If you thought last year’s adaptation of DEATH OF SUPERMAN story strayed from the source material, the sequel takes it to another level. The new direct-to-video release of REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN builds on the story’s first half, which means that only the basics of the classic 1993 comic book tale are recognizable here. But it’s enough to give us a compelling story with (mostly) great voice talent that stays true to the spirit of the original.
And that’s what is most important with these adaptations. Not a panel-for-panel remake – a lot of which just wouldn’t make sense because of how steeped in 1980s and 1990s continuity those stories had been – but something that stays true to what the story was trying to say. REIGN OF THE SUPERMAN is set firmly in the same world as all the movies since JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR, so modern audiences won’t be left out in the cold here.
You won’t see the destruction of Coast City here (yay! The lives of 7 million people saved!), or an epic showdown between Green Lantern and intergalactic conqueror Mongul. Even the mystery played up 25 years ago over which of the replacement Supermen was the “real” one is given the back-burner here. It’s pretty clear early on that none of these new heroes are the Man of Steel. But that’s OK. The DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN is a legendary story, and it would be pretty surprising to find someone who doesn’t know how it turned out.
Instead, the emotional core of the latest animated film is on the shoulders of Lois Lane, intrepid star reporter who just had her boyfriend tell her he was Superman minutes before dying at the hands of Doomsday. Lois has to navigate the four pretenders wearing the S-shield – Superboy, Steel, Cyborg Superman and the Eradicator – hoping not only to figure out what’s really going on, but to get some closure with the death of the man she loved. Through her, we get introductions to the new Supermen and the ties they have to the man they emulate and the city he protected.
For me, the best part of this is the first real glimpse of the original Superman clone, Superboy. While Connor Kent is a key part of the YOUNG JUSTICE cartoon, that Connor is the Geoff Johns version that starred in the writer’s rendition of TEEN TITANS in 2003. The Superboy here, though, is a pretty spot-on adaptation of the brash, egotistical kid trying to fill those big red boots. He even has the leather jacket! And just like 25 years ago, the kid is a little misguided, though in this new adaptation, he’s beholden to Lex Luthor instead of a manipulative television station and a sleazy agent.
Superboy’s growth is fun to watch over the film’s 87 minutes, and while he starts out just as grating as his comic book counterpart, he becomes a vital part of the Super-team by the time the real Superman is revealed.
Another great part of the film is John Henry Irons, who took the mantle of Steel in honor of the man who saved his life. Irons helps Lois solve the mystery of the other Supermen. In the comics, Steel was the only one who disavowed the idea that he was a replacement Superman, and he fills the same role here, though he comes the closest to being a partner to Lois’ investigations.
While the main villain in the story remains the Cyborg Superman (not the hero Cyborg, who also plays a part here), but instead of partnering up with Mongul, the intergalactic conqueror who ruled War World, the villain is a pawn of Darkseid, the ruler of Apokolips. Darkseid is still seeking vengeance for his defeat in JUSTICE LEAGUE: WAR, and he used Doomsday, the weapon he created, to take out Superman. The second part of his plan created the Cyborg Superman out of the lifeless body of Hank Henshaw, who we saw killed in the first movie, to gain Earth’s trust to set up an invasion.
The replacements work in the context of the universe the DC Animated movies have built, and the changes don’t take anything away from what they’re trying to do here. James Krieg and Tim Sheridan take over writing duties here from Peter Tomasi, though the handoff felt seamless enough that you’d think the scripts were written by the same people.
As I mentioned earlier, I thought the voice work, again, was great, though I’m still not completely sold on Rainn Wilson as Lex. Though I’ll admit his interpretation grew on me as the movie went on.
From the day Warner Bros. announced this two-parter, REIGN OF THE SUPERMAN was the one I was most excited about, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the original story or the current direct-to-video continuity.
REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN is available digitally now and will be released on physical media and the DC UNIVERSE streaming app on Jan. 29.