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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Warner Bros. (2009), Warner Home Video (September 29, 2009), 2 discs, 67 mins plus supplements, 16:9 ratio, Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

President Lex Luthor plots his revenge against his greatest adversary. After Luthor convinces the world— including the superhuman community— that Superman has gone rogue, only Batman stands beside him.

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The Sweatbox Review:

DC Comics had a long-running comic book called World’s Finest Comics that, for its last many years of publication, showcased team-up stories between their two biggest stars, Superman and Batman. The World’s Finest title has been repeatedly resuscitated over the years for various miniseries, but when an ongoing title was once again to launch in 2003 featuring monthly Superman-Batman team-ups, the comic was to be simply called Superman/Batman. The writer tapped to pen the adventures of the world’s finest team was Jeph Loeb, who had scored previous critical successes with his miniseries Batman: The Long Halloween and A Superman For All Seasons.

However, whereas his previous Batman work was moody and dark, and his Superman miniseries was full of tender wonder, his writing on Superman/Batman was just crazy. He still had a knack for getting into the heads of the protagonists, and even employed duelling internal monologues that could be either fascinating character studies or gratingly annoying. What he also added to the new series, though, was boundless imagination and a desire to throw everything into his stories, so long as it seemed cool. It didn’t matter if it made a lick of sense, or was consistent with any previous continuity or characterization, but he certainly brought everything he could think of to the comic. Eventually, the comic became nearly unreadable to all but the most forgiving readers, but at least that first storyline still held up reasonably well. That storyline was Public Enemies.

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Public Enemies had an outrageous but entertaining plot, about Lex Luthor’s “final” revenge against the Man Of Steel. Having been elected president a few years earlier in the regular Superman line of comics, the whole Luthor-in-the-White House storyline came to a head in this story. The idea of Luthor in the Oval Office was far from the nuttiest concept in the story. Somehow, Luthor managed to convince the world that Superman was responsible for a kryptonite meteor the size of Brazil coming to annihilate the Earth. He then put a billion dollar bounty on Superman. Yes, President Luthor actually had people believing that Superman was going to use a huge chunk of something that would kill him in order to wipe out a planet he had saved hundreds of times in the past. Yeah, that makes sense.

Then again, given what people have believed from U.S. presidents in recent history… maybe not so far-fetched.

However, what was far-fetched is that even Superman’s allies in the superhero community seemed to accept it. If not for the cartooning tour-de-force of artist Ed McGuinness distracting readers from the preposterous nature of the script, this lame story may have been long forgotten or dismissed as a bad dream. However, whether due to love for the artist’s work or because people were simply won over by the story’s audaciousness, the storyline was actually very popular in its original, hardcover, and trade paperback editions. And, in broad terms, it does have the makings of a pretty fun story that would be well suited to an animated adaptation… so long as the movie’s writer could make sense of all the plot holes.

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So here we are. Warner Bros. had Justice League: The New Frontier screenwriter Stan Berkowitz tackle the screenplay for Public Enemies. He immediately (he has said in interviews) identified the central error in the story, that being that anyone would believe Luthor’s theory about the kryptonite meteor. In the movie, Luthor explains that his advisors have “reminded” him that the effects of kryptonite include both physical and psychological components. That’s not true, but it’s plausible that people would buy it. Okay so far. (Actually, in the movie, the emphasis is on Superman being framed for murder.) Berkowitz also decided to write a short sequence into the script explaining for the audience how Luthor could have possibly been elected president, supposing that a third party candidate could feasibly come to power amidst unprecedented economic and social collapse. That was another good idea, Mr. Berkowitz. Still so far, so good.

The script otherwise stays pretty close to the plot structure of the original comic book story. And there’s where we have problems. I wish that Berkowitz had strayed farther in this particular case, because if any comic story did not deserve a faithful adaptation, it was this one. Lots of the scenes remain pretty good, I must confess. The battle between Superman, Batman, and Metallo is still pretty cool, including Supes being shot with a kryptonite bullet. The solution to the bullet, involving Batman’s butler Alfred… also nice. And, just like in the comic, we see Luthor learning of the kryptonite meteor, and clearly see his resolve to solve the problem on his own without superhero help. The problem is everything that comes after that.

