Hey guys! How’s it going? I’m doing pretty great today. I spent the afternoon at the movie theatre with Brad seeing a special double feature event. We saw the DC Universe Animated Original Movie The Death of Superman and it’s sequel Reign of the Supermen both based on the DC Comics story arc from 1993, The Death and Return of Superman. Because of the new focus for the blog that I instituted for 2019 I wouldn’t normally be reviewing these two movies, especially not in this way. However since I’m reviewing the trade paperback for The Death of Superman this week, and these movies tie into it as they adapt the entire story arc, I decided to make an exception. Originally I was just going to review the first movie as part of the review of the comic on Friday, but I don’t own the movie so I can’t rewatch it to refresh my memory on the changes made in adapting the comic into a movie, but since it’s fresh in my mind I’m doing it this way instead. So let’s get into it. Let’s start with a history lesson.
Way back in the early ’90s Superman was not as popular among the general population as he had been in the late ’70s and early ’80s when the Richard Donner/Richard Lester Superman movies, starring Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent/Superman and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, were being released in theatres. At this point there were four Superman comic book titles being published by DC Comics, Action Comics, The Adventures of Superman, Superman, and Superman: The Man of Steel. All four books were being worked on by a different team of writers and artists under a single editor. That editor was Mike Carlin, who was one of the major editors and writers at DC Comics in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Every year all four creative teams would get together for a Superman summit where they would outline the next year’s worth of stories that could run through the four Superman books and then bring in other books as needed such as Batman and Detective Comics or Justice League America and Green Lantern.
During the 1990 Superman Summit, the creative teams came up with a two or three year story arc that would lead into the wedding of Clark Kent and Lois Lane. The wedding would be the 1993 story arc with the actual wedding taking place in The Adventures of Superman #500 at the end of the year. The first couple of years would set everything up by having Clark propose to Lois and reveal to her that he’s Superman (this happened in Action Comics #662). But then Warner Bros. Television began production on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and that changed everything.
Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, developed by Deborah Joy LeVine, and starring Dean Cain and Terri Hatcher as the titular characters, Clark Kent/Superman and Lois Lane respectively, was sold to ABC in 1991, during the Superman Summit that would’ve begun full work on the wedding story arc. Believing there should be uniformity between the different mediums, DC Comics asked the Superman creative teams, by now a single entity, to put the wedding storyline on hold as the TV side didn’t want to do the wedding between Lois and Clark until several seasons down the line (it ended up only being three seasons into the show by the time the wedding happened). Frustrated that a year’s work was down the tube, one of the writers, Jerry Ordway, asked, “Why don’t we just kill him?”. He’d asked that question before, but since they didn’t have a lot of time to come up with a new story for the issues to be published on time, the creative team agreed and, after pitching it to DC Comics, everyone began working on the story.
The actual death of Superman happened in issue #75 of the second volume of the comic book titled simply, Superman. The original series, now titled The Adventures of Superman, had ended it’s in run with issue #423 in 1986 before becoming The Adventures of Superman with issue #424 in 1987. The entire issue is devoted to Superman battling Doomsday and ultimately his death. The issue sold more than six million copies at a time where Superman comics were selling only 150,000 copies per issue, which still sounds like a lot, but at the time Marvel Comics, particularly the Spider-Man books and the two X-Men titles, were selling double that amount. The attention that this event received brought Superman back into the collective consciousness of people outside of the comic book reading community, and reminded people that Superman was still relevant.
The aftermath also did very well with the funeral issue and the issues following where the Superman team explored what the DC Universe would be like without Superman and whether or not he could be replaced. The answer was no and they brought Superman back by the end of 1993. But it didn’t end there.
In 2007 Warner Bros. Animation launched their direct-to-video line of movies based on DC Comics properties with Superman: Doomsday. This movie adapted the three part story arc into truncated form, removing Steel, Superboy, Cyborg Superman and the Eradicator and then combining them into an evil, fully grown, clone of Superman, made by Lex Luthor. This movie was very good for it’s time, but fans of the original story arc, including the makers of this movie wanted a better adaptation. Which they got in 2018 with The Death of Superman and today with part 2, Reign of the Supermen. Now let’s get into the meat of the story.
I loved this movie! There were things that were holdovers from Superman: Doomsday like Superman revealing his secret identity as Clark Kent to Lois, and Lex Luthor’s greater involvement in the story than he had in the comics, and there was something that was missing from both this movie and Reign of the Supermen, but I’ll get into that shortly. Right now I want to talk about what I enjoyed about this movie.
One of the things that I am continuously fascinated with in the Superman comics is the relationship between Superman and Lex Luthor. Maybe it’s because I thought the dynamic between Lex and Clark on Smallville was extremely well done, particularly with Michael Rosenbaum playing Lex Luthor on that show. While it’s not as dynamic here as it is on that show, it’s still fascinating to watch them on screen especially because the New 52 was an era where Lex Luthor wasn’t a villain and had even joined the Justice League.
