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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Review

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by Casimir Harlow Sep 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • I have always preferred Batman to most other comic book 'super'-heroes, mainly because he is just a normal guy. He can't fly or fire webbing out of his wrists, he is neither invincible nor does he have rapid regenerative abilities, he can't project force-fields using a green ring or shoot optic blasts with his eyes. And yet he still nightly takes to the crime-ridden streets, with honed skills and gadgets aplenty, determined to protect the innocent and bring criminals to justice.


    It is fairly obvious that Batman and Superman are the two Big Boys in the DC Universe - Hollywood's studios have tried numerous times to get the franchises right and, whilst Superman had initial success in the early Eighties and Batman was - at that time - little more than a camp TV show, the tables soon turned. First Tim Burton successfully reinvented Batman for the Big Screen in the late Eighties and then, after things took a distinct turn for the worst in the franchise, Chris Nolan and Christian Bale got on board to create arguably the definitive cinematic interpretation of the Dark Knight. All the while Superman has not quite found his footing, with a couple of successful TV shows under his belt, his return to the Big Screen was anticlimactic at best, leading to talks of yet another reimagining a scant few years after he had just been reinvented.


    In the comic industry the duo have also, separately, had plenty of ups and downs, births, deaths and rebirths coming up with frequency and having varying effects in terms of sales. They have also had a fair few crossovers (comic collections which have brought together these two lead heroes to face common threats). One of the best of such crossovers was the World's Finest series, which pitted them against their two most famous arch-enemies, Lex Luthor and The Joker, although the subsequent animated adaptation - as a TV movie - was distinctly average.


    More recently comic lovers have had the new wave of Superman/Batman titles, a fresh series following these two heroes' exploits by and large as frontrunners of the ever-popular (but now fractured) Justice League. With a Justice League TV show or two already done and dusted, and the recent success of numerous releases based on momentous comic book events (Marvel's Planet Hulk, DC's Superman/Doomsday) it was not surprising that they would turn their attention to this new Superman/Batman comic line, first giving us the animated adaptation of the debut instalment, Public Enemies.


    Public Enemies sees a world where superheroes have almost become outlawed under order of the former criminal mastermind Lex Luthor - supposedly reformed - now the President of the United States. Needless to say, Superman isn't particularly impressed by this turn of events and, doubting Luthor's sincerity, seeks to find the truth behind his blatantly power-driven Presidency. Unfortunately things take a turn for the worse with the discovery of a giant Kryptonite meteor hurtling towards the Earth, threatening to destroy it, and not only is Superman impotent (because of the Kryptonite) to do anything to stop it, but Luthor takes it upon himself to blame the Man of Steel for the meteor's path of destruction, and consequently rally the public and authorities against him and his supposed partner-in-crime, Batman. The duo must evade Luthor's new gang of seemingly brainwashed Superheroes, as well as a bunch of familiar Supervillains, and try to get to the bottom of this mess. Will Superman's brawn and Batman's brain be able to save the day and stop whatever nefarious plan Luthor has up his sleeve? And will Batman be able to figure out a way to stop the meteor that is hurtling towards the Earth? The future of the human race is at stake. Well, it's business as usual then.


    You may think it quite odd - the notion of combining these two very different Superheroes, but - as I've already stated - it has been done numerous times before, probably mostly because fans of either can't resist checking out their tandem adventures. Attract two audiences with one comic. The characters, within their universe, have never really agreed on the respective practices of one another: Supes' has never liked the vigilante aspect to The Dark Knight's exploits, and Batman, conversely, thinks that The Man of Steel never goes far enough to stop the crime which leads to the situations that he has to subsequently diffuse. Quite simply, if Batman had encountered a criminal genius like Lex, on his turf, he would have probably scared the hell out of him, broken his legs and had him institutionalised - and not necessarily in that order. Whereas Superman not only let him go on several occasions (not enough evidence) but has now let him become the damn US President.


    Aside from their differing methods, the two have also had their fair share of fights. What's that you say? Superman and Batman fight? How would Batman not get destroyed in about a second? Well, despite the fact that Bats has no discernible super-powers, he always seems to come out on top. Admittedly this is in part due often to an involvement of Kryptonite, but - in reality - it boils down to the fact that Batman has a brain, where Superman just responds to disaster with his strength and powers, and seldom has to throw a clever idea into the mix.


    Public Enemies - whilst vaguely attempting to show a darker side to The Man of Steel by presenting him as an outlaw - isn't really an exception to the rule in terms of the standard portrayal of these two heroes. Whilst the super-duo don't really have as much time as normal to bicker about each other's respective methodologies, they do still get into plenty of trademark situations: i.e. Supes goes blundering in to a trap, gets ambushed and nearly killed, and Batman has to save his ass, sans super-powers.


    Similarly we are supposed to get a different side to Luthor - he is the President now after all - but the reality is that this story has actually skipped over the establishment of his presidency and the 'legitimacy' of his campaign (effectively it was summarised in the opening credits, but the seed was sown earlier on in Justice League episodes, showing how the world turned against the heroes after Lex framed them - thankfully they are featured as Extras on the disc), so all we get here is the diabolically dastardly Lex that we have always known about.


    Whilst the thrilling adventures of our two heroes are generally quite engaging in this instalment, Public Enemies does go off the rails a little bit with its fairly flimsy story, plot contrivances, and the inclusion of too many colourful but unnecessary extra 'superheroes'. Maybe massive comic enthusiasts will revel in seeing Supes face off against the likes of Shazam and Captain Atom, but the reality is that relative newcomers will likely be left out in the cold with this kind of development. They should have kept things simple, but instead they have tried too hard to stick to the original material, and ended up including some stuff that really didn't work on the illustrated page - and certainly won't work for bigger audiences on this kind of release. Who's really going to appreciate a giant mecha-robot shaped spaceship that half-resembles Superman and half resembles Batman? I know the explanation given for it - and it didn't help me appreciate it any more on the page than it did on film.


    Still, if you forgive its faults, and skip over the fact that the story barely holds together, this is quite an enjoyable debut for DC's biggest double-team. Those who love the original comic book series will simply love how faithful the adaptation is, and all others will have to take solace in the action and excitement of the various showdowns - the highlights being the climactic battle between Supes and a power-suit-clad Lex, as well the duo's double-teaming a vicious Metallo - and look forward to the further animated adaptations from this series - which will, trust me, get better after this shaky start. Fluffy but forgiveable.