Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Superman: Doomsday

Spoiler Level: High

DC's first Original Video Animation (or in this case, Animated Original Movie) is arguably one of the most influential stories told about Superman: his battle with Doomsday, resulting in his death and rebirth.  It was certainly a big one for me; it was because of this storyline that I started reading Superman, and became a huge Superman fan, devotedly reading the four Superman comics (being published as a "Superman Weekly" format) for nearly a decade.

This film actually covers three comic arcs: The Death of Superman, Funeral for a Friend and Reign of the Supermen.  So it has a lot of material to cover in a mere 77 minutes.  You'd think that would make it rushed, but the story here is more of an retelling than a straight-out adaptation, and it works really well.

Let's start out with Doomsday:  now that Doomsday's origin has been told in the comics, his discovery and release on Earth can be tweaked to fit.  Originally Doomsday was just bound and buried in a vault on Earth, and broke out on his own.  The implication in later issues was that he was a Cadmus experiment that had gone horribly wrong that they tried to dispose of without anyone knowing.  But by the time the storylines had run their course that was way too mundane an origin, so when the official origin came out he was now a Kryptonian experiment that had been jettisoned into space, where he roamed the universe causing more and more destruction until he was finally trapped and buried on Earth.  So as a result, in this movie he's now stumbled upon in a buried spaceship with an alien warning.  So that's a bit of retconning that actually improves on the comics.

Clark's relationship with Lois is a totally new take:  in the original, Clark had already proposed to Lois, she had accepted, so he revealed he was Superman.  Here it's exactly the opposite: Superman and Lois are an item (and they shower in each others homes a lot), but he hasn't told her he's Clark yet.  Not that she hasn't pretty much figured it out on her own, and is in fact getting peeved with him for not opening up and telling her.  It's a dynamic that makes for an interesting story, but it kind of gives me the creeps.  Not Superman Returns creeps, but it still feels wrong:  it was always important to Clark that Lois love him for who he truly is, and this flies in the face of all that.  Yet it manages to combine the element of Lois learning the truth about him yet still have the emotional drama of the watching the man she loves battle to the death in front of her.

And what a battle it is.  Doomsday takes advantage of the PG-13 rating, mercilessly killing anyone in his path, often by doing terrible things to their heads.  There's just enough done off -camera or in shadow that when combined with a lack of blood keeps it horrifying without becoming gratuitous.  And then once Doomsday faces off against Superman, it just intensifies as neither one has to hold back-- something you rarely see with Superman.  Buildings are destroyed left and right, and while it's never come straight out and stated that there's still people in them, we see plenty of people in other buildings and no evacuations.  The final attack where Superman defeats Doomsday is actually more dramatic here than it felt in the comic.

This movie doesn't acknowledge the rest of the DCU, so the "Funeral for a Friend" arc focuses just on Lois, Jimmy and Martha Kent, and doesn't last very long.  We have a nice seen with Martha and Lois, and then pretty soon Superman's back-- but of course it's not really Clark, it's the beginning of the "Reign of the Supermen."  But four new Supermen would require a movie all on its own, so instead they ditch Steel and The Cyborg all together and combine Superboy and the The Eradicator into one character-- a clone created by Lex Luthor to be under his control, but who becomes a "dark Superman" imposing his own justice on the world.  So instead of Kal-El coming back in black-and-silver to fight The Cyborg, he comes back in black-and-silver to fight The Dark Clone Superman Who Acts Like the Eradicator.  It's a change that needs to be made for it to work in this format, and it does work.  (And they still gave him long hair.  That's another thing that kept me reading for years.)

One last thing:  maybe it's just because I've seen this one twice now, but the theme they've created her for Superman is pretty good too.  Not as good as the Green Lantern: First Flight theme, but still a worthy theme for Superman.  It's a shame it's not included on the "DC 75" CD.

So all in all this was a very good kick-off movie for the DCU OVAs (I realize I should be calling them OAMs, but I'm an anime fan from the 80's) and a good way to show Superman's most famous battle to people who have probably never read the comics.


greatplaidmoose said...

I really liked this and thought they did an excellent job given that its a big story adapted into one movie but I think it would have been even better if they had made it a trilogy or at least two movies.

Fer said...

You know, if they were to do it now, I bet they probably would try that. But since this was their first one, I bet they weren't all that confident that it would do well enough to justify a second one.