Superman vs. the Elite

(2012) *** Pg-13
74 min. Warner Home Video.

/content/films/4350/2.jpgSuperman's status as a high-powered Boy Scout might not seem to lend itself to complex stories, but the all-American superhero's unwavering moral sense in some ways makes him all the more prone to moral arguments, and though he's an alien, he's also subject to human emotion. Joe Kelly's 2001 story "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?" (Action Comics #775) dynamically engaged with the question of whether Superman's moral fuddy-duddiness should relegate him, in a time of darker and more complex comic-book storytelling, to the cultural backburner; now the story gets an adaptation as the DC Universe Animated Original Movie Superman vs. The Elite.

Following a knock-down, drag-out urban battle with Atomic Skull (Dee Bradley Baker), Superman (George Newbern, reprising the role) answers to world ambassadors, some of whom would rather see super-baddies slain than continually return to cause wholesale death and destruction. As if in answer, a new band of superheroes—or perhaps, superantiheroes—appears on the world stage: The Elite. Led by an archly funny, telekinetic Brit named Manchester Black (Robin Atkin Downes), the group includes energy-manipulating Coldcast (Catero Colbert), alcoholic magic-practitioner Hat (Andrew Kishino), and Menagerie (Melissa Disney), whose body can unleash aggressive beasties. But their superpowered novelties aren't the only reason these newcomers cause a sensation. They also promise to give the people the brand of justice they truly crave. “We’re not bound by lines on a map or political alliances or governing bodies of any kind,” says Black. And when they meet their enemies, The Elite are willing to terminate with extreme prejudice.

The conflict between The Elite's way of doing things and Superman's sets up a "might makes right" allegory wrestling with national and global politics as well as, on a more personal level, civilian tolerance of capital punishment. When Superman insists, “You can’t murder people and call yourselves heroes,” Manchester Black replies, “Why not? Your government does it all the time.” Black openly mocks the Man of Steel's “life of truth, justice, and the American military capitalist way.”As Superman's popularity wanes, so does his confidence about his role in human affairs. Lois Lane (Pauley Perrette), his wife and co-worker at the Daily Planet, offers support a friendly ear as he asks, “Do you think the world has moved on, to a place where I can’t follow?” Pressing the point are flare-ups between the nations of Bialya and Pokolistan, as well as the predicted return engagement of Atomic Skull. Can Superman prove that law and order trump vigilante vengeance? And can he survive an out-and-out battle with The Elite?

Kelly's update of his story works nicely, with plenty of opportunities for punch-packing action and a killer climax. The animation is not as stylish as the best of DCU Animation, but it has its moments (including a cool pop-art title sequence and a cartoon-within-a-cartoon segment that play with our perception of Superman as a simplistic square). It's fun to see the Super-bots play a significant supporting role in the story, and Dr. Light makes a cameo, but mostly Superman vs. The Elite focuses on fully serving its title characters, winningly voiced by stolid Newbern and loose-cutting Downes. While it's easy to guess who wins that match-up, our hero in red, white and blue does so in a surprising, even shocking fashion that's entirely to the point.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/12/2012

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Superman vs. The Elite looks grand in its Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet combo pack special edition from Warner. Color is especially eye-popping here, and the hi-def transfer yields a much sharper image than the standard-def DVD. Animation often shows some minor digital anomalies (most notably banding), and those aren't entirely banished here, but nothing distracts from the overall dynamic impression by this nicely calibrated image. Audio is even better, with a wall-rocking DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix benefiting from robust LFE, smart placement, full-bodied music, and thunderous sound effects, as well as dialogue that's never less than clear.

The extensive bonus features kick off with a fan-friendly audio commentary by Joe Kelly and Eddie Berganza. The pair discuss the story's origins in Kelly's comic book, how he chose to adapt it, and the film's themes.

“The Elite Unbound: No Rules, No Mercy” (14:30, HD) finds Kelly talking us through his inspirations for the story and, one by one, the characters that make up The Elite.

Alan Burnett’s Top Picks include two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series: “Brave New Metropolis” and “Warrior Queen” (both in SD).

“Superman and the Moral Debate” (17:24, HD) continues the tradition of DCU "think pieces," with Kelly; actor and USAF drill instructor Jaye Razor; DC Entertainment Creative Director, Animation Mike Carlin; Pepperdine University School of Law associate professor Gregory McNeal; and UCLA Anderson School of Management social psychologist Miguel Unzueta, Ph.D discussing the moral issues of the story.

Action Comics #775: “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” (HD) frustratingly supplies only a tantalizing excerpt of Kelly's original print story (you'll have to pony up for the rest).

The Upcoming Dark Knight Rises Theatrical Release Photo Gallery (HD) throws us a few production stills from the most anticipated film of the summer.

“A Sneak Peek at Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part I (12:36, HD) teases the next DCU release, an epic one to be sure. Participants include executive producer, Bruce Timm, writer Bob Goodman, co-producer Alan Burnett, director Jay Oliva, Carlin, voice director Andrea Romano, Peter Weller, David Selby, Ariel Winter and Michael McKean.

Also here are archival "first looks" for All-Star Superman (10:47, HD) and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (7:52, SD), as well as trailers for other DC products.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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