The Death Of Superman: a comic that should be a movie

Feature Rob Leane 19 Mar 2014 - 06:23

Is killing off The Big Blue Boy Scout a good idea for the future of Superman at the cinema? Rob has a look…

The Death of Superman is a 155 page graphic novel which ties together the events of Doomsday!, an iconic Superman arc written by a mammoth 12 authors, which originally ran across several different titles in 1992.

Described on the cover as ‘the best-selling graphic novel of all time’, although Watchmen might since have nabbed that title, this arc sees Superman truly beaten to the point of death, as you might have guessed. The unstoppable force that brings this about is a seemingly mindless killing machine Doomsday, truly one of the strongest foes to ever face Superman.

In the comic, Doomsday emerges from captivity and begins ploughing a trail of destruction across America. As Superman gives a televised interview to the school children of the United States, other members of the Justice League are the first to confront Doomsday, in an attempt to stop his murderous rampage before it reaches any major cities.

Due to his television commitments, which could be livened up with a few more awkward questions for a movie version, the Big Blue Boy Scout arrives late to the fight, greeted by the fact that no one in the Justice League can even scratch Doomsday. Booster Gold is propelled into the stratosphere babbling and broken while Blue Beetle ends up in a coma.

What comes next is an epic battle that levels villages, towns, cities and forest-set research facilities alike, with Superman desperately trying to avert Doomsday’s path away from Metropolis. After having seen Superman’s beloved city mentioned on a TV advert though, nothing can stop Doomsday from heading there.

As Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen look on, Superman’s final battle (for the time-being) sees him summoning his last few morsels of energy to stop the beast, eventually making the final sacrifice in giving his life to defeat Doomsday.

Here’s why The Death of Superman should be a movie…

Why it would work

One thing that makes this comic stand out as a potential movie is the fact that we’ve never seen anything like it. While DC and Warner Brothers may be scrambling currently to assemble their own Avengers-style team up by mimicking Marvel and chucking Wonder Woman and Batman into a Man of Steel sequel, unleashing a risky movie in which the main character dies could really cement DC and Warner Brothers as brave superhero filmmakers in their own right.

The action, if pulled off correctly, could create some of the best fight scenes ever seen and, presuming that Superman is soon to receive a Bat-rollicking for levelling Metropolis in Man of Steel, could help showcase some regret and concern in Henry Cavill’s Supes as more massive destruction comes to the city. Reading The Death of Superman, it’s clear that these epic fights would fit well into Snyder’s onscreen universe.

The events that follow The Death of Superman in the comics are also a great reason to pursue a movie version. In the wake of the event, and following a star studded funeral, four heirs to Superman’s legacy appear. They are The Metropolis Kid (a teenage clone of Supes), The Man of Tomorrow (‘the cyborg Superman’), The Man of Steel (a bloke in an Iron Man-style suit) and The Last Son of Krypton (a reformed enemy of Supes, claiming to be the real deal).

Their adventures took over the multiple Superman comic titles that were left without a hero, under the collective title Reign of the Supermen. Introducing these characters to share the live action DC universe across film, television and maybe even Netflix-style online streaming could be a great way to broaden the world and continue Superman’s legacy without the need to reboot the whole series or immediately recast the role.

Additionally, it’s only realistic to assume that one day Henry Cavill is going to either want a break from the role, want to leave permanently, or become too old for Warner Brothers to want to keep him. In any of these eventualities, The Death of Superman could be the answer.

Not only would it open doors for interesting new characters to take centre stage, but it would help tackle the recasting problem - when Superman does return from the grave, which presumably would be a year or two later in real time, it’s fair to assume that he might look a bit different. The stories that follow Superman’s return as a long-haired hero, not immediately trusted and struggling with his returning abilities could also be another great movie in itself.

All in all, The Death of Superman would be an epic and action packed movie, which also looks like a great way for DC to keep things fresh in a few years’ time when the current Superman series has run its course. By creating opportunities for new characters with different abilities, agendas and levels of conscience, a movie version of the Doomsday! arc could also secure years of interesting content to keep the DC Cinematic Universe feeling fresh.

Potential problems

There are a few problems with bringing The Death of Superman to the screen though. Firstly, the plot may need to be significantly beefed up. The way I described it earlier is literally how it plays out – fight after fight after fight until both central characters die. Although this works fine in the comics, there might be a need to weave in some more plot strands to keep the audience engaged for a feature length running time.

There are a number of ways that DC scribes could attempt to flesh out the plot thought, with introducing another threat seeming like the obvious choice. Whether it be a Lex Luthor plot, some seedy government plotting or even a few evil Kryptonians arriving to avenge Zod, by introducing something else, DC could really up the level of threat in the film and even set up a sequel. If there is some kind of evil plot unfolding in the background, but the audience knows Superman’s current fight will kill him, that’s bound to keep audiences engaged and give the four new ‘Supermen’ something to deal with after the demise of the original.

