There’s an insecure, ludicrously-wealthy, shit-spewing demagogue in the White House. He’s clearly unhinged. He’s creepy around women, compensatory around men, and clambered into the Oval Office on a campaign of hateful, fearmongering rhetoric. His policies might well start an unnecessary war and lead to incalculable loss of innocent life. And his name, believe it or not, is Lex Luthor.
Had you going there, didn’t I? Uncomfortable political parallels aside, that’s the premise of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, the sixth DC animated original, and an adaptation of the first six-issue arc from the popular Superman/Batman team-up, created in 2013 as a reboot of World’s Finest Comics, which ran for 45 years. The original issues were penned by Batman scribe Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Superman artist Ed McGuinness; this film is once again helmed by Bruce Timm’s production team, has a smart script adapted by Stan Berkowitz, and is directed by Sam Liu.
Despite all that, what this movie is, more than anything, is as close to a carbon-copy translation of the original work as you can reasonably expect given the change in format. It’s drawn in the same style, and much of Loeb’s original dialogue is lifted straight from the page. What’s missing, both lamentably and understandably, is Loeb’s dual internal monologue technique, which in the book was used to illustrate the heroes’ conflicting opinions of the situation and each other. Still, it’s hardly ground-breaking these days to suggest that maybe Superman and Batman have slightly contrasting outlooks.
Besides, there’s hardly room for that in what is basically an hour-long Royal Rumble between Bats (Kevin Conroy), Supes (Tim Daly), and a litany of second-tier DC characters from Metallo and Mongul to Captain Atom and Power Girl. At just 67 minutes, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is even slighter than usual, and you can see why. It’s essentially nothing but action sequences; each pleasurable, for sure, and each highlighting the different styles, strengths and weaknesses of DC’s Big Two, but there’s no way you could sustain a feature on nothing but superpowered smack-downs. This is a movie that has the good sense to save the day and shoot off before things get awkward.
The conceit is that President Luthor (Clancy Brown) has manipulated the American public, and the frankly unreasonable number of heroes and villains in the surrounding area, into believing that Superman is somehow responsible for a kryptonite meteor that is currently hurtling towards earth. He puts a billion-dollar bounty on the Man of Steel, and that’s justification enough. CCH Pounder’s Amanda Waller is also on-deck for some West Wing tough talk and an extraordinarily uncomfortable quasi-romantic subplot. Do enjoy.
And, frankly, you probably will enjoy this. It’s full of fun action sequences, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it repositions an established villain as a slightly different kind of threat. Sure, something about the relationship between Bats and Supes is lost in the translation, and there isn’t much meat on the skeleton of the idea, but as an excuse to have the two most iconic stalwarts of DC Comics kick the shit out of a bunch of lesser-known characters, it certainly does the job.
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