Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
September 25, 2010

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.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse cover
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
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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. This is about the adrenaline and excitement of seeing favorite comic stories come to life, superpowers on-screen.

Classic Voice Talent

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.)

17 Responses  
Eric Rupe writes:  

“That’s faithful to the source material”

Man, that is the complete opposite of what I would want from a movie based on a Jeph Loeb comic though, being fair, Loeb’s story wasn’t that horrendous most of the time. Same with the references with Turner’s art, which I’m not a fan of.

I do want to watch this though since Asner is voicing Granny Goodness again, one of my favorite roles from the DCUA. Another favorite of mine was Michael Ironside as Darkseid and I didn’t know that he wasn’t reprising the role and I’m very disappointed by that.

James Schee writes:  

I recently read an interview that had Timm (jokingly I guess, but it made sense to me) saying that Loeb’s stories worked well in this. As the basic ideas were good you just have to throw out the stuff that doesn’t make logical sense.

I look forward to seeing this, hopefully Redbox or Blockbuster Express will get it.

One thing did Helen Slater mention anything about the Supergirl story she wrote recently?

brian writes:  

This was really lame. Far from the best DC animated film, which is EASILY ‘Red Hook.’ So far, both Superman/Batman films have been Super boring slugfests which subpar animation and absymal characterizations of Superman and Batman. Avoid this movie. It’s a waste of time.

Johanna writes:  

Eric, I should clarify: in terms of the key plot points, they all seemed to make it from the book to the movie. I’d much rather watch the movie, though, to avoid the Turner art.

James: Ha! What a great description. No, no Slater comic comments, because that extra was made in 2008, before the comic was likely planned/finalized.

Grant writes:  

That was a really great, detailed and informative review. Great job, thanks. I have to say that I haven’t cared for any of Marvels or DCs animated movies with the possible exception of Mask of the Phantasm. But this one does look decent as does All Star Superman, at least based on the clips I’ve seen. Also, it’s great that they have the voice actors from the animated series.

I have the Supergirl movie on DVD. I was one of the few that enjoyed the “effort” if not the actual plot and dialogue. When I watch that movie I always get the vibe that there is something untangibly great struggling to get out, but just cant. I liked Helen Slater as Supergirl. I just wish they would have incorporated her into one of the Reeves films. And to be honest, I’d rather watch Supergirl than Superman Returns.

And speaking of Darkseid, did anyone catch him on Smallville last friday? Or Jor’el telling Clark that a “Great Darkness was coming”. Yup, I like Smallville, don’t care what the haters say. :)

Johanna writes:  

Thank you very much! I’m looking forward to All-Star Superman, too, although the voices will be more celebrity, which will disappoint me. Thanks to James, I also own the Supergirl movie, the special limited edition set. It’s rewatchable cheese, and hey! Peter O’Toole!

Shannon Smith writes:  

Do you think it would be appropriate for an 8 1/2 year old girl?

Johanna writes:  

I’m not sure. It’s certainly aimed at a much older male viewer, what with the T&A that pops up. I can’t say I’d find it inappropriate, though, so long as you’re aware of that, and that there are plenty of very destructive fights.

Joan writes:  

Neal McDonough as Green Arrow! That’s much more interesting to me than the movie itself. I might have to rent it just for that. Great review, though. It answered every question I had and then some.

Johanna writes:  

If you’re serious about just wanting the Green Arrow piece, check out the DC Showcase set coming in early November, which has four of the shorts including that one.

Joan writes:  

Oh hey, that’s handy! Thanks so much! A Jonah Hex short too, excellent. I’ll definitely have to watch for that. Now all I need is for DC to remember that doing a short or two starring female characters probably won’t kill them. Sheesh.

James Schee writes:  

I got to see this the other day, and was really impressed by it. Kara has a personality and is interesting, this is a character I would read a series about. I really liked the cape flipping scene towards the end, it shows a playful fun nature that is sadly missing in most of today’s superher comics. (no one, except the bad guys, seem to enjoy having the abilities they do)

The extras were interesting, I would personally wished they had included the JLU episode where Supergirl meets the LSH as I thought that was one of the better character development story arcs.

It did get a little silly seeing so many males say there is nothing wrong with her costume update. Personally for me I tended to side with Gail Simone (first time I ever heard her voice I think, she didn’t sound like I thought she would lol) in it not being the costume so much. Its just you have to be careful not to pose her like something out of Victoria’s Secret in every scene.

I’d really like to see what Gail could do with the character.

James Schee writes:  

Oh and on the Green Arrow short, just brillant. I would like to read about this fun, adventuring Oliver Queen character who loves Dinah Black Canary. Why instead do all GA comics eventually lead to a grumpy, weirdly political aspect drip fest instead?

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[…] Superman: Tim Daly (The Animated Series, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse) […]

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[…] Crisis on Two Earths, many other DCU cartoons) and Sam Liu (All-Star Superman), writer Tab Murphy (Superman/Batman: Apocalypse), executive producer Bruce Timm — but they’ve moved beyond their previous works to put […]


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