Based on a graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuiness , Public Enemies is the latest offering from DC Universe, and in many ways it proves to be one of the more frustrating, yet at the same time, more endearing of their series of direct-to-video animated movies.
The first hurdle facing the viewer is accepting that noted Superman villain Lex Luthor is elected President. Of the United States (and this is canonical in current continuity). Luthor manages to fix the economy and other stuff, so his numbers are high. Superman, however, doesn’t trust him, and rightly so – in a staged incident, video “proves” that Superman kills super-powered (and kryptonite-powered) Secret Service Agent Metallo, allowing Luthor to place a one billion dollar bounty on the head of Superman and anyone who helps him – which, of course, means Batman.
Oh, yeah, there’s also a green kryptonite meteor “the size of a small country” on a collision course with Earth, and Luthor is damned if he’s going to ask any superheroes for help. Good luck with that, Luthor.
Jeph Loeb is alternately one of the most respected and one of the most loathed writer in comic books. It has to be admitted, though, that this graphic novel was successful enough to launch a long-running Superman/Batman comic book, carrying over the novel’s central motif of different-colored caption boxes capturing the inner monologues of the two main characters.
The movie version Public Enemies apparently errs on the side of action, excising anything it deems fat in order to get to the action scenes, especially since it runs a too-lean 64 minutes (with three minutes of credits), making it the shortest of the DC Universe flicks. And it has to be admitted, that most of the draw comes from seeing our two title characters kick the living hell out of all comers, and there are a lot of them – bad guys want the billion, and duped good guys think, since they’re working for the President, this must be for the greater good.
Unfortunate points – beside the slight running time – include a script that was probably cut so heavily for that short runtime that it is in peril of bleeding to death, incredibly intrusive and obvious computer animation that conflicts harshly with the rest of the art, and some of the most clunky, downright ugly character designs ever committed to cel. Captain Atom looks like a ventriloquist dummy overdosed on steroids, and ofttimes-Justice League nemesis Amanda Waller just looks grotesque. And don’t get me started on the outlandish anime Power Girl, with eyes that take up half her face.
To the better, and increasing the "endearment" quotient I mentioned earlier: the voices an entire generation grew up with, and associate with Superman, Batman and Lex Luthor – Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, and Clancy Brown – are back. And there is the aforementioned butt-whoopin’. That never gets old.
DC is a Time/Warner company. Warner makes excellent DVDs. And if the sound and video quality means little to you, the fact that the menus do what they should: allow you access the contents of the disc with no muss, no frills, no extraneous bells and whistles - should.
Disc One - your basic one-disc offering - begins with a (surprisingly) non-anamorphic trailer for the Christmas Robert Downey, Jr.release Sherlock Holmes, the Smallville box sets, a jump to anamorphic (to, presumably, rub it in) for a Blu-Ray ad, then back to plain ol' letter-boxing for a Halo: Legends ad.
The Special Features are all re-runs from former discs: Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event and the "sneak Peeks" for Wonder Woman, Batman: Gotham Knight, The New Frontier and Green Lantern. Though there are an actual trailer for Green Lantern: First Flight, the Fringe series and box set, and the game Batman: Arkham Asylum. All still non-anamorphic.
Disc Two kicks off with A Test of Minds: The Psychology of Superman and Batman, examining the differing personalities between the two, and why the pairing seems to click so neatly. Although the 19-minute featurette is too deep to really do the subject justice, it's quite welcome; I had feared after the lack of such material on the previous First Flight set, DC would be giving up on such intriguing extras.
There is, additionally Dinner with DCU and Special Guest Kevin Conroy, which turns out to be a chatty gathering over dessert of Executive Director Bruce Timm, Voice & Casting Director Andrea Romano, DC Senior Vice Prez Gregory Noveck (and of course, Kevin Conroy) talking about the production of the various DC animation series. I'm unsure of the intended audience for this; it has obvious breaks for commercials. Some interesting stuff that makes up for the lack of an audio commentary ont he main feature.
As is traditional, there is a interview and line-art preview of DC Universe's next offering, A First Look at Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, in which the Justice League will take on their mirror-universe counterparts, the villainous Crime Syndicate. I am particularly looking forward to James Woods' Owlman.
And as is becoming traditional, Bruce Timm's Top Picks presents two episodes from former DCU TV series, in this case, Superman: The Animated Series. "The Demon Reborn" finds Batman nemesis Ra's Al-Ghul trying to steal Superman's life force, and "Knight Time" features Superman going incognito as Batman when the Caped Crusader goes missing.
Dr. Freex, 10/19/2009