The Comic-Con Superman Doomsday Premiere

For DC fans, the highlight of Thursday was likely the opportunity to catch the world premiere of Superman Doomsday, a direct-to-DVD title coming this September. The title will kick-off a planned line of animated projects, each a self-contained theatrical and mature retelling of popular story arcs directly from classic DC storylines.

For the uninitiated, Superman Doomsday adapts several series of Superman comic continuity starting with the highly publicized “Death of Superman” series from 1993, followed by “A World Without Superman” and ultimately the return of the Man of Steel.

The premiere was played to a jam-packed audience of 4000, with another 4000 waiting in the wings for a second showing. The first showing was followed by a Q&A with writers Bruce Timm and Duane Capizzi, directors Brandon Vietti and Lauren Montgomeri, and voice director Andrea Romano.

Bruce Timm describes his personal mandate on the series to “re-brand Superman as a stand-alone movie that’s not connected to the continuity of the previous shows. Everything about it had to scream ‘this is something new’. This included remodeling the look of the characters, and re-casting all the voice rolls.

Voicing the Man of Steel in Superman Doomsday is Adam Baldwin (“Firefly,” “Day Break”), who greeted the crowd via a pre-taped video segment. Convention favorite James Marsters (“Angel”) voices Luthor, and faked some bitterness in his video greeting. “I probably would be with you if I got to be the hero,” Marsters whined, “but I didn’t get to play the hero, I had to play the villain… again. Apparently, a vampire is as close as I get.”

The movie itself surpassed my high expectations, exposing and overcoming many of the short-comings of Superman Returns, and frankly most of the Superman stories told in any medium.

The first problem with any Superman story is creating a legitimately threatening adversary. Superman Doomsday is blessed with three foes, any of whom will give General Zod a run for his prior “best Superman screen villain” status.

We start with Lex Luthor. Any Lex Luthor you’ve seen before (be it Gene Hackman, Kevin Spacey, Michael Rosenbaum or Clancy Brown) is a silly inconvenience compared to this Lex Luthor. He is heartlessly mean, legitimately scary and entirely without “camp”.

Then you have Doomsday, the singularly focused and disturbingly emotionally vacant killing machine. The fight between Superman and Doomsday is truly visceral. It starts like the “Terminator 2” mall fight between invincible Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick, but amps up in scale from there. By the time Superman’s blood appears in battle, you’ll believe he could die.

While I’ll save the details in the name of spoilers, in the end Superman must fight himself. We are all our own worst enemy.

Next, Bruce Timm and his team took the decision to go for a PG-13 rating and ran with it. There’s never been a DC adaptation with this much on-screen violence. But what was amazingly effective was taking a lot of it off-screen to make the psychological effect even stronger than PG-13 would normally allow.

The mature themes attitude also extends to a more complex relationship between Lois Lane (voiced by Anne Heche) and Superman in ways fun for the adults in the audience without initiating awkward questions from younger viewers.

The story covers three years of DC continuity with a page count equal to a few phone books. Paring that down for the big screen is akin to the task facing the “Harry Potter” screenwriters. Co-writer Capizzi explains that the decision was made early on to go with the spirit of the story, “hopefully capturing all the emotion, tragedy, intensity and drama”.

In fact, a list of similarities might be shorter than a list of differences, but two effective changes are worth noting as advance warning to comic purists.

While comicbook Doomsday snacks on the Justice League before moving on to the Superman main course, Bruce Timm explained later that this movie takes place in a continuity where Superman is Earth’s only hero.

Similarly, we are spared from the four “Supermen” who take up the mantle after Superman’s death (Steel, Superboy, cyborg Superman and Last Son of Krypton), but are instead served with a single being who fills the void. However, those in the know will recognize direct lifting and the tips of the hat.

In live action, this would likely be a $400 million movie. It has raised the bar very high for any Superman Returns follow-ups.

After the Q&A, a teaser trailer was played for the next project in the new DC Universe series — Justice League: The New Frontier — to be released in sprint 2008. It adapts the 2003 limited series retelling the origins of DC’s greatest heroes in a period setting of the late 1950s.

The teaser officially announced the casting of Kyle MacLachlan as Superman, Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman, Jeremy Sisto as Batman, Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash, and David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan / Green Lantern.

Bruce Timm commented, “I see you guys are a little unsure about Jeremy Sisto as Batman. Everybody else got a big clap and as soon as Jeremy’s name came on you went, ‘Huh?’. I’m going to make a prediction right this minute… when you guys see this movie and hear what he sounds like as Batman, you guys are going to lose your sh*t.”

A third film in the series has been confirmed as Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. The creative team craftily dodged questions about future films, with the names of well-known comic storylines thrown about including Hush, Long Halloween and Kingdom Come.

Further announcements on the DC Universe line are promised for Wizard World in Chicago.

Source: Paul Ens