Reign of the Supermen isn’t as good as The Death of Superman. That’s a tall order considering Death of Superman was if not the finest Warner Bros. Entertainment DC Animation film, than at least in the top 3. Its ‘consolation prize’ is being a worthy follow-up that makes for the best 1-2 punch in the DC animated film library.
In the wake of Superman’s battle with Doomsday, four mysterious figures with various claims on being Superman. There’s the Man of Steel, Steel (Cress Williams, Black Lightning); The Man of Tomorrow, Cyborg Superman (Jerry O’Connell); The Eradicator (Charles Halford) and Superboy (Cameron Monaghan, Gotham).
For Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn), deciphering the mystery of the Supermen is exactly what she needs to stop grieving over her boyfriend Clark Kent/Superman. In a lot of ways, Reign of the Supermen is told more from Lois’ perspective rather than the various Supermen. Lois is hardly a sideline character in the comic, but her focus here keeps the Supermen more at a distance.
That’s not a bad approach since Steel and Superboy still have plenty of time to shine. Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson) is a more prominent character this time around and there’s the little matter of occupying the Justice League while the Supermen battle it out for supremacy. There’s a really nice scene where Lois meets up with Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson) to discuss these potential usurpers to the cape.
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The main challenge — and it’s a big one — is adapting the five month comic storyline told over 21 issues to a 87 minute movie. Comparatively, The Death of Superman was a much tighter story told over seven issues. It allowed screenwriter Peter J. Tomasi more time to flesh out relationships and characters instead of just having the rampaging Doomsday tearing through Metropolis and its suburbs.
Reign of the Supermen screenwriters Jim Krieg (Batman and Harley Quinn) and Tim Sheridan (Justice League Action) clearly had to take some liberties from the source material. It’s not like they could have one of the Supermen obliterate Green Lantern’s hometown, which sets in motion him becoming a psychotic villain.
This makes for a tricky adaptation as the shocking destruction of Coast City was arguably the definitive moment of the Reign of the Supermen arc. They get around it in a creative way, but the film suffers somewhat from lacking that big twist and reveal of the evil Superman.
Some storyline purists might not be willing to go along for the ride, but it’s worth going with the changes. A direct page to screen adaptation couldn’t work and this really is the next best thing. Rest assured, we do have at least one sequence where the Supermen collide.
There’s changes, but Krieg and Sheridan capture the essence of the story and get all the important elements correct. Mild spoiler: Superman gets a welcome costume change and make sure to stick around for the post credit scene.
One aspect of the film I wasn’t expecting was the humor. Between Superboy and the terrific exchanges with the Justice League, there’s a number of laugh out loud moments. I’m glad we’re getting another Justice League film later this year with Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. This take on the Justice League has quietly been perfect and takes full advantage of the mix of personalities.
I love the flow of the animation. Director Sam Liu (The Death of Superman, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay) is one of the best at staging the action sequences so the physical collisions look painful. In some instances the animated fights have more presence and a greater sense of realism than live-action comic book films.
I’m probably going to need a few more viewings to accurately place Reign of Supermen in the upper echelon of DC Animation films. On first viewing? It definitely is worthy of a Top 10 spot and well worth checking out either on digital Jan. 15 or on Blu-Ray/DVD on Jan. 29.