Warner Bros. Animation has announced its next direct-to-movie film will be The Death of Superman, an adaptation of the classic comic-book story from late 1992 that saw the Man of Steel “killed” by the monstrous Doomsday. The followup will be an adaptation of the “Reign of the Supermen” storyline, which saw four replacement Supermen arise and the “real” Man of Tomorrow restored to life.
In a genre in which super-hero deaths were commonplace and quickly reversed, it was nevertheless historic. While comics are much more mainstream today, in 1992, they were still maligned black sheep of pop culture, but despite that, the notion of Superman’s death captured the imaginations of people all over the globe, sending droves of people, those interested in comics and those who weren’t, in droves to comic shops. Some were curious, some were speculating, but it was undeniably a cultural phenomenon.
As such, it makes sense Warner Bros. would eye those storylines for other-media adaptation. There’s just one problem: it’s already done it.
Superman: Doomsday was released to the home-video market 11 years ago, though it was a much more pared down version of the storyline, and the writers and directors made some interesting choices to diverge from the source material. For example, in the comics, Lois and Clark were engaged, and Lois knew of her partner’s secret identity. In Superman: Doomsday, Lois was in a relationship with Superman, unaware he was also her co-worker Clark. The new Death of Superman flick appears to be sticking more closely to the original storyline, with the Justice League joining the Man of Steel in his ultimate battle against the monster (just as a different incarnation of the League did in 1992), so perhaps the intent here is to offer a truer adaptation.
The thing is, there are so many wonderful storylines in DC’s 80-year history that the animation studio can adapt, I have to question why it feels it needs to retread this territory. After all, Superman’s first battle with Doomsday hardly marks the first time he died (or seemed to die).
Case in point: “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
In the wake of Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, it decided to offer up a farewell “imaginary” story how the pre-Crisis Superman legend might have ended. Written by Alan Moore with art by Curt Swan, George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger and published in Superman #423 and Action Comics #583 in 1986, “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” was a surprisingly succinct story, given how Moore brought together so many elements from Superman’s long history in one story. Not surprisingly, though, it was wonderfully poignant, memorable, demonstrating true affection for the campiness and wonder of Silver Age stories while bringing a modern maturity to bear at the same time.
I’m cognizant of the fact that many comics fans balk at the notion of DC and its Time-Warner siblings using the works of Alan Moore, given the contentious history between the writer and the comics publisher, but when it comes to his dabbling in established super-hero icons such as Superman, I think most can acknowledge Moore doesn’t have as strong an argument against exploiting his ideas as compared to those involving original creations. Regardless, it’s never stopped DC and Warner Bros. in the past, so it certainly wouldn’t be an issue for them in this regard either.
As important as “The Death of Superman” was to the comics industry in general, one would be hard-pressed to argue that it’s a better story than “Whatever Happened.” While WB Animation clearly has been trying to build upon a new continuity since Justice League: War (which adapted the New 52 origin of the title team), it’s also demonstrated it’s willing to offer out-of-continuity tales as well, as evidenced by the recent adaptation of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight.