by Mel Valentin
With six animated films in two-and-a-half years set in the DC Universe, Warner Bros. Animation has positioned itself into a high-quality direct-to-DVD brand (with Warner Premiere distributing). Under executive producer Bruce Timm, one of the key creators behind "Batman: The Animated Series," "Superman: The Animated Series," "Justice League," and "Justice League: Unlimited," each film has been treated as a standalone film, existing outside the DC Comics or DC Animated Universes. Warner Bros. Animation’s sixth film, "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies," is based on the initial story arc scripted by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Ed McGuinness that re-launched the "Superman/Batman" (a.k.a. "World’s Finest") comic book series six years ago.In Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown), billionaire industrialist and Superman’s longtime nemesis, has become president of the United States through a combination of economic recession and a third-party candidacy. Luthor’s policies turn the U.S. economy around and crime rates begin to drop, but Luthor being Luthor (i.e., egomaniacal, megalomaniacal, hubristic), he remains committed to eliminating Superman (Tim Daly), even if it just means removing his “superhero” status. Other, lesser superheroes accept Luthor’s call to serve the United States. When astronomers discover a kryptonite meteor headed toward Earth, Luthor asks for a face-to-face meeting with Superman. Superman suspects it’s a trap (echoes of Admiral Ackbar), as does Batman (Kevin Conroy), but Superman sets aside his concerns and meets with Luthor.
"Yet another treat for fans of DC's animated universe."
With the help of the kryptonite-powered Metallo (John C. McGinley) and a few well-chosen words, Luthor incites Superman to lose his temper on video. Luthor flees as Superman engages Metallo in super-powered battle. After Metallo is found dead, the apparent victim of Superman's heat vision, Luthor places a $1 billion bounty on Superman and his "partner in crime" Batman's heads. Luthor sends Captain Atom (Xander Berkeley), Power Girl (Allison Mack), Major Force (Ricardo Chavira), Black Lightning (LeVar Burton), and Katana (Chiara Zanni) to bring Superman in. Superman and Batman, of course, do not go quietly into the night (it’s actually day, but you get the point). A-, B-, and C-, and D-list superheroes and supervillains show up, eager to collect the bounty, but Superman being Superman (i.e., super-powered, stubborn, proud), a veritable super-powered army is needed to bring him down.
DC Comics fans will be left giddy from the parade of superhero and supervillain cameos crossing their standard definition or high-definition screens (non-fans will be left perplexed or bored). Credit to Berkowitz (and Loeb too, of course) for packing Superman/Batman: Public Enemies with obscure or semi-obscure superheroes and supervillains, all or some bound to leave DC Comics fans giddy with excitement when they spot personal favorites battling two thirds of DC's Trinity (Wonder Woman is the third part of the platonic triangle). The surprises extend to a third-act trip to Japan where Superman and Batman meet the new (anime-inspired) Toyman and encounter hero worship at its most grandiose (and tallest). Of course, the Superman-obsessed Luthor isn’t far behind.
Sam Liu, a veteran storyboard artist (Superman: Doomsday, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern: First Flight) turned director, deserves credit for well-choreographed animated action. The super-powered set scenes are well choreographed and easy to follow. To create an affinity between the comic book series and the adaptation, Liu closely followed McGuinness’ character designs. McGuinness’ manga-inspired art style emphasizes the hypertrophied and the hyperbolic. Superheroes and supervillains alike, including Superman, Batman, and Lex Luthor resemble lantern-jawed body builders in (or out of) tights. McGuinness’ take on Superman and Batman extends to subtle and not-so-subtle changes to their respective costumes. Superman’s colors are brighter and bolder, the enormous “S” on his chest matching his broad shoulders. Batman’s costume is a combination of blacks and grays (the better to capture the brooding avenger).Readers of Loeb-McGuinness’ collaboration, however, will notice some minor and at least one major change in the translation from panel to screen. Loeb’s innovative use of duel voiceover narration for Superman and Batman didn’t make the jump to the small screen. Luthor’s motivation remains the same, ridding the world of Superman and becoming the most powerful man in the world, but the events that turn Superman into a fugitive with a bounty on his head are more credibly handled in the adaptation. Not surprisingly, Berkowitz and Liu decided against the open-ending present in the comic book series, but instead chose a more satisfying ending, resolving every major and minor plot point and conflict before the credits roll on the 67-minute superhero punch-up. Ultimately, "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" proves, once again, that the DC animated universe continues to provide DC fans (serious and casual alike) a worthwhile investment of their time and money.
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originally posted: 09/29/09 23:00:00