Thursday, June 05, 2008

Superman: Doomsday

"It's easy to be brave when you're bulletproof." Superman

If you were born in the tail-end of the seventies, you're probably familiar with the most controversial comic-book of all time - Superman Issue #75 - the one in which Superman died.

The Death of Superman was DC's response to declining sales of their Superman comic books. In a decade dominated by anti-establishment anti-heroes, the too-good-to-be-true Superman was a social dinosaur and the fact that he was indestructible (unless you had a lump of Kryptonite handy) meant his comics lacked the sense of danger, risk and peril that made characters like Batman consistently popular.

Superman was on the way out - so DC Comics tackled the issue head on and killed him.

I won't go into the details of Superman's death and subsequent (obligatory) resurrection. What I will mention is that it was a defining moment in comic book history and a cultural landmark for people my age. Tina still has an authentic issue of Superman #75 in it's original plastic wrapper back at home.

Which is why we were both interested to hear that Warner Brothers had made an animated movie based on the Death of Superman story-arc.

Superman: Doomsday

Superman: Doomsday is made by the same team that later went on to produce Justice League: New Frontier. It's a 75 minute animated film featuring an all-star cast and an up-to-date retelling of Superman's demise. But is it any good?

Warner Brothers carefully marketed the direct-to-DVD movie to the same audience who bought the original comic back in 1993. We were fifteen then - now we're thirty. While our enthusiasm for Superman remains, our tastes have matured and our desire for nostalgia is tempered by our need for sophisticated, adult story-telling.

This is why Superman: Doomsday departs drastically from the comic-book and features violence, emotion and intrigue clearly intended for an adult audience.

The Story

In modern-day Metropolis, Superman and Lois Lane are beginning a fledgling relationship, the Man of Steel prepared to reveal his alter-ego of Clark Kent to Lois, oblivious the fact that she's already worked out that Clark and Superman are the same person (what kind of disguise is a pair of glasses?)

Meanwhile, billionaire businessman Lex Luthor is digging beneath the city to exploit it's geothermal energy - and accidentally stumbles over a spaceship buried beneath the surface. Cracking open the hull, his crew release an unstoppable killing machine the media quickly dub 'Doomsday.'

Doomsday leaves a trail of slaughter and destruction as he makes his way to the bright lights of Metropolis - where Superman reluctantly engages him. As the battle commences, people come to an unprecedented realisation. The murderous Doomsday might be powerful enough to defeat Superman!

The beautifully animated battle sees the two titans club and clobber each other across the city, knocking down buildings and leaving a trail of destruction as they go. Eventually, a bruised and bloodied Superman is able to defeat Doomsday by pile-driving him into the ground at supersonic speeds. But staggering away from Doomsday's lifeless body, Superman himself slumps to his knees and passes out in Lois Lane's arms. The epic battle has claimed his life, too.

Superman is given a hero's funeral - and the familiar 'Superman' cast deal with their hero's passing in different ways. Jimmy Olsen quits the Daily Planet for a career in sleazy tabloid journalism. Perry White falls off the wagon and seeks solace in a bottle of whiskey. Lois Lane heads off to Smallville to seek comfort with the only woman who can truly share her pain - Clark Kent's mother.

But like in all good comic books, announcements of Superman's demise were premature. Suddenly, the Man of Steel is back in Metropolis, fighting crime, writing wrongs and, alarmingly for Lois Lane, completely ignorant of their six month relationship.

She suspects that this isn't the Superman she knew and loved - and her suspicions are seemingly confirmed when Superman administers a new and brutal form of out-of-character justice - dropping a suspected child murderer to his death.

The reign of this new, vigilante Superman threatens the whole city, as the police and military are powerless against the indestructible super being. As he administers more of his bloody 'justice' it soon becomes apparent that the only man who can defeat this twisted version of Superman is the original Man of Steel himself.

Complex

Justice League: The New Frontier was a rushed and busy film, trying to cram too much into a 72 minute run time. Superman: Doomsday succeeds where the later film failed by being much simpler and more straightforward, cutting out extraneous characters and plots (in the comic book, the Justice League featured heavily, as did four self proclaimed 'Supermen' who tried to fill the void left by Superman's demise.)

Cutting out the other characters and plots enables the main story to be explored much more deeply - and the human element is more rewarding than the superhuman.

Commitment is one topic discussed, regarding Superman's refusal to share his 'true' identity with girlfriend Lois Lane (even though she'd already worked out that Superman and Clark Kent share more than just shoe size.)

The age-old question of nature versus nurture plays an important role too, as Superman's physically identical clone begins committing bloody acts of 'justice' and defying authority, while the original Superman obeyed the law and considered all human life sacred.

But the most significant question explored is that of mortality - and how it relates to heroism. Superman himself admits that it's easy for him to be brave, because he's bulletproof. Only by placing him in a true life-or-death situation can we see if the Man of Steel is truly heroic, or just an indestructible boy scout.

All Star Cast

Bringing Superman and company to life are some big names - including actors who are incredibly popular with the 'geek' crowd (arguably this movie's target audience.)

Superman himself is voiced by Adam Baldwin, who plays dumb-but-dangerous Jayne Cobb in Joss Whedon's Firefly. There's more Whedon alumni present in the form of James Marsters, who voices Lex Luthor with menacing zeal. Even comic-book obsessed director Kevin Smith makes a one-line cameo, referring to a script he'd written attempting to bring the Death of Superman to the big screen at the end of the nineties.

The voice acting and animation are excellent - and tie together neatly with the intelligent script. Superman: Doomsday is an effective and efficient adaptation of comic-book canon and the finished product proves to be much more satisfying than it's follow up, Justice League: The New Frontier.

If you're a true die-hard comic fan, you might feel disappointed at the brutally pared down storyline. If you're just looking for some entertaining superhero antics, Superman: Doomsday proves to be the one of the finest examples available.

Superman: Doomsday is available from all good DVD stores.

2 comments:

katie said...

i don't know much about comic books, but i do know that i thought Wonder Woman was the hottest thing i had ever seen and I wanted to be her. but alas, i'll never be able to scale walls in a red corset and tight blue spandex grannie panties. such is life, Roland. :)

Hope you are having a good one!

Tequila Mockingbird said...

do you know the deal with captain america? stan lee was pissed off about the vietnam war, so that's why he was asleep forever. and when this iraq thing wouldnt end, stan lee killed him. all about symbolism