Since DC released Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen as a double feature in the theater, I’m going to review them together. First disclaimer, there will be spoilers. Second disclaimer, despite this being animated, it is NOT a kids’ movie. Blood clouds, dismembered limbs, and so much death… well, I wouldn’t take my kid to see this.
These were two huge storylines in DC Comics in the 1990s. The Death of Superman, in one of those wonderfully well timed coincidences, hit during a slow news week, and it got a huge amount of media coverage. It was a big event and crossed over into many of DC’s titles at the time. The vague outlines of the story: Doomsday pops out of nowhere, starts stalking toward Metropolis, kills everything in sight, kicks the crap out of the Justice League, then fights Superman to a mutual death on the streets of the city the Man of Steel loved, are all there. The details are a lot different. From the membership of the League to the origin of Doomsday, there are a lot of changes. They set it somewhat in the post-reboot era of DC Comics, right down to Superman’s stupid mandarin collar redesign, and with most of the Justice League membership from that time, with the random addition of Hawkman. I can understand the League changes. The team that fought Doomsday in the comics was made of characters the majority of the public would look at and ask, “Who are these guys?” Guy Gardener, Fire, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Bloodwynd, and Maxima aren’t exactly household names. But trying to transplant the story from the 90’s and sort of set it in the modern era didn’t work so well. It was also at some strange point where the Justice League had been around long enough to have a headquarters, but Lois didn’t know who Superman was, but was dating Clark. I spent several different points of the movie asking, “Wait, what?”
The animation was a lot more toward the anime style than I really care for, and it was jarring at times. You can tell when people are wounded because lines appear on their faces. Their eyes will be very reactive while the rest of the face holds still. And the copious amounts of blood from the various innocents slaughtered along the way are all hallmarks of that style animation. When I think DC animated, I tend to think of the great period when they had Batman: The Animated Series, Superman, and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited going, and I really prefer that more realistic style of cartoon.
After Superman and Doomsday beat each other to death, there was a brief intermission. The end credits of Death of Superman do have a few small scenes that lead towards Reign of the Superman, but nothing spectacular. As in the comics, in the wake of Superman’s fall, new heroes emerge: the Cyborg Superman, the Eradicator, Superboy, and Steel. The general public are trying to figure out who the newcomers are, and which, if any, of them are the original Superman somehow returned. There are changes to the stories of several of these characters. Closest to unaltered is Steel, a scientist named Dr. John Henry Irons, voiced by Cress Williams, currently starring in the CW’s Black Lightning.
The changes are mostly towards streamlining stories that took at least a year in several titles of comics. A lot of supporting characters have been cut, and several histories condensed and rewritten to say the least. To focus on the mystery of those four, the Justice League is removed early in a dues ex machina event that really doesn’t make sense. “Oh, no, something is falling towards us. Those of us with superhuman speed and reflexes will stand in one place and stare at it.” Eventually, most of the characters’ true natures come out, and, of course, the original Superman makes his return. The much weakened Superman survives his climactic battle largely due to help from Lois Lane, fearless reporter and love of Superman’s life. They do a good job of making Lois a great character without making it too unbelievable that someone with no powers (or a Bat-arsenal) could make a difference in a high-end fight.
The overall writing was uneven in my opinion. There were some great one-liners and characterization moments, but also some plot holes and things that didn’t make a lot of sense. The casting I thought was brilliant. Superman and Lois were played by real life husband and wife Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn. Green Lantern steals every small scene he’s in, as you’d expect from Nathan Fillion. Wonder Woman is Rosario Dawson, back from the other side of the fence as Claire Temple on the (sadly cancelled) Netflix/Marvel shows. Jason O’Mara is back as Batman, and does a fine job as the intimidating Dark Knight. Interestingly, the big bad who is revealed to be behind all of this doesn’t have a voice credit on IMDB or anywhere else I can find.
What I liked: Nate Fillion as Green Lantern was fantastic, and I liked that Cress Williams is more a part of the DC family now. Lois had some good lines. The action scenes were possibly more brutal than they needed to be, but were well done and conveyed the message of how dangerous Doomsday was. There were some very powerful emotional scenes. Riann Wilson, who I admit I’m not a huge fan of elsewhere, did a great job as the amazingly intelligent and completely self-centered Lex Luthor. They managed to work in several nods to other eras of various DC shows, like the Wonder Woman spin, “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel,” and the Justice League Watchtower, JLU edition.
What I didn’t: I think a lot of the changes they made were not needed. I admit, I strongly dislike the rebooted costumes, and wish they’d used the originals (how does Clark hide the stupid high collar under his shirt, anyway?). I mentioned the trap that laid out the Justice League in Reign of the Supermen. Don’t go out of the way to mention the Teen Titans multiple times but never even show them. I didn’t care for the anime style animation, which was a lot more noticeable in the first half, Death of Superman. The trying to set the older story in the modern version of the DCU didn’t really work for me.
I found these uneven, and didn’t like some of the choices they made. I’ll give a low 3 out of 5, and once again mourn the DC Animated Universe as captained by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie.