Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Animation Review: Superman Vs. The Elite

Action Comics #775, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" is definitely one of the best Superman stories of the past fifteen years, and might be one of the most important stories about what it means to be a hero in comics. This was a story that came out right on the heals of the popularity of The Authority and other "take no prisoners" heroes, and made a point about heroism. I have always been a person who stands behind the Superman (and Batman to a degree) perspective that human life is scared and we are not above the law. Today an animated version of the story was released, Superman Vs. The Elite. The question is, can this story be translated into a different format, and does it's point still resonate. The answer, I am happy to say, is yes.

For those of you who haven't read the original story, in the comic (the cover of which is below this paragraph) Superman confronts a new team of heroes who call themselves the Elite: Manchester Black, their telepathic and telekinetic leader; The Hat, a hedonistic demon sorcerer;  Menagerie, the mistress of a collective of alien monsters; and Coldcast, a powerful energy manipulator. They are not so subtly veiled versions of the Authority, and they take the Authority model of heroism to the extreme, killing anyone who crosses their path. Superman's values are shaken as he sees people rooting for the Elite, and he wonders if he is no longer relevant. In the end, he fights the Elite and chooses to not sink to their level, and defeats them, but only after showing the world what a Superman acting like the Elite could do, and seeing the horror of a Superman without restraint reenforces how important it is for heroes to choose the higher, better ground.

The animated film was written by Joe Kelly, the writer of the comic, so it does a very good job sticking to the original plot. As opposed to many of the DC Animated projects, that attempt to squeeze a large number of comics into one hour and fifteen minute movie, this one has just the one comic to work with, and so it actually has some room to grow. Little bits are added, dealing with the origin of Manchester Black and his sister Vera, battles with the Superman villain Atomic Skull, and a subplot about a young man and his father that flesh out the plot. But beyond the tweaks, the philosophical debate that made this a great comment remain intact. This is really a story about the price of violence, and whether the idea that people are inherently good is an outmoded one. The comics industry has found a way to get even darker since the original story was published, and so I feel like the story resonates even stronger now. I heard a comment that the Authority no longer was popular because all super heroes had turned into the Authority. While I don't think that's true, I see the levels of violence and anguish in so many of today's comics and I think we need a reminder there is a better way to be.

One department that DC animated projects rarely have a problem with is the voice cast, and this one is no exception. George Newbern reprises his role as Superman from Justice League and he hasn't lost a step, filling the cape well. Pauley Perrette, best known for playing Abby on NCIS gives Lois that wonderful energy and attitude that all good Lois Lane's have, and the way she interacted with Clark made me realize just how much I miss a married (or at least together) Lois and Clark. Robin Atkin Downes voices Manchester Black, and does an excellent job giving the antagonist of the piece levels; an actor could have made him just sarcastic and villainous, but he has moments of real emotion that make him more approachable as a character.

The animation on this project was a different style from any of the other DC animated projects.It has a style somewhere in between traditional American animation and a more Anime style. It's reminiscent of the Jeff Matsuda designs from The Jackie Chan Adventures, with angular faces and hair that defies gravity. I admit it took me a little while to get used to this particular style, but I realize that each of the original DC Animated projects have a different style, and this one suited the action filled nature of the story. The monsters of Menagerie and the wounded Superman at the end are a couple of the best moments in the film, but the all of the battle sequences are stunning.

The special features on the DC Animated blu-rays are always worth a watch, and this one is no different. Joe Kelly narrates a feature about how he developed the Elite and their evolution as characters. There is also a documentary about Superman and morality, that evolves into a discussion of morality in warfare in a post 9/11 world. Heady stuff, but interesting. I haven't listened to the commentary yet, but it is Joe Kelly and Eddie Berganza, editor of Action #775, so I plan to get around to that soon. And the preview for the next DC Animated, the first of a two part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, has me very excited for that one.

I don't know if Superman Vs. The Elite is going to be for everyone. The animation might put some people off, and others might not see the point of the moral. But if you go in with an open mind to just enjoy the film, I think you'll have a great time.

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