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Reign of the Supermen
In 10 Words or Less
Lose one Superman, gain four more
Back when I used to work in a comic shop, I got to experience, first-hand, the hype that was the death of Superman. This was in the midst of the comic speculation rush of the early ‘90s, and everyone wanted to get their hands on multiple copies of the polybagged special-edition issue that would feature the death of DC's biggest superhero. The store I worked in took out ads in the local paper--for the first time--to pitch people to reserve their high-priced bundle. In the end, when the Man of Steel was finally dead, millions had their copies tucked away, which meant they were essentially worthless, since if you wanted a copy, you probably owned one. This realization on such a mass scale was part of the comic industry's huge crash, and nearly took down the entire world of comic-book publishing.
Part of the problem was, Superman didn't stay dead. In fact, we ended up with four new Supermen, including a cyborg Superman, a Superboy, an armored Superman and a vicious killer Superman. They all laid claim to Kal-L's mantle, and over the course of a variety of comics, an arc known as "Reign of the Superman"--the truth about who the real Superman was was revealed. Unfortunately, if you asked most people what the result was, you'd get blank stares, as it didn't make for the most engaging storyline, and yours truly couldn't manage to remember what happened (instead conjuring very sharp memories of the much sillier Electric Supermen from several years later.) But considering the DC animation team tackled the death of Superman, they may as well have tried their hands at bringing him back.
Wisely, they didn't go for a straight adaptation, offering new takes on some parts of the story--including a more modern take on Superboy's origins--most of which help simplify a otherwise sprawling tale. Considering most people don't have a particularly nostalgic opinion of the storyline, there was no reason to be extremely loyal to the original, and the decisions made are positive ones, leaving no real reason to complain about this new version. It was a somewhat bold decision to keep the focus on the four new characters however, with Lois Lane and Lex Luthor orbiting around them, tying them into the DC world, as most of the animated DC offerings have focused on recognizable names, with only six of the 34 films released to date not focusing on either Batman or Superman. Of course, these four ARE Supermen, at least in name and symbol, so there is some automatic buy-in, but you still have to introduce each character and tell a cohesive story, all in under 90 minutes. Having a lot of the set-up handled by the previous film helps, but you can easily comprehend Reign of the Supermen without having watched Death.
Though you should be able to understand it, the question remains, will you enjoy it? Arguably, yes, if you like Superman. There's enough action and humor to keep the film moving pretty smoothly, even if the mystery doesn't feel as mysterious as it did in the original comics (knowing that version likely doesn't help in that matter.) Outside of Steel, who somehow never reminded me of Iron Man until this movie, the group isn't the most charismatic (Superboy is particularly obnoxious, and is best left in the ‘90s where he came from), and the storyline is somewhat limited until all the big action hits the screen.
That said, the action is quite well animated, and the voice cast is certainly impressive, featuring Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O'Connell as a well-cast Lois and Clark, Rainn Wilson serving ably as Luthor, and Rosario Dawson as the Wonder Woman we never knew we wanted, not to mention Nathan Fillion as an excellent Green Lantern. Throw in a solid appearance by Tony Todd, and there's a lot of talent on-board and they do a fine job of building out this film's roster.
Reign of the Supermen comes home in a two-disc set--one Blu-ray, one DVD-- in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a foil-embossed slipcover. The Blu-ray has one of Warner's usual bland static menus with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the setup and check out the extras. Audio options include English, French, German and Spanish, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French, German, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish.
The DC Universe animated films don't feature the most intensely detailed animation going, but the 1.78:1, 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer here presents the film in its best light, delivering a rich, well-saturated palette and handling all the action with aplomb and without suffering from noticeable defects. The level of fine detail keeps all the bits and pieces the animation does render--including some nicely fleshed-out art during the climactic battle sequences--looking impressive on the screen.
Thanks to budget, the animation may be a bit lacking in oomph, but the audio certainly is not, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers a serious punch, with the fight scenes punctuated by a level of bass you can feel from the low-end, while the surrounds get a healthy workout from the numerous effects and support provided to the score. Meanwhile, the voices are uniformly positioned in the mix, making for a pleasurable listen that properly sells the action in the movie.
The extras kick off with a 9:29 preview of the next DC animated film, Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, with producer Bruce Timm, writers Eric Carrasco and Jim Krieg, director Sam Liu and voice director Wes Gleason talking about the plot and characters in the film, with footage from the recording studio. The importance of mental health in the film's plot is stressed, making it look like an interesting and unique superhero story.
"Lex Luthor: The Greatest Nemesis" (16:08) is an overview of Superman's key enemy, with contributions from Liu, comic artist Jon Bogdanove, co-director Jake Castorena and DC animation creative director Mike Carlin. Plenty of clips from Reign of the Superman are used to illustrate the points made about the character, and his role in the film at hand (not to mention how, without saying the name, he was the original Donald Trump in terms of self-aggrandizing ego.)
A pair of episodes listed as "From the DC Comics Vault" are available to watch. First up is "Heavy Metal" (20:52), from Superman: The Animated Series, which ties in nicely to the film, as it was the debut of Steel in the animated series, as the armored hero joins forces with Superman to take on Metallo. (Interestingly, on a message board, Timm listed this episode as one he apologizes for being a part of.) Then there's "Panic in the Sky" (23:04) from Justice League Unlimited. Also featuring Steel, this was an odd choice, as it's not a standalone episode (coming in the middle of a multi-episode story), and it's also pretty limited on the Steel presence, since it's basically a big-time fan-service battle royale.
Wrapping things up is a pair of trailers for Shazam! and The Death of Superman, while a Movies Anywhere code is also included.
The Bottom Line
A companion piece to DC's Death of Superman animated film, this movie adapts the story arc that followed Superman's defeat at the hands of Doomsday, and the introduction of four new Supermen, telling a somewhat different story than the one that unfolded in the comics, making it a new experience for hardcore fans and newcomers. The quality is very good and the extras are decent, if not entirely thrilling. Superman fans should give it a look, but if the big boy scout isn't your thing, this movie won't change your mind.
Likes: Comic books, action films
Hates: That my Death of Superman comics aren't worth much
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.