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FROM PAGE TO SCREEN: SUPERMAN/BATMAN - PUBLIC ENEMIES (2009)
 



 

Why is it that so-called “superheroes” who are technically on the same side will use any lame excuse to knock the bejesus out of each other?!

And this wasn’t a “tradition” that began with Marvel’s Civil War story arch a couple of years ago. Nope, superheroes have been beating out the snot out of one another ever since the first couple of six-year-olds who argued whether Spider-man will manage to beat up Superman.

In Batman: Long Halloween author Jeph Loeb’s Superman / Batman: Public Enemies comic book we don’t however have Batman pummeling Superman with a pair of kryptonite boxing gloves as Frank Miller made him do in Dark Knight Returns. Instead Public Enemies – which has now been made into a direct-to-DVD animated movie slated for a 29 September 2009 release - realizes that DC comics’ two most iconic characters would probably team up to fight on the same side despite their wildly different upbringings and backgrounds.

One is after all a vengeful vigilante with no real superpowers who has some real hang-ups after a two-bit mugger as a childhood killed his parents right in front of his eyes. The other is a near deity: an all-power alien from another world who fights for “truth, justice and the American way” after a near idyllic childhood on a Kansas farmstead that seems taken straight out of the paintings of Norman Rockwell.

Loeb’s graphic novel does much to contrast the two’s different backgrounds and even hints at those Frank Miller slugfests at one point. (“You know what I got sick of, Bruce?” Superman tells Bruce Wayne / Batman. “You kicking the crap out of me with your toys when you’re nothing but a man. A man who got to stay alive only because I let you.”) This is an old-fashioned team-up affair that will appeal to anyone who isn’t in the mood for any “revisionism.” Of course teaming up DC’s two biggest cash cows, er sorry, characters is no-brainer and the upcoming Warner Premiere/DC Universe release isn’t the first such teaming up. (The film is the sixth in the line of the DC Universe Original Animated Movies line released by Warner Premiere and Warner Bros. Animation thus far. The others are Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman and the upcoming Green Lantern: First Flight). Superman and Batman had their previous full-length animated team up in the 1998 Superman Batman movie.

"Maybe superheroes are just in it for the spandex and random violence . . ."

In that movie Superman and Batman teamed up to battle Lex Luthor and the Joker. In Public Enemies there is no Joker, but we do have Lex Luthor as the main villain again. This time Luthor is the president of the United States (not that unbelievable: the American public has probably done worse!). An enormous meteorite the size of Brazil is on a collision course. No problem if you have an enormously powerful being such as Superman on your side, except the meteorite seems be a fragment of Superman’s destroyed home planet and consists entirely of kryptonite, the one substance Superman is vulnerable to!

Defying all logic President Luthor blames Superman for the approaching meteorite – a lie which the American public swallows whole scale, forgetting that the meteorite will probably end up killing him as well as the rest of humanity! Luthor issues an arrest warrant for Superman as well as a billion dollar bounty, which brings every supervillain and superhero crawling out of the woodwork to collect the reward. The villains one can understand, but the so-called “superheroes” jumping to do Luthor’s bidding is probably stretching it. All-American superhero in red cape and blue tights or corrupt evil mastermind? Don’t they realize that Luthor is a bad guy? Haven’t they been watching any episodes of Smallville? Maybe they are just in it for the tight-fitting spandex outfits and acts of random and senseless violence, who knows?

Public Enemies is an old-fashioned slugfest of the sort that superhero comics specialise in. No dark, brooding Watchmen-like heroes here. But that doesn’t mean that Public Enemies is entirely brain dead. It is a fun, witty outing with loads of colorful characters thrown into the mix. Even the wonderfully pneumatic Power Girl makes an appearance! Some of the plotting especially towards the end gets a bit muddled, but never mind! Thus far the DC Universe original animated movies have all been of a uniformly good quality and if there have been any disappointments thus far it has been more a case of DC animated not living up to their own high standards.

There is some promising voice talent aboard. Tim Daly (voice of Superman on Superman: The Animated Series) and Kevin Conroy (voice of Batman on Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman: Gotham Knight) return to reprise their familiar roles of Superman and Batman respectively. Also thrown into the mix are Clancy Brown (best known today as The Kurgan in the original Highlander movie) as well as Alison Mack (Chloe in Smallville) as Power Girl. With regular Bruce Timm on producing duties and Sam Liu who directed Marvel’s better than usual Hulk Vs. animated flick, then there is little that can go wrong with Superman / Batman: Public Enemies . . .


 



 

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