The Death and Return of Superman edits together the animated films The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen, the 11th and 12th film in the DC Animated Movie Universe, which are also the 32nd and 33rd film of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies, into one film. It is based on the 1992—1993 DC comic book storyline of the same name, which was previously adapted, albeit abridged, into Superman: Doomsday (2007), the 1st DC Universe Animated Original Movie, which is also included in this set.
Clark Kent (Jerry O'Connell) is secretly dating Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn). He loves her but being Superman makes him hesitant about taking things further, which she interprets as him not wanting to commit, thus straining their relationship. Meanwhile, a boom tube from the planet Apokoplis, home of Darkseid, opens within our galaxy. A meteor passes through it and crashes into the ocean. Inside is a purple humanoid monster, later dubbed Doomsday. It kills a number of Atlanteans and heads towards Metropolis.
The Justice League, fighting one at a time, can't stop it. Conveniently, the creature's murderous impulses are reined in by the writers. An epic extended battle takes place between Superman and Doomsday leaving a lot of destruction in its wake. Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson) suggests it but it's not until Lois puts herself in harm's way that Superman is compelled to kill Doomsday, but they each land a final, fatal blow, to the surprise of no viewer who remembers the title. After the funeral, Superman's mausoleum is broken open; his body no longer in his coffin. In the night sky above, a shadowy figure resembling Superman flies off.
Six months later, four have stepped up to fill the Superman void and wear variations of his uniform. There's a leather-jacketed Superboy with connections to Luthor (Rainn Wilson); John Henry Irons (Cress Williams), whose armor and weapon are a mash-up of Iron Man and Thor from crosstown rivals at marvel Comics; a vicious man (Charles Halford) who wants to eradicate criminals; and a cyborg (Patrick Fabian). Superboy tries to lay claim to being Superman, but to Luthor's frustration, many people consider the mantle belongs to the cyborg. All four have intriguing back stories about their true identities.
When the President announces a new Justice League Watchtower, Darkseid sends his Parademons through a boom tube to attack. They are defeated but the League vanishes. Cyborg Superman offers people powers through technology to help fill the superhero void, which only Cyborg Superman knows comes from Darkseid. Superman returns, to the surprise of no viewer who remembers the title, and with help from expected allies, like Lois, and unexpected ones, like Luthor, the bad guys are defeated.
The screenwriters (Peter J. Tomasi on Death and Tim Sheridan & Jim Krieg on Reign) do a very good job condensing the story from the comics and adapting it to the DC Animated Movie Universe. It is nice to see Lois and Wonder Woman as strong individuals and the relationship between them evolve. The voice cast does a very good job bringing the characters to life.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The colors pop in vivid hues. Blacks are inky and whites accurate. The depth created by the animators is apparent. Some light sources bloom but the attempt at realism draws attention to their artificiality. A moment of banding occurs on a tent as a woman sits inside scared about a bear.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 but the track doesn't make the best use of having different channels. The dialogue is clear throughout but comes out from all five channels simultaneously. Action and fight sequence effects ring out across the surrounds in a similar manner, getting a little too loud at times, causing the subwoofer to go from strong support to rattling distortion. Ambiance nicely augments the scenes, with either loud or soft effects. Frederik Wiedmann's score ranges from evocative to understated.
In addition to Superman: Doomsday, the Special Features (all in HD) include:
- Long Live Superman (46 min) - A new documentary about the character.
- Lex Luthor: the Greatest Nemesis (16 min) - Luthor would be happy to get time in the spotlight.
- The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All (16 min) - A look at the story and how it was presented in the comics and film.
- Previews for Wonder Woman: Blood Lines (10 min), Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (9 min), Reign of the Supermen (9 min), The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (13 min) & Part 2 (7 min).
- From the DC Comics Vault presents TV episodes with characters that appeared in the main feature. Superman fights Doomsday in Justice League Unlimited: “The Doomsday Sanction” while Supergirl and Steel take on Power Girl in “Panic in the Sky”. Batman: The Brave and the Bold: “Darkseid Descending!” sees the Caped Crusader and Justice League International team up against Darkseid. Brainiac 5 battles the Legionnaires in Legion of Super Heroes: “Dark Victory” Part 1 & 2. Superman: The Animated Series: “Heavy Metal” is about Steel, a figurine of which is included in the giftset.
The Death and Return of Superman is a very good addition to DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. The filmmakers made the right decision revisiting and expanding this landmark story as well as combining the two previous releases into one movie. The Blu-ray delivers great video, satisfying audio although it doesn't make full use of the surround system, and a few hours of extras that allows the viewer to further explore the DC universe.