After the last DC animated universe drew to a close with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, some fans were left asking “What next?” Even Doctor Manhattan knows that if you’re going to get a fresh start and reboot the DC universe in any way, it always begins with Superman. Hence, Superman: Man of Tomorrow.
And here, once again, is an origin story (of sorts) of Kal-El’s early adventures in Metropolis as both Clark Kent and Superman. Detailing his first meeting with Lois, Lex Luthor, Perry White, Lobo, J’onn J’onzz and others, it shows the gradual evolution of a man becoming Superman, from getting his first costume to fighting for truth and justice.
And you know what? Superman: Man of Tomorrow works. Well, at least at first.
It’s the dawn of a new day for Metropolis, and the world is about to change forever.
First, there were initial vague reports of a “flying man” in the headlines. Then he saved the city from a runaway rocket. Now, this being known as Superman lives amongst the people, possessing powers far beyond those of normal humans – and feared as an alien invader by those he’s trying to save. As Superman struggles to become both a hero and a source of hope for humanity, his adventures bring him in to contact with the Martian Manhunter, Lobo the intergalactic bounty hunter, and the dangerous Parasite.
Meanwhile, in his secret identity as Clark Kent, this newcomer to Metropolis has a different battle on his hands: being taken seriously at the Daily Planet, winning over the cynical journalist Lois Lane, and trying to establish a balance between his normal life and that of a superhero. Can this young hero adapt quickly enough to survive today… and become the man of tomorrow?
After a brief introduction in which we see his childhood turmoil of accepting his own identity as an alien – and how people may respond to him if they knew the truth – the action in Superman: Man of Tomorrow shifts to the big city and young Clark’s job as an intern. It’s always good to see this aspect of his life being focused on, giving us a glimpse into the real “humanity” of the character. Superman’s best features qualities are his heart, his sense of humility and his concern for others, and this film initially does a great job of conveying that.
A great example is an early chat he has with Rudy Jones at STAR Labs. While he gains information from him, as any good journalist would (and also for his own interest), the fact that he shares time chatting to a janitor while billionaire Lex Luthor is in the middle of a media circus just around the corner speaks volumes. Likewise, Clark’s early chats with Lois show the contrasting mindsets of both, and reveal a fun moment of cape-envy that Clark has of Batman… establishing an early dynamic of the two superheroes for the future as well. It makes Superman human, and very relatable.
Even when Lobo and the Martian Manhunter arrive, it’s all good and should please and entertain many fans with how right it all feels. Of course, it’s hard to not draw similarities with the DCAU Superman episodes The Main Man, which were more fun and did it even better. Still, in this setting, it works anyway. Unfortunately, it’s also around this point when some small cracks start appearing and you can almost instinctively feel when the quality of the story starts to dip.
As the storyline of Rudy’s transformation into a Godzilla-inspired Parasite unfolds, the pace drops and the whole movie begins to grind. Clark’s growth as a superhero, a journalist and a person is abandoned. Logic and proper character development are replaced by lazy storytelling and a reliance on audience familiarity with the source material. There’s a distinct lack of motivation for the characters as the film progresses, with everyone becoming increasingly one-dimensional. By the end of Superman: Man of Tomorrow, it’s all rather predictable and flat, with important questions and plot points left unanswered and unresolved.
That doesn’t mean it’s bad; however, the back end of this film is a step backwards given how well it all began. It’s a shame really, because there’s so much promise here that’s not capitalized on.
The voice work in Superman: Man of Tomorrow is solid, but like the music throughout it’s also not memorable in any way. The animation is sleek, although it’s uninspired and doesn’t exactly pop. The new character designs are instantly identifiable for fans, attractive but simple, and with thicker lines than usually seen in many DC animated productions, giving this potential new DC animated universe a unique look from its predecessors.
Unfortunately, it also reinforces an issue as to what the target market is for Superman: Man of Tomorrow – it’s not exciting enough for kids, not mature enough for adults, and not engaging enough for everyone’s tastes in general.
Despite a lacklustre tail-end of the film, there’s still enough here to please Superman fans, and when it’s good it really works well. Superman is treated more faithfully and with greater respect than some versions in recent years, and hopefully, they’ll continue to build on this with future productions.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow takes its first steps (and missteps) into what could be a larger universe for DC animation.
Superman: Man of Tomorrow
Superman: Man of Tomorrow is a promising (but ultimately dull) introduction to a new DCAU.