What is it about putting Batman and Superman together that’s so satisfying? One of the short documentaries in the special features on the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DVD, A Test of Minds, delves into the psychological aspects of the two icons and how they complement each other. “Id versus aspiration,” Gregory Noveck suggests. Or “the psycho and the guy with the savior complex,” as Alan Burnett puts it. Both heroes are orphans. I would argue Superman probably lost more in his tragic past, but then, he didn’t witness it…didn’t feel the warmth of the blood spray. So, we have the Big, Blue Boy Scout and the Black Knight, reunited. And it feels so good.
It’s also a reunion of sorts for the men behind the characters. Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and Clancy Brown return to the DC animated universe as Superman, Batman and Lex Luthor, respectively. It’s nice to have the gang back together again, and you can tell right away that these actors know these characters and bring years of experience to the roles. Even the creators proclaim in the special features that bringing Conroy back to Batman was genius. But, then, in the clips for the upcoming Crisis on Two Earths, he’s been replaced again. This time by Billy Baldwin. Good lord. Well, we’ll get to that in 2010. For now, we have Public Enemies. And it’s good. Though I try my best to approach comics as a scholar and literary analyst, I have to confess geeking out from the sheer number of heroes and villains that pop up in this story.
Briefly, times suck in America, what with all the crime, unemployment and economic and social decay. For some reason, people think the answer is Lex Luthor. So, before you can say “recount,” Lex is large and in charge as President of the United States. To aid him in his conquest of the US, he enlists the help of heroes like Captain Atom, Black Lightning, Major Force and Power Girl. (In a bit of clever casting, Smallville‘s Allison Mack is voicing the top-heavy heroine.) Luthor hasn’t exactly changed his ways, though. He still wants a world without Superman, and helping him in his goal is a gigantic Kryptonite meteor heading straight for Earth. Now it’s up to Superman and Batman to team up, avoid Luthor’s army of loyal metas and save the world.
And it’s a great time. The script, by Stan Berkowitz (based on Jeff Loeb‘s comic), is fast-paced, clever and does a surprisingly good job of establishing the friendship and, dare I say, love between the title characters. Daly and Conroy banter like old friends, yet still manage to keep the intensity and gravity of the situation in the forefront. And the cameos! Captain Marvel, Hawkman, Black Manta, Starfire, Giganta, Silver Banshee, Solomon Grundy, Katana…the list goes on and on. The appearances are brief, but they serve the story well. Director Sam Liu keeps the action and pace going, avoiding the pitfalls of endless super battles. He does indulge in too many cliched shots of characters being driving into the ground or rock or floor, but at least he keeps them brief. And the best part? A surprising number of shirtless shots of various musclebound characters. We get to see Metallo, Superman and Lex all shirtless, as well as (SPOILER ALERT!) Batman shirtless and wearing Hawkman’s harness. It’s a good look for Bruce. A very, very good look. (Check out Metallo’s stripper move in the clip above.) The animation is vivid and fluid, though the only way to tell Clark and Bruce apart is that Clark’s square jaw is, well, juttier than Bruce’s square jaw. But that’s a minor quibble.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies makes good use of the title characters and should hold up well under multiple viewings, thanks to all the cameos, action and emotional content. I bought the two-disc special edition. The special features include the documentary mentioned above, as well as an odd, but satisfying piece called Dinner with DCU with Special Guest Kevin Conroy. There’s also a sneak peak at Crisis on Two Earths. On the FBOTU Scale of Fabulousness, I give Public Enemies 4 out of 5 secret identity emoticons:
You can get Public Enemies at Amazon, or wherever homoerotic tales of barely suppressed superhero lust are sold.