Superhero Sundays: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
Comic book action8
Matthew Turner | On 11, Jun 2017
Director: Sam Liu
Cast: Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Clancy Brown, Allison Mack, CCH Pounder, Corey Burton, John C. McGinley
Watch Batman/Superman: Public Enemies online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through DC’s animated superhero collection on Amazon Prime Video UK. We call it Superhero Sundays.
At a time when Donald Trump is President of the USA, there’s a certain amount of pleasure to be had from a superhero movie where supervillain Lex Luthor becomes POTUS, not least because at a certain point – spoiler alert – Superman punches him in the face with the line “consider yourself impeached”. Mmm, satisfying.
Faithfully adapted from a story by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Ed McGuinness that appeared in the first six issues of Superman / Batman comic (2003), Public Enemies begins with Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) being legitimately elected President, after America plunges into economic and social despair (sound familiar?). Surprisingly, however, rather than using the position for an evil scheme, Luthor actually turns out to be a rather good President, leaving Superman (Tim Daly) fuming and waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When a giant meteorite (from Krypton, of course) is discovered to be on a collision course with Earth, Luthor ostensibly reaches out to Superman for help, but ends up framing him for the murder of John Corben (aka. Metallo) instead. With a billion-dollar bounty on his head, Superman finds himself targeted by every DC supervillain (and a few heroes) in the immediate area, so he turns to his old friend, Batman (Kevin Conroy), for help.
Director Sam Liu has an extensive background in superhero animation (he also directed The Batman vs Dracula) and he certainly has a good feel for what fans want from the genre, delivering wall-to-wall fight sequences, enjoyable dialogue and a tonne of guest appearances that include villains, such as Gorilla Grodd, King Shark, Mongul and Solomon Grundy, plus second-tier heroes, such as Captain Atom, Hawkman, Black Lightning (soon to be getting his own CW show) and Captain Marvel.
The fight scenes are hugely entertaining, with plenty of variety in the punch-ups, and it’s particularly great to see Batman taking down some of Superman’s stronger foes. Writer Stan Berkowitz also plays with the various supervillain combinations available, at one point pitting Batman against a quartet of cold-themed villains that includes Captain Cold, Killer Frost and Mr Freeze.
The main plot is fun too, packed with over-the-top details like a giant Batman/Superman robot, or President Luthor gleefully injecting himself with Kryptonite steroids and attempting to kiss Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder). There are some nice moments in the dialogue too, such as Batman admitting that he hates being carried by Superman.
Happily, the plot’s close adherence to the comic is mirrored by the animation style, which perfectly replicates Ed McGuinness’ colourful artwork. Accordingly, the character designs are extremely satisfying, with the possible exception of Power Girl, who looks rather out of place and fantasy figure-like, with her famously exaggerated physique that perhaps could have been toned down a little. In fact, the film’s treatment of Power Girl is its only real flaw, as she’s also the subject of two rather inappropriate sexist jokes towards the end, which briefly lowers the tone of the whole thing. (Oh, and there’s also a weird bit where a shirtless Batman disguises himself as Hawkman and the film seems to forget that Hawkman’s wings are real and not a costume, but that’s a minor quibble at best.)
Possibly the best aspect of the film is its terrific voice cast, courtesy of industry veteran Andrea Romano, whose casting and voice director credits are legendary. Aside from assembling the key trio of Conroy, Daly and Brown to reprise their roles from Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series (a huge treat for fans), Romano also finds room for a sweet little DC nod by casting Smallville’s Allison Mack as the voice of Power Girl.
This is undoubtedly one of the better offerings in the DC animation stable, combining a brilliant voice cast, colourful animation, plenty of action and a story that’s alive with a sense of comic-book fun.