Killing off and resurrecting iconic comic book characters is pretty much old hat to cynical and jaded modern readers and fans, but back when DC Comics did the unthinkable and killed the Man of Steel back in the early 90’s, it was a genuine shock to everyone including non-readers. Whether or not you picked up the issue that included a polybagged collector’s editions with black armband among its various tchotchkes, you more than likely saw the widespread mainstream media coverage. You know a comic book has entered the zeitgeist when a sketch appears on SNL.
The point is, enough people are aware of the background and story of the “Death of Superman” that it doesn’t require lengthy recap. The basic premise- an unstoppable monster named Doomsday appears, Superman engages the killer creature in a battle that claims both their lives. The storyline has been adapted and referenced in various media over the years, including most recently the the last act of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Since the story has been beaten to death, some people questioned the decision to produce The Death of Superman animated feature, the latest entry in DC’s shared animated universe. Premiering last weekend during SDCC (you can read The Beat’s review here) we had a chance to talk with the cast and crew to learn how the filmmakers brought a decidedly different angle to a familiar story.
Certainly among the comics animation fandom, there was some curiosity and even confusion as to why Warner Bros. decided to retell the “Death of Superman” when it had already released a Superman: Doomsday animated feature back in 2007. According to producer James Tucker, Doomsday was an incredible financial success, but logistically had to cut certain aspects out in order to fit the running time. When approached to being given two movies, Tucker saw it as an opportunity to incorporate characters and concepts that had to be cut out in that earlier adaptation, as well as allow for more emotional character moments. Co-director Jake Castorena echoed Tucker’s sentiments that ultimately the film is, “not necessarily about the choreography of the fight but about the emotional impact and the fatigue of the fight.” Castorena is curious to see how many direct images from the original “Death of Superman” comic fans can spot in the film.
Castorena’s co-director on the project, Sam Liu, is no stranger to the “Death of Superman” having worked as a storyboard artist on the aforementioned Superman: Doomsday film. While Liu handled Acts A & B of the film, which focused on the majority of the emotional and character relationship scenes, Studio Mir oversaw the action and fight scenes for 1/3 of the movie. Due to its past acclaimed work on The Legend of Korra and the current Voltron series, Liu felt that the Doomsday/Superman combat was more in the South Korean animation studio’s wheelhouse.
The Man of the Steel is the main protagonist of the film, he’s still supported by the Justice League including the Flash voiced once again by Chris Gorham. His performance as the Crimson Speedster brings much needed levity and humor to an admittedly dark and heavy story. Gorham’s delivery of the line “I’m Batman” as the Flash is a moment that deserves to be seen by everyone. Plus, as a father he gets bragging rights playing a superhero and something more appropriate than his other work.
For better or worse, the “Death of Superman” comic is definitely a story of that radical 90’s era, but as much as the filmmakers pay homage, don’t expect a 1:1 adaptation. “I think we get criticized for not being faithful to the comic book source material because our stuff is hand drawn,” said character designer Phil Bourassa. “If you watch The Avengers or any of these superhero films, they don’t get raked over the coals for not being faithful to one arc.” In Bourassa’s view, his goal is to distill these images into what will work for the animation medium and the idealized version he perceives in his own mind.
That said, there are certain things hardcore fans should not hold their breath to see such as Lex Luthor’s protoplasmic Matrix girlfriend (the unsettling image of Luthor dating Supergirl notwithstanding), Cadmus, “discount Yellow Lantern” Guy Gardner, Bloodwynd (a name brought up over 3x during roundtable interviews), or a eulogy fromBill Clinton. Since this film is another entry in a distinct shared universe, some may recall that a Superman and Wonder Woman romance was already set up for synergy with the New 52 comics direction. Since then, Tucker and company have been moving away from directly adapting New 52 elements and establishing their own continuity. Though the past romantic relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman is acknowledged in the film, Tucker admitted he never bought into it completely.
Since the relationship between Superman and Lois Lane is considered one of the most classic romances not only in comics but fiction in general, it’s only fitting that real life married couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn were cast to provide the voices. Ironically, neither O’Connell nor Romijn recorded together, yet even separated O’Connell believed that it allowed a genuine chemistry and cadence to shine through their performances. In case you were wondering, O’Connell did not lobby to cast his own wife, so there was no nepotism whatsoever on his part. Romijn was surprised to be offered such an iconic role and found it emotional overwhelming at times during the record to say dialogue she remembers originally spoken by Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Pay attention and you may notice a few snippets of dialogue plucked from the Donner film. O’Connell joked that his research process involved taking Romijn out to dinner.
The Man of Steel meets his ultimate match when Doomsday comes to Earth – hell bent on destroying everything and everyone in his path, including the Justice League – in the all-new, action-packed The Death of Superman, part of the popular series of DC Universe Movies.
Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment, the feature-length animated film arrives from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment on Digital starting July 24, 2018, and on Ultra HD Blu-ray™ Combo Pack, Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD August 7, 2018.
The Death of Superman ultimately finds Superman in a fight to the finish when the Man of Steel becomes the only hero who can stand in the way of the monstrous creature Doomsday and his unstoppable rampage of destruction.
The all-star cast is led by Jerry O’Connell (Crossing Jordan, Stand By Me), Rebecca Romijn (X-Men, The Librarians) and Rainn Wilson (The Office) as the voices of Superman, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, respectively. The potent trio is joined by the DC Universe Movies’ returning voices of the Justice League: Jason O’Mara (The Man in High Castle, Terra Nova) as Batman, Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Rent, Daredevil) as Wonder Woman, Shemar Moore (S.W.A.T., Criminal Minds) as Cyborg, Nathan Fillion (Castle, ABC’s upcoming The Rookie) as Green Lantern/Hal Jordan, and Christopher Gorham (Covert Affairs, Ugly Betty) as The Flash.
Producer Sam Liu (Gotham by Gaslight, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract) co-directs The Death of Superman with Jake Castorena (Justice League Action) from a script by New York Times best-selling author Peter J. Tomasi (Green Lantern: Emerald Knights). Executive Producers are Sam Register and James Tucker (Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay, Justice League Dark).