Where were you the day Superman died? Back in 1992, in the middle of the last real boom of the comic book culture, nothing caught the attention of the general public like the announcement of the “Death of Superman” comic book saga. DC’s announcement garnered unprecedented media attention from the mainstream media and the public following the very successful release of Marvel’s X-Men #1 relaunch, with multiple variant covers (the original microtransactions), the hype around the rogue superstar creator publisher, Image Comics, and the development of the Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman TV show to be premiered the following year. For a more comprehensive timeline of the comic book editorial, here you can watch a documentary, Requiem & Rebirth: Superman Lives!, originally included in the Superman/Doomsday animated film from 2007, the first time they adapted the story, and the first of the modern line of DC direct-to-video releases. The latest in this series of animated films is Reign of the Supermen.
*WARNING: HEAVY SPOILERS AHEAD!*
Following the events and post-credit scenes from the previous animated film, Reign of the Supermen begins with the world’s grief being interrupted by the sightings of four mysterious superheroes wearing the classic Kryptonian symbol which identified the Man of Steel. The events make Lois Lane investigate further, starting at Lexcorp, where Lex Luthor proclaims Superboy to be the real Superman. Lois discovers the boy is a Superman clone.
A battle ensues when another one of the mystery men, referred to as Eradicator, shows up to take Luthor into custody. After a fight between him and Superboy breaks out, the remaining new superheroes appear: a cyborg-looking Superman and Steel, who wears a high-tech armor. After the fight, Lois confronts Cyborg Superman, who claims to be Clark, but that his memories have been mostly erased by the process of his cybernetic resurrection.
Pulling strings, Luthors manages to insert Superboy into the Justice League presidential detail when a boom tube suddenly appears with a legion of Parademons, who attack the presidential caravan. Steel and Cyborg Superman are on the scene too. Superboy is defeated, the Justice League is able to stand their ground, and Cyborg Superman saves the day under dubious circumstances almost nobody notices, while the Justice League disappears into one of the boom tubes and is transported to another dimension. The President is inclined to declare the cyborg the real “Superman” publicly. Luthor loses it and reveals to Superboy he also has Luthor’s own DNA in him.
Later, the Cyborg Superman visits the grave of astronaut Terri Henshaw and receives a message from Darkseid. Lois Lane and Henry Irons learn about this and conclude that somehow Cyborg Superman is, in reality, the missing astronaut Hank Henshaw, who had an accident while repairing a satellite and disappeared in outer space because Superman couldn’t get there to help the astronaut crew.
Cyborg Superman declares that he will take volunteers to turn them into superbeings that can protect humanity, but Lois recognizes Darkseid’s technology and concludes Luthor might be involved since he has been linked to that tech. She confronts Luthor while Steel goes after the Intergang, who bought their tech from Luthor. He finds that the Eradicator already took care of the criminals and follows him to the Fortress of Solitude. Lois meets Superboy, and they break into Luthor’s apartment to confront him, but through a communication feed with Steel from the Fortress of Solitude, they discover that the Eradicator is Kryptonian tech designed to protect Kal-El. He stole the body from Superman’s mausoleum in order to restore him to life.
Luthor, Lois, and Superboy also manage to catch a communication from Darkseid to Henshaw. Apokolips will invade Earth using the new Cyborg Superman cadets to make a portal. Superboy and Steel immediately return to Metropolis to deal with the Parademon army while Lex and Lois devise a plan to bring back the Justice League by reverse-engineering the Apokaliptian tech and put an end to Hank Henshaw’s revenge plan and farce once and for all.
Keeping with DC’s animated universe canon, Reign of the Supermen is a streamlined and action-packed adaptation of the comic book story arc published in the ’90s (and named after “The Reign of the Superman,” a dystopian Sci-Fi story by Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster which predates the version of Superman we know & love). The animation and voice-acting are both spot-on. Reign of the Supermen does a great job of modernizing the story to keep it in canon with the previous features (while not all of the DC animated movies do this).
However, it must be mentioned that the emotional part of the saga, “Funeral for a Friend/World Without a Superman,” which ran between “The Death of Superman” and “The Reign of the Supermen,” is not really given enough screen time in Reign of the Supermen, even though a couple of key scenes with the Kents and Bibbo Bibboski are included in both animated versions. But because the story is split into two parts, they are unable to generate the impact the event had in 1992, which actually ran for eleven issues and had the world thinking maybe Supes wouldn’t be coming back after all was said and done.
The script, by veteran DC comics writer Peter J. Tomasi (Super Sons), and overall direction of Reign of the Supermen are generally good. However, the movie can feel disjointed at times, between trying to put together multiple plotlines and all the action set pieces (that will surely keep superhero fans well satisfied) with a very solid retelling of the classic comic book story.
If there is something I have a real complaint about in Reign of the Supermen, it is Darkseid’s voice. The actor, Tony Todd (Candyman), is not even a bad choice, but leaving his voice without any synthetic processes makes the tyrant sound very human. Other than that, Reign of the Supermen is a fun and enticing entry fans of DC’s animated universe will surely enjoy!