WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for the DC Animated Universe's Reign of the Supermen, streaming on the DC Universe and available for digital download today.
The DC Animated Film Universe's Superman, while holding to most of how we've seen the Man of Steel depicted over the decades, has taken specific influence from the New 52 era of DC Comics. That means this Clark Kent is not a seasoned superhero, but one that's learning and maturing along the way, as evidenced when we first saw him repelling Darkseid's invasion in Justice League: War.
Since then, it's been a steep learning curve as he navigates his role as one of the League's leaders, having moved on from his relationship with Wonder Woman to one with Lois Lane. In Reign of the Supermen, following his death at the hands of Doomsday, Superman does, indeed, return to action. But as he stops Hank Henshaw (the Cyborg Superman) from turning Earth into New Apokolips, we're shown just how much the DCAU's Superman truly has changed.
HE'S A SCIENTIST
After figuring out Cyborg Superman is an impostor rather than the real Superman, Lois' investigation allows Steel to track the Eradicator after he took down some arms dealers. Steel pursues these leads to the Fortress of Solitude and battles the Eradicator, whose role is to protect Kal-El while his body is in a revival chamber.
Kal-El eventually breaks free and discusses the science of Krypton with Steel, something he's become more familiar with as the Eradicator charged Superman back up. Superman explains more about the Fortress' role and how Kryptonian tech built the Eradicator as a guardian/soldier and brought him back to life, coming off a bit like the scientist version of the Man of Steel in Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's All-Star Superman.
This change is further emphasized when Superman fights Hank in the Watchtower above the Earth's orbit. Realizing he can't kill the cyborg, Superman pulls a trump card. It turns out he studied Hank at the Fortress, and therefore brought with him a Kryptonian crystal he uses to short-circuit Hank's mind. The Eradicator is uploaded into Hank's mind, extracting the villain's essence and preserving it as his robotic body fails. It's a stroke of genius from a Superman who clearly now relies on his brain just as much as his brawn.
HE'S TRULY BEEN REBORN
The Superman we saw before this film and its Death of Superman predecessor was a bit more conservative, and still figuring out the people of Earth. When he's reborn here, though, he comes off a bit more aggressive, but this is because he thought Hank and his puppet master, Darkseid, had killed the League.
However, during the climactic battle, Lois opens the Watchtower's windows to allow sunlight to fully re-power Kal-El, enabling him to take down Cyborg Superman. In the final sequence, we see Superman back on Earth in his classic suit (sans trunks), with a bigger emblem denoting the House of El on his chest as he takes to the skies. It's a more classic look, moving away from the sleek, New 52 visual aesthetic.
Most notably, apart from his brand new suit, his personality has changed as well. The post-credits depicts Superman lobbying for the League to take the fight to Darkseid, riling up his teammates until they unanimously agree to head to Apokolips in order to make Darkseid's empire pay for its actions. It's a bit uncharacteristic, as Superman doesn't really advocate war or invasion, but here, he's really hotheaded and hellbent on revenge.
HE'S GOT MAJOR GIRL PROBLEMS
This continuity created a love triangle when it had Superman and Wonder Woman break up, quickly moving him on to Lois. In previous films, Diana of Themyscira expressed a desire for some sort of closure, hinting that the break-up wasn't something she necessarily wanted. While the full details have yet to be revealed, one thing's for sure -- she still has romantic feelings for Kal-El.
While Lois grieves in the wake of Superman's death, she forms a strong bond with Wonder Woman, and when Clark has dinner with Lois in the film's finale, it's foreshadowed that a love triangle is on the horizon. Clark apparently kept the full details of his relationship with Wonder Woman a secret from Lois, and now that he's returned, well, he's taken aback at how close the women have become. In fact, he's a tad scared over what they discussed in his absence.
Since Wonder Woman still harbors feelings, and Clark has hidden secrets from Lois, there's clearly a lot more drama to come. Lois may be playing it cool for now, but she'll definitely keeping a watchful eye on the man who loves her as he continues to save the universe with his ex-girlfriend.
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.