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Non-Review Review: Superman/Batman – Public Enemies

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. This is one of the “stand-alone” animated movies produced by the creative team that gave us the television shows. 

Explain our guy love, that’s all it is.
Guy love; he’s mine, I’m his.
There’s nothing gay about it in our eyes. 

You ask me ’bout this thing we share…
…and he tenderly replies:
It’s guy love…
…between two guys. 

– Turk & JD explain “guy love” 

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is essentially a superhero bromance. It’s part buddy cop movie, part long-term married couple, but all action. It’s not really anything more, but would you want it to be? 

He ain't heavy, he's my superpowered bro'...

Being honest, I’ve never really bought into the concept of a Batman and Superman team-up because… well, they’re kinda of different worlds (both literally and metaphorically). To put them both in the same narrative where they are equally important generally requires quite a large contrivance (and that’s certainly provided here), but I have to admit that Bruce Timm and his team at the DC animated universe managed to pull it off quite well, if only by turning the bromance up to eleven. 

The plot – so much as there is one – is relatively straightforward, adapted from the opening arc of Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman comic book. In a very efficient cold opening (and perhaps the most effective credits sequence in the series), Lex Luthor becomes President. Three years into his term, he discovers a Kryptonite meteor is heading towards Earth. Reluctant to be outclassed by superheroes, he sets Superman up for murder, forcing Superman on the run (with a one billion dollar bounty on his head), forcing Superman to turn to Batman for help. Because being hunted by the authorities is more Batman’s specialty than his. 

Batman always has a trick up his sleeve...

However, don’t be fooled. The words “plot driven” don’t deserve to be applied to this film. All the plot exists to do is to frame the action sequences and the character interactions – both of which the movie admittedly does very well. The screenplay is – from a plotting perspective – entirely predictable, right down to the inevitable villainous breakdown and heroic sacrifice. Those looking for a clever concept or a nuanced character portrayal would be better suited to look elsewhere. 

The movie does deliver on what it promises though. The action sequences are well-staged and among the best in these series of films. The collection has come a long way since Superman: Doomsday. The music pounds and there’s an eclectic cast of supporting characters who make sure things never get boring. It’s weird to see “big” nerdy names like Scrubs‘ John C. McGinley and Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s LeVar Burton in what amount to tiny cameos, but it’s nice to know the effort was made. 

Batman's looking into this...

That said, the central appeal the movie has is in putting Batman and Superman together on the run from the law. In many ways, it feels like an eighties action movie. Almost like a superpowered Lethal Weapon. Superman and Batman are unlikely partners. Superman is the by-the-book meticulous one. Batman is the quite-possibly-insane one (indeed, at one point Superman demands, “are you crazy?”). There’s really no challenge too big for Batman to take head-on, despite his lack of superpowers. When he catches Solomon Grundy (a Hulk look-alike) off guard (“Grundy no feel good,” the creature laments), he curtly boasts “Grundy’s gonna feel a lot worse.” 

And yet they are as much an old married couple. When Superman asks why Batman won’t let himself by carried, Bruce confesses, “Between you and me? I hate that.” It’s like an awkward admission after years of spending time together. Indeed, the presence of Superman’s lover, Lois Lane, is remarkable by its absence. While staging a break-in, Batman remarks, “You’re late. What kept you?” Superman replies, “I honestly don’t think you’d understand.” Batman groans. “Lois?” he correctly guesses and waits for acknowledgement before sarcastically conceding, “You’re right.” 

It's a scream...

Indeed, it’s Lois’ arrival at the end of the film which truly ends the bromance. We see her in a helicopter flying in. “Wanna stick around for a while?” Superman asks his partner in crime, “Lois and I-“ Almost at the name ‘Lois’, Batman is gone like a jilted lover, “I can’t,” he excuses himself, “it’s late.” In fact, as Superman mutters to himself after Batman vanishes, “it’s early.” 

Batman is the very definition of a fickle and demanding partner, while Superman is inherently more accepting of their relationship and mutual affection. “It’s not ending here,” Superman emotionally insists to a wounded Batman, who somehow finds the energy to roll away from his colleague as if to assert his independence. Later on, Superman is aghast at Luthor’s actions. “You just killed my best friend!” It’s enough to make you go “awww!” 

Batman wonders how the Man of Steel got top billing...

Despite the all-star supporting cast which features such nerd-friendly names as Allison Mack and Xander Berkley, the real draw here is the reunion of three (actually four) names from the DC animated universe which Bruce Timm constructed over the past two decades. Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman I hear when I read comic books. He’s just that good. Tim Daly is always a pleasure as Superman. And Clancy Brown is perhaps the best actor to play Luthor in any medium (it helps that he’s also been the voice of the best-written iteration of the character as well). CCH Pounder also makes a return to the role of Amanda Wallace – and it’s great to have her back too. 

Even since first working together in World’s Finest, Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy have had a fantastic chemistry. Conroy would work fairly well with George Newbern, Daly’s successor in the voice role in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, but they never quite recaptured the magic. The two genuinely work well together, and it’s hard not to enjoy the smaller scenes between the two, such as the shot of two of them limping through the sewers as Superman ponders, “How come the good villains never die?” (to which Batman responds by asking “what’s a ‘good’ villain?”) or when Bruce coldly tells a wounded Clark to “do me a favour and lose the sense of humour” (to which Superman replies “do us both a favour and buy one”). 

Feel the burn...

The animation work here really deserves comment. The art work seems to have made a conscious effort to ape the style of Ed McGuiness, the artist who worked with Jeph Loeb on the original comic book story. For better or worse, that means lots and lots of primary colours (which admittedly suit Superman more than Batman) and ridiculously muscled figures. I’m fairly sure that – if Superman ever took his shirt off – his six pack would have a six pack. It looks at points like he’s carrying golf balls on his stomach. 

Still, the style has its appeal. Superman really moves like a blur, and most of the effective movement is captured well. It certainly gives a sense of the sheer power involved in these sorts of action sequences, even if it is so bright that sometimes I felt I should be wearing sunglasses. I am more looking forward to the slightly darker style that has been proposed for the movie’s direct sequel Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (in fact, this movie was the only movie in the line successful enough to merit a direct sequel). 

Luthor is shooting up on a "rock"...

All in all, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies isn’t an exceptional film, or an original one. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a fun or engaging one. in fact, if you’re looking for escapist entertainment, this direct-to-DVD film delivers it quite well. The nostalgic reunion of Conroy and Daly (and the bromantic tension between the leads) is worth the price of admission alone for those who can recognise the appeal of the lighter side of superheroics. It isn’t a bona fides classic, but it’s a consistently solid example of the type of work the DC animated universe has been putting out over the past few years. 

2 Responses

  1. Yeah, it’s part of the 50 state initiative or stoemhing. No, that’s Marvel. DC’s having this New 52 thing where they’re launching 52 new titles, 29 of which are Batman-related.Can you imagine the amount of action figures they’ll sell alongside Mariachi Batman #1, Desperate Housewives of Goth~~ City #1, or Bat-Mite’s Cosmic Adventures #1? There’s sure no money in publishing actual comic books these days.GD Star Ratingloading…

    • They’re mostly R and D for Hollywood, or so I hear. Though I believe Marvel had a 30% profit margin when purchased by Disney, so maybe things aren’t as glum as people say. Although the creative sacrifices Marvel and DC make for short-term sales boosts, while unavoidable, seem to be perpetuating this downward spiral.

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