With their ninth entry into the direct-to-DVD DC animated feature library, Warner Bros. Animation chose to adapt Jeph Loeb’s and Michael Turner’s Superman/Batman arc, “Supergirl.” Retitled Superman/Batman: Apocalypse in the hopes that a more masculine title would help it sell better, the animated movie is incredibly faithful to the source material, and brings a simplified version of Michael Turner’s art wonderfully to life.
Though each and every of the nine DC animated movies thus far haven’t really been connected in any way, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse picks up a short time after the conclusion of previous title Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. While not a 100% true sequel, it makes sense considering the “Supergirl” storyline this film is based on followed the “Public Enemies” story arc in the original comics. A little while after the giant kryptonite meteor is destroyed at the conclusion of Public Enemies, another smaller meteor comes crashing down in Gotham Bay. Batman investigates, and finds a small, recently abandoned space craft at the bottom of the body of water. As Batman is inspecting the ship, the mysterious female passenger steals the Bat-boat, arrives on land, and roams the streets of Gotham until Batman is able to track her down. It isn’t long until we find that the girl and ship are not only Kryptonian, but that this newcomer is Superman’s cousin, Kara. Batman is suspect of her arrival, but Superman is too elated to care. Elsewhere, on the other side of the galaxy, the despot dictator Darkseid is looking for a new captain of his all-female elite squadron of warriors. He demands to be brought the “girl who fell to Earth.” Those of you who read the comic know where this is all heading, but to those of you less familiar with the tale, you’re in for a pretty good ride.
Tab Murphy’s script recreates nearly every single page and panel of Jeph Loeb’s original story, with the only modifications coming near the climax of the seventy-minute film. There’s an insane amount of action on display, and the animators at Warners were definitely up to the task. While Batman: Under the Red Hood was chock full of incredible close-quarters combat sequences, the battles in this film are much more traditional superhero slugfests. Even though his script is an adaptation, Murphy’s Batman and Superman are wonderfully characterized, as are Wonder Woman and Darkseid. While Kara may not get nearly as much screen time as Batman and Superman, she’s the star here, and despite how little time she has on screen, she’s the only fully realized character with an arc. A lot of the credit due to Kara’s presence has to be given to Summer Glau, who voices her in this film. Summer has a genuine vulnerability in her natural tone that makes what Kara’s feeling on screen believable. She’s also perfectly capable during the more intense moments, and her performance more than stands toe-to-toe with veterans Tim Daly (Superman), Kevin Conroy (Batman), and Susan Eisenberg (Wonder Woman). Andre Braugher’s turn as the epitome of evil, Darkseid, is equally impressive. Even at his most relaxed, Darkseid’s voice is on that can send a chill down your spine, and Braugher delivers. Every move and thought Darkseid has is carefully measured, and Braugher gets that. While I’ve always read Darkseid’s voice with much more bass, Braugher is able to impress without changing his timbre too much.
Whether you’re a fan of Michael Turner’s artwork or not, there can be no denying that the man had talent. His highly stylized characters may not have seemed the best choice for animation, but Montgomery and Timm are able to adapt his style into a cleaner, more simplified look that works well on screen. The doe-eyed females are still present, but the animators are able to be much more expressive because of it. I always loved the way Turner kept his Batman shrouded in his cape at all times, and was pleasantly surprised to see the look carry over to the animated movie. The animators have to be given a lot of credit on this one though for one major reason, and that’s the action. The combat choreography present in the film is fantastic, and each fight outdoes the previous one in technique and scale. Montgomery really knows how to pace and layout a fight sequence, and pushes what you can (and should) expect from upcoming DC/Warners collaborations to the limit.
Like the previous two direct-to-DVD films, there is a ten-minute DC Showcase appearing on the disc. Green Arrow is the focus of the short on the Apocalypse DVD, and it’s not bad. Unfortunately, it’s also not great. To me, the bar was set extremely high with the Spectre short on Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and the Jonah Hex short was a very close second. Both had terrific style, and had the perfect premise for a ten-minute plot. Green Arrow is decent, it just falls a little flat in the execution. There’s an attempted kidnapping of a princess, and Ollie Queen just happens to be in the right place at the right time to save her. Neil McDonough does a nice job as the Emerald Archer, but the adventure lacks the pop of what one would really expect from a Green Arrow story. Sure, he’s facing off against rival archer Merlyn, voiced by Malcom McDowell, but their duel is anti-climactic. You never get the feeling from the script that these two men are arch-rivals, and it’s a shame, because I like Green Arrow. There is a great cameo at the end, but even my love for the character could not elevate this short to the level of the previous two.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is another excellent addition to the growing DC animated library. The story is interesting, the action is incredible, and the acting and animation are at their highest level to date. I’m really interested to see how well the high-concept All-Star Superman adaptation goes, as that’s a story that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to adaptation very easily. This film however is a spot-on take on the original comic, and you won’t be disappointed.