I was one of a fortunate group of fans and press that attended the New York Premiere of the new DC Universe Warner Premiere Video release of Superman/Batman Apocalypse at the Paley Center on Thursday 9-22-10.
Based on the DC Comics series/graphic novel “Superman/Batman: Supergirl” by Jeph Loeb, Michael Turner & Peter Steigerwald, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is produced by animation legend Bruce Timm and directed by Lauren Montgomery (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths) from a script by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Tab Murphy (Gorillas in the Mist).
Fan favorites Tim Daly (Private Practice) and Kevin Conroy (China Beach) return to their seminal roles as Superman and Batman, respectively. The celebrity-laden guest cast is headed by Andre Braugher (Men of a Certain Age) as the daunting Darkseid. Sci-Fi heroine Summer Glau (Serenity/Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) provides the voice of Supergirl, and seven-time Emmy Award winner Ed Asner (Up) reprises his Superman: The Animated Series/Justice League role as Granny Goodness.
A spaceship splashes down in Gotham City Harbor—leading Batman to discover a mysterious teen-aged girl with super-human powers and a connection to Superman. When the girl comes to the attention of Darkseid, the evil overlord of Apokolips, events take a decidedly dangerous turn.
Reminded immediately of Batman the Animated Series when the film opened with GCPD Blimps flying over Gotham, I was pleasantly surprised to see the care and artistry producer Bruce Timm and the WB animators took in modeling the characters for the film. The artwork paid homage to the late great Michael Turner’s and Peter Stiegerwald’s artwork in the books and brought the audience somewhere familiar yet different. It did not look like BTAS, STAS, or JLU as much in style as many felt Superman: Doomsday did when it was released. Many feel that when buying these films it is important (though I think unfair) that the animation is a step up from what they are getting on television for free. The animation turned in on this film, delivers. Period.
The film opens with exposition that quickly reminds viewers of the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies storyline without dwelling on it. Something quickly falls from space into Gotham Harbor causing a mini Tsunami flooding and damaging parts of the city and quickly bringing the Dark Knight into action to investigate. This sequence is action packed with purpose and sets up a pattern for the rest of the film. It was great to have the animators think about the effects of what might happen when a large object at high speed lands in your local harbor. From here on the action just takes off and brings the audience along for the ride. Even when things calm down for a moment, something unexpected happens and kicks it up a notch.
Screenwriter Tab Murphy spends ample time in the DC continuity as well as entertaining those not as familiar with the source material or characters. He was able to adapt from Loeb’s terrific books yet create something new and exciting while giving the audience deep glimpses into what makes these characters tick, something lacking in some animated features. Most of the films sequences were really well executed and only during a brief piece in Metropolis did things seem a little unnatural and slow.
Voice director Andrea Romano has once again put together a great ensemble turning in more of the top flight work that she has become known for in her career. There’s both tension and respect between the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight and the performances of the veteran actors as Kevin Conroy put it “feel like putting on a comfortable jacket. It just feels right.” Conroy has some great moments and is sometimes very funny, yes I said funny as Batman. And Daly’s sensitivity and hope will bring to mind many classic moments of Superman lore. Throughout, the heroes’ come off as a family, sometimes dysfunctional, but caring for each other nonetheless.
Wonder Woman’s character is especially enjoyable in the film. She won’t stand down from Superman or Batman in emotionally charged situations yet her motivation is heartfelt and real. Susan Eisenberg’s performance as Wonder Woman is as always exceptional. Her reprise of the role from Justice League and JLU is fantastic and in my opinion sadly overlooked. Her contribution to this film and to the character of Wonder Woman is as important to DCU animation as Daly and Conroy.
As for the villains: Initially I was unsure of how Andre Braugher’s Darkseid would play mostly because of Michael Ironside’s Superman TAS, Justice League and JLU’s interpretation of the character. This was quickly put to rest by Braugher’s excellent performance as Darkseid. Darkseid’s sequences with both Batman and Superman are some of the best voice performances of the film. His need to corrupt others for his own gain becomes the basis of his interactions with Kara/Supergirl and is frightening both to her and the audience. Ed Asner reprises his role as the sadistic Granny Goodness, and as my friend Scott who saw the film with me said “turns in a performance that is the stuff of kid’s nightmares.”
As for the rest of the cast, Summer Glau is quite believable as the unsure and ultra powerful girl of steel. She adds vulnerability and uncertainty when needed but also stands her ground in several life altering situations. Julianne Grossman as Big Barda rounds out the cast perfectly. From being a reluctant hero to fighting against her conditioning as one of Darkseids honor guard, her delivery is spot on.
The panel discussion afterward with Kevin Conroy and Andrea Romano was enjoyed by everyone in attendance. I recommend the purchase of this DVD/BLU Ray for any DC Universe fan and more importantly to anyone who wants to see a terrific film. It is my hope that the powers that be at Warner Brothers will watch this film as they look into producing a live action Superman film. This is the type of writing needed for a Superman film that will have some real legs and no Lex Luthor in sight.
Superman/Batman Apocalypse Grade: B+
Tom Jeron is the owner of Tomlin Promotions which produces Comic Book Conventions in New Jersey. Tom is a family man who grew up in Hawthorne and has had television shows reporting on the world of comic books.
Tom is now a guest correspondent for InvestComics.