Superman has been called “the big blue Boy Scout”. DC comics have always pitched his character who represents truth, justice and the American way. Superman has even been at odds with Marvel’s own ’boy scout’ Captain America (in JLA/AVENGERS) given his beliefs in doing things. Well, so what happens when the world becomes a much meaner and darker place? Does the things that Superman represent need to change or must he remain that beacon of hope for everyone? Just what is the difference between a hero and a warrior?
The world is in chaos, as terrorism seemed to have taken a foothold while some countries remain at war. Superman (George Newbern) is still in the frontline in the struggle against evil. Taking down Atomic Skull took a lot out of the man of steel and on his way to try and negotiate a peace treaty between the warring Bialya and Pokolistani forces, a new group of super-powered “heroes” have come into the spotlight. This quartet has powers that are very different from the man of steel. Menagerie (Melissa Disney) is a young woman who lives with creatures in her body, The Hat (Andrew Kishino) dabbles in magic, and Coldcast (Catero Colbert) is a man who can project and absorb energy, these four metahumans are led by Manchester Black (Robin Atkin Downes) who has powerful mental powers. These four are also beings that preach that ‘might makes right’ and their methods are more in the side of vigilantism. Their methods become popular to the general public, and even when they go to places no super-hero would go, the public seemingly approves. Is the Elite the new breed of heroes that the world deserves?
Director Michael Chang and the screenplay by Joe Kelly has crafted a story that may have been inspired by the “Kingdom Come” comic mini-series, but it does approach its themes in a very different manner. What I liked about this animated film is the fact that it takes things closer to current events, and allows the viewer room to ponder just what would be necessary in this world. I know, it does sound cliché, about all the truth, justice and apple pie, but in a place where violence does seem to solve a lot of issues, a time when threats seemingly appear to be swept under the rug, sometimes, someone or something needs to stand for what is right and decent in a corrupt world. The script and the direction manages to get its points across, it was able to flesh out its themes successfully with scenes that create the drama in its narrative and in doing so, the direction was able to create the necessary tension to engage its viewer.
The Elite characters are more or less your vigilantes that believe that what they are doing is the ‘new’ right thing, but they do have their own selfish motives. Their way is more attractive and the road they take is easier, but not necessarily the right thing to do. The script does point a small accusing finger at certain political and governmental stances as to how such a group came into play. I thought this was an area that the film needed developing upon, but unfortunately it just scratched the surface of this subplot. It brings the viewer into the eyes of the media, and the stance of America as a world power as it brings Superman right in the thick of these themes.
This is not a negative comment but rather a simple observation, the film manages to stay on point, and what its central focus are the moral stances between Superman and the Elite. In this animated movie, Superman is hinted as being married to Lois Lane (she definitely knew his true identity and they lived together) and Ma and Pa Kent are still around to guide the views of our alien immigrant. There were several good moments that defined Clark Kent as a man, Lois and the Kents were necessary to bring those out, and the direction took full advantage of their connections to Superman.
The voice work was good when it came to George Newbern as Superman. I believe that his voice was “right” as it sounded quite similar to Superman the Animated series. Pauley Parrette was convincing as Lois Lane. But I do have to say that I enjoyed the personality added on by Downes as Manchester Black. His accent may be a little uneven, (sort of an Englishman-Irish) but I enjoyed the way he gave more personality to his dialogue. The supporting cast was quite good in making the story move smoothly.
I did notice that the animation work (even the opening credits) mimicked the “Superman” look of the past (notice the strong chin of the hero). It was a subtle statement to say that “the old” is simply not outdated, but they are meant to show the way for the new. The character designs of the film did feel like they were inspired by the likes of Curt Swan, J.L. Garcia Lopez and Dick Dillin, and though they were a little off putting at first, the animation work certainly grew on me. The effects were good, despite the 2D animation in a CGI environment. The art designs looked old and yet modern to express its themes.
I do have to say that “Superman Vs. the Elite” may have a title that sounds a little cheesy, but this may be one of the more violent, action-packed releases by DCAU. The battles in the film were intense and went to the limit with its PG-13 rating. The fights had some blood in them, and they definitely captured the intensity and the feeling of suspense needed to define the stakes. The battles were dramatic and filled with emotion, that one could feel the struggle with no problems. You would have no issues in rooting for the good guy even when you get to doubt the good guy’s methods a little. This may be one of the better Superman DCAU releases to date.
Just what does define heroism? Are heroes outdated in this corrupt world? Would you rather be saved by a Superman or a Black Manchester? This film does define the need for a hero. A hero is someone that stands for something, someone who can make the ultimate sacrifice. A vigilante is someone who takes the law into his own hands, he may be easy to connect with, and his way is easier, but is it what we really want? “Superman Vs. the Elite” is a fine adaptation of Joe Kelly’s “What’s So Funny with Truth, Justice and the American Way?” in DC's Action Comics. It delivers its message without being preachy and I have to say, it packed quite a punch. Oh, it was Spider-Man who fights for all the good things in life...including mom's apple pie.