The Many Deaths Of Superman

Note: this isn’t a straight up review of the animated movie, but a more casual editorial that bridges between watching this movie, and my regular column for Superman: The Animated Series.

I have been struggling with wider comic book culture this past year. We have seen some pretty monumental and culturally significant adaptations hit various screens lately, whether it be a big movie blockbuster, small screen serial cartoon, or the comic books you likely read on your tablet or phone. This is amazing, because finally, validation, but I have also learned in the past year, that I have largely outgrown comic book adaptations. Now please, don’t get me wrong; I’m not being critical of the genres or the finished products, I’m being critical of myself as a fan.

Increasingly I find myself critiquing television and movies from the point of storytelling and writing. Scripted television I barely watch, so when I do, it’s something exceptional, but it’s exceptional in how it tells the story, builds its universes and develops its characters.

To bring this idea back to comic books, this continual universe building and character development is what makes me love this genre as much as I do. It has more flexibility than movies or television in terms of what it can show us and how, but also in ways better than fiction prose; if you don’t get to it in this 22 page issue, you have the next one. Comic books are almost nearly unique in manner, in today’s media.

However, when you start tweaking what you’ve already done, I seem to have a problem with it. Yes, I’m a purist. I want a literal interpretation from print to screen, if you’re going to do it. And I know that automatically sets me up for failure, because I may or may not give the final product the artistic credit it deserves, because literal interpretations are… literally impossible to do on the large or small screen.

My editor and friend, Jim, convinced me last year that I really needed to watch the “new” Death and Return of Superman animated movie. I say “new”, because for those who like to forget that it exists, DC tried an adaptation back in 2007 with Superman: Doomsday.

Here’s the thing; I liked that original adaptation a lot. Still do. And this is why: it took the essence of the storyline and made something new out of it entirely. This I can respect, even if I don’t like the finished product. Did I want a direct adaptation of the mega storyline? Of course I did! It was 2007. I had zero hopes of ever seeing a live action slug-out between Superman and Doomsday. Ironically, the only thing I will ever credit Zack Snyder for doing. Okay, that and casting Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and finally giving Amy Adams a shot at Lois Lane (but then giving her nothing to do). Superman: Doomsday may not be a perfect comic book adaptation or even animated movie, but it tried.

The more recent Death and Return of Superman is something I have in fact watched! Jim successfully convinced me to watch it… well, got the idea in my head, with my procrastination levels, it took me another nine months to get around watching it. What are my thoughts about it? Superb! Voice acting is fantastic, the visuals are out of this world and from a storytelling point of view, clings a bit closer to the the source material. Do I have problems with it? Sure do! The member’s of the Justice League, the handling go the Lois/Clark “relationship”, and well… the entire ending (but in their defence… maybe that creative license was needed). Despite my gripes towards it, it is a solid adaptation, and one I do recommend watching. My favourite? Far from it. Better than Superman: Doomsday? No, but that is because I recognize them as two different entities, products of their time.

Watching this movie has helped me figure out how to come back for Superman: The Animated Series season two. It’s truly made me appreciate what the Timmverse is, from Batman: The Animated Series all the way to movies like Superman: Doomsday… because remember, Superman: Doomsday is a Bruce Timm produced film, while Death and Return of Superman is branded under the DC Animated Movie Universe (but there is known overlap between the two groups).

Stay tuned for a wrap-up of Superman: The Animated Series season one (finally!), before we get right into season two!