The subplot of Lex Luthor and Supergirl would of course need to be written out if the characters don’t know each-other on film by this point. I’d fully expect Eisenberg’s Luthor to play a role though, and if Supergirl has been introduced by then, it would make sense to include her too. This film would need to bring the whole universe together to witness, and then mourn, that passing of Earth’s most powerful hero.

Likewise, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash and Green Arrow (or The Hood, if you prefer), are the only other standalone heroes we know for sure will have an established screen presence in the next few years, but none of them appear in this comic. The Death of Superman opted for less iconic Justice Leaguers for its first act fights and although there are rumours of a Booster Gold movie, I would be surprised to see Guy Gardner, Maxima, Fire, Ice, or Bloodwynd established on the big screen any time soon.

Rewrites would be needed then, and although Ben Affleck’s fee might be too high for a cameo, someone would need to fill out those Justice League spots. Tying together the television universe with any other feature film heroes the budget could afford, or members of their supporting casts like Nightwing for example, could be an ideal fix to this plot problem and an added incentive for audiences to attend.

Some significant rewrites would be needed then, but there are no problems with the source material that would really make putting together a live action Death of Superman impossible.

Will it ever happen?

Naturally, DC will want to cash in on the popularity of their current Superman for a while first, and will surely not be considering rebooting, recasting or killing him off for quite a while – we have a meeting with Batman, at least one standalone Lex Luthor story and the formation of the Justice League to get through first at the very least.

When the time comes that the current Superman franchise has run its course though, The Death of Superman would surely be a better alternative to fizzling out or going overly campy as superhero series often do. Actually killing off Superman is bound to bring in big audiences, which could also allow for teases for what will follow, whether it be Reign of the Supermen or something else altogether, to guarantee some hype for the follow-up.

If DC and Warner Brothers could pluck up this amount of bravery, they would surely be rewarded. A huge death and a chance for some new characters to shine would undoubtedly be better than a straight reboot or recast, and would allow the studio time to reintroduce Superman effectively a while later, rather than rushing into anything The Amazing Spider-Man style.

Superheroes nowadays are all about shared universes and attempted continuity consistency, so I’d wager that after three or four Superman films and a few crossover pictures, when a big franchise might usually fizzle out and reboot, DC and Warner Brothers would prefer to attempt this plot than go down the usual path. I wouldn’t expect it before 2020 though.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Disqus - noscript

I read somewhere that had Superman Returns gained sequels (as was originally planned) Death Of Superman was one of the ideas being considered as a finale. I hope DC sticks with that for Cavill's Supes

Someone told me they did the Doomsday story in Smallville. From this article, I guess it's not true? I never got into that program, but I wished I had when I heard about that :)

You didn't miss anything. The season spent 23 episodes building up the massive threat that was Doomsday, only to end it with a 20 second fight in episode 24. Complete let down.

Fed - Doomsday was in Smallville, but his story was very different.

I think the biggest issue with doing the Death in the next Superman film is that it would be hard to give it any worldly significance. Man of Steel spent very little time with Superman as a public, known quantity in its universe, With, as it seems, the Justice League being introduced, Superman could be the just one of several new hereos who suddenly isn't around anymore.

One of my favourite moments from Superman Returns is the bit where he falls from the sky with Metropolis watching him, and the way the city reacts to his near-death. I want to see Superman's public funeral on the scale it was presented in the comics, not a secret, out-of-the-way affair.

It was basically off camera as well

They did already do a DC animated version of this called Superman:Doomsday.

It wasn't awful.

You guys should check out the whole Death & Return Omnibus collection. It can be stripped down into a 21/2 to 3 hour movie easily. Plus Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow and The Flash cameo as pall bearers. I love the idea that the b-list heroes are left to cowboy the hell up and pick up the slack.

I've got the original comics stashed away in the attic somewhere, but to be honest, it was pretty terrible. Basically, big bloke turns up out of nowhere, and punches Superman in the face for about 8 issues, and that's it. Even the ending sucked (SPOILERS: Superman and Doomsday put everything into one last punch, which kills both of them).

One of the thinnest scripts for a comic book I've ever seen. I know the fight scenes were pretty well done in MoS, but can you imagine that story in the hands of Zack Snyder??!?

On the other hand, The Return of Superman was a pretty decent, and Zack Snyder would get to destroy another city so he'd be happy. It would leave the DC movie universe clogged up with Superman clones though

A Booster Gold Movie has been talked about for a while but I do hope it can be made at sometime along with a Lobo film.

