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"Superman/Batman: Apocalypse" - Comic Book Comparison

By Jeffrey Taylor

Superman/Batman #13 The new DC Animated feature on DVD and Blu-Ray was released today. You can read Jeffrey Bridges' review from the premiere in Hollywood. But how did it compare to the source material?

This story was originally published in Superman/Batman #8-13, released between March and November, 2004 entitled, "The Supergirl From Krypton." Later there was a hardcover and a softcover titled Superman/Batman - Volume 2: Supergirl. So the first major difference between the comic and the movie is the title. In a video interview posted on the Superman Homepage, producer Bruce Timm admitted that the DVD releases with male superheroes in the title have sold better than those oriented around females, thus the title change.

From the first moments of the film, this was clearly in continuity with the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DVD, which came out a year before and covered the first six issues of the Superman/Batman comic book series. Although little beyond the initial setup connects the two stories directly, it can be read or watched without prior knowledge of the events from the first arc. The film version even played it down so much that the first movie could have been skipped over entirely for the second story to stand on its own.

Superman/Batman #13 One major aspect of the Superman/Batman comic book series from the beginning all the way up to current issues is that both of the title characters share their thoughts with readers through differently colored text blocks. This has shown how Superman and Batman view their situations quite differently and it usually adds a lot to the narrative. The movie format had to abandon that style, just as it did in the first film. It probably would not have worked and certainly wasn't worth the risk since it could have ruined the film.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies had a stylized animation that was made to look like Ed McGuinness' original art. Apocalypse tried to do the same with the late Michael Turner's approach, but in a less precise manner. Turner's artwork was just as distinctive as McGuinness', but in a different way. He always seemed to create a look of over-idealized realism, which potentially could have worked for this film, but might have been too difficult to properly showcase. The animation actually looked more like the line of action figures that the comic inspired than the art in the book itself.

PARTS 1-3 of 6: The Arrival

The first half of the movie followed the comic book almost completely. Just watch the film with the comic book open and it's clear that the source material acted as a storyboard. But there were a few subtle and not-so-subtle differences.

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The first issue of the story (Superman/Batman #8) completely glossed over the effect of Supergirl's ship crashing into Gotham Harbor when pieces of the Kryptonite asteroid from the end of Public Enemies hit the Earth. Obviously something that size crashing into the harbor would have caused a watery wave of destruction that the people of Gotham would notice. The movie added a short sequence that included Supergirl's initial landing.

From there, many of the shots, costumes and lines of dialogue were close to the source material, but with some minor differences. The first sequence where Supergirl quickly discovered her powers without the ability to control them, was almost exactly like the comic, but actually flowed more easily in the film, probably due to the quick speed of the story in the book.

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Harbinger was a major character in the DC Universe at one time. She played a big role in Crisis on Infinite Earths (1985-1986) and had a few appearances before that. Regular readers should have a firm grasp of who she was, but might not know her if they picked up the book without registering the past continuity. The film covered that slightly by introducing her earlier and showing her premonition of Supergirl dying (although it turned out to be someone else) before the book revealed it.

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There was a completely new scene where Clark took Kara shopping in Metropolis to show her what the real world is like. It was a little funny and a little silly. Beyond that, it revealed that she had the potential to be as vapid as any other teenage girl on Earth with a credit card.

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After the Paradise Island sequences, there was one more scene added to the first half that showed Kara being thrown into a prison on Apocalypse (aka Apokolips). It did little to serve the story and it was more interesting in the comic book where the reader didn't see her from when she was kidnapped to her brainwashed return during the storming of Apocalypse.

Beyond that, the first half of the film added some necessary interludes and establishing sequences that showcased Gotham, Metropolis, The Fortress of Solitude and Paradise Island.

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PARTS 4-5 of 6: Battle on Apocalypse

Here's where things get a little different.

The comic was fast-paced the whole way through, and the film kept its pacing just as tight, but expanded on most of the sequences, especially the siege on Apocalypse by Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda.

