My anticipation of the June release of Man of Steel is pretty well publicized… if you read Hollywood Jesus. After the marketing, social, and mythos snafu that was Brandon Routh’s Superman Returns, it seemed merely a matter of time before Warner Bros. would greenlight a new script, a new Kal-El, a new everything Superman. And six years later, it’s finally (almost) here. But in the meantime, there’s this cool, direct-to-Bluray, animated flick called Superman Unbound that no fan of animated superheroes, Superman, or Geoff Johns is going to want to miss.
Based on Johns’ storyline, Superman: Brainaic, we get a nicely established world where Superman (Matt Bomer’s White Collar-ed voice) has a quiet thing with Lois Lane (Castle’s Stana Katic), and tries to keep his more militant cousin-from-Krypton, Kara (Castle’s Molly Quinn), from decimating all evildoers. But then Brainiac (Fringe’s John Nobles) shows up, Kara knows that this is what doomed Krypton, and Superman has to make some decisions that draw his relationship with Lois into the crosshairs and challenge the relationship he has with the people of Earth.
Marvel may have been setting the box office standard recently with The Avengers and their spin-offs, but DC has the animated superhero world locked down! From Batman: Year One to Superman vs The Elite to Justice League: Doom, DC has been pumping out better-than-average plots, excellent animation, and an ascending level of voice talent. And it seems to come together best here.
I must say that one of the challenges facing Man of Steel is going to be how can they make Superman seem at all vulnerable? He comes across like a Boy Scout, an indestructible Boy Scout, most of the time. Here, he clashes with Kara over the appropriate way to govern Earth, struggles to say the right things and establish the right connection with Lois, continues to examine how much force is right (an Elite issue), and longs to know his world of origin and the traditions he left behind as a baby hurtling through space. All of these make our Superman/Christ figure more real to us– too often the world of Superman makes him “fully God” without making him “fully human” as well.
Brainiac definitely isn’t consistently on my radar as a Superman villain (Lex, Zod, Doomsday, Darkseid usually come to mind first) but Nobles voices him with feeling, and the final showdown on Earth is exquisite. Superman proposes that Brainiac has owned worlds but never known them, as if he had a head knowledge but no heart knowledge (which guides some of Superman’s decisions afterward). It’s a fair challenge to be made about the lives we live, especially when it comes to faith: do we “know” something but not really integrate and live it? Or do we come to establish a real understanding that changes everything we do?
Unbound is spectacular, and fans will appreciate all of the behind-the-scenes stuff, as well as all of the bonus episodes from the Animated Series.