The Death of Superman
The Death of Superman cuts to the chase in the title — this is an animated retelling of the 1993 comic book crossover in which Superman, in order to save Metropolis, gets beaten to death by the alien Doomsday. It’s available on home video on Tuesday.
(Warner Bros. Home Entertainment provided me with a review copy of this Blu-ray.)
A number of viewers are likely too young to remember that 25-year-old media event, and the ensuing lines and collector’s edition sales and news coverage and such. They’re going to be the best audience for this, although those who remember the comics will find new material here that gives the story a new gloss.
I found the movie a mixed bag. I appreciated the attention paid to character work, but I lost interest during the many fight scenes, since (with a few, stylized exceptions) the animation in these movies has never been outstanding, and I had mixed feelings about the voice casting.
The film opens with an unnecessary action sequence full of explosions where no-names in super-powered armor are kidnapping the mayor. I think they found it necessary because a good section of the movie afterwards is people talking to each other, with no interesting visuals or animation direction.
The limited animation is becoming more noticeable. The dialogue is the best part of the movie, with some good lines showing surprising character depth. (And funny bits when the Justice League tease Batman about visiting Damian’s school.) It’s written by Peter J. Tomasi, who was a DC editor around the time of this storyline, so he knows his stuff.
In his first appearance in the film, Superman’s kind of mean, dropping a villain from a significant height, and wearing the new 52 costume, which looks like a parody of the classic. (Wonder Woman’s cranberry bodysuit is even worse. Nothing about it evokes the classic character.) The high blue collar, particularly, makes him look like a body-building giraffe, because they draw it, then draw his neck and chin coming out of it, which makes it too long and thick.
Although he’s played the role before, Jerry O’Connell as Superman doesn’t have the depth and authority I was looking for. He does a much better Clark Kent. I didn’t care for Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor, either, because that voice has an underlying cringing whine that doesn’t match my view of the character. Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane was surprisingly outstanding.
To balance the battles and give them some emotional depth, Lois and Clark are dating, and Lois is about to meet Clark’s parents. He’s concerned about not having shared his secret identity with her yet, a plotline that provides much of the substantial character insight. Lois’ work friend (and reason to talk about her feelings out loud for the audience) is Cat Grant (Toks Olagundoye), who is now African-American and nicer to Lois, a pleasant change.
Comic readers will understand why some of the scenes of other characters — scientist John Henry Irons, astronaut Hank Henshaw — were included. Those who aren’t already familiar with the details of the story will see instead more signs of how much influence Superman has on Metropolis and its citizens.
I’m not sure I agree with this choice for the first of a two-movie pair. With so much emphasis in the DC Animated Universe on Batman and Justice League movies, the Superman character just doesn’t have the substance and history he needs for this event to have its full emotional impact. Plus, we’ve seen Superman killed on-screen already, in live-action, so this isn’t as special as it needs to be. Much of the movie is spent waiting for the ending to arrive, to be followed up with next year’s Reign of the Supermen.
The extensive first fight with Doomsday, with the various Justice League members going up against him and failing, is pretty substantial and involving, though. (The fight takes place in Carlin Heights, named after Mike Carlin, the editor of the original comic crossover event.) This is good, since most of the second half of the hour-and-twenty-minute movie is fighting.
More of the Leaguers show up than usual, including Batman (Jason O’Mara), Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), Flash (Christopher Gorham), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion, as always a great choice for that character), Aquaman (Matt Lanter), Cyborg (Shemar Moore), and the Martian Manhunter (Nyambi Nyambi). This part of the film is a better version than the comics, because it’s cooler seeing Wonder Woman fight Doomsday than it was seeing the monster go up against Fire and Ice.
I wish she demonstrated more strategy than power, though. Where’s the teamwork? Or additional allies? So many people commented after the comic story was published about how there were other, better ways to do things, but that’s not the point of the series, which is to get him killed off to explore the aftermath
Summing up, the film is obviously predictable, with some really slapdash animation at times, but some nice character bits. Even though I knew exactly what was coming, I still teared up at the end.
As previously reported, there are a couple of extras, as well as a Deluxe Edition that comes with a figurine of half-naked Superman. (Unlike in the comic during the final scenes, they don’t damage the S-logo at all, meaning none of his chest is revealed.)
First, there’s a nine-and-a-half-minute sneak peek at DC Universe’s next animated movie, Reign of the Supermen, which concludes this story. Screenwriters Jim Krieg and Tim Sheridan talk about exploring a world without a Superman and how Lois Lane is the hero of the film. Director Sam Liu explains the four replacement characters — Superboy, Steel (voiced by TV’s Black Lightning, Cress Williams), the alien Eradicator, and Cyborg Superman.
The featurette “The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All” is 16 1/2 minutes about the comic source material with Mike Carlin and Jon Bogdanove, explaining how the story was structured and the panel countdown approach. (The final issue was made up of single-page splash pages. The issue before only used two panels per page, and so on.) It was neat seeing Dan Jurgens’ Doomsday sketches. The fight analysis by the krav maga instructor wasn’t as interesting, but others may like it.
Additionally, there are two cartoon vault episodes from the Legion of Super Heroes series, “Dark Victory” parts 1 and 2, with the guest-star Superman X.