The latest release from DC Animation is Superman vs. The Elite, an adaptation of “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” written by Joe Kelly and illustrated by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo . The story was originally published in Action Comics #775, and has been expanded into this latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray release.
In the story, Superman encounters a new group of super-heroes, the Elite. Though they at first seem like potential allies, they quickly come into conflict with Superman when he objects to their willingness to use violence and even kill in their pursuit of justice. In the original story from 2001, the Elite was designed as a parallel to The Authority, the super-team created by Warren Ellis for Wildstorm Comics. For a time, The Authority was an incredibly popular comic book series, and fans seemed to love their brutal, take-no-prisoners brand of super-heroics. Joe Kelly’s story was designed to address head on the issue of whether Superman’s old-fashioned values had any place in a modern world. Was Superman still relevant, or just a relic of a bygone age?
Those questions remain equally interesting a decade later, and Superman vs. the Elite is a compelling super-heroic yarn. Comic-book fans will chuckle at all the parallels to the Authority (the profane, British-flag-wearing leader; the inebriated sorcerer; the teleportation doors; the huge living fortress of an HQ that exists between dimensions, etc.), but it’s not at all necessary to get any of those references in order to enjoy the story. Although the Elite are the villains, I like that they’re not presented as too over-the-top evil. Until the very end, they do seem like they legitimately want to do good, which makes their conflict with Superman more potent.
The film displays some solid though not hugely impressive animation. The action is great, as per usual with these DC Animated films, though the character designs are all over the place. I quite like the designs of the Elite, though Superman/Clark Kent is ridiculously malformed. They went for a weird sort of stylization for Supes that totally didn’t work for me. I found it very distracting.
The voice acting is very strong. It’s great to see George Newbern return to the role of Clark Kent/Superman. Mr. Newbern played Superman for the entire Justice League series, because Tim Daly was unavailable to reprise the role from Superman: The Animated Series. I’ve always really enjoyed Mr. Newbern’s work, and I think it stands equal with Mr. Daly’s iconic portrayal. It’s nice to see Mr. Newbern back in the role. I have never before heard of Pauley Perrette, but she is dynamite as Lois Lane. Her work here is one of my very favorite vocal interpretations of the character. Her sort-of raspy voice is tough but feminine, and she brings a huge amount of life to the role.
It helps that the script gives her some very well-written banter with Clark/Superman. My favorite moment in the film is a tiny exchange in which Lois comments that if a certain character is telling the truth, she’s the Martian Manhunter. To which Clark replies: “There go all my fantasies.” I love the two characters’ relationship in the film. Lois clearly knows Clark’s secret identity, but they’re still presented as complete equals, playfully sparring with one another but also working together as a great team.
The opening credits sequence, a primary-colored, pop-art depiction of Superman in the comics as the credits roll, is very clever and a lot of fun. Over-all, the film’s score is enjoyable though not hugely memorable. I did enjoy hearing some snippets of the familiar Superman theme (from previous DC animated projects) during a few moments of super-heroics.
I don’t have too much more to say. Superman vs. the Elite isn’t a home run, but it’s a solidly enjoyable film. (Like most of these DC animated projects, it clocks in at a brisk 70-or-so minutes.) There’s some good action, some interesting characterizations, and a compelling dilemma for Superman. Over-all the tone is pretty light, though there are a few moments of violence that earn the project its PG-13 rating. (A few un-named terrorist bad-guys meet some particularly grisly ends at the hands of the Elite at one point, and the final Superman vs. the Elite battle on the moon and through the streets of Metropolis is pretty intense.) If you overlook the simplistic title and the weird character designs, this is a very competently told Superman story.
I have high hopes for the upcoming animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns. I hope I’m not disappointed!! I’ll be back with my thoughts on that DVD when it’s released later this month…
Other reviews of DC Animation Projects:
Wonder Woman, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Batman: Under the Red Hood, All-Star Superman, Superman/Shazam!, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Batman: Year One, Justice League Doom,