Does the world need a Superman?
That’s the question raised in Superman vs. the Elite, the latest DC Animated feature from the pen of Joe Kelly, based on his one-shot issue in Action Comics #775: “What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way?” (2001).
This time out, Superman meets a new brand of superhero – metahumans with powers that rival his own in terms of strength and ability, but without the moral boundaries that restrain Superman’s actions.
The Elite decide that Superman has too much “goody goody” in him to be effective, especially after an incident with terrorists in the UK and another spat with the Atomic Skull that results in numerous deaths and lots of fiery destruction. To Manchster Black and his team, Superman has just fallen behind the times.
In the post-9/11 world, it’s easy to question the relevance of superheroes, especially Superman, with his “American Way” and Midwest family values. He’s not called “The Big Blue Boy Scout” for nothing. And that creates a quandary in that Superman now has to practice self-restraint even in the face of adversaries who don’t think twice about killing the enemy, and scoff at collateral damage.
And to add insult to injury, the Elite fandom grows as the story progresses. People seem to be losing patience with bad guy after bad guy coming in over and over again. When the Elite take the law into their own hands, they’re met with cheers and applause. “It’s about time,” is the reaction. But is this indicative of a growing lack of appreciation for what Superman means to everyone? Or is this reaction to the Elite born of frustration at the system and how it’s fundamentally flawed by corrupt officials and politicians acting in their own best interests?
It’s an interesting question raised in the story, one that even Lois Lane cannot answer easily. At what point does Superman’s restraint become pointless? How long can he stand up for law and order when it means the bad guys have an opportunity to come back and do more damage over and over again? When does Superman choose to say “enough is enough” and wipe them all out?
Because he very much can. Superman is easily one of the most powerful heroes on the planet, and could eliminate each and every villain he comes across. And nobody could stop him, really. Not Lex Luthor. Not Maggie Sawyer. Not even Batman could put him down permanently without cheating.
George Newbern returns as the voice of Superman, with Pauly Perrette taking a turn as Lois. And while I think the animation seems a little blocky this time around, it doesn’t distract from the overall story, which moves at a brisk pace and builds to a roundhouse kick of a final confrontation between Superman and Manchester Black. It will definitely give you a moment to pause and wonder just what would happen if the Big Blue Boy Scout ever really lost his temper.
And it also gives us reason to pause and ask the questions of ourselves as fans, as kids who grew up with comic books and “Super Friends” and the Superman lunch boxes:
Does the world need an “aw, shucks” Kansas farm boy who still believes in “ladies first” and “yes, sir” and “no, sir” politeness?
Does the world need a hero who will fight for truth, justice and the American Way?
Yes. Yes, it does.