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Luthor puts the billion-dollar bounty on Superman’s head. And… with nary a reservation (save for a weak attempt from Captain Atom), the superhero community tows the line. In the movie, a group of superheroes, including Captain Atom, Starfire, Power Girl, and Katana, as well as pseudo-hero Major Force, go after Superman with near-maximum effort. What I don’t get is, why do they trust Luthor, why are they so willing to believe Superman is behind the meteor, and why the heck do they not question Batman’s support of Superman? Never in the movie does anyone ask why Batman is in cahoots with Superman. I can buy that some would believe the “kryptonite makes him crazy” explanation, but that doesn’t explain why Batman is helping him Of course, the real answer is, without allowing such plot holes, then we couldn’t have all the fights that are in the story.

They’re pretty good fights, too, but it just seems preposterous that they would be taking place at all. Even Superman asks Captain Marvel why his “wisdom of Solomon” allows Marvel to act like such a stooge. The huge supervillain fight is also random and ridiculous. An army of supervillains just happen to know exactly where Superman’s going to be, and they ambush him. Included are some who have no business being in such a fight. Even with an explanation given as to them being mind-controlled, it doesn’t explain how intergalactic villains like Mongul or Despero happen to show up fighting alongside goofs like Captain Cold. It just doesn’t seem right. As events continue to spiral, and more players are added, it just seems more and more far-fetched. Then, Luthor’s final descent into madness, with a ready-made supervillain power suit, pushes things over the top… until we meet the genius kid robot maker in Japan who provides the miracle ending. With the giant Superman-Batman robot thingie. Ooookay.

In fairness, the comic does attempt to address the superheroes issue. Captain Atom certainly comes off better in the comic, and the Superman and Batman “families” remain loyal in the comic, though they don’t appear (except for Power Girl) in the movie. Still, in both the comic and the movie, events are overblown and pieces of plot are thrown out mostly to ensure more fights will happen. It’s all in the name of good, old-fashioned fun, I guess— but I’m not eight years old anymore, and if the PG-13 rating is any indication, this wasn’t supposed to be primarily for that age group, either.

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Now, having said all that… this movie is kind of fun to watch! The sheer numbers of costumed characters makes for a challenging game of “spot the hero/villain,” and even this old-time DC fan got stumped a couple of times. The action is furious, and I enjoyed the character designs, very different from what we have seen from the DC movies and TV shows in the past. The models are much more detailed, and inspired by Ed McGuinness’s cartoony “balloon” musculature. (It was also nice to see fully realized eyeballs! You never got those when watching Justice League!) It’s nice to see them making good on their promise of using new designs in their DC Premiere movies, and it’s great when they can adapt the original artist’s work.

The best part of the movie, though, is that the producers brought back the best known and loved of the modern Superman, Batman, and Lex Luthor voices— respectively Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, and Clancy Brown. Though the characters look a little different here, it was a real treat to hear these actors together again. And, as a special bonus for Smallville fans, they also had Allison Mack do the voice of Power Girl.

After a number of successful, dramatic DC Comics movies, this one comes off as an attempt to create a simpler “popcorn” movie— lots of costumes, lots of fights, lots of action, crazy ideas and… a few plot holes. Unfortunately, Superman always seems to get the dumbest movies. Previously, his Brainiac Returns and Doomsday movies were low points for modern DC animated adaptations. Hopefully, the next Superman-oriented movie will be stronger.

Is This Thing Loaded?

All bonus features are presented in standard definition. A Test of Two Minds: Superman And Batman (19:01) looks at the psychology of the two icons and how they relate to one another. Comic creators like Jeph Loeb chime in, as well as DC Comics executives and editorial leaders. Even real academics and psychologists add to the conversation, as well as author Kevin Anderson. There’s nothing too illuminating here for long-time fans, but it’s okay to watch once, and maybe more interesting to those newer to the characters.

