The Death of Superman is one of the most iconic narratives featuring the Man of Steel, and one that defined an accomplished era of comic book storytelling. The DC comics epic was first published in 1992-93 across numerous titles and as a child I remember how much of a media event this was, especially trying to get a copy of the coveted Superman #75 which was the legendary issue where Superman and Doomsday fight to the death. With Tim Burton’s Batman film changing the game in 1989, the early 90s was a fantastic time for comics and superheroes with plots and projects that really pushed the envelope and took bold steps with their marquee characters.
Superman, perhaps the most recognisable superhero of them all, was due a major event and The Death of Superman was an event the likes of which we hadn’t seen before (certainly in terms of its scale and repercussion). The storyline was a massive hit around the world and influenced many writers working in the industry today. It even formed part of the basis of Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. You can read about what went wrong and what went right with Batman v Superman here.
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In 2007, the inaugural film in the DC Universe Movies series came out; Superman: Doomsday. It told an overly condensed version of The Death of Superman storyline with an animated adventure that was quite short in its runtime considering the events it had to cover. As a result, a lot of the comic book storyline was shortened or cut out, instead focusing on the battle between The Man of Steel and Doomsday.
This version of The Death of Superman marks the first chapter of a two-part film series that will conclude with Reign of the Supermen in 2019. That storyline followed on from the death and funeral of Superman in the comic books and introduced the world to a series of new Supermen, each with their own unique powers. This idea of splitting up such an epic storyline into two films is a masterstroke and one that greatly benefits The Death of Superman, allowing us to get to know the characters properly and have a real sense of loss here.
The action is what stands out the most in this animated production, and the set-pieces really do the source material justice. You get a very tangible sense of threat throughout this story, and that’s crucial in the final third which really requires a large amount of emotional investment. The Justice League taking on Doomsday as he arrives is a great marker of intent. Doomsday systematically defeating the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and The Flash is really well done. As the action shifts and we get to the big fight, the high points are all well represented and pack the required emotional punch too. It’s worth noting that The Death of Superman is a 12 certificate and does feature some action that isn’t suitable for younger audiences. But it certainly helps gives the film an edge and genuine threat – something really needed to do this story proper justice.
The characterisation is done well too, with some great exchanges, especially between Clark (Jerry O’Connell), Lois (Rebecca Romijn) and Diana (Rosario Dawson). There’s solid support from Rainn Wilson (Lex Luthor), Jason O’Mara (Batman), Nathan Fillion (Green Lantern), Christopher Gorham (The Flash) and Nyambi Nyambi (Martian Manhunter).
The extras are non-existent on the DVD release which is a real shame. The only special feature we get is a sneak peek at the Reign of the Supermen animated movie out in 2019. Granted, that does look good, but I wanted much more in terms of additional extras. And on the subject of being let down, there are some designs and animations used in The Death of Superman that I wish would have been different. All of the character designs are largely updated to be consistent with their current DC animated rosters, but Superman with that collar makes him look awkward. I wish he was wearing his iconic outfit rather than his latest look. Some parts of the linking shots are also a little bit too CGI for my liking, like when the police cars approach Doomsday and open fire on him.
The Death of Superman is certainly one of the better animated movies that DC have released recently. Their commitment to their animated film slate is really commendable and if they continue to do justice to iconic storylines from their past like The Dark Knight Returns, or seek out innovative new stories like Batman Ninja, they will continue to thrive. The Death of Superman is certainly worth a watch and will hopefully engage a new audience to the wonders of DC animated movies.
Cast: Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rosario Dawson, Rainn Wilson, Jason O’Mara, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Nyambi Nyambi Director: Jake Castorena, Sam Liu Writers: Peter Tomasi Certificate: 12 Duration: 81 mins Released by: Warner Bros Release date: 6th August 2018