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Review: “The Death of Superman” – Full of Sound and Fury

The Death of Superman

Death of SupermanI lived through the original “Death of Superman/Doomsday” comic-book event, along with the overheated media coverage that did not understand that death is a temporary inconvenience among comic book superheroes, especially one as iconic as Superman. In all honesty, I never liked the story itself, since it seemed that the real super power of the Superman-killing antagonist Doomsday was that he could suck the intelligence out of anyone confronting him, leading his enemies to believe Doomsday could be beaten by hitting him Really Hard. Never mind that we’re talking about superheroes with ultimate wish-ring weapons and super speed and dimensional travel and magic — they all fall because they forget how to use their powers. I liked the use of the medium of comics to give increasing weight and tension to the end battle between Superman himself and Doomsday, but the battle itself was just two large blunt objects hitting each other until they both break.

All of which leads up to the grand good-news/bad-news joke that The Death of Superman is a fairly loyal adaptation of the original storyline and uses the medium of animation to make that knock-down, drag-out fight more interesting than the comics could. The bad news is that the very faithfulness that separates this movie from Superman: Doomsday extends to the original storyline’s flaws, starting with the fact that the movie telegraphs its ending right from the title.

The Death of SupermanBy itself, the fact that the movie spoils its own ending isn’t a bad thing. It just forces the filmmakers to turn this into a “how are we getting there?” kind of movie rather than a “where are we going?” kind of movie. One of the best things about The Death of Superman is how it establishes a few different plot lines before Doomsday shows up and starts breaking things. It is quite successful at linking back to the movie continuity that’s been running since Justice League: War, but in such a way that keeps them all accessible to people who have only a cursory knowledge of Superman or this particular incarnation of him. The true central axis that the movie revolves around is the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent, and specifically what a hinderance Clark’s secrecy about his super-powered alter-ego is towards a functioning adult relationship. I’d have preferred a little less “thank you, Captain Obvious” questioning from Clark to his other super colleagues and his parents, and I’ve always preferred the take introduced by the Lois and Clark TV show that Lois knew Clark’s secret for much longer than she ever let on, since that plays to her strengths as a reporter and as a character. Even with both those quibbles, I found the relationship between this movie’s Lois and Clark (and Superman) charming enough to give Superman’s impending death real emotional weight. Similarly, I really enjoyed the bits involving Bibbo, a good-hearted lunk of a guy who’s a friend to Superman and who is injected into this movie just enough to give his last scene genuine impact (and possibly even a callback to Will Eisner’s famous graphic novel A Contract with God). It’s one of those cinematic moments that sticks with you long after the end credits roll.

The Death of SupermanOf course, that scene isn’t possible without a giant fight that boils down to Doomsday and Superman slugging it out to their respective ends. Doomsday remains a gigantic plot device of a character, serving exactly one function and forcing the rest of the story and everyone in it to bend to his peculiar gravitational field. He is still not interesting, despite the occasional aside from Lex Luthor or other characters questioning why such a creature would exist and definitely not in comparison to the way Doomsday was used in the Justice League TV show. However, the ability of animation to depict action in real-time makes it slightly more credible that Doomsday could take out the Justice League on his own. Doomsday in animation has much more savagery than he has on the printed page, which communicates his ferocity and surprising speed more effectively. It’s much more credible that he can take out the Justice League before they realize how big a threat he actually is. It is much easier for animation to make an extended fight sequence more interesting than it can be on the printed page, and The Death of Superman exploits this strength of the medium quite successfully. There are numerous wince-inducing moments as Superman and Doomsday trade blows, demolishing giant chunks of real estate in the process. At the same time, this means that one can view the movie as a lot of genuinely good human-interest stuff that’s separated by an hour-long fight; that’s good news compared to something like Justice League: War (which had sub-par human-interest stuff separated by an even longer fight), but also ultimately makes The Death of Superman feel somewhat perfunctory no matter how good those action sequences are.

The Death of Superman comes with a small but solid set of bonus features. There’s the usual look ahead at the follow-up Reign of the Supermen movie, along with a look back at the original comics and its adaptation for this movie. The bonus DC Vault cartoons are the Legion of Superheroes series finale two-parter “Dark Victory,” are as potent now as they were when they were aired (even if their connection to this movie is tangential at best). The movie has been released in an Ultra4K HD combo pack and a limited release that includes a special collectible figurine that fits in with the other figures that have been released so far.

The Death of SupermanLike Batman: Under the Red Hood, I feel like The Death of Superman visibly improves on the source material, but that alone doesn’t make it a good movie. This is a great job adapting and improving on material that is famous but not very good, which limits how successful the movie can be no matter how much I enjoyed watching it. Then again, I doubt the powers-that-be at DC would be interested in an animated adaptation of Superman #156, which is probably my favorite “Death of Superman” story. Like that classic comic book tale, I thought the best thing about the original “Doomsday” storyline wasn’t the death of Superman itself, but the way it forced everyone else to grapple with that sense of loss. That is touched on at the very end of The Death of Superman, and it seems that more of it will be coming in the follow-up Reign of the Supermen movie. That’s not much consolation, especially since Reign of the Supermen seems like it will be following that much less interesting storyline, but I’ll take what I can get.

LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes Aquaman Rage of AtlantisReleased just a week before The Death of Superman was the latest LEGO DC Comics Super Heroes movie, Aquaman: Rage of Atlantis. The movie seems to be a clear attempt to put Aquaman in the forefront more to tie-in with the upcoming Jason Momoa Aquaman live-action movie, and it’s pretty successful. There’s more of the usual LEGO Super Hero silliness that all these movies have, along with the inherent comedy value that comes when everyone in the movie is a LEGO mini-figure down to their C-shaped hands. The worst thing about it is that this version of Aquaman approaches the out-RAGE-ous take on the character from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but doesn’t quite go all the way there. It meant I kept thinking how much more fun it would have been if that Aquaman were in this movie.

Despite the title, the movie focuses equally on Jessica Cruz Green Lantern, injecting her clinical anxiety issues into a movie geared for much younger viewers with mixed success. Knowing her history and her place in the DC comics makes her actions more explainable, but skewing the nature of her anxiety in terms that kids can understand may have over-simplified things a bit too much. Still, she’s a fun character to play around with, which extends to the LEGO mini-figure of her that comes with the Blu-ray.

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Last pup of a dying planet, a young German Shepherd is rocketed to Earth, where he is bombarded by cosmic gamma rays emitted by a radioactive spider. Crash-landing in the forgotten land of Hubba Hubba, he is discovered by the Who-You-Callin'-Ancient One and his lovely wife Pookie. Instilled with their traditional American values, he spends his young adulthood roaming the globe, learning all the secrets of Comic-Fu. Donning battle armor fashioned from spilled chemicals splashed by lightning, he becomes the Sensational Shield of Sequential Art ACE THE BATHOUND! Look, it sounds a lot better than the truth. Born in Brooklyn, moved to Queens at 3 and then New Jersey at 10. Throughout high school, college, grad school, and gainful employment, two things have remained constant: 1) I am a colossal nerd, and 2) I have spent far too much time reading comics, and then reading and writing about them. Currently working as a financial programmer in New York City, while continuing to discover all the wonderful little surprises (and expenses) of owning your a home in the suburbs. Shares the above with a beautiful, wonderful, and incredibly understanding wife named Frances (who, thankfully, participates in most of my silly hobbies) and a large furry dog named Brownie (who, sadly, does not).

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