One of my favourite story arcs of the DC Comics Universe has always been the crossover event “Death of Superman”, and back in 1992 when it first released and as a comic book series that ran through to 1993, I was among millions of other fans that could not believe that Superman was going to be killed off. But the genius way in which DC Comics handled it not only refreshed the character of Superman, but it became one of his best series of stories, for me at least. It is a story all comic book fans know and it has been told via animation before however, the full story has never been adapted as a feature length film set until now with the WB Animated film series based on the New 52 era of the DC Universe telling its own version of this iconic saga.
The telling of this story arc with this animated series does feel as though it was always going to be a natural chapter having already told the Flashpoint Paradox and many Justice League and Batman focused stories in this film series that launched in 2013. I have followed this series since then and have enjoyed the majority of the animated films as each new telling of the DC’s most iconic characters evolved to where we find them here for this two-part film collection. That knowledge would come in handy as quite a bit as this film does make reference to character relationships from those films. Thankfully though, Death of Superman has taken into consideration the reality that not everyone would have seen those previous films.
Which means that the first 30 minutes of the story is really focused on exposition and teaching the audience by bringing them up to speed on where all the characters are at this point in the universe such as referencing that it was Wonder Woman that Superman first had a romantic relationship with before Lois Lane whilst at the same time showing that the relationship is firmly Clark Kent and Lois Lane and this his secret is still unknown to her about him being Superman. The opening half hour also makes the effort to show just how vital Superman is to this world by having various characters such as the police who are seen attending a daring robbery by Intergang thugs equipped with advanced weaponry and Powered Suits, struggle to deal with it until Superman races in and very quickly puts the thugs down. This sequence even has Justice League members Flash and Cyborg arrive after being alerted to the disturbance only for Flash to end up being told by Superman to simply help with clean up as there is nothing left for Flash to do and Cyborg is tasked with investigating where the criminals obtained their weapons and armour.
The audience will already know what will happen to Superman but this is really a story of how it happens and what the consequences of the loss of Superman would be. This gives the story a natural slow pace at first with the main focus being on Clark’s relationship to Lois and coming to terms that in order for them to have a future he will have to reveal his secret to her and his fear about doing so. For Lois this also means meeting Clark’s parents who are coming to town to visit Clark, making their relationship go to the next level considering so far, they have kept their relationship a secret from everyone they work with at the Planet. There are some lovely moments as Clark goes to Diana for advice as well as asking Flash who has already told his wife Iris that he is the Flash. Everything is quite light and happy in the world, even the Justice League at their weekly meeting have very little to do which provides an opportunity for some humour as Batman reveals he will be missing their next meeting because he has to go to Damien’s school to meet his teacher which Green Lantern and Flash cant help but make fun of leading to Batman putting the fear of God into Flash without saying a single word which genuinely cracked me up.
So, everything is rosy in the world, Justice League have little to do, Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor is under house arrest and the biggest issue for Supes is revealing to the woman he loves that he has basically been lying to her for years but hoping she will forgive him. It takes close to 45 minutes before the action really picks up and the introduction of Doomsday and I really liked how this adaptation used his appearance to change the tone almost immediately of the story. I also appreciated how little the changed the original comic book version of this story by having Doomsday arriving as an unknown entity that goes on a rampage forcing the Justice League to step in whilst Superman is off doing his own thing which in this case is being with his parents and Lois and dealing with his relationship stuff as the Justice League feel they can handle this threat without their biggest gun. The story does not shy away from just how violent Doomsday is and right away when he is literally tearing apart the Atlantians who are exploring the crash site at the bottom of the ocean where he landed is. This could make the film a little too grown up for a very young audience but the way in which he is introduced leave no doubt that this is a huge threat to Earth.
I would have preferred to see far longer encounters between the Justice League and Doomsday but they are very quickly put down by Doomsday one by one with Hawkman going down first and an arrogant Green Lantern the next to fall. Only Batman is able to avoid defeat but only barely escaping the monster’s attacks. If there was any hope the audience watching had that Doomsday could be stopped it all ended when Wonder Woman herself, second most powerful hero in the Justice League, failed to stop him came close to losing her life to him until Superman finally gets into the fight and flies in at speed to grab Doomsday away. Once it is Superman alone taking on Doomsday the pace of the fighting really steps up as does the scale in the fighting which is beautifully animated here with each of their blows causing shockwaves that smash every window in the skyscrapers of central Metropolis. This is truly a battle of the gods and there is a moment when following a powerful punch from Doomsday that sends Superman flying across the city into the wall of a building and seeing Superman realising that he is bleeding for the first time, realising that this monster is not just his equal in terms of strength, but a foe capable of injuring him for the first time.
The climatic fight itself still manages to maintain a certain level of humanity as Superman battles Doomsday but also tries to prevent collateral damage and innocents from being hurt such as a moment when Supes saves a child and telling the boy to run to his mother only for the boy to stop and run back to Superman to give him a big ol hug. This shows what Superman is ultimately fighting for just so beautifully, that he is fighting to save everyone he can which now for the first time could mean sacrificing his very life to stop a monster from destroying his adopted city of Metropolis. Of course this comes full circle when it comes to Lois Lane who has been following and reporting on the battle throughout which has even more impact due to Superman finally revealing his secret to her before he was called to engaged Doomsday leading to a change in how the original Doomsday Vs Superman fight ended and here, a brave Lois steps up to distract Doomsday by getting his attention which stops him from pummelling a weakened and close to death Superman. Seeing Lois about to be destroyed by Doomsday pushes Superman into one final but powerful attack and using every bit of might he has in his body, finally takes out Doomsday but results in him being impaled by one of Doomsday bone spurs.
I really loved how that was not how the story ends, with a scene borrow from “Funeral for a Friend” seeing the city, world and Justice League paying tribute to Superman as his body is placed in his memorial, the story is begins to set up part 2 of this story which is told in ‘Reign of the Supermen’. Of, course there are multiple teasers for the second part with side characters introduced and glimpses that fans in the know, will instantly get but the ending does take the time to let the audience know that the story is not over. This means that you will not get the full “Death of Superman” story told in this film and will need to watch the next film in order to have the full experience. I do appreciate that it does make that distinction without having to use ‘to be continued’ as an ending as the film ends by revealing that Superman’s body is missing from the tomb in the months since his death and that four new characters have risen wearing his iconic S shield.
This certainly does enough to tell part of the story and it stays true to much of the original telling of it from the comic books. The animation is spot on and there are some great moments from the voice cast including the return of Nathan Fillion to voice Green Lantern. It certainly had me excited to watch the final part in the next film. The pace is a little slow to start and it cuts short the Justice League battle with Doomsday, but it is still a very fun watch for any DC fan.