Superman: Doomsday

The Death of Superman was one of the seminal moments in comic book history. This wasn’t because Superman died. As most people figured, his death was a marketing ploy to bolster sagging comic book sales and to possibly reinvigorate the demand for Superman films, which had been dormant for nearly a decade. The story, which built up across multiple titles and culminated in Superman # 75, introduced a host of new characters, like Superboy, Steel, the Eradicator, Cyborg Superman, and Doomsday himself.

This direct-to-DVD film, produced by animation legend Bruce Timm, is based loosely upon one of his prior works, Superman: The Animated Series, and the aforementioned comic book arch. The story is true to neither source. Rather, it blends the two, allowing Timm to make a statement about each, and to provide an extension to each.

Doomsday

This isn’t the first time Timm has flirted with the giant alien/robot/mutant/clone, Doomsday. He previously appeared in Justice League Unlimited, as a plot foil who appeared only twice. Timm’s original incarnation of Doomsday was brilliant. Instead of a mute, oafish killing machine, Doomsday was an intelligent being from another world, who baited and provoked Superman, and his doppelganger from another universe, to great success. This allowed interplay between them to be more diverse. Instead of Superman fighting a savage, whose only intent was instinctive and destructive, he fought a titan whose motives were based on misanthropy and a loathing for the arrogance he perceived from “Justice Lords” Superman.

Timm back stepped in this film, returning Doomsday to his comic book mode– as a mindless automaton bent on eliminating all life. While it is regrettable that this creative decision was made, and that the rest of the finely tuned animated series characters were tweaked, this was necessary to help craft the film. Like the comic book version, Superman Doomsday is not about the death of Superman. Rather, it is about the self discovery that Doomsday’s arrival sparks in Superman.

Mild Mannered Reporter

The film continues the the interplay between Superman and Lois Lane that had continued since the animated series through the dismal Brainiac film made to hype Superman Returns and various appearances by Lois in the Justice League series. It comes to a head in this film, as Lois and Superman’s relationship begins to enter new levels of depth. In the comic, Lois and Clark had already married. Since this had not yet happened in the animated continuity, it was easier to blend the two mediums by having Lois finally realize Superman’s true identity through the course of the film. This preserved the gravity of his death’s influence on Lois, and permitted a plot development a decade in the making.

Brave New Metropolis

Aside from stylistic and character tweaks from the animated series, this film stands out from its predecessors because of the frank depictions of violence. Numerous people are killed in terribly violent ways, as Doomsday twists their necks, shatters their spines, pounds them into the ground, or throws tanks on them. While it can always be safely assumed, even in the whitewashed Cartoon Network animated series’, that some people die at some point, even if it isn’t explicitly shown, there has never been this kind of graphic content in these films.

This new darker turn is not unwelcome. The violence gives the film a lot more urgency and places tremendous pressure on the characters. If it had been more sanitized, it would’ve been more about stopping Doomsday (and others) from destroying the city’s infrastructure rather than willfully killing its residents.

This film is an excellent compromise between its animated roots, and its comic book source material. Some of the recasting and character changes were pale imitations of their previous versions, such as Toyman’s gothic appearance or Anne Heche’s subdued delivery as Lois Lane, but it still meshed well enough to pay tribute to both sources.

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