Few stories changed the very fabric of Superman like 1992-1993’s Death of Superman. The invincible and unstoppable Superman met an enemy unlike few he had experienced before in the form of the feral Doomsday. As the creature tore through cities and superheroes alike, Doomsday met his match in Superman as both adversaries fought a battle that culminated in Superman’s beloved Metropolis. In the end, Superman and Doomsday would die at each other’s hand and his death would rock the very foundation of the DC universe and comics in general. Although he would return in Reign of Superman, Superman would never be the same. The story was adapted in an animated film in 2007’s Superman: Doomsday which attempted to combine both Death and Reign of Superman into one cohesive story and was released to mixed results. Recently, DC Animated Films decided to do what they should have in the first place by splitting both stories into two individual films. With writer Peter Tomasi handling the script with an all-star cast of talent, Death of Superman modernizes the dated material within the context of the current New 52 Animated universe and still manages to fill it with wonderful references and moments that capture the meaningfulness of the tragedy it represents.
One of the films strengths is its script. Peter Tomasi balances his sense of humor with his ability to juggle multiple characters with their own individual’s moments while still doing the source material justice. Stripping away elements from the original stories that would have been too confusing or tangential, he makes the focus about Superman and his relationships, specifically his with Lois Lane voiced by real life couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn. Although Superman’s identity and the means he takes to conceal it from others has been a constant debate with comic book fans, the movie takes the time to explore Clark’s double life and the vulnerability to his emotions that comes as a result. As Superman, he might as well be a god but as Clark Kent, he experiences life plagued by doubt, fear, frustration, and embarrassment as much as the next person. He can stop Intergang from kidnapping the Mayor but introducing Lois Lane to his parents petrifies the Man of Steel in a way that Lex Luthor would envy. Tomasi takes time to pepper in references not only from the comic but also from Superman’s entire history. Whether it’s a redheaded Lex Luthor or a fish girl that Clark used to date, it shows that not only did Tomasi do his research but he also knows how to mention it without distracting from the overall story. As we get a good idea of Clark and his everyday life, everything changes the second Doomsday drops in from the sky.
Doomsday isn’t like other Superman villains, he isn’t bound by revenge or ego; his goal is not to enslave the planet or challenge Superman to an arm wrestling contest to see who is the strongest. He is simply there to destroy and he does it very well as he tears through people and Justice League alike. The Justice League puts up a good effort, voiced by a group of regulars such as Jason O’Mara, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion and Shemar Moore, but the only one who can stop Doomsday is Superman and the two battle back and forth wearing each other down until their tragic end at each other’s hands in the ruins of Metropolis.
While I did enjoy the movie, I felt that updating the story to fit within the new 52 storyline came off as disjointed instead of natural at times. It’s true that not a lot of the original material would have made sense but I felt that the story might have worked as a collective flashback amongst survivors of Doomsday’s rampage instead of an unfolding narrative. Details like Superman’s new 52 costume seemed strange in the same context of his relationship with Lois Lane since that relationship didn’t exist at that time in Superman’s revised history. The Justice League, which is supposed to represent a group of the world’s mightiest heroes, are just symbols who prove to be nothing without Superman when they get beaten every other week according to Lex Luthor. While the meeting at the Hall of Justice was a good moment to let the characters connect and breathe, some members such as Batman had far bigger roles to play in the conflict while characters like Hawkman were there and then quickly removed from the battlefield.
Then there’s Lex Luthor played by Rainn Wilson whose Lex fails to capture the arrogance and intelligence of Clancy Brown’s portrayal and at times has more in common with Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex from Batman vs. Superman. Until the end of the film, Lex does very little but verbally spar with Superman, outsmart the authorities and figure out a way to use this new monster to his advantage. He makes his move in the battle against Doomsday but to his horror his worst nightmare becomes true with Superman saving his life before sacrificing his own, leaving him the lesser man. The sneering and overbearing Lex was obviously present but Wilson unfortunately didn’t have the kind of gravitas and presence I’ve come to expect from the character. Fortunately these flaws do not overshadow the film or make the film less enjoyable overall.
In the end, the Man of Steel is gone and the world mourns his loss with a big ceremony that shows how those who knew him grieve regarding his absence in their own unique ways. Some cry, some bury themselves in their work to distract from their pain while others are not entirely convinced he’s truly dead. The film sets up the next movie Reign of Superman perfectly by introducing each of the four upcoming Supermen subtly throughout the movie and after his death, the film pulls a Lord of the Rings multiple ending to show that Superman’s legacy will live on. The person I found myself connecting with the most was Bibbo Bibbowski, owner of the Ace o’ Clubs bar and Superman’s #1 fan. Whether he’s getting a picture with the Man of Steel or talking about today’s special with ” Super Sauce”, Bibbo represents all the fans who find inspiration and hope within Superman. When Superman dies, we find Bibbo distraught and wondering how such a thing could happen and that moment is a metaphor for life. Sometimes we invest ourselves in ideas and symbols and put our faith and love towards them so when they fail or die, our faith is shaken because our beliefs are no longer indestructible; they can be beaten or broken and that makes us feel even smaller and more alone than we did originally. Despite the ramifications his death and eventual resurrection had for comics in general, I thought Death of Superman was a faithful adaptation that despite its flaws captured the emotional essence of the story and I look forward to seeing how that story continues/ends in Reign of Superman debuting early 2019.