Reign of the Supermen
Six months later….
Superman is dead, but since he’s also Jesus you know he’s got to come back to life. But if you also followed the comics, you know there was no way they’d let you off the hook that easily! As there were 4 concurrent Superman comic series, 4 pretenders to the throne emerged, one in each book, each out to be the new Superman. Sort of. Steel (John Henry Irons) wasn’t out to replace Superman, he was inspired by Superman to become a hero himself and go after the weapons he designed that were let loose on the streets. So he build himself a metal outfit, became the Man of Steel, and got to work. Superboy was a clone of Superman, aged to teen years so he could use the name from the Superboy comics, but with cool 90s sunglasses and a leather jacket. Eradicator and Cyborg Superman are different in that they were way less clear as to their origins or how seriously they were pretending to be Superman. As these stories are decades old, it isn’t a spoiler to reveal Eradicator was a computer program while Cyborg Superman was evil (He nuked Coast City! Then some dumb stuff happened and then they rebuilt it….) Eventually Superman comes back and saves the day. As a primarily Marvel reader, when all the Death of Superman/Funeral for a Friend/Reign of the Supermen stuff was going on, I actually read and enjoyed DC comics. Before then I didn’t really make any special effort, but these were good enough to keep me hooked.
This story follows many of the same beats, but is remixed and streamlined. There are still four pretenders running around, but Superboy is now a clone created by Lex Luthor in an attempt to brand Superman as his own property (he’s even launched as Superman, the launch party descending into chaos as the Eradicator shows up to fight Superboy for daring to declare himself the real Superman, and Steel popping up to try to stop the fighting (as John Irons was nearby investigating Luthor for his own reasons) Steel seems more Iron Man inspired, though to be fair the biggest interpretation of him prior was Shaq’s film.
A bunch of Superman and one of them up to something evil isn’t a problem if the Justice League are running around, so things are quickly conspired to get them out of the picture, as a Darkseid boom tube opens and monsters attack, then the tube is dropped on the heroes and explodes, making everyone think they are dead (they are just trapped on an asteroid full of monsters, because we aren’t going to kill the entire gravy train for one story!) This gives away to the audience that Cyborg Superman, aka Hank Henshaw the astronaut, who died in the prior film, is working for Darkseid. In this movie continuity, Darkseid attacked in Justice League: War but was defeated by the heroes uniting as a team for the first time.
Cyborg Superman uses the accolades he gets from saving the president during that attack to declare that he is recruiting for a new Justice League, and any volunteers can join up. They just need to wear these cybernetic devices that brainwash the into powerful automatons for a sinister purpose. Of course people sign up by the dozens. The Metropolis population is upset, lead by Bibbo Bibbowski (one of my favorite minor characters, too bad they don’t have him running around in a Superman costume saving dogs) they march against the super-powered guardians.
Lois gets a lot to shine in this entry, easily deducing a lot of the behind the scenes stuff happening with the various supers. She figures out Steel’s identity in one appearance, discovers Superboy is a clone, and realizes Cyborg isn’t what he seems. She also gets quality time with Clark’s parents and struggles to move on. We all know Superman is returning, so it isn’t too much of a spoiler to say he does come back, just in time to try to save the day from Cyborg Superman’s scheme.
We also see a lot more of Lex Luthor and Rainn Wilson’s wonder voicework, who spends the entire film annoyed at Superboy (we soon learn that Superboy is a clone mix of Superman AND Lex) and running his own schemes that are 10 steps ahead of everyone else. He also never says thank you during the multiple times he is saved, only seemingly annoyed that he was distracted from whatever it is he is planning at the time. He even helps stop Cyborg Superman while being a dick about it. In all levels, glorious Lex.
The vast change in story means this is very different from the original story, but it still heroes being inspired to rise and uniting against a monstrous evil. Superman continues to bring out the best in humanity. I don’t expect these movies to follow the plots identically (and often they shouldn’t), I’m just largely annoyed at Darkseid continually being used as the big bad. Even the ending stinger promises even more Darkseid coming up. But on the brightseid (Ha!), it only seems like he has a lot of play because he was hyped up for the DC Cinematic Universe and we all know what happened with that. So let’s get back to this cartoon where Steel put his steel-covered hand on a palm print scanner and it gave him access to his hideout. Overall things were pretty good, but the people being brainwashed thing was sort of a letdown and the film kind of came apart, but it didn’t really matter as by then Superman was back and punching. So a good effort with only minor missteps that make the prior film the better of the two, but together they are a great double feature and provide the cleanest version of this story. I don’t think it is the definitive version yet, but we got something good enough to tide us over for a while until someone gets around to making it in 15 years.
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