First told in Action Comics #775 as “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?” in March 2001, Superman vs. The Elite was originally meant as writer Joe Kelly’s push back against the overly violent “Might Makes Right/ Whatever It Takes” direction many comics headed at the time. Unfortunately, the story’s core message took on a completely different meaning later that year. Superman vs. The Elite takes that message and runs with it. It is a much darker Superman tale than most are used to seeing (the PG-13 rating is earned), and one of DC Animated best offerings to date.
Superman vs. The Elite is based around two core questions: Where does Superman fit in modern society and, more importantly, is his world view even relevant anymore?
The story opens with Superman (George Newbern) defeating Atomic Skull (Bradley Dee Baker), choosing to return him to jail rather than executing him on the spot. Superman’s choices are questioned, leading many to wonder whether or not he’s doing the right thing by imprisoning super villains rather than killing them, only for them to escape later. Superman’s actions are questioned further when a new super group, The Elite, led by Manchester Black (Robin Atkins Downes), shows up. They’re willing to do what Superman won't – kill those who stand in the way of peace – leading to a groundswell of public support for the new team.
It’s impossible to not see the political messaging behind Superman vs. The Elite. The entire story is more or less based around the debate over US policies in regards to the Middle East post 9/11, but don’t expect an episode of “Face the Nation” starring Superman. Superman vs. The Elite is still a superhero movie, complete with large scale fights and character moments. If you want lots of face-punching, you will not be disappointed.
Still, the story is reaching for something more. I was impressed with just how level-minded the story’s messaging is. The end is sort of obvious from the start, but even then nothing is completely “solved.” Depending on which side of the issue you fall personally, it should offer some satisfaction. It would have been really easy for the story to sway one way, painting The Elite and their views as “villainous,” but Superman vs. The Elite deftly swerves away. In fact, even though I sort of fall more in line with Superman’s worldview, I actually found Manchester Black’s arguments compelling.
Superman vs. The Elite hits the same snag as most Batman animated features. George Newbern is great as Superman and manages to bring certain personable warmth to the character. However, he’s not Tim Daly who, for many fans, is the definitive voice of Superman. Still, Newbern is fantastic and fans shouldn’t let this get in the way.
The art style, on the other hand, may turn off some viewers. I wasn’t a fan. The style is reminiscent of the older Superman cartoons, but with an ever-so-slight anime influence. The mixing leads to something that is more inline with caricature and looks weird and out-of-place in some sections – particularly during the final fight sequence.
Extras on the DVD version of Superman vs. The Elite are disappointingly light. Aside from a photo gallery for Dark Knight Rises, the only extra is a sneak peak at Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, an animated re-telling of Frank Miller’s highly influential Batman series. If you’re looking for more extras, and have the capability, I recommend checking out the more extras-packed Blu-ray version.
Superman vs. The Elite is another masterwork from DC Animation and should find its way to every super hero fan’s watch list. Even if the mentions of politics scare you off, they shouldn’t. It’s a good superhero face-punching story that, if it does its job, could help viewers to better understand the issue without being overly preachy or patronizing.