My love of the DCU Animated movies should be readily apparent to all readers of my ramblings. Superman Vs. The Elite hit the shelves on Tuesday, which means I’ve bought and watched the blu-ray and I’m ready to share my thoughts.
The screenplay was written by Joe Kelly off of his own comic story called “What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” that appeared in issue #775 of Action Comics (published March 2001, only months away from 9/11). The story was originally written as an answer to the ultra-violent “deconstruction” of the superhero genre by writers like Warren Ellis and Mark Millar, who’s superhero team The Authority didn’t care about collateral damage, or who they killed in order to achieve their goals. Superman had long been ridiculed as the “big blue boy scout”—a vision of “pure good” that seemed out of place in a world that seemed to worship the bloodier, less ethical metahumans who didn’t just punch bad guys and pontificate about the value of being moral but who killed them, and everyone who disagreed with them, with no concern about the very people and rules that they are ostensibly upholding.
This question is even more relevant today. In the comic world, DC Comics has rebooted it’s DCU as a darker, grittier place. And our post-9/11 real world has even the “good guys” committing acts that are morally ambiguous, at best. How relevant is Superman’s do-gooder, boy scout attitude anymore?
In some of the DCU Animated films such as Justice League: The New Frontier and All-Star Superman, because the story unfolds over many comic books, the videos are by necessity abridged and missing out of some of the nuances and issues in the graphic stories. In this case, the animated film is allowed to considerably expand on the single-issue story, and Joe Kelly makes the most of it. He begins the story with Clark Kent and Lois Lane watching a cartoon of version Superman that has been licensed for a children’s cartoon, emphasizing the hokey, cheesy perception of Superman as an out-of-touch figure. When we finally meet The Elite, they seem like young, new “heroes” but something doesn’t quite fit, and star reporter Lois Lane flies to England to see what she can dig up about “Manchester Black” and his gang of thugs-cum-heroes. The animated film allows Kelly to dive into the backstory of Manchester, add another Superman villain to the story (Atomic Skull), and to spend much more time exploring the marriage of Lois and Clark (indeed, this is something I dearly miss from the New 52 comics).
The problem of course is that, at least at first, the global population loves The Elite. They seem willing to do the dirty work that Superman is not. It leads Superman himself to question his role in today’s world. But inevitably, The Elite’s disregard for rules and humanity is more dangerous than Superman can abide.
This is very much a “message movie” and it’s not subtle. The film beats you over the head with it, and even if you agree with it you’ll certainly feel like they could have pulled back a bit. Thankfully, the dialog is snappy, the character relationships well done, the animation and the music top notch, although some of the models weren’t my favorite (Superman looks a bit exaggerated to me). The voice acting of the main characters is generally good but some of the British accents aren’t quite…well…British.
Overall I feel that this is a solid addition to the DCU Animated cannon. Especially if you’re a Superman fan, you’ll enjoy this one. If you’re not a Superman fan, or you don’t like being beaten over the head with the moral of the story, you might want to sit this one out. But I am glad I bought it.