The Death of Superman was a major event in the comics in 1993. It hit at just the right time in a slow news cycle so that it got a truly impressive amount of coverage in the mainstream media, reaching nightly news shows and even Entertainment Tonight. With animated movies becoming more and more popular, it was a natural story to try and translate to that medium.
Unfortunately, it was a very complicated story, taking place over several issues of different titles, crossing over with Justice League among others. The version of the Justice League that was active at that time was full of characters that even many comic book readers might not be familiar with (Bloodwynd, Maxima, Guy Gardner, Fire, Blue Beetle, and Booster Gold), none of which lends itself to an accurate take on the story.
On the other hand, the animated “Superman/Doomsday” movie, released in 2007, seemed to go out of its way to be a version of the story that bears minimal relation to the original source material. People who read my reviews might be sick of hearing it by now, but I’ll say it again: if you have good source material and make apparently random changes from it, the final project pretty much always suffers. This is a great example of that.
Despite the title, Doomsday is barely in this feature, showing up to go on a rampage and then kill Superman, the battle with the Justice League completely omitted. As in the comic, Superman and Doomsday apparently kill each other off, and there’s a huge funeral and public mourning for the fallen Man of Steel. And that’s about when the story starts radically departing from the original.
Several Superman canon characters die as this tale unfolds, and others act in various, almost unrecognizable manners. Somehow, Luthor creates an evil clone of Superman, very vaguely approximating part of the Reign of the Supermen story that followed Superman’s death. The evil clone tries to fill the fallen hero’s boots, and things start falling apart. The clone has Superman’s powers, but not his morals, compassion, or control. Superman’s “return” was initially looked on as a miracle, then quickly turned to a nightmare.
While evil takes to the skies over Metropolis, Jimmy Olsen becomes a slick tabloid paparazzi jerk, Perry White turns to the bottle, and Lois Lane and Martha Kent try and figure out what they can do. Apparently, there are no other heroes in this world, because there’s never a mention made of getting help from the Justice League, Batman, or anyone else. In the midst of this chaos, the real Superman is revived, again sort of but not really following the comic storyline. Hidden away in the Fortress of Solitude, Superman is slowly brought back by Kel-Ex, a robot servitor often seen there.
Kel-Ex does what he can to heal the wounded hero, but the evil clone’s rampage is getting out of control, spilling out over the city as the Army is brought in. What anyone thinks a tank is going to do to Superman, I have no idea. Brushing aside warnings that he’s not ready, Superman rushes back to his home city, fights the clone, defeats it, and proves he’s the real deal to a few people who’d know. Lois bullies Jimmy into helping her investigate Lex’s ties to all this, and their side peril forms a secondary plot. The movie ends with the status quo mostly restored, and a brooding criminal mastermind plotting more bad deeds.
What I liked: Honestly, not a lot. There were familiar characters, but many of them were familiar in name and general appearance only.
What I didn’t: The vast majority of the movie. I saw incomprehensible choices in plot, characterization, and even character backgrounds. From the puzzling absence of every other hero on Earth to something as minor as Lois’ father, who has always been depicted as an Army General now suddenly working for the Air Force, no detail was too small to apparently randomly change. The animation wasn’t great, and the “goofs” page on the movie’s IMDB listing is full of continuity mistakes.
This is one of the worst adaptations of a comic book story I can remember seeing, disappointing on all fronts. I’m disappointed as a comic fan, storyteller, and movie buff. I’m giving this the very rare 1 out of 5 stars for me. I don’t know what they were thinking, but I hope they don’t do it again.