The news that Superman is about to die has provoked anger and surprise, much of it from people who haven't read his comic book adventures in decades. Closer readers may have suspected for quite some time that death was in the cards. It's a logical outgrowth of a humanizing process that started in the 1980's.

For 50 years, the Man of Steel moved planets without breaking a sweat and survived Armageddon-like battles with nary a scratch and every hair in place. But invulnerability became a bore. It bored the writers and editors at D.C. Comics. It bored the readers who'd become accustomed to more mortal heroes, like Spiderman, who risk their lives in every adventure. In other comic books, heroes had become morally ambiguous, at times even a little shady. But Superman had remamed very much a boy scout, in style and temperament.

Then, six years ago, D.C. Comics began to revise him. Now he gets insomnia, forgets to shave, even weeps at times of emotional distress. Gone is that super self-reliance: Clark Kent leans on his parents when there's a wrenching decision to make.

Superman is more physically vulnerable, too. That suit, previously impervious to rips and tears, goes to tatters when he fights...

Superman will die next month at the hands of Doomsday, an escapee from what seems to be a prison. The battle rages through seven episodes and wrecks the better part of America.

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