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‘The Death of Superman’ and ‘Reign of the Supermen’ do Justice to the Man of Steel

DC’s live action films have a long way to go before they can get give their characters the respect they deserve, but that being said, their animated studio has a good grasp on the brand. Even though they focus a lot on the Bat-family, they do give their other characters a chance. The studio’s two newest movies put the focus on the boy in blue, adapting Superman’s most popular stories: The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen. Not only are these two movies beautifully animated, but they understand what makes Superman the ultimate paragon of good. Along with Bendis’ comic book run, Superman is due for a comeback.

Way back in the 90s, The Death of Superman was the comic event of the decade. Its popularity reached mainstream news, and it was even parodied on SNL before superheroes were as mainstream as they are today. DC Animated veterans Sam Lui and James Tucker ultimately wanted to tell the film version of this very simple story properly: Clark Kent is torn whether or not he should tell Lois Lane he is Superman, while Doomsday, a being of enormous strength and ferocity, crashes down from the cosmos and rains havoc on the world, defeating the military and the members of Justice League single-handedly. Superman arrives and lets loose his hidden strengths to defeat the creature, but simultaneously suffers a fatal blow. The terror is gone, but so is the Boy Scout. The world mourns, as they wonder what’s next; The Death of Superman delivers an emotional impact that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice couldn’t because it allows the audience to get to know Superman as an individual.

Everyone knows death is cheap in superhero comics. The Death of Superman isn’t trying to pretend that he was gone forever; they even tease the sequel in the stinger, spoiling his return. The film simply wants to show that Superman is more than an invulnerable flying brick, and also that Doomsday isn’t just a mindless creature — he is a vehicle for Superman’s determination. During the wanton destruction, Superman makes sure to save lives first before fending off the creature, as Lui and Tucker truly understand what comes first in Superman’s creed. With its sleek animation, and great pacing, it’s clear that Reign of the Supermen is also in good hands.

In the wake of Superman’s death, there was a void — heroes and citizens alike are lost without him, feeling as though they lost a friend, or an artist that had an impact on their life. When Superman’s corpse suddenly disappears, four new heroes sporting the famed ‘S’ emblem emerge. The mystery to the new Supermen slowly unravels as Lois Lane investigates the newcomers. Their establishing character moments perfectly define who they are as heroes.

  • Superboy is a brash teenager, charging in with a smirk and the personality of an obnoxious YouTube celebrity.
  • Eradicator is more a vigilante than hero. He strikes fear into his prey with emotionless candor and photon-powered abilities.
  • Steel is a man in power armor who saves the little people. He doesn’t claim to be Superman, but wears the S to honour the fallen hero.
  • Cyborg Superman is the fan favourite. He claims to be Superman with a convenient hit of amnesia, and his robot parts were required to replace his beaten body.

    The Four Supermen of Metropolis

Bringing four brand new characters into a movie that’s already plot heavy might seem difficult, but Reign of the Supermen makes sure that they aren’t simply glossed over. The creators don’t stray too far from their core personalities — with the possible exception of Superboy, who was originally conceived as an MTV youth by adults who knew nothing of the culture. This version makes sure his cockiness doesn’t go unnoticed, and on numerous occasions he is called out on his attitude. Thankfully, this major change brought humour into an already dour movie. His interactions with Lois Lane are especially enjoyable to watch.

On the topic of Lois Lane, she shines here. Her relationship with Clark is a prime focus in The Death of Superman, while in Reign of the Supermen, she is the audience surrogate. She is the one interviewing the Supermen, discovering that these impostors can’t be Superman. She sees remnants of him in each one, but knows something is not right. They have his power and his presence, but lack the one thing that makes Superman great: his empathy and humility.

The one problem with Reign of the Supermen has to be the rushed second half. It could have used ten more minutes to tighten up some characters and plot development. Some decisions seem to be half-baked at times, and need a lot of suspension of disbelief to be taken seriously. However, even though The Death of Superman keeps a cleaner script, Reign of the Supermen doesn’t fail as a story. With crazy and cluttered source material, Lui had to bring in as many elements as possible, yet still show how Superman  is important. He is a hero, a superpower, and a symbol.

Funeral for a Friend

Some of the best Superman stories are not the ones where Superman hits people or uses his array of powers to stop the rampant villain of the week. To be fair, a Superman story without a glass-shattering punch is like having a Batman story without that ‘bat glare.’ Despite being animated films, The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen are violent and brutal, as civilians are murdered, Superman ends up a bloody mess, and the Justice League are taken down hard. The fear and determination on everyone’s face when Doomsday is rampaging is clear. They are mature, but without over-the-top grittiness.

The Death of Superman works very well as a standalone movie, and it’s a great adaptation of a popular story. The sequel, Reign of the Supermen, also works well on its own, but should be watched in conjunction with the prequel to get the most out of it. Together they tell a great story, giving us a Superman and Clark Kent that are more than just faces. Lui and Tucker know why Superman is important, and they use the best possible story to prove that he is more than a superhero.

Reign of the Supermen is available on Blu-ray and DVD January 29th, 2018. 

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