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Dinner With DCU And Special Guest Kevin Conroy (55:59) is the gem of this disc. In fact, even if I don’t necessarily give the movie a hearty recommendation, the disc is still worth picking up just for this feature. Producer Bruce Timm, casting director Andrea Romano, and DC executive Gregory Noveck are joined by the voice of Batman himself, Kevin Conroy, in a nearly one-hour informal and non-moderated dinner conversation where they discuss their history together on the DC animated projects. This means that Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Batman: Gotham Knight all get a mention, as well as (naturally) Public Enemies. The talk between all these old colleagues is friendly, animated, and full of interesting trivia. Any fan of the modern DC animated shows and movies should get a lot out of this one.

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I also greatly enjoyed seeing the Exclusive Sneak Peek At DC Universe’s Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths (11:12). This movie, due out on home video next spring, promises to be quite the story. Based on a never-produced Dwayne McDuffie script for Justice League Unlimited, it takes its cues from the many classic alternate Earth stories that used to appear in DC’s Justice League Of America comic. I was initially a little devastated to find out that it is actually more inspired by the much more recent JLA: Earth-2 graphic novel, as I was more so looking forward to seeing a true Justice Society team-up story, but given that my preference is not (yet) being produced, I’m happy to settle for another rip-roaring multiverse story. The glimpses at the new production are tantalizing, and I can’t wait to see the completed product.

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Behind The Scenes Of Blackest Night (8:52) was also seen on the Green Lantern DVD/Blu-ray release, and gives a look at DC’s current crossover epic.

Bruce Timm, per usual, selected some bonus cartoons for this disc. Here he has selected another JLA vs. Luthor/government story, from a four-part arc on Justice League Unlimited (featuring the awesome episodes with The Question, and a Super Friends pastiche); plus two more appropriate stories from Superman: The Animated Series, which guest-star Batman. You can also explore four other DC Universe animated movies with other often-seen previews (all of them except for Superman: Doomsday and Public Enemies). There are also previews for Superman: Doomsday, Batman: Gotham Knight, Green Lantern: First Flight, a Halo animated movie, and a Blu-ray promo before the movie launches.

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Lastly, there is an offer of a downloadable Digital Copy of the Public Enemies movie, which can be used with Windows Media.

Case Study:

Standard Blu-ray case with foil embossed o-sleeve. Inside is an insert with codes for the Warner Bros. Insider Rewards program, as well as for the downloadable digital copy.

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Ink And Paint:

There’s nothing new to report in this section. As usual, the transfer looks fantastic. Colors are extremely vibrant, and compression artifacts are non-existent. The animation looks as smooth as can be, thankfully devoid of the jitter or shimmering that one often sees on animated DVDs.

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(The screen captures featured here are not necessarily representative of the Blu-ray’s picture.)

Scratch Tracks:

The sound on this disc is pretty impressive, with plenty of fulfilled opportunities for thrilling sound effects. The many battles are tailor-made for fun sound design, and it all pays off. Unfortunately, it could have been a little better. The lack of an uncompressed audio track is a missed opportunity, with only a lossy Dolby Digital track being offered. English and French subtitles are also available.

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Final Cut:

If you can put your brain aside and simply enjoy a good old-fashioned fight epic, this is your movie. The characterization of the two main characters is also strong, but you may find Luthor’s character arc farfetched and the plot holes distracting. As is getting to be the norm for these releases, the extras focus more on the characters and the comics, and less on the movie’s own production, but the real reason to get this disc may be the dinner conversation with Kevin Conroy and friends, or maybe even the sneak peek at what will hopefully be a stronger story for the upcoming Justice League animated movie. Public Enemies itself likely achieved what it set out to do. It’s just too bad that the Warner executives and animation personnel thought that this was a story worth adapting.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD


 

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