In 1992, I was a freshman in high school, and deep into comics… just not Superman. He was cheesy. He had a mullet for a while.
Image Comics probably topped my reading list that year, and a headline-grabbing “Death of an Icon” story line didn’t pull me back to the big blue boy scout. My memories of the Death of Superman comics were that my parents actually asked me about it. It must have made their nightly news. (I was reading X-Men at the time, so I told them not to worry. Nobody stays dead in comics.)
Consequently, most of my experience with the story comes from one-off issues in my collection and the previous animated film that tackled this plot, Superman: Doomsday. That film compressed the original story line quite a bit and left an opening to return to the source material for a new take on it.
The Death of Superman, Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment’s new telling of the 1992 story, is a compelling addition to the DC Animated Movie Universe. Sam Liu and James Tucker, working from a script by Peter J. Tomasi, reach back to the original plot while placing the film in this particular run of movie continuity. We have references to events from Teen Titans and previous JLA and Batman animated films. Lex wears an amazing disguise in direct nod to the 90s comics, and a wonderfully played line between Superman and Lois late in the film echoed Christopher Reeves and Margot Kidder.
Little flourishes like these helped build a trust with me that the people making this do know the character, and care about these stories. Liu and Tucker handled the action scenes quite well, with clear fight compositions and a comfortable level of detail across all elements of the scene. Rarely did a background piece feel like a 3D object from a computer. The result was a well-animated movie that was easy to follow and fun to watch (though even with my tastes, that was a LOT of blood in a couple of fights scenes. Wow…)
This film builds slightly further in the casual shared universe of DC Animated. Uniforms and state-of-affairs for the Justice Leaguers match from Throne of Atlantis and other previous films, and the voice cast continues as well. Jason O’Mara’s Batman, while not as menacing as the one I grew up with, is a good fit with the characterization here. Jerry O’Connell’s Superman/Clark Kent is sometimes too affable, almost so bumpkin as to seem like the Kents found him last week.
This feels in service toward the entire film’s development. The only thing that scares this Superman is the risk of trust, and the danger of losing loved ones. This pairs nicely with a story about the relationship Superman is beginning to enjoy with Metropolis. Themes of honesty, appearances, and trust abound, and are woven through some amazing fight scenes. I’m still not a fan of the current notched-collar outfit Supes wears, but in general I like this art style and I love these battles. I can accept accent piping for every seam of a super suit (and the Tron-like laser accents on everything else). Costumes aside, I come away from these movies wanting more time with these actors in these roles. Rosario Dawson, Rainn Wilson, Nathan Fillion… the cast is uniformly amazing. More, please.
Doomsday’s final battle with the Justice League, Lois, and Superman is heart-wrenching and brutal. Too often, Superman is used as a strange alien god brought in to finish the fights others can’t handle. Super-breath/punch/laser-eyes/whatever and you’re done. Here, he’s placed into a fight that builds across nearly half the movie, such that when he enters, you understand that he can be hurt by this creature.
And he is. Not to spoil anything, but the movie is called The Death of Superman.
I liked it quite a bit, having enjoyed most of the other recent DC animated movies from this cast and crew. It fits near the top of the WB/DC animated films. How much you enjoy it as a comics fan may rest on your feelings about the original storyline. I had a blast watching it and am ready for the sequel.
PS – Speaking of the sequel, watch all the stingers and see who we’ll meet in next year’s Reign of the Supermen…