While February 22 is the official release date for “All Star Superman,” DC Entertainment and Warner Brothers’ newest animated DVD, last Thursday night, Warner Home Video, in conjunction with Comic Book Resources, held a screening of the animated feature at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. “All-Star Superman” screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie, Jimmy Olsen voice actor Matthew Gray Gubler and Superman/Clark Kent actor James Denton all spoke with CBR about their experiences working on the movie, touching on everything from their individual takes on the iconic figure to the power of the original comic.
Based on the Grant Morrison penned and Frank Quitely illustrated comic book, “All Star Superman” tells the story of the Man of Steel’s final days on Earth; when Lex Luthor succeeds in poisoning Superman with solar radiation, Superman decides to reveal his secrets to those closest and most important to him and put his affairs in order, so as to leave the world a better place. Writer Dwayne McDuffie has worked in the comic book and television industries for years, serving as a producer for “Ben 10: Ultimate Alien,” writer/director on the popular “Justice League” shows and bringing original characters such as his own creation “Static Shock” to TV and into the DC Universe. But when he learned Warner Brothers was toying with the idea of animating “All Star Superman,” he leapt at the chance to work on it.
“It’s absolutely, absolutely one of my favorite Superman stories ever, and when I heard that Warner Animation was considering doing it, I kind of went into Alan Burnett’s office and begged,” recalled McDuffie. Begging paid off, and the writer soon began the arduous task of adapting Morrison and Quitely’s sprawling narrative.
“Anytime you adapt a book to a film, you’re going to have to lose things,” said McDuffie. “What was most important to me was that the film recreate the same feeling in viewers that the book gave me as a reader.” Figuring out the core story of “All Star Superman” was the key to his script, and that key was named Lex Luthor.
Luthor’s plot to take down the Man of Steel, “is the spine of [the story] — it really is the central conflict of Superman’s life,” said McDuffie. Pulling out everything related to that conflict, McDuffie was able to assemble the pieces to his script. More importantly, McDuffie felt Luthor had to serve as the backbone of the whole film.
“If you’re going to do something that’s about the end of [Superman’s] life and facing mortality — and in a much more interesting way, American culture’s relationship to the idea of Superman — Luthor has to be there. And since Luthor killed him, he’s there,” said McDuffie.
Actors James Denton and Matthew Gray Gubler also felt the pressure of bringing beloved American icons for the screen, though Gubler laughingly admitted he was a bigger Batman fan as a kid. Nevertheless, he was honored when he got the call to play Superman’s pal, Jimmy Olsen.
“Being able to play Jimmy Olsen is such an amazing thing to wrap my head around. I’m very fortunate,” Gubler told CBR News. An actor on the hit TV show “Criminal Minds,” Gubler previously met dialogue director Andrea Romano when she cast him in an episode of “Scooby-Doo,” an experience he referred to as, “a life-long dream come true.”
“She’s so incredibly helpful and encouraging. I’m fairly new to the voice world, but [Romano] made it such a fun and easy place to be, I almost prefer it to full screen acting,” said Gubler.
James Denton also had nothing but praise for Romano. “Thank God we had one of the best directors in the business. Whenever she waved through the glass and said, ‘We got it, move on,’ I trusted her,” said Denton.
The “Desperate Housewives” star said he avoided watching the older Superman movies in order to give a fresh take on the character. “I tried to personalize as much as possible and forget all who had done it [in the past],” said Denton.
Excited to be part of the Superman legacy, Gubler found similarities between Olsen and himself. “They cast me in, for lack of a better term, nerdy roles and I am very grateful for that,” laughed Gubler. But while Gubler might share some characteristics with Olsen, Denton believed it was his differences with the Man of Tomorrow that helped win him the role.
“[The story] is unique in that Superman’s dealing with his mortality. It was much more sensitive than you usually see Superman,” said Denton. “Which might be why they chose me, as I don’t have a big impressive bass or baritone countenance — I’m smaller.” Impressed with the overwhelming humanity of the character, Denton described the titular hero as a “more human, almost frail version of Superman.”
“The whole thing is such a bizarre scenario of Superman being vulnerable,” said Gubler. “He gets too close to the sun and gets these insane superpowers. He’s faster, he’s stronger, he’s smarter than before, but at the same time, he’s dying.”
When asked how he got himself into character, Denton joked, “I wore tights for a week!” Spandex jokes aside, he told CBR that by playing up the differences between Clark Kent and Superman, he was able to find the character’s voice.
“The amazing thing was, you have the contrast between Clark Kent and Superman to play with as an actor, so you can play Clark Kent without making him a bumbling oaf. You have to do what Superman is doing, which is put on a character,” said Denton. He later remarked that Grant Morrison’s quote abut both Kent and Superman being facades enabled him to find the “guy in the middle,” and ground the timeless character.
Indeed, timelessness was at the forefront of McDuffie’s mind when he described what set “All Star Superman” apart from other Superman stories. “I think it sort of encompasses all the many ages of Superman and finds a way to make all of that contemporary, shows us the thread through and lets us celebrate all the many different visions of it,” said McDuffie. He said his only real regret was that he had to leave out the scene where Superman talks a teenager out of suicide.
“To me, that’s the core of Superman, that’s his power. His power is that he brings hope,” said McDuffie.
“It is a very complex piece of work, and making it work in animation as opposed to on the page was technically very difficult,” McDuffie continued, adding, “It came together beautifully.”
Before wrapping up our conversation, McDuffie told CBR he has already worked on another movie in the DC animated movie series which would most likely be announced this summer, but wa unable to divulge any more information. When asked if there was a specific superhero he’d like to adapt for the next DVD, a mischievous glint appeared in his eye.
“Oh, I don’t know — ‘Static Shock?'” Laughing, he added, “There’s tons of them, and I put my hat in as many times as I can.”
“All Star Superman” is available on DVD/Blu-ray and for digital download Tuesday, February 22, 2011