- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fans waiting until next month for the Man of Steel to, once again, fight General Zod in DC Comics’ famed superhero’s latest live-action movie can immediately appreciate an animated confrontation with a more intriguing villain in Superman: Unbound (Warner Home Video, rated: PG-13, $24.98).

Specifically, viewers learn about the Kryptonian kidnapping plans of Brainiac through a PG-13 cartoon on a Blu-ray disc.

Adapted from the 2008, 5-issue story arc from Action Comics (Nos. 866 to 870) featuring the creative talents of writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank, the 75-minute movie stars an egomaniacal, cybernetic organism fascinated with Superman and Supergirl.

In the finest tradition of the Borg and Cyberdyne Systems’ famed product lines, the planet-destroying alien obsesses on the collection of knowledge from civilizations, to the point that he shrinks especially intriguing cities into living snow globes that he stores on his spaceship.

Superman not only finds himself in an overwhelming battle with the powerful villain who has even kidnapped his relatives, but must balance helping Supergirl emotionally deal with living on Earth and  iron out some relationship issues with his sassy girlfriend Lois Lane.

It will take the might of Dr. Phil to walk though this dramatic minefield.

Now, full disclosure here for my upcoming grumpiness, I made a big mistake.

I went and read the brilliant and gorgeously illustrated comic books before watching the animated feature.

Maybe I will never be able to wrap my head around the watering down of comic book page to an animated format or even the Hollywood meddling involved with bringing a well-constructed sequential-art story to the screen.

Suffice to report, I am not thrilled with the result.

Screenwriter Bob Goodman tinkers too much with an already great story and sterilizes much of its impact.

Sure, many vestiges of Mr. Johns’ tale still remain in tact, with plenty of detail, but life is too cut and dry here, too sterile, not emotional enough to capitalize on the horror of the situations.

Mr. Goodman forces new scenes to the plot, including a helicopter battle with bad guys and dinner in the city of Kandor, rather than giving me simply a faithful recreation.

He ignores the Ma and Pa Kent side-saga, introduces a lover’s spat between Clark and Lois and minimizes the cerebral drama of the monstrous, devoid-of-emotion Brainiac through a constant supply of Terminator-like battles and a final drawn-out slugfest between the villain and Superman.

Much worse is introducing a “happily ever after” ending rather than Mr. Johns’ much more depressing and unexpected turn of events.

Additionally, Gary Franks’ art style in the books is awesome, and the animation does not even come close, even in spirit.

If I ran Warner Bros. Animation, I would have found every non-traditional animation studio on the planet to figure out how to capture even some of Mr. Frank’s dynamic style.

Alas, we get a Superman with a bizarre, elongated face, Brainiac looking like he was culled from a Saturday morning cartoon and some really average animation, yet again.

Despite my grousing, Superman Unbound should balance enough action and drama to satisfy those not exposed to the original source material.

The voice-over work by Matt Bomer as Superman, John Noble as Brainiac and Molly Quinn as Supergirl won’t disappoint.

Unfortunately, my hopes for the perfect sequential art to cartoon translation are waning. Warner Bros. Animation had me excited with its take on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, but its latest PG-13 cartoon is a step in the wrong direction.

Best Extras: As with all DC Entertainment Blu-ray cartoon release, Superman Unbound features a nice set of bonus content.

A welcomed, optional commentary track with director James Tucker, writer Bob Goodman and former Superman comics editor Mike Carlin leads off the list, and the trio touch on many of my gripes between back-patting throughout the session.

Besides the commentary, a pair of DC Comics’ Superman history lessons provide interviews with legendary writer Marv Wolfman and Mr. Carlin, to name a few of the onscreen experts.

First, fans get an informative, 16-minute look at the shrunken and bottled capital city of Krypton, Kandor. It comes loaded with Silver Age comic book artwork and details down to a quick discussion of the famous Kryptonian crime fighters Nightwing (Superman) and Flamebird (Jimmy Olsen).

Next, in the 24-minute long “Brainiac: Technology and Terror,” the highlight of the segment offers Mr. Wolfman talking about turning Braniac from a bald egghead wearing a pink shirt into more of a machine than man with a skull-shaped landing craft to scare species around the universe.

Rounding out the extras are a whopping four episodes “The Last Son of Krypton” (Part 1), “New Kids in Town” and “Little Girl Lost (Parts 1 and 2) from the 1990s show “Superman: The Animated Series.” None of which are remastered nor in high definition and look pretty rough.

Read all about it: An extra on the Blu-ray teases with four pages from the Action Comics series and includes enlarged illustrated panels to admire Mr. Frank’s artwork.

If I have not already gushed enough, his character designs are riveting and include a homage style to Christopher Reeve’s Superman with shades of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, both stars of the 1978 film.

For those with tired eyes, I recommend reading the five issues in a digital format ($1.99 each) through DC Comics’ app on an iPad. It was a revolutionary experience that I wish upon every engaged comic book reader on the planet.

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