In a post-9/11 world, “Superman Vs. the Elite” is as relevant today as when Joe Kelly first created the team in 2001, bringing up the big questions and turning out one of the more entertaining DC animated features.
The movie brings up the question comic fans have been asking for years, and eloquently answers it, I thought: Is the no-kill, “Big Blue Boy Scout” Superman passe and maybe even irrelevant in an increasingly dark and violent world?
The Elite is a new team on the block, led by the charismatic Brit Manchester Black. Superman is at first thankful for their help in fighting some terrorist attacks, but then Black crosses the line and announces open season on any criminal or world leader he doesn’t like.
Public opinion quickly swings in the Elite’s favor, which causes Superman to question his unfailing belief in the goodness of humanity. He ultimately decides his way is still the best and demonstrates to the world the unacceptable extreme the Elite represent.
Kelly himself adapts his (and Dough Mahnke with Lee Bermejo) story “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way” story from Action Comics #775 and fills his script with snappy dialogue and smart choices.
The Elite were obviously inspired by “The Authority” from Wildstorm (before DC bought the company). They fly around in a giant, living space ship and don’t shy away from killing the bad guys. That’ one reason I never cared for “The Authority.” I like my heroes more wholesome, with an ideal to believe in.
But just because you want wholesome heroes, doesn’t mean the world may not need someone with a rougher edge when the stakes are thousands, maybe even millions, of lives. I may not always want to read about them or watch movies about them, but it’s a valid debate and makes for an engaging film.
And while the animation continues to be just a step above mediocre (this one has particular problems with Superman’s eyes), the voice cast really steps up. George Newbern (“Nip/Tuck”) returns to the role he’s done several times and still sounds a lot like Tim Daly (that’s a good thing). Robin Atkin Downes (“Babylon 5″) does a smashing job as Machester Black, with equal parts charisma, bravado and cheekiness. Pauley Perrette (“NCIS”) was a surprising choice for Lois Lane, at first sounding a bit too much like Aretemis on “Young Justice” (Stephanie Lemelin), but she quickly won me over.
The debate is carried over to one of the featurettes: “Superman and the Moral Debate.” And it’s not just comic book guys talking about it. There’s a military officer, a law professor and a sociologist in the mix, too, and they deconstruct the argument, the reasons public opinion might favor a group like the Elite, at least for a while. It’s a gray area for a gray world, and kudos to DC for including it.
Yes, Superman is still relevant, and we need him more than ever.
Next up — an adaptation of the seminal “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” so big they had to split it into two movies. There’s a sneak peek, but nothing special. It’s due this fall.