- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2012

DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation continue to roll out direct-to-Blu-ray cartoons, adapting memorable comic books from the famed DC Comics’ superhero universe.

The latest, Superman vs. The Elite (Warner Home Video, rated: PG-13, $24.98), taps into Action Comics no. 775 starring the Joe Kelly story “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?”

Thanks to a beautifully constructed — and often amusing — adaptation from Mr. Kelly, the 76-minute Man of Steel adventure is pure joy and almost made me forget about the mediocre animation.

Viewers first appreciate one of the hipper opening credits since Cartoon Network’s “Teen Titans” ruled the ‘toon airwaves by mixing pop art and alternative pop music.

The story finds Superman first teaming up with, and ultimately fighting against, a vigilante team of superheroes called The Elite.

The fringe group is composed of the telekinetic Manchester Black, a Brit with major anger issues; Coldcast, a large guy able to manipulate magnetism; Menagerie, a winged female infused with an alien weapon tech causing cybernetic serpents to attack her enemies; and Hat, an alcoholic punk with the power to conjure almost anything he can think of such as a massive serpent and stone samurai soldiers.

The motley, super powered crew declares itself the new heroes and will stop violence with more violence, no matter who or what dies.

The cartoon questions the relevancy of a morally-bound Superman within a 21st century world of terrorists, biowarfare and civilian slaughters where citizens often want their heroes to cross the line and stop the brutality at any cost.

By the way, this Superman has an unsettling edge. Early on, the very grumpy hero decimates the Atomic Skull using a telephone pole. He is so angry his hand is shaking but does not kill him.

That almost proves a fatal mistake but foreshadows a rousing final battle that delivers closure to a tale about the importance of dreams, dignity, honor and justice.

The script sparkles, partly due to the gravely voiceover work of “NCIS” actress Pauley Perrette, who portrays Lois Lane. She delivers to perfection nearly all of the belly-laugh lines.

For example:

  • * After watching her true love get a kiss from Menagerie, she asks, “Should I start gluing slugs to my face, maybe an iguana?”
  • * Early on Lois talks to Clark about his image before a battle and offers, “You have to protect your ‘S,’ the world is always watching Superman.”
  • * While talking to uncooperative British Intelligence M5 agents Lois says, “Forget it, I got the message loud and clear, double ‘O’ useless.”
  • * While Superman ponders his options to handle the Elite while at the Fortress of Solitude, a frantic Lois reaches out from Metropolis demanding, “pick up that stupid hologram thing or I’ll kick your butt when you get home.”

Actor George Newbern (often the voice of the animated Superman) plays the perfect foil and also stretches the character’s darker side beautifully.

What does not stand out is the animated design. It’s another no-risk effort and just too comfortable — my common problem with most of the DC-based cartoons. It will certainly grate on the nerves of fans that read the original, visually intense, source material.

However, Mr. Kelly’s story and dialogue never stops pleasing and that makes Superman vs. the Elite one of the better Blu-ray releases tied to the DC Universe collection of animated films.

Best Extras: First, an excellent 15-minute primer from writer Joe Kelly (co-creator of the Elite) in the featurette “The Elite Unbound: No Rules, No Mercy.” He dissects the origins and fates of all of the members of his psychotic super team. It’s too revealing for those wanting to read the original comic and subsequent series, but a fascinating look at Mr. Kelly’s creative vision for the Justice League Elite. It also is loaded with great artwork from Lee Bernejo and Doug Mahnke.

Next, viewers get 17 minutes worth of discussion on Superman’s morality between Mr. Kelly, actor and former military drill instructor Jay Razor, DC Comics’ creative director Mike Carlin, an associate law professor and a social psychologist. The featurette also touches on the current state of morality vs. politics and how American citizens in a post-9/11 world are willing to bend, even dump, core beliefs and accept policies in order to stop terror. Lots of Superman art (including great pieces from Alex Ross) and snippets from the cartoon mix in with American soldiers in action.

As always, a dip into the Warner Bros. Animation archive has co-producer Alan Burnett offering two of his favorite episodes from “Superman: The Animated Series.” Specifically, animation fans get the parallel universe ditty “Brave New Metropolis” and “Warrior Queen,” starring the Queen of Almerac, Maxima.

More exciting — though I have huge reservations about this project — is a 12-minute look at the upcoming animated adaptation of “The Dark Knight Returns.” Some of the preliminary designs try to capture Frank Miller’s dynamic art, but we will see if it succeeds. Peter “Robocop” Weller as the voice of Batman sure helps, however.

Read all about it: Warner Home Video offers the ultimate in tease by giving viewers only a few pages of a digital version of Action Comics no. 775. It’s one of the battle scenes that clearly highlights the spectacular artwork. I’ll rant again that in this high tech age, why can’t fans that buy the Blu-ray get a code in the package to download the entire digital comic, instead of being suckered into spending more money on an 11-year old comic worth $1.99 online?

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