of something. He shows doubt, especially in light of having to face the monster that “killed” him once before. Most of that navel-gasing is as silly as Superman’s crazy new costume, but it is an interesting note to play with a character who is far more renowned for being God-like in what he can accomplish.

The artwork is big and splashy, but also somewhat… lame. The exaggerated anatomy is standard, but Jurgens (with inks from Breeding) is not a flashy artist, but his work is solid, middle-of-the-road adventure stuff. There’s a good sense of page layout and composition and his art is never confusing. Seeing someone like Jurgens trying to ape some of the more modern styled superhero art is just a weird fit though. It’s like watching your parents dance at a wedding or something. They may be able to do it, but you’ll always think they look dorky.

It’s weird, because when I first sat down to write about this trade, I thought I was going to really tear into it, but I’ve found more virtues in Hunter/Prey than I thought I would. That’s not to say it’s a truly great comic or anything. It’s not something that’s going to change the way you perceive the world and all the things that live in it.

I think one of the things about this comic that I can say is good is that it strikes me as something that’s written for children… or at least, very young teenagers. That’s the perfect age to be reading Hunter/Prey. Lots of fights, weird science, some heroics, and you’ve got yourself a fun comic for a twelve year old. Superhero comics in the 21st century just don’t seem to be written for that age group anymore. They seem like they’re written for adults, which is a very strange thing… although I’m an adult and I still enjoy a good Superman yarn now and then.

Anyhow, not going to set the world afire, but I have a slight bit more affection for this book than I initially thought. How about that?

3 Responses to “thrift store finds: superman/doomsday: hunter/prey”

  1. Hi Chris,

    I’ve been following the comic since early last year and really enjoy it. I teach English and Theater at a public high school in Queens (you actually taught R&J last year just a few weeks before I did, so that unit was especially fun for me to see!) Anyway, just wanted to let you know I heard Raina Telgemeier speak about using graphic novels in the classroom at the Celebration of Teaching and Learning here in NYC yesterday, and explained to her as she was signing my copy of Smile that the reason I was so excited to meet her and read her book was that a teaching-comic-blogger I liked kept plugging it! I gave her your name and she said it sounded familiar. She was excellent and I’m looking forward to reading Smile–thanks for highlighting her! And thanks for blogging!

    Jess S. in NYC

    • Christopher Pearce Says:

      Wow Jess, thanks for thinking of me! I’m so happy I’ve been able to point folks toward Smile. It’s a really wonderful book:-)

  2. […] stinkers on the Top Ten, including most of DC Comics‘ various publishing events connected to The Death and Return of Superman and their crappy 1990′s […]

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