First there was an establishing fight between our heroes and Darkseid's Parademons in a vehicle. The sequence was well executed and established the framework of the planet in an action-packed way. The comic jumped straight into the team splitting up to fight their own battles, which worked because there was so much story to tell and action to show. There was no need for it in the book.

The pacing of the various fights were broken up more in the film and lasted longer without breaking away from what the book showed, leading up to the climax where Superman freed Supergirl from Darkseid's control with the help of Batman's strategizing. For instance, the fight between Wonder Woman and Big Barda against the Furies lasted three pages in the fourth issue of the comic and the rest was broken up into several parts of pages in the fifth issue. Nothing was changed in the film, except the timing of certain moments in conjunction with the other sequences.

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The pacing in part five of the book was something only a comic book could contain. There was a series of two page spreads that visualized the action all happening at once over three long panels that covered the three fighting groups in different places. A film could not show that the same way, so the pacing had to come out differently.

That fifth issue gave a sort of ending to the story where Superman brought Supergirl home, she grieved the loss of a friend on Paradise Island, then dressed up as Supergirl for the first time and came home to meet Clark's parents before being attacked by Darkseid who appeared to kill her with his Omega Beams.

PART 6 of 6: One Heck of a Fight

The end of part five of the comic was meant to be a shocking cliffhanger. Supergirl, who had just been reintroduced to the DC Universe for the first time in almost 20 years, was already dead. It didn't help that part six was about three months late in shipping, so it was unclear how this new, but very important character might affect the comic book universe.

Superman was angry, and not in the "I can't stand that Darkseid guy" kind of way. He let loose on Darkseid like he never (or rarely) had before, spouting platitudes about how Kara was the only living family he had ever known and that she would never experience any of the pleasures of life. Then Superman secured Darkseid in the Source Wall at the edge of the Universe, which is the final resting place for both good and bad guys from the Fourth World, which is where Darkseid is ostensibly from.

After all that, it turned out that Supergirl was fine and that Superman had planned ahead for Darkseid to attack at just that moment and he had teleported her to a safe location, which took away the motivation for his anger in the first place. The only reason to make her appear to die was to have a big cliffhanger ending to lead into the final part. I'll admit it worked on me. Too bad the resolution had to negate effect of the action.

But the film had no need to rely on a cliffhanger at that moment. Instead there was an amazing fight sequence with Superman and Supergirl against Darkseid that decimated the Kent farm. It was far more evocative than the comic because it made the battle personal without the fake reasoning. And that's all I'll say about the end fight because it needs to be seen, not described, although Ma and Pa Kent's reaction when they returned home was priceless.

Instead of being buried in the Source Wall, Kara explained that she used a Boom Tube to send Darkseid into a random section of outer space, because she remembered how to program a Mother Box from her time on Apocalypse, which is unfortunate because she had just mentioned that she had no memory from when she was kidnapped until she was rescued.

Superman introduced Supergirl in her new costume to the rest of the DC Universe from 2004 at the end of the comic book. There were guest appearances by the rest of the Justice League, the Justice Society, the current line ups of the Teen Titans and the Outsiders and so on. The movie had to skip those appearances because they would have been confusing. Reading the first few issues of Supergirl's solo title, it's clear why they're all there, but further DC Animated films are unlikely to continue that part of the story anyway.

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The filmmakers also included a reference for Smallville fans. When Clark and Kara approach the Kent farm, a very familiar entrance sign can be seen when they enter the town. The only real difference is the population.

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Apocalypse I liked the film and thought it improved on the story from the original comic books in some ways, but not as much as the first film did. You can read my review and comic comparison of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.

You can also read Jeffrey Bridges' review of this film for the Superman Homepage and see what he thought.

For the original Superman Homepage reviews Superman/Batman #8-13, check out these by Michael Bailey and Michael O'Connor:

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is distributed by Warner Home Video as a Special Edition 2-disc DVD, Standard Edition single disc DVD, on Blu-ray Disc, and On Demand and Download.