" engaging entertainment that can stand with the best of the DCAU."

Superman's Death Revives DC Animated Universe

(083118) How many times can Warner Brothers and DC Comics kill off Superman? Didn't we just go over the Man of Steel's demise in director Zack Snyder's Batman v. Superman a mere two years ago? (It was followed, of course, by his rebirth in Justice League a year later.) Indeed, with the release of the 33rd original film in the DC Animated Universe—the numbering at Wikipedia continues to be off by one—the series seems to be repeating itself. The very first DCAU original movie was Superman: Doomsday, released eleven years ago. Like that 2007 inaugural feature, The Death of Superman is based on the multi-issue comic book "event" published by DC between 1992 and 1993. Director Bruce Timm gave us his version in Superman: Doomsday. The senior director on the new film is Sam Liu, who has overseen seven of the last nine entries in the series, beginning with Justice League: Gods and Monsters. And while his track record has not scored very well with me, this newest entry is far and away the best work he's done.

Repetition aside, Death of Superman is a lot of fun, both visually and in the dizzying array of characters and subplots that Liu, co-director James Tucker and screenwriter Peter Tomasi effectively juggle in the film's efficient 81 minutes. The animation represents a welcome and colorful departure from the faded style on view in recent entries like Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. And the script wisely assumes a DCU-savvy audience that doesn't need to be bogged down with back stories. (One of Snyder's biggest mistakes in Batman v. Superman was attempting to include Batman's origin and the Justice League's, both of which distracted from the main event promised in the title.) Add to that a nimble collection of voice talent, some new and some old, and you have an engaging entertainment that can stand with the best of the DCAU.

The Justice League is fully organized and operational, and in the film's prologue, we watch several members back up Superman as he foils an attempt to kidnap Metropolis Mayor Booker (Jonathan Adams) by the crime group Intergang, which is equipped with advanced technology from the planet Apokolips. Analysis of the alien tech suggests the involvement of Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson), who is currently under house arrest with an ankle monitor—who thought that was a good idea?—but Luthor denies all involvement. He's obviously lying, as we discover his various projects in the bowels of Lex Corp, which are designed both to defeat Superman (Jerry O'Connell) and to reinvent Luthor as the true hero of Metropolis.

But Luthor, Superman and the world at large shortly have bigger problems. A meteor from deep space crashes into the ocean, landing near the undersea kingdom of Aquaman (Matt Lanter) and crumbling to reveal an apparently invulnerable killing machine that will eventually be dubbed "Doomsday". The creature's origin and purpose remain unknown; when Martian Manhunter (Nyambi Nyambi) attempts to read his thoughts, there's nothing there. But beginning with a few unfortunate Atlanteans, Doomsday carves a path of destruction, exiting the sea and heading for Metropolis. Multiple members of the Justice League respond to the threat, but the combined powers of Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson), Green Lantern (Firefly's Nathan Fillion), Flash (Christopher Gorham), Cyborg (Shemar Moore), Batman (Jason O'Mara) and Martian Manhunter are no match for this apparently unstoppable threat. Even Luthor, who throws his own technological might against the beast, fails in the attempt. Eventually, only Superman stands between Doomsday and the Earth's destruction. He succeeds, of course, but at a terrible price (hence the title).

While the ongoing battle with Doomsday supplies the film's requisite combat and chaos, Death of Superman's dramatic and emotional content arises from the relationship between Clark Kent and Lois Lane (X-Men alum Rebecca Romijn). In this iteration, Lois is dating Clark but doesn't yet know he's Superman. When she meets Ma and Pa Kent (Paul Eiding and Jennifer Hale) for the first time, Clark's inexplicable insistence on silencing his parents whenever they try to talk about the past confirms Lois' worst fears that her boyfriend is withholding a terrible secret. We know that Clark's concealment is simply part of his effort to protect the people he loves from Superman's many enemies, and there are a few quick references back to Richard Donner's Superman films, where that dilemma was first explored on the screen. The conflict comes to a head over a tense luncheon in the tavern owned by Superman's number one fan, Bibbo Bibbowski (Constantine refugee Charles Halloran), where Lois is startled by one revelation after another—and then Clark is gone, called away to confront Doomsday just as things are getting really interesting.

Death of Superman inaugurates a DCAU miniseries, and bread crumbs pointing toward future developments are strewn throughout the film. The end credits are punctuated by no fewer than four—FOUR!—brief scenes pointing to the next installment, Reign of the Supermen, which is due in 2019 (a preview is included in the disc extras). For me, the most intriguing snippet was the glimpse of Dr. John Henry Irons a/k/a "Steel", who is voiced by Cress Williams, now better known as TV's Black Lightning. Steel is expected to feature heavily in the forthcoming Reign, and Williams has already proven that he's a commanding presence. Superman may be (temporarily) dead, but the future of the DCAU looks livelier than ever.

Directed by:  Jake Castorena & Sam Liu
Written by: Teleplay by Peter Tomasi, based on the DC Comics story.
Starring the Voices Of:   Jerry O'Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson
Released:  072418-direct to dvd
Length: 81 minutes
Rating:   Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action including some bloody images.

DEATH OF SUPERMAN  ©  2018 Warner Bros. Animation

Review © 2018 Alternate Reality, Inc.