Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse cover

Or the Origin of Supergirl in a hour and 18 minutes. As newscasters tell of President Luthor’s impeachment and a rash of Kryptonite meteors, we see one particular space rock land in Gotham Harbor, and Batman heads out in a sleek Bat-boat to investigate. Once Supergirl is discovered, Superman becomes protective of his new cousin, his only relative, while Batman (and Krypto) are suspicious of her origin and motives.

The underwater animation doesn’t have the feel of actually being underwater — there’s no sense of the weight of the water or how hard it is to move through, only occasional bubbles from the Bat-scuba gear. But this isn’t the film for those spoiled by (for example) Pixar’s theatrical picture quality. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is about the adrenaline and excitement of seeing favorite comic stories come to life, superpowers on-screen.

Classic Voice Talent

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse cover

With that as the benchmark, this is one of the best DC Animated films. It’s got plenty of popular characters. In addition to the title holders, there are also Wonder Woman and Darkseid and his minions. Many of the voices are the classics from the cartoons — Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman), Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman), and my favorite, Ed Asner as Granny Goodness. Daly does an excellent job of sounding protective and caring and strong, exactly what Superman should be.

Darkseid is voiced by Andre Braugher, doing a glorious job of menacing. There’s not quite enough gravel in his voice for someone who looks like a walking rock, but I love his deep timbre. Supergirl is fan-fave Summer Glau (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), and the way the character first appears naked (although we don’t see anything more than you would in a shower soap commercial) is fanboy bait as well. Her voice work is great, though, with me hearing Supergirl, not Summer.

Appearance and Characters

The faces are generic, without much detail or expression, although drawn to be attractive. But as I said, now that they’re releasing them more quickly, I don’t have the high expectations I once did. The work gets the job done, and with the action kept moving, the occasional visual glitches are gone soon enough. The guys show odd cheekbone lines that seem to be an attempt to mimic the Michael Turner style of the original story, although here, it comes off as using harsher lines than necessary. Batman’s mouth, for example, sometimes appears too high on his face, so he’s got too much chin underneath. That Turner design is most obvious in Kara’s slender, long-necked-and-torso, celebutante-styled figure.

Note that, while the parental concern with these movies is usually violence, here, there’s also a good amount of female skin on display. Many of the Female Furies appear to be fighting in outer space bathing suits, especially Lashina. Supergirl gets her own fashion show, including one particularly revealing dress that resembles a Mike Grell-era Legion costume. There’s the usual equation of character going bad symbolized by a bikini-like ensemble with extra useless straps, and one woman is enlisted while wearing only a towel.

Supergirl’s introduction — threatened with rape, shot at by cops, not knowing how to fly as she plunges up through the atmosphere seeking only to escape — is a nice encapsulation of the “stranger in a strange land” motif. I do wish someone would do something with that as a metaphor for a female hero in a male-dominated (fan, creator, character) world sometime. You could have an entire series about Supergirl adapting to earth that would provide some nice comedy and societal commentary in addition to the adventure. I wanted to see a lot more of that process than the intriguing bits shown here, but given the title, I knew we’d eventually have to get back to the guys going up against the Big Bad.

Some of the dialogue is funny when it’s not conveying the story, and I very much enjoyed the way they show Superman and Batman as friends and colleagues. Wonder Woman winds up acting like the mom of the DCU at times, but an active, tough love-caring one. We were reminded, while watching this, that Batman always wins, and that includes who’s given the best lines.

Overall, the movie’s colors and visuals are diverse and interesting, with plenty to look at. Since I didn’t read the comics, lots of character appearances were pleasant surprises to me. Yay for Wonder Woman being the voice of reason! And for the visit to suburbia.

The Best DC Animated Film

I’ve pointed out things I’ve had something to say (or quibble) about, but don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to, given the series’ track record. This is the best DC animated film I’ve seen yet, keeping my attention all the way through. This is what I wish more of them could be:

  • Featuring big-name characters in classic portrayals
  • In a story that stands alone but is significant for the DC universe
  • That’s faithful to the source material (the cuts mostly relate to featuring fewer DC characters in the film, to avoid overwhelming/confusing viewers)
  • With something more to say than simply having big fights
  • And identifiable guest stars who have relevant, important roles to play
  • Presented in a visually interesting way

I would have been just as happy to see the movie without the New Gods, because I’d have liked seeing Superman learn to become father to a teenager all of a sudden without the space battle stuff, but I understand there are certain conventions of the superhero genre we need to get a story told. And given the need for action, it’s refreshing to see so many female fighters in this movie. If you’re disappointed about how DC and Warner have been treating some of their lead women lately, check this out for an alternative.