I grew up with the classic Superman/Lois Lane relationship. It was in movies, on TV, and in the comics. And yet, here it came out of nowhere. The last time I saw Superman, in Justice League Vs. Teen Titans, he was happily in a relationship with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman as he was in the comics during the New 52. But, because this movie is adapting a period in the comics where Lois and Clark were together and were engaged to be married, they had to fit this into the movie continuity, even though these movies are primarily based on the New 52 version of the DC Universe. I just wish there’d been a scene in a previous movie where Clark and Diana broke up and Lois and Clark got together. This movie also does the opposite of what Superman: Doomsday did in 2007. In that movie Lois Lane was dating Superman and Superman had to struggle with whether or not he would reveal to Lois that he was also Clark Kent. Here, Lois is still dating Superman, but in his secret identity as Clark Kent, and it’s Clark who has to make the decision whether or not to let her know that he’s Superman. Which is something that Clark struggled with deciding on in the first six years of Smallville while he was with Lana Lang. But, unlike in Superman: Doomsday, Clark has his parents to counsel him on the situation, which is always nice because I love Jonathan and Martha Kent.
The battle with Doomsday was so much larger in scope than it was in Superman: Doomsday. There it was just Superman vs. Doomsday, which is fine, but it doesn’t really lend itself to telling the audience just how much of a threat Doomsday is. You really need Doomsday to take out the Justice League in order for us to realize just how big the threat is. One of the things that was improved from the source material is the version of the Justice League presented. In the comics we had the weird, ’90s, version of the League which was Bloodwynd, Fire & Ice, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and Guy Gardner (one of the other Green Lanterns). Here we have the heavy hitters, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Cyborg, Aquaman, Martian Manhunter, Hawkman, and, of course, Superman. The fight worked so well in the Anime influenced animation style and I wasn’t bored at all.
Also, I don’t know if I imagined it or not, but there was a shot where we saw the Flash running and the music changed slightly to Blake Neely’s TV theme music from The Flash for a moment, and then did it again with his TV theme music from Supergirl in a shot where we see Superman flying. It could’ve just been me, but, given the other nods to other DC Comics based movies and TV shows in this and Reign of the Supermen, I wouldn’t be surprised if they incorporated those two TV show themes into the movie even for just a second where you wouldn’t notice them if you weren’t paying attention.
This movie was absolutely fantastic! Aside from Lois and Clark’s relationship coming completely out of left field in this movie continuity, there isn’t anything I want to complain about. Though I do wish that Superman’s funeral had been held over until the beginning of Reign of the Supermen and had had more people attending. In the comics the entire superhero community, including the Bat Family, Team Arrow, Team Flash, the Justice League, the Titans, the Outsiders, and the Justice Society of America, not to mention the Superman Family, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Maggie Sawyer, Bibbo Bibowski, Cat Grant, and the Guardian, were all at the funeral. That’s a minor thing though because of how well this story was adapted given the scope of it in the comics. Now, onto Reign of the Supermen.
I didn’t like this one quite as much as I did The Death of Superman. It was still a really great movie and I really enjoyed it, there were just a few things that I thought could’ve been done better, shouldn’t’ve been glossed over as much, or felt out of place for this storyline because of when it was originally published and where it takes place here in these movies. The biggest problem that I have with this movie is simply a problem with any adaptation and that is this movie felt rushed.
In the comics the full story arc took a year to tell with no hint that DC was actually going to bring the original Superman back, which was the whole idea and why they did “Reign of the Supermen” (The Return of Superman) after they’d done “Doomsday” (The Death of Superman), which showed the death of Superman, and “Funeral for a Friend” (World without a Superman), which showed the impact that Superman’s death would actually have on the world, and more specifically, how Superman’s death would impact all of his friends and family including Ma and Pa Kent, Alexander Luthor (Lex Luthor Jr.), Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Perry White, Cat Grant, The Daily Planet, and everyone in Metropolis.
In the movie, especially in this double feature where there was merely a five minute break in between seeing Superman die, and seeing the impact of his death, leading up to his return about 55 to 60 minutes into an 87 minute movie, we meet Steel, Superboy, the Eradicator, and Cyborg Superman right away and so we don’t get to see how Superman’s death affects Metropolis or the Justice League/superhero community like we do in the comics or in Superman: Doomsday where we saw the Metropolis police be overwhelmed by crime. I liked the scene at the beginning of The Death of Superman where we see Dan Turpin and Maggie Sawyer, Superman’s two friends on the police force, but that doesn’t get paid off in either movie. We barely get anything with the Kents, and most of it is focused on Lois, and even then they just gloss over what made the comic book source material so popular and so good where we got a good month or two before the four Superman replacements were introduced. Which is who I’d like to talk about now. Starting with Superboy.
