Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Lemme tell ya, I am a total sucker for a good World’s Finest story. Give me Superman and Batman on the same page — or the same screen, as is the case with Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the latest direct-to-DVD DC Universe Animated movie, in stores as of yesterday — and I’m a happy son of a bitch. Usually. There are exceptions — for example, DC/Warner Animation’s first attempt at a Supes/Bats team-up movie, “World’s Finest,” the two-part Superman: The Animated Series episode released to home video as The Batman/Superman Movie. That was dogshit. Fortunately this latest effort, Public Enemies, is not.
The animation division at Warner Bros. has a pretty good thing going with these direct-to-video DCU movies. Of the five released prior to this one, two (Superman: Doomsday and Justice League: The New Frontier) are close to great, two (Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight) are so-so, but definitely nothing to be ashamed of, and one (Batman: Gotham Knight) is a noble failure. Unlike a lot of the animated output in the previous fifteen years or so, particularly the moronic and inexplicably popular Justice League series on Cartoon Network, none of the DCU Animated movies have been awful. It hasn’t all been great, but nothing has sucked. And some of it has been better than it had any right to be. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, while not as good as Doomsday or New Frontier, belongs in that category.
As with the previous releases in the series, Public Enemies is a one-shot through and through, not having to worry about maintaining a continuity with anything else in the so-called DC animated universe. And like New Frontier, the best of the direct-to-video animated movies, Public Enemies is a faithful adaptation of a comic book story, both visually and in terms of its plot.
The movie’s a straightforward adaptation of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness’s first story arc in the Superman/Batman monthly comic. Several of the key action sequences have been translated more or less literally from the page to the screen. More importantly, the character designs are based very closely on McGuinness’s style, making Public Enemies feel like a comic come to life, something the previous DC cartoons did far too seldom.
A few changes had to be made in the adaptation. In the comics, Lex Luthor had been the President of the United States for a couple of years by the time the first chapter of Public Enemies went on sale. For the movie, writer Stan Berkowitz provides a prologue, linking Luthor’s election to economic collapse and civil unrest in the United States, an exaggerated depiction of our real-life present circumstances.
Prologue and some other early exposition aside, the story is extremely faithful to Loeb’s original. There’s a massive kryptonite meteor heading for Earth. With a week to go before impact, President Luthor seizes the opportunity to frame Superman for the murder of Metallo, whom Luthor had employed as a member of his Secret Service detail. To speed Superman’s capture, Luthor places a $1 billion bounty on his head, a fortune that draws both villains and heroes out of the woodwork to collect. Initially, only Batman remains on Superman’s side (it’s not like he needs the money), helping him fight off the parade of bounty hunters while also working to bring down Luthor and, ultimately, stop the kryptonite meteor from smashing into the planet. Sorry to spoil the ending for you, but Supes is eventually proven innocent, President Lex is driven from power, and the Earth is not destroyed by a big-ass chunk of kryptonite.
My one-paragraph summary accounts for almost all of the movie’s plot. It’s not a cerebral, thought-provoking character drama. More like a series of fights tied together with bits and pieces of story where necessary. But hey — the movie knows it’s just a slugfest, and never tries to be anything else. And the fights themselves — featuring everyone from Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grodd, to Killer Frost and Icicle (teaming up with Captain Cold and Mr. Freeze, naturally), to Hawkman and — wait for it — the Big Red Cheese himself, Earth’s Mightiest Motherfuckin’ Mortal, Captain Marvel! Go ahead and take a guess what my favorite scene was. Go on, now.
Helping this action-driven vehicle out a hell of a lot is the fact that the fights are all creatively staged and terrifically choreographed, another huge improvement over earlier DCU animated projects. When Superman and Captain Marvel go toe-to-toe, it’s everything you’d hope it would be — two big, nigh-on-invulnerable motherfuckers taking turns slamming each other in the head with haymakers. We even get a “Shazam!” for good measure. Goddamn, I loves me some Captain Marvel.
This is the shortest DCU animated movie yet, clocking in at a slim 65 minutes, just barely feature length. That’s a blessing and a curse. The brevity means that everything moves like the Flash on a coke jag, which keeps things interesting for the most part. But the short running time also means there isn’t room for characterization, which is a shame, especially given the potential when the story is centered on Superman and Batman, whose relationship is one of the most dependably fascinating in the superhero genre. What little they manage to fit in is good — like Superman’s Magpie reference, a callback to he and Batman’s team-up in an issue of John Byrne’s Man of Steel mini-series, and the lovely final scene, where Batman sneaks away just as Lois Lane arrives via helicopter to greet Superman (her husband here, as in the mainline comics) on a Metropolis rooftop.
So, yeah. Give this one a watch. Rent it — or just go ahead and buy it, if you’re into this sort of thing. The two-disc special edition is only twenty bucks, and has some interesting special features, including a documentary about the divergent methods and attitudes of Superman and Batman. I dug it. But like I said, I’m a sucker for this shit.