Two Documentaries

There are two featurettes — The Fourth World: The New Gods (22 minutes, Blu-ray only) and Supergirl: The Last Daughter of Krypton (also available on the two-disc DVD special edition). The first is a basic explanation of Jack Kirby’s life and his creations, starting with an appearance by Paul Levitz (credited as writer, The Great Darkness Saga, which starred Darkseid in a key reveal; shame that volume isn’t back in print until November). Alan Kistler (comic book historian, apparently) analyzes Kirby’s art, and I was particularly pleased to see Walter Simonson explaining the cross-title continuity and storytelling within a shared universe. Much of this will already be familiar to long-time comic readers, but given how long ago those comics came out, lots of fans can use a refresher/introduction.

The 18-minute Supergirl is a similar piece on the history of one of DC’s three best-known female characters. The New Gods piece has a male narrator with one of those important deep voices, while Kara’s piece is voiced by a woman. Thankfully, unlike with the New Gods, they got some women on-screen to talk about the character’s history: writer Gail Simone and Dark Horse editor Diana Schutz. Shame that no DC staffers working with the character are female, although we hear from editors Matt Idelson and Eddie Berganza about how weird some of her stories were. The guy-heavy contribution ratio rings particularly false when they’re trying to justify the redesigned skimpy costume (using all the hoary cliches, like Superman being over-muscled as though that’s some kind of comparison), although Simone weighs in on the issue as well. It’s accompanied by a bikini clip from Smallville.

That aside, there’s a lot more interesting analysis in this special, including the most surprising guest: Jannot Szwarc, director of Supergirl: The Movie, accompanied by Helen Slater clips (both then and now). Elliot S! Maggin tags along to say what they got wrong. (Consensus: emphasizing grace over power.) It’s labeled a vintage featurette and dated 2008; given the late focus on the TV portrayal, I suspect this was included on one of the Smallville sets previously.

Other Special Features

The new DC Showcase short cartoon (11 minutes) stars Green Arrow (Neal McDonough). He’s rushing to the airport (to meet Dinah) when he spots bad-guy archer Merlyn (Malcolm McDowell, always a pleasure) and has to rescue a princess. It’s an action sequence with character bumpers, but that’s what you want from something this length. Oliver’s got all kinds of trick arrows, but they’re cool. There’s lots of potential demonstrated here for something much longer, and something I’d enjoy watching more than the comics.

Two five-minute character profiles (Blu-ray only) cover New Gods Mr. Miracle and Orion, even though neither of these appeared in the movie. I’m thinking that someone saw this project as a way to promote a new franchise for further development.

Disc previews start with Batman: Under the Red Hood, a well-done trailer that makes the movie look more interesting than it is. I feel that one got overlooked as people raced to anticipate this current entry in the DCU animated line. That trailer is also available through the disc menu, as are trailers for Public Enemies, Crisis on Two Earths, the Jonah Hex motion comic, and Lego Universe (?).

Of much more interest is the 10-minute sneak peek at All-Star Superman, the next DC animated movie, using a lot of Quitely’s art as inspiration accompanied by talking heads Bruce Timm, Gregory Noveck, and director Sam Liu. I’m not sure how they’re going to handle that story’s comic self-referentialty, but they seem to be billing it as a fresh start on a classic story particularly well-told by Grant Morrison. James Denton (Desperate Housewives) plays Superman, with Anthony LaPaglia (Empire Records) as Lex Luthor and Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) as Lois Lane. (If you’ve already heard about this upcoming project, that casting is likely why, because fanboys are salivating. Me, I wondered where LaPaglia’s wonderful hair went! Is he taking the casting that seriously?)

Four 1998 episodes of Superman: The Animated Series: Little Girl Lost, Parts 1 and 2, that introduced Supergirl in that series, and Apokolips Now, Parts 1 and 2, starring Orion and Darkseid. (Only the first two are on DVD. The last two are Blu-ray only.) Also included with the Blu-ray is a DVD that includes only the movie and the Green Arrow short, plus a digital copy of the film available on PC or Mac. (The studio provided a review copy.)


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