In every country in the world, throughout every possible culture one thing is constant; people invent a mythology that reflects and often defines them. The American culture is no different. Back in the 1930s one entity was created that would persist as one of the most recognizable figures in history, Superman. In his familiar red and blue uniform the Man of Steel has gone through many incarnations. Each generation has been able to tweak the basic myth to suit current problems and situations. In the early nineties DC comics decided to reboot their universe including the story of Superman. This became the massively popular graphic novel series, ‘The Death of Superman’. Now, Warner Brothers has released a made for DVD version of the story called ‘Superman: Doomsday’. While there are many notable differences with the graphic novel series this does stand on its own. Since there are so many variations of Superman you really can’t expect this video release to perfectly reflect the comic. If you are a fan of the graphic novel try your best to put aside any expectations of this being an animated version of that. Just take this for what it is another variation of the greatest super hero of all time. The ‘Death of Superman’ series spanned some dozens of issues so it really can’t be expected to be boiled down to less than an hour and a half without some alterations. Perhaps making this a series of DVD releases may have been a better way to go. This is the biggest flaw of the movie, being too ambitious, trying to cram too much in too little space. As presented it is good but extending it to multiple releases could have made it fantastic. This is geared more towards a slightly older audience. It is the first animated film of the franchise to earn a PG-13 rating due to violence including some devastation and death.
As the film opens we see shots of some of Superman’s heroic acts. In a voice over his arch enemy Lex Luthor (voiced by James Marsters) states that he is powerful and beautiful like some god that we have worshiped than admonishing is foe ‘For as surely as night follows day, there comes a time when even gods must die.’ In the Daily Planet building editor Perry White (voiced by Ray Wise) is discussing a story with Lois Lane (Anne Heche). She wants to dig up dirt on a charity that is just happened to be run by Luthor since she is certain it is covering funding of high tech weapons on sale to the highest bidder. Clark Kent (voiced by Adam Baldwin) having just become a foreign correspondent is on his way to Afghanistan. The scene shifts to LexCorp scientists digging with a LASER in hopes of harnessing radiation near the earth’s core. The scientists discover something that looks like a space ship. Back in Metropolis Lex tells his assistant, Mercy Graves (voiced by Cree Summer) that his research team has discovered a cure for Muscular Dystrophy and wants to change it into a life time of treatments instead of a one shot cure to maximize the profits. Back at the Fortress of Solitude Superman is working in vein on a cure for cancer telling his faithful robot (voiced by Tom Kenny) that he wants to be more than humanity’s strongman. Lois is also there wrapped in a towel after a shower.
At the LexCorp dig site things begin to heat up. The ship has been there for at least 2,000 years. While freeing the ship from the surrounding rock the workers puncture it starting a hologram of a strange alien creature speaking in his untranslatable language. Just as Lex, who is watching on a video monitor realizes it is a warning a huge creature, Doomsday escapes killing everyone in the vicinity. In Superman’s artic fortress he and Lois are snuggling and she expresses her concern for Clark. Okay, she’s sleeping with Superman and she is stilled completely fooled by the glasses as a disguise. As Lois pushes for details of Superman’s secret identity Doomsday is on a killing rampage working his way north to Metropolis. It would appear that every super villain comes equipped with a homing device for that city; and I thought New York City was a tough place to live. When it reaches the city troops try everything to stop but are easily killed by the monster. This looks like a job for Superman. As the epic battle ensues Lois gets Jimmy Olsen (voiced by Adam Wylie) in a helicopter towards the devastation to get some photos. Lois can fly a copter but can’t tell who Superman is, time to stop thinking too hard about it. The creature attacks the copter and saves his friends. He continues to fight Doomsday flying him up into space and crashing him down to earth. At the edge of the huge creature Lois sees his cape in tatters caught on a metal pole. Superman stumbles out of it all bloodied and dies in Lois’ arms. The world, including the friends of Superman must find a way to cope with the overwhelming grief. Jimmy is tempted to go over to a tabloid to tell his story. Lois is unable to take any time off from work even after Perry tells her that they are out of communication with Clark overseas. Lex works on a plan to clone Superman creating a version that will be loyal to him.
This animated feature deserves its PG-13 rating. It is more violent, depicts more deaths and contains sexual innuendo than any previous cartoon outing. There is a scene during the battle with Doomsday where the injured Superman spits up blood. Scenes like this make this something to keep the younger viewers away from. The animation is pretty typical of the animated series. The movement in the foreground is fairly natural but this is juxtaposed against completely static backgrounds. The biggest problem is the target audience for this is the people who own the graphic novel set. Over three years of stories lines are condensed into less than eighty minutes. Too much is changed and far too much had to be left out to satisfy this meticulous bunch of fans. Writers Duane Capizzi and Bruce W. Timm did a good job of creating a well balanced script but for true fans it will fail. What is here is a more intense and emotional animated feature than most are used to. While it didn’t capture the mood of the graphic novels it can stand on its own. Since most of us, no matter what our age, grew up with Superman we can share the grief of the characters.
Warner Brothers demonstrates their usually commitment to giving the buyers their money’s worth here. Of course the video and audio are top rate, this is a direct to DVD release it was mastered specifically for the format. The extras truly shine. There is a featurette ‘Requiem and Rebirth: Superman Lives!’ with a running time of about an hour. It looks behind the scenes at DC Comics to show the whole story behind the creation of the graphic novels. There is also an audio commentary with director Bruce Timm who is joined by other crew members and production staff to explore the rational for the changes between the comics and the film. The featurette ‘Behind the Voice’ focuses on the actors who gave life to the animation. While Adam Baldwin did a good job as Superman and Ray Wise was excellent as Perry White Anne Heche and James Marsters seemed to be too lightweight for their roles. This is not what some fans had hoped for but it is a new direction for the animation of this ultimate superhero.
Post Script: I came from a generation where the character of Lois Lane didn't know for sure that Clark and Superman was the same person. In the different incarnations of the story Lois had varying degrees of suspicion but she never knew for certain. A reader has written in with a newer viewpoint. He is sure that here Lois does definitely knows Superman's secret identity. At the Fortress she wants him to feel close enough to her to tell his secret. When he is dead Lois seeks out Martha Kent as the only other one who knows for sure. I still see things colored by the more traditional view of the character but a strong case has been made to me. Perhaps this is a new kind of Lois, a departure from all the other ways this myth has been played. In any case out of gratitude and thanks for the reader's persistence I offer this alternative for your consideration.