Superman vs. The Elite
Written by Joe Kelly
Based on “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” from Action Comics #775 by Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, and Lee Bermejo
Directed by Michael Chang
Superman has been a cultural icon for 80 years, he’s survived several waves of popularity of comic books, multiple reboots and revisions to his story and character, and still remains popular world wide despite the world being far different than the one he was introduced to. In fact, one of the major things people write about Superman is how he seems to be a character from another time. Back when things seemed simple and a super powered guy could just punch his way to the right answer. Now things are complicated, because we think about the consequences of actions and about the causes of problems, so just punching things is usually out. This is helped in part by characterizations of Superman by people who don’t really know what to do with him, turning him into a boy scout tool of the government or a deadbeat dad. One of the plot points of Superman Returns was Lois Lane winning a Pulitzer for an article basically saying the world didn’t need a Superman.
Where some media interpretations of Superman has failed, he has gained a pretty solid characterization in the numerous animated projects from DC comics, across tv and dtv films. The Superman presented is a man who does his best to balance power and responsibility while stopping threats of immense power (and they usually have to be, because Superman is just invincible otherwise!)
So it’s natural that the animated DC movies would cover What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way? from Action Comics #775. Written by Joe Kelly (with pencils by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo), it’s a story about how the world seems to have changed, how heroes that are willing to kill (a line Superman doesn’t cross) have gained traction, and just how much Superman holds back in the hope of inspiring people to be better. Superman takes his responsibility as a role model seriously, and holds himself to the highest moral standard. Some of the themes are also present in the awesome Kingdom Come story (another tale I hope gets the animated treatment!)
The Elite is a team consisting of four members. Manchester Black is the leader, he has a Union Jack tattooed over his chest (I thought it was just a shirt until it was specifically pointed out!) The Hat is an Asian mystic who can do magic tricks and summon supernatural creatures thanks to his magic hat. He’s also constantly drunker as the movie goes on. Menagerie has some sort of alien biosuit that allows her to turn into creatures. Coldcast is a large man wearing chains that has electromagnetic powers. Aside from Manchester’s long tragic flashback, the other three Elite don’t get much in the way of characterization and pretty much follow Black’s lead.
Things move beyond just what is the responsibility of Superman in the world, but what is the responsibility of people in the world, from governments to persons on the streets. Two fictitious nations battle it out with bioterror weapons, their populations are the ones that suffer. Citizens in the US don’t care at all, but also demand mob justice against the supervillain Atomic Skull after he kills more people. Superman’s attempts to work in the system are stymied by the Elite, who go outside it. Besides stopping the bioweapon monsters, the Elite kill the leaders of both warring nations and execute Atomic Skull. They claim to be giving the public what it wants, not seeing the slippery slope they are quickly sliding down. The Elite announce to the world that they will kill all the bad guys, becoming worldwide vigilantes.
Are Superman’s ideals backwards? In the opening sequences, we see a cartoon adaptation of Superman from that world, which is basically a Bugs Bunny cartoon. It seems to say the concept of Superman and his ideals have no place in reality, which then stretches into the conflict of the film as a whole. The cartoon demonstration just sets the mood, but becomes an interesting argument line of its own.
The US enters into conflicts round the world as we dance around the premise of being the world’s policeman while simultaneously declaring we aren’t the world’s policeman. The US inserting itself into various global conflicts under the guise of saving lives, while the heroes do the same here. Superman specifically endeavors to try to stop the violence and save people, while the Elite eventually go after the leaders causing the conflict, and summarily execute them. In a sense, they are drone strikes on the leadership of the groups.
Superman does have the advantage that he’s practically invulnerable and can just fly in and do the impossible. The US would have to risk actual lives if we sent in troops. Superman has the luxury of being able to already do the more, while reality faces limited options. That being said, the inspiration that Superman presents, of being able to do more, of being better, is a strong force. A force people should aspire to. Being better opens doors that weren’t there before. More US citizens demanding and working towards peaceful options might open more diplomatic channels and save lives. There’s also not propping up despots with money and support because they play ball, or having secret agent wars, torture rooms, nor calling anyone who doesn’t support the government doing whatever it wants traitors. It’d actually be a wonder if Superman wanted to inspire us with all our problems.
Things aren’t going to be solved in a review about a super hero cartoon, even if this is a good super hero cartoon. Superman vs. The Elite is one of my favorite interpretations of Superman, because he is that ideal optimism and force of good that we need. It’s so refreshing seeing that versus the dark and gritty world of Batman films. Bruce Wayne the billionaire, who uses his money to beat people up instead of fighting for cultural good. Superman generally believes in what he says, and works to make the better world he envisions happen. Things don’t always work out, but Superman doesn’t give up, and he keeps fighting, earning his name.
Rated 9/10 (Logo, monster, TARDIS???, dead monster, red hot, dragon, beast, sister, kaboom!)
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