Superman Vs. The Elite is based upon the story "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” published in issue #775 of Action comics. Joe Kelly, who wrote that issue of Action Comics, also serves as writer for 14th DC Comics animated film. The film begins with a very cool retro 70’s style opening credit sequence featuring a cheesy but wonderful musical score.
Superman has to spring into action when the Atomic Skull goes on a rampage through Metropolis, turning citizens to ash. Superman finally defeats the villain but it begins to stir a debate in the public about whether super villains should be executed for their crimes. Shortly after, a new team of superheroes arrives on the scene, led by the charismatic Brit, Manchester Black. While initially greeted by Superman as friends and allies, Superman soon takes exception to the group’s harsh tactics as they have no qualms against killing.
The public soon begins to side with the new group, especially after the Atomic Skull escapes prison and murders a well known professor right in front of his son. This leads to the media turning against Superman and supporting the new group which names itself “The Elite”. The action comes to a head as the group decides to take sides in a war between two Eastern European nations. Superman must somehow stop the sadistic group without resorting to their murderous ways.
I’m not sure this story would have been in my…top 100 of DC comics stories to be adapted into an animated film. There are MUCH better stories out there both in terms of action and theme. I get the sense that DC wanted this message out there no matter how heavy-handed it might be. The film hits on many flashpoint ideas such as violence in the world, the debate over capital punishment, powerful nations interfering in the affairs of weaker nations, etc…Superman becomes the lightning rod for all of this.
That said it is an extremely well done adaptation. The suggestion that Superman’s ideologies might be outdated is certainly worth exploring but I wonder if it isn’t about 20 years too late. The edgy, gritty heroes like Wolverine, The Punisher, Azrael, Lobo…all hit that peak of popularity in the 1990s when being an anti-hero was all the rage.
While normally DC has gone with a high profile cast of actors for their animated features, here they go for talented actors who are not household names. George Newbern return to the role of Superman which he voiced during the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series. Robin Atkin Downes, a veteran of many animated series, voices Manchester Black with sinister arrogance. Pauley Perrette, best known for playing Abby Sciuto on the TV series NCIS, voices Lois Lane.
While the voice cast was superb, the animation unfortunately is one of the weakest seen yet. The cartoony look of the animation looks like it came straight out of a budget animation studio of the 1980s. The poor animation is a major distraction and hopefully it’s just an aberration.
Audio Commentary with Joe Kelly
The Elite Unbound (14:30) – Mainly an interview with Joe Kelly as he discusses the genesis of the original story and the adaptation to film.
Superman and the Moral Debate (17:24) – Comic professionals as well as professor and sociologists look at Superman’s morality and its real world influences
Action Comics # 775 Digital Comics – Read the original story on which the film was based
Sneak Peek Batman The Dark Knight Returns part #1 (12:36) – I am almost tempted to say that this sneak peek is worth the price of the blu-ray alone. Get a sneak peek at the next DC animated project, an adaptation of Frank Miller’s landmark Batman story of the 1980s. Robocop actor Peter Weller will portray Batman/Bruce Wayne.