Josh Reviews Reign of the Supermen
Earlier in the year, DC/Warner Brothers released The Death of Superman, an adaptation of the famous story-line that ran through the Superman comic-books in the nineties. (This was actually the second pass at an animated adaptation of this story, as the very first of this continuing series of direct-to-DVD/bly-ray DC animated films was also a take on the “Death of Superman” story, called Superman: Doomsday.) This new version of The Death of Superman ended with the death of Superman at the end of his battle with Doomsday in the center of Metropolis. (Click here for my review!) This latest animated film, Reign of the Superman, concludes the story. This film adapts the long “Reign of the Supermen” storyline running through the four regular Superman comic books after Superman’s death, chronicling four new Superman-like characters who arrived at the scene, leaving the citizens of Metropolis (and comic fans) to wonder: which one was the real Superman? Were any of them?
This film is a solid if unspectacular conclusion to the story. It fits smoothly with The Death of Superman as two halves of one longer film. As readers of this blog know, I haven’t been blown away by many of these recent animated DC films. They’re missing the magic that Bruce Timm, Paul Dini & co. brought to the DC animated shows from the nineties and aughts. Reign of the Supermen and The Death of Superman both are part of the continuity that has been running through these animated films for the past few years, based on “The New 52” reboot of the DC comic-book universe a few years back. These films are far stronger than the first few movies in this new series (which I thought were terrible). Both of these two new films (The Death of Superman and now Reign of the Supermen) are enjoyable to watch. But they’re not at the level of amazing that I long for these films to be.
The “Reign of the Supermen” storyline ran through multiple comic-book series for many months. It’s a huge amount of story, and as such, it’s no surprise that they have done a tremendous amount of editing and condensing to squeeze this story into a relatively short (less than an hour-and-a-half) film. For the most part, I think they’ve done a good job at boiling the story down to its critical elements. We get to spend a decent amount of time with the four new Supermen, before the truth about who’s-who is revealed. (Of the four, the “Eradicator” Superman gets short shrift.) They totally eliminate the whole aspect of the destruction of Coast City from the film. This didn’t surprise me, both because I didn’t expect to see such a violent act in this animated adaptation, and also because that was ultimately more important as the catalyst for a Green Lantern storyline than it was for Superman.
A few early scenes in The Death of Superman hinted at some Fourth World involvement in this story, and I got excited at the idea that the writers would be adjusting this storyline to climax the second film with the return of Darkseid (whose attack on Earth is what united the Justice League in the “New 52” continuity, as adapted in the animated Justice League: War). The biggest disappointment to me was that this wound up all being a fake-out, and although the second half of Reign of the Supermen really seems to be building to a big rematch between Darkseid and the Justice League, Darkseid’s plan is quickly foiled and he never makes it to Earth. (I don’t understand the whole business of Darkseid’s needing a huge portal to be constructed for him — can’t he just open a Boom Tube at any time?) Darkseid would have been a far more exciting and worthy villain for the climax of this story than the whiny version they gave us of the cyborg Hank Henshaw.
On the other hand, as in the Death of Superman animated film, I was pleased that they adjusted the original story to better incorporate the Justice League (the heavy-hitters current version, as opposed to the second-stringers who were in the JL back in the time of this original story). I like how Darkseid’s plan involved taking out the JL — that was smart for the villain, and worked best for this story too as it kept the focus in the climax on the Superman characters. I also really enjoyed the scene between Lois lane and Wonder Woman (who had a fling with Superman in the “New 52” comics continuity and also these animated films — I’m glad the writers remembered that).
There were some fun continuity nods and in-jokes incorporated into the film. I loved hearing the mention of Chloe Sullivan (from Smallville) working at the Daily Planet, and I laughed at seeing Wonder Woman change into her costume using a quick-spin just like the old TV show. I also liked seeing the Watchtower version of the JL’s headquarters.
There were a few plot holes and inconsistencies, not surprising considering how much story they were squeezing into this film, but nevertheless things I wish they’d cleaned up. The Eradicator is revealed as a Kryptonian hologram (a different explanation than the original comics), but that doesn’t explain his murderous tendencies. Also, I was surprised by the “six months later” text graphic at the start of the film. Nothing in the film feels like it takes place such a long time after Superman’s battle-to-the-death with Doomsday. Rather, it all feels like it’s happening just weeks if not days afterwards.
One of these days, I hope there will be a new DC animated film that I can really shout from the rooftops about because of how awesome it is. Reign of the Superman isn’t it, but it’s a competently-made, entertaining version of this story.
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