The Death of Superman house ads happened so quickly that if you weren't collecting/reading DC comics during the months of November '92 to February '93, then you probably missed them. The entire 'Death of' event only occurred in the span of seven issues: Superman: The Man of Steel #18, Justice League of America #69, Superman #74, Adventures of Superman #497, Action Comics #684, Superman: Man of Steel #19 and, finally, Superman #75. [The event started and concluded within a span of 2 months.] Not much of a build-up or forewarning to get excited about it. I really paid no attention to this 'publicity stunt' until it was announced on TV and radio that Superman had been killed, and speculators were lining up around the block to purchase Superman #75 from their local comic book shop. After Superman was killed, however, DC really wanted you to know he was gone. The DC marketing campaign didn't miss a beat, and made sure to advertise the SkyBox Death of Superman trading card set by offering a promo card in Superman #75.
Next came Funeral For A Friend. I didn't really have a problem with a few of Metropolis' heroes picking up the slack. In my mind, that just cemented the idea that Superman was dead and wouldn't be coming back. [I mean, they did kill off Supergirl back in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and she stayed dead.] I still wasn't buying or reading any of the issues, but it was nice to know that DC was giving it's readers a sense of closure, and we can all now move on in a DCU without a Superman. Pictured in the house ad above are Waverider, the Guardian, Thorn, Gangbuster and... Iron Munroe? I really have no clue who that flying teen in the leather jacket is. As mentioned, my interest in Superman at this time was at an all-time low.
The big shake-up occurred with Adventures of Superman #500. In my mind's eye, I guess I wondered why these four Superman titles [i.e., Adventures of Superman, Superman: Man of Steel, Action Comics, and Superman v2] hadn't ceased publication yet (or at least been re-titled to something else). The last 2 months of these issues had simply been Funeral For A Friend stories and I was a little eager to see this all resolved. This had been started to feel like the longest denouement ever, but Adventures of... #500 resolved with a cliff-hanger. By the end of the issue, four brand-new characters had appeared claiming to be [the reincarnated spirit of] Superman - and this had me hooked.
Much like DC's Knightfall house ad campaign, the Reign of the Supermen! house ads told a story:
[click to enlarge]
As a lover of DC comics and mysteries, The Reign of the Superman! had a lot of story-telling elements that kept me coming back for more. I was absolutely convinced that the Last Son of Krypton/Eradicator was the true Superman. The Man of Tomorrow/Cyborg Superman was a close second [Terminator 2: Judgement Day was still on everyone's collective minds, and we all imagined how cool it would be if Superman's new 'look' included half of a T-800 exoskeleton]. I had reasoned that there was NO POSSIBLE WAY that neither The Metropolis Kid/Superboy nor The Man of Steel/Steel were the real deal (for obvious reasons). I was so sure about the Eradicator that I would've bet money. As the narrative of the house ads unfolded, it was revealed that each of the four prospective Supermen would encounter each other and square off with other Superman-related characters in the DCU. Guy Gardner versus the Eradicator was just a bonus.
To the uninformed reader, Bloodlines seemed important to the Reign of the Supermen! story line and DC was marketing it as such (although we weren't sure exactly why it was important). Bloodlines turned out to be a fairly unsuccessful attempt to introduce some new DC characters into the DCU, and really had nothing to do with moving the Reign of the Supermen! story forward. [As evidence, Chris Sheehan gives a pretty in-depth review of Superman v2 Annual #5 (1993).]
The home stretch of the Reign of the Supermen! story line (also known as The Return of Superman) crushed my hopes and dreams as it revealed that the original Clark Kent/Superman had returned, and that all four of these candidates were simply usurpers to the 'Superman' name. I once had a chance to chat with Tom Grummett, who pencilled quite a few issues during the Reign of the Supermen! story line and was part of the Death and Return of Superman planning team, and he laughed at my once-youthful naivety and assured me that there was never any doubt in anyone's mind that Clark Kent/Superman would be returning to his own title.
So what came of all of this? Well... spin-offs:
Clark Kent/Superman retained his original four titles. Superboy received an ongoing series that would last well into 2002, Steel also received an ongoing series that lasted an impressive fifty-two issues, and Supergirl received a four issue mini-series (she stayed pretty active in the DCU after that and later joined the Teen Titans in 1995). The Eradicator, for some unprecedented reason, ends up joining the Outsiders in 1994, and Cyborg Superman would remain a villain and pester Superman for years to come.
All of the above images are property of DC comics, and were found/collected/curated from the internet over a span of several years. I know I'm missing a few house ads, and my never-ending search is never complete. Needless to say, I don't remember which sites the images came from, or if said sites are still active. So on that note, I'm going to assume that a lot of these images came from Michael Bailey's Fortress of Baileytude. (Even if I'm wrong, Bailey hosts a great Superman site and you will NOT be disappointed.)
You also might be interested in reading Chris Sheehan's review of the Death of Superman storyline. Chris gives a play-by-play analysis of the issues leading up to Superman's death on his Chris is on Infinite Earths blog.
P.S. If you have any scans/images of the house ads that I'm missing, please send a link my way. Much appreciated. ;)