Lucky fans at WonderCon 2012 in Anaheim, CA were among the very first to see the latest original DC Universe animated movie, “Superman vs. The Elite,” when the film made its World Premiere at the convention.
Warner Home Video’s Gary Miereanu served as moderator and welcomed the crowd to the exclusive event, announcing that the movie would not be released officially until June 12th. He then showed DC Entertainment’s charity initiative trailer entitled “We Can Be Heroes” which was established to fight the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, and promised the crowd that director Michael Chang (“Batman: Brave and the Bold”), voice-actor Robin Atkin Downes (“Uncharted”), and writer Joe Kelly would appear directly after the screening to connect with fans and discuss the film.
Produced by WB Premiere and DC Entertainment, “Superman vs. the Elite” was adapted by Kelly from his original “Action Comics” #775 story, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?” Like the comic it’s based on, the film explores the relevance of Superman and his effectiveness as a superhero when a new team of ruthless crusaders known as The Elite make it known to the world at large that they will do whatever it takes — even kill — to keep the peace. Led by the charismatic Manchester Black (voiced by the versatile Downes), The Elite at first work alongside Superman until their extreme methods don’t jibe with the Man of Steel’s rigid ethics and a showdown is inevitable.
Much like the over-arching theme of the film, Kelly’s script is decidedly adult and definitely earns its PG-13 rating for violence — and also for some funny, if a bit sexually overt, references. Most impressive is the deft way Kelly approaches the characters’ motivations, in that no matter which side the viewer takes, the morality is drawn in very murky shades of grey. Even if the viewer sides with Team Superman, it is easy to understand Manchester Black’s unyielding “no tolerance” policy on evil, and vice-versa.
Michael Chang’s direction is solid and there are some fun things for fans, including a psychedelic opening titles sequence that was described as “The Sex Pistols” meets the “Super Friends” and a goofy “Rocky and Bullwinkle”-style Superman cartoon within the movie that completely undermines the Man of Steel’s authority from the word go and helps make the case for anti-heroes like Black and his team. The film has action to spare and features many big, impressive fight sequences, with a political crisis thrown in for good measure.
George Newbern brings humble nobility to the role of Superman, reprising the role he played on “Justice League,” and Pauley Perrette, of “NCIS” fame, brings her trademark spunk and spirit to ace-reporter Lois Lane. Jon Suzuki’s character designs keep the heart of Doug Mahnke’s original art from the comic, while making everything more streamlined and animation friendly. The only design that didn’t impress was Lois Lane, who looks less like a tough reporter and more like a Victoria’s Secret runway model.
After the screening, Kelly, Chang and Downes were brought out for the Q&A. Kelly was asked about the genesis for “Action” #775 and the writer described a particular moment in comics when the vibe was trending toward very dark anti-heroes. “I love all that stuff, but there was a particular issue of a comic that I just felt crossed the line, not because of the content or anything, but it sort of made me feel like: “If you believed in any of this ‘Truth, Justice, and the American way,’ you’re an idiot,” he said. “At the time I was working on Superman, and I just felt like there had to be another voice.”
Fueled by anger, Kelly explained that he wrote the comic fast and turned it in to Mike Carlin, DC’s Editor-In-Chief at the time. “He got the script unblemished and he had a red pen and the ‘No’s’ started — and the circles — and by the time he was on the second to last page he was digging trenches in pen — like: “No! Superman does not do this!” Kelly said. “And then he finally realized what the point of the story was and he was like: ‘Oh, all right, I get it,’ and then he backed it.”
Kelly then described how he adapted “Action” #775 for the screen. “Is Superman relevant in today’s day and age? That’s the heart of the story,” he said. “That never changed from the comic to the film, but what had to change was the sort of inside baseball of “Action [Comics]” #775 because that was really much more about the superhero universe and Superman in context with superheroes, so we wanted to expand it to hit a different kind of audience.”
Downes, who does more than sixty dialects and delighted the crowd with several of them, was asked about his inspiration for Manchester Black. “He’s got a touch of Johnny Rotten in him, and actually, Johnny Depp is starting to speak like him recently,” he joked.
Chang was asked about his favorite scene in “Superman vs. The Elite” and for all of the impressive action that is in the film, the director said he liked the sequence at the Kent farm when Clark is having a heart to heart with his father. “I thought it was very poignant and it’s the quiet moments that I think I’m drawn to because that’s really the heart of the story,” he said. “I mean, the action is fun to draw and fun to come up with, but I think I like the quiet moments because it really tells you about the characters and what they’re going through.”
A female fan addressed the panel about a suspiciously familiar looking blue police box that was spotted in the movie and she asked if it was indeed a “Doctor Who” reference. “In the original comic there were a couple of — there were a lot of Easter Eggs that we couldn’t really do in [the movie],” Kelly explained. “I’m glad to see a couple might have made it through, although I would never say that officially.”
The last question of the panel was reserved for Gary Miereanu, who was asked if fans would ever see a movie that focused on other DC characters like The Flash or Aquaman. “Hopefully we will be developing other characters and films that you’re going to like and as long as these films keep selling and selling well, you will definitely see other characters that you’re asking about,” he said. Miereanu then surprised fans by ending the panel with an exclusive first look at the trailer for the “The Dark Knight Returns” animated movie scheduled to be released fall 2012.
“Superman Vs. The Elite” is on sale in stores and via digital download June 12.