In this movie Superboy is kind of a mix of characters. His costume is the costume that Conner Kent wore in the ’90s, right up to the end of Young Justice (the comic book, not the TV show) in 2002 or 2003, and his media popularity is straight out of the ’90s Superboy comics. However, physically and emotionally he’s more like Lois and Clark’s son, Jon, that was introduced at the end of the New 52 and co-starred with Damian Wayne (Robin) in the very popular comic book series, Super Sons, which is a series I’ve heard about and not read. Also, his role as LexCorp’s personal superhero is the role that the Matrix Supergirl, an alien lifeform that shapeshifts into the deceased Supergirl (Kara Zor-El, pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths), played for Lex Luthor Jr. in the comics in the early to mid ’90s. Which makes sense because they avoided using Dubbilex, Tana Moon, Rex Leech, Rex’s daughter, Roxy, and Knockout in this movie. This version of Superboy works better in the age of social media than he does in the ’90s. There’s been teen idols since the days of Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and Shirley Temple, but because of how they portrayed Superboy in this movie, and in the comics from the ’90s, it just seems to work better in today’s society than it did in the ’90s. Now let’s talk about the Eradicator.
I think the Eradicator is the Superman replacement that they changed the most in the adaptation process. In the comics he was a Kryptonian weapon sent out to eradicate all other cultures, thus preserving the Kryptonian culture. Here, he’s simply a hologram created to eradicate any threats to Superman’s rejuvenation matrix inside the Fortress of Solitude including intruders. Which is more benevolent than what the comic went for, which amounts to Genocide. It’s also a change that I like as I didn’t quite understand his purpose in the comics, particularly in “Reign of the Supermen”. Now, onto John Henry Irons a.k.a. Steel.
John Henry Irons is the one that was changed the least in the adaptation process. He’s not given much of a backstory and none of his supporting characters from the comics are in the movie, but, his motivation for wanting to fill in for Superman is the same and his personality is exactly the same as it is in the comics too. He’s probably my favourite of the four Superman replacements, with Superboy being my second favourite. I wish I could read more of his solo comic that ran from 1994 to 1998 because I’ve only read two issues. Issue #8, which was the Zero Hour tie-in and issue #0 which was part of Zero Month, where every comic published by DC Comics had an issue published with zero on the front cover, in between the tie-in to the event, Zero Hour and the issue that came after the tie-in issues. I loved both issues and I would like to read more. Finally, let’s talk about Hank Henshaw, a.k.a. Cyborg Superman.
I’m mostly familiar with Hank Henshaw’s backstory from the CW series, Supergirl. However just reading up on the comic book version on Wikipedia for this review, it appears that the backstory that we saw in the beginning of The Death of Superman is intact from the comic book version. But, that’s where the similarities end.
In the comics, after the accident that kills the crew of the Excalibur, Henshaw’s consciousness was transferred into Superman’s birthing matrix where he creates a ship that takes him out into space. There he comes across Mongul, one of Superman’s villains, on Warworld and makes an alliance with him to conquer Earth in Superman’s absence, following his death at the hands of Doomsday. They destroy Coast City, the port of call for Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, and use the area as the hub for their conversion of Earth into a new Warworld. The plan is stopped by Superman, Steel, Superboy, Eradicator, Supergirl and Green Lantern.
In the movie however, because this movie is set in the New 52 based continuity, there’s a strong tie between the Justice League and Darkseid, so instead of Mongul and Warworld, it’s Darkseid and Apokalips that appear. Here, after the accident, Hank is captured by Darkseid and converted into an agent of evil, so that Darkseid could infiltrate Earth and convert Humanity into soldiers for his empire to compliment the Parademons he already controls. It still works wonderfully, but it’s also a bit of a cliche.
Overall both of these movies were amazing. As I said I liked The Death of Superman better than I did Reign of the Supermen, but honestly, I don’t hate or dislike Reign of the Supermen. I really enjoy both movies, it’s just part two felt rushed and I honestly felt like they could’ve split it up into two parts just so we could have more of how Superman’s death impacted the world, particularly in Metropolis, in the Justice League, and among Superman’s friends and family. Again, both were awesome movies and I had a lot of fun watching them.
Alright folks I’m done for today. I’ll be back on Friday with my review of The Death of Superman the trade paperback that collects the first part of the three part arc. I’m going to split the review up into three chunks, so Friday will be The Death of Superman, and then the comic book reviews that I do for February and March will be World Without a Superman, and then will wrap up the story with The Return of Superman. So until next time have a great week and I will talk to you all later. Goodnight!
All Images Taken From: