WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Reign of the Supermen, available on DC Universe and for digital download.
One of the biggest criticisms of director Zack Snyder's 2013 film Man of Steel was its level of violence, embodied in the destruction unleashed in Metropolis and, even more divisively, in the snapping of General Zod's neck by Superman. That set a dark tone for the fledgling DC Extended Universe that carried over into Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
The better-received Wonder Woman and Aquaman served as course corrections, of sorts, by finding a balance that somehow eluded the first entries in the Warner Bros. franchise. However, with Reign of the Superman, the DC Animated Movie Universe has gone a step further by addressing that controversial Zod scene with a take of its own.
In the finale of the newly released animated film, Superman is locked in battle with Hank Henshaw, better known as the Cyborg Superman. The confrontation mirrors the climactic brawl of Man of Steel, in which Superman restrains an unhinged Zod in an attempt to prevent him from using his heat vision to incinerate an innocent family. When Zod pledges he can never be turned away from his genocidal crusade, Henry Cavill's Kal-El breaks his neck in a moment of agony
However, in Reign of the Supermen, it's not some random family in the line of fire; it's Lois, as the three are stuck on the Watchtower orbiting Earth.
Hank's body has been retrofitted by Darkseid using Apokolips' technology, and with Superman not at full power following his resurrection, he struggles to defeat the cyborg. Eventually, Lois opens the Watchtower's panels, allowing yellow sunlight to restore Superman's abilities, but instead of taking down his enemy with brute force, Kal-El holds back. It's noticeable that he pities Hank and tries to find a way not to kill him, which leads to the egotistical villain to taunt, "You won't kill me, but I won't stop trying to kill you!"
It's the same sentiment expressed by Michael Shannon's Zod, but instead of resorting to desperate measures, the Last Son of Krypton chooses to fix what went wrong in that Man of Steel scene. Rather than break Hank's neck, Superman inserts a Kryptonian crystal from the Fortress of Solitude into a port in the cyborg's head.
That allows the Eradicator to enter into the cyborg's mind like a virus and exorcise Hank's consciousness. We don't know whether that means Hank is "deleted," which would effectively render him dead, or if he's trapped in the crystal with the Eradicator. But even if it's a killing stroke, it's a humane one.
Hank's mind was placed into his cyborg armor by Darkseid, so there's also the possibility that, with the Justice League preparing to wage war on Apokolips, they could somehow rescue him. But seeing that Superman became versed in Kryptonian technology, particularly the crystals, and studied Hank extensively before jetting off into battle, we're betting he found a way to trap Hank within the crystal rather than kill him. Either way, this Superman isn't Snyder's kind of hero.
Directed by Sam Liu, Reign of the Supermen stars Cameron Monaghan, Jerry O’Connell, Cress Williams, Patrick Fabian, Rebecca Romijn, Nathan Fillion, Rainn Wilson, Toks Olagundoye and Nyambi Nyambi. The film is now available on Digital HD, with a Blu-ray release on Jan. 29.