I know people give DC a lot of slack, but I would rather they take a different approach to Marvel. Outlaw Vern had a really great idea, to the extent that DC should release one really good, grand mythic movie every couple of years, with their full resources rather than spread themselves thin and release a bunch of fun, but pop movies every year.

Essentially, Marvel is making snappy Shane Black and Edgar Wright movies, whereas DC should concentrate on making something more akin to David Lean and epic mode Ridley Scott, since that's the core difference in their comics anyway.

On it's own Death is a wash, but when read as the opening act of a larger story, the whole thing is actually pretty bloody good.

It's a bit like MoS, but instead of fighting a good actor, Cavill will fight CGI and istead of Superman winning, he would lose. It was a nice idea for a comic, way back in the nineties, but after Return of Superman, noone ever believes that a main carachter in DC could ever die for real (that is, stop appearing).

Eh, the movies could still kill off Barry Allen and Hal Jordan.

I watched Doomsday the cartoon from 2007 yesterday and along with the graphic novel, it is actually pretty rubbish. The story just doesn't go anywhere in as much as it quite literally all kicks off with this huge fight with Doomsday having no other objective but just to kill everything in sight and in just ends with both dead.
The sub plot with Luther is pointless and the end result is a homage to Christ's resurrection which just doesn't really work.
As much as I am a fan of Superman it is clearly really hard to get any of this material over to the big screen and arguably much more suited to TV if you are to get a proper story across

I was of the understanding that the death of Superman (which was not a very good story arc) existed purely to try and boost flagging sales. It worked - everybody bought "that" black issue with the blood-dripping S logo and the black arm band gimmick. But seriously? You think they need to make a movie from this 90's committee-led marketing exercise? Count me out!

It is true this was not a great story arc and did piggy back on the combination of Knightfall and the vast range of forced collectibles that were marketed around that time. Almost everything was holofoil, spot laminated, embossed or bagged.

Ah right :P Sounds disappointing.

I see. Thanks for the info :)

It would need to be a complete suprise as well for it to truly work.

A lot of people would not want to see a film called 'The Death of Superman' I dont think? And if you knew it was coming, you'd be waiting for the whole film to just see it and then when it happened, you wouldnt care as you knew it was coming.

It would have to be a 'didn't see it coming' ending. Like Zod having his neck snapped in MoS.

I would get on board with that ending!

Sounds like a good idea. But DC only have 3 epic Batman movies. I wouldn't say Man of Steel was a "really good, grand mythic movie". It was a pretty good sci-fi flick with a lot of stuff getting smashed.
On a purely business point of view DC is watching Marvel pull in 700 million to a billion (at least) on each movie, with 2 or 3 a year being churned out. They almost certainly want a piece of that box office.

I think Warner Bros should have planted more seeds in Man of Steel setting up Doomsday as a future threat, even having a character mention Batman as apparently he already exists in this verse, due to the Batman appearing in the Vs film. Instead DC and WB are now throwing everything into the next Superman film hoping to rush out a Justice League film... I hope it's good but I don't have much faith in them making work as well as the Avengers.

And until that time we have the DC Animated movie Superman: Doomsday. Which is pretty nice.

I would seriously recommend that anyone who wants to see how this story might play out on screen (albeit in a very tongue in cheeck way) looks on You Tube for Max Landis' Death and Return of Superman short film. It's very good fun, packed with surprising cameos and ably sets out just how ridiculous this storyline was. I confess that I do own the omnibus featuring this partiuclar saga, but that is for pure nostalgia reasons. Although there may be some merit in the Reign of/Return of Superman element (aside from it being a complete cop-out by its end), the actual Superman/Doomsday section consists of little more than an endless fight scene and the Funeral for a Friend section fast becomes dull.
It is worth remembering that this story came out at the height of the comicbook speculator craze of the early 90s and Superman was, although featuring on TV courtesy of Dean Cain, flagging somewhat as a comic character. Killing him seemed a great way to increase both sales and profile, and it worked (it was a mainstream news story at the time). As a story in itself, I'm afraid it has very little to say. I'd contrast that with Knightfall, which was the Batman equivalent from around the same time, which introduced an interesting villain (Bane), had an actual storyline and lead to the interesting question of what exactly the Batman should be - the dark knight/detective or just one of your standard early 90s era angry vigilantes.

Who could play Doomsday? It would have to be done mo cap like the Hulk but who for the voice?

I just referred that Death of Superman is 90 % fighting - and some emotions thrown in. Very much the formula that made MoS the movie hard to digest for so many of us.
And Barry and Hal wasn't killed in that particular comic. Not sure about whether Barry or Hal are still dead in the comics... Didn't Barry return in Final Crisis?

Hmm.. The guy who plays Khal Drogo maybe? Tough question!

