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.

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