For years, when it came to animated comic book films, the DC Animated Universe was leaps and bounds ahead of Marvel Studios. Of course, many fans can turn that around and say Marvel Studios was far superior with its live-action movies. That’s a debate for another time. For now, we’ll focus on the animated films, most recently ‘Reign of the Supermen.’
Going all the way back to 1993’s ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,’ there have been more than 30 animated films released by DC. While some were spectacular – ‘Mask of the Phantasm,’ ‘Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths,’ and ‘Justice League: Doom’ among them – others have recently fallen well short of the mark, including ‘Batman and Harley Quinn,’ and, sadly, ‘Batman: The Killing Joke.’
After a few knocks, it seems the DC Animated Universe is once again firing mostly on all cylinders after the July 2018 release of ‘The Death of Superman.’ Fortunately, fans didn’t have to wait too long for the second part of the story, ‘Reign of the Supermen,’ which was released digitally on Jan. 15 and on 4K/Blu-ray/Digital Download on Jan. 29.
—– Warning, spoilers ahead —–
‘Reign of the Supermen’ picks up roughly six months after ‘The Death of Superman.’ Metropolis is in a state of confusion as now there are four ‘Supermen’ protecting the city – Cyborg Superman, Superboy, Steel, and the Eradicator. Since no one seems to know where these new superheroes came from, Lois Lane decides to find out on her own.
Eventually, we come to find out Superboy is a clone of Superman (and Lex Luthor) as a result of Project Cadmus. Steel is actually Dr. John Henry Irons, a brilliant engineer who creates his own ‘Superman suit.’ The Eradicator is part of a protection/healing program at the Fortress of Solitude (more on that in a minute), and Cyborg Superman – although acting as though he has Superman’s memories and could possibly be Superman – is, in reality, Hank Henshaw, the astronaut we see getting blown up at the beginning of ‘The Death of Superman.’
Hank Henshaw (not to be confused with the persona J’onn J’onzz took in the CW’s ‘Supergirl’ show) was saved by Darkseid, who intends to use Henshaw’s anger toward Superman to launch an invasion of Earth, just as the Justice League is preparing to send The Watchtower into orbit. Henshaw’s Cyborg Superman betrays Darkseid and closes the boom tube before the invasion can get through.
The reason? Lois, Superboy, and Steel find Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, where the real Superman has been healing. The Eradicator is there not only to protect Superman but to supply him with radiation he’s absorbed from Earth’s yellow sun. When Superman’s pod opens for the first time, he steps out just like he did in the comics, wearing his black suit and sporting long hair. He’s not yet strong enough to fly, but the ship that brought his ‘dead’ body to the Fortress is able to get him to the Watchtower in time to thwart Henshaw’s plans. Once he sees Superman’s alive, he wants to kill Superman to exact his revenge.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I’m sure you can probably figure it out. There are a few notable things to point out for this film. It’s good, but not quite as good as ‘The Death of Superman.’ There’s just a lot going on in ‘Reign of the Supermen’ that tends to bog down the overall storyline. And, while service is paid to Steel and Superboy, I feel as though they get lost in the shuffle.
With Superboy, you get the three bits of information you probably already know – clone, Project Cadmus, Lex Luthor. This is also very much your 1990s version of Superboy, not the dark, angry boy people are used to seeing in ‘Young Justice.’ This Superboy is flashy, has plenty of quips, and has no problems talking to the ladies, as in one scene he tries (in vain) to hit on Lois.
With Steel, you don’t get much backstory for John Henry, which is a shame. Again, with everything else going on, it would have been difficult to squeeze that in. At least we understand, thanks to the previous film, why Henshaw hates Superman so much. He blames the Man of Steel for not rescuing him, his wife, and his team of astronauts when their spaceship is hit and destroyed by Doomsday when he fell to Earth.
As for bonus features on the 4K/Blu-ray release, there are only a few. There is a short little segment on ‘Lex Luthor: The Greatest Nemesis,’ (of course, if you’re a Batman fan, I think you can make a better case for the Joker, but again, that’s for another time), two bonus cartoons from the DC Comics Vault, and a nice look at the next DC Animated Universe release, ‘Justice League vs. The Fatal Five,’ which will have a heavy focus on Starboy and Jessica Cruz’s Green Lantern.
As for ‘Reign of the Supermen,’ is it the best of the DC Animated Universe bunch? No. Is it the worst? Far from it. The film just suffers from having too much stuff going on. I still recommend watching it, as it’s a very good addition to the DCAU catalog. And be sure to keep watching for the end-credits scene.