Smallville is basically the undisputed king of disappointing finales in my opinion. People complain about Lost cause nothing seemed to mean anything and there were as many new threads introduced as tied up, but Smallville would build deliberately over months and months towards specific events and then just bungle them completely in the end which for my money is worse

The best fight scene was between Zod and Clark when they both had no powers at the end of season 9. The fight with Darkseid was essentially the same as with Doomsday...only we didn't even get to see Darkseid as he simply took control of Lionel Luthors body. (the fact that Lionel Luthor managed to find his way back into the show was bad enough)

But John Glover is so awesome.. I do understand of course. Another Smallville tactic (presumably to save money) was to push the reveal till the last second of the season finale so that the actual battle/end of the arc could be stretched out and weaved into the start of the next season which could be annoying

John Glover is awesome, I completely agree. However, I would have much rather they focus on a much more story driven season long arc (as opposed to 80% filler) than needless cameos to satisfy fans. In the end, cameos shouldn't come before the quality of the story, and they should have focused on that before convincing all of the characters from the past ten years to return for forgetful appearences.

Infact Smallville had a lot more problems it would have needed to address before being able to write a satisfying conclusion, but the writers were never able to get past the idea of it being a villain of the week show so the only way round it would be to have completely changed the format of the show.

Whoa now, give the studios some credit. It's not all about money is it?

(You can't tell, but I'm being sarcastic. Fully agree with your point!)

There are Wayne enterprise Easter eggs in MOS.

Actually either the Batman writers did not know that the Death of Superman was going on while they were doing Knightfall. That's just a comic myth.

I think it could work. If WB was willing to snap Zod's neck and kill Rachel Dawes, then it wouldn't be so beneath them to kill Superman off for a brief moment.

I think they needed a bit more than that, like a proper post credit easter egg.

I've always wanted to know why movie studios don't go for big-name veteran film directors when starting up new DC film franchises. Even getting them on board as a producer or creative consultant can make a world of difference.

I found the original comic book series to be pretty good, with some great moments. The BBC Radio adaptation ("Audiomovie") produced by Dirk Maggs however was quite something. Released on CD under the title "The Adventures of Superman: Doomsday And Beyond", it is WELL worth hunting out.

I'd happily see an update of the arc on the big screen.

so ...
to summarize all you really are saying is

Big fight with baddie for most of the film
results in Superman dying
but really he doesn't die.. durrr! ... everyone knows he will be back,

(pretty much like every other film you have seen, there will never be a certainty in the death of superman which means nothing is ever really at stake, whether that's superman returns scene where he is recharged by sunlight pretty soon after, or is revived in a sequel set years after, its the same thing)

I don't get where the big idea that will save DC is?

totalky get what your saying but i do rather like being able to watch quality superhero movies(which marvel is even diversifying their genre) Im not a marvel comic fan; praise DC, but as long as each movie is above par keep them coming as quickly as possible. One failure(which would be a huge failure since expectations are a certain level now) would be a huge hit and they would start being careful with the speed of releases. all IM humble O

Jason Statham in his speedos.

The Death one is yes, but the whole Death/Funeral/Return arc is pretty good in dealing with the consequences of a world without Superman, the mass destruction caused by their big fight, the effect it has on his loved ones and the superhero community. It's really well written.

Barry and Hal came back when the Confederacy of Dunces (Didio, Johns, Lee and Harras) had firmly established their reign of terror. Late 80's to early 00's DC is my comic book heaven. Plenty of great material for movies there.

Not saying Man of Steel was particularly great. But it FEELS big and lavish, and very importantly self contained. Marvel sometimes comes off as TVish in it's storytelling and rushed film making.

It's not like Warners have any shortage of properties they can use to make some cash. Besides, Warners also have the complete resources to film a Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Wonder Woman, Justice League AND Bloodwynd vs. Professor Pyg movie in development simultaneously if they wanted.

I wouldn't say Marvel films are TVish or rushed. They are more comic booky in feel which I like. But it's all just opinion. I find the DC films slightlytoo po-faced. I enjoy them a lot but how "gritty and serious" should films about a flying alien and a man dressing up as a bat at night be?

Well, I think DC movies should be slightly po-faced (Although not too much so, I think that's a huge problem with the Nolan Batman films and MoS), because I want them to differentiate themselves.

Also, are you finding it really weird you're having a mature DC/Marvel discussion that hasn't dissolved into childishness? Because I am! Thanks mate!

I am sure they will do the death (and return) of Superman eventually. The element they are most sorely missing now is other heroes and friends to mourn his loss. The Funeral for a Friend should be the most emotional part.

I expect you'll see Batman vs Superman, Justice League, at least one spinoff movie like Wonder Woman or Flash, then Doomsday. They'll probably combine Doomsday with Darkseid and have a new take on the Reign of the Supermen, too.

Sponsored Links