Before a continuity within the DC Animated Movie Universe was established in 2014 via films like Justice League: War, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, and most recently, Reign of the Supermen, Warner Bros. Animation produced films under the DC Universe Animated Original Movies banner.
It started with Superman: Doomsday in 2007 and wasn't really tethered in any continuity. with adaptations of All-Star Superman and Batman: Year One also following suit. When it comes to the best of the bunch, though, the best was the an the sixth entry in this universe, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, which set a true gold standard.
WHAT IS SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES ABOUT?
Instead of pitting Batman against Superman, 2009's Superman/Batman: Public Enemies cast the two heroes as partners, who fought for their very lives together, as they did in Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness's 2003 blockbuster story in Superman/Batman, which detailed the World's Finest going up against Lex Luthor, the newly-elected U.S. president.
The film's plot doesn't diverge too much from its source material, with Lex framing the duo, getting villains like Black Manta and the Suicide Squad to hunt them for murdering Metallo, as well as heroes under his purvey such as Power Girl, Shazam, Major Force, Captain Atom and members of the Titans and Outsiders. In addition to all that, Lex was using an oncoming meteorite as the catalyst to turn the planet against Superman and his main partner, Batman.
We saw the Caped Crusader and the Man of Steel at their most cerebral, but Lex wasn't just a mental threat. He used kryptonite steroids and even had his signature war-suit to turn himself into a physical threat too. Lex pushed the heroes to their limits, and the finale seeing Batman aligning with a new Toyman to pilot a giant Superman/Batman mech into the sky to take the meteor out. This was their greatest test because apart from almost dying, having the public turn on them represented the one thing which could really break them as heroes and symbols of virtue.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES' ART STYLE
This visual style here stands out as the best of these animated movies simply because it brought the bulky and stocky feel of McGuinness' artwork to the fore. The superheroes were muscular with chiseled physiques that really made them seem larger than life. It felt very much like the comic style was ripped, which helped to differentiate it from the other movies which primarilymodernized the Bruce Timm aesthetic.
By taking so many cues from McGuinness, this film crafted a unique visual identity that was the perfect way to separate this film from DC and Marvel's animated movies. In addition, the action sequences were more fluid, the fights were more dynamic, since every character had a He-Man-esque body.
On the whole, this movie from the animation veteran director, Sam Liu, was the only DC animation property to truly blend comic and cartoon together in the most perfect way possible. It gave us a coherent and consistent style, which really allowed us to immerse ourselves in this fresh animated realm.
SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES' PERFORMANCES?
With Batman, Superman and Luthor at its core, this movie gave DC's three most iconic voice actors of the '90s another chance to shine. Kevin Conroy, as expected, delivered the goods as Batman, bringing his amazing presence to the role and that iconic voice which can still send shivers down anyone's spine to this day. He really gave Lex reason to be worried and had a strong presence which could even throw Superman off his game with just one line.
The '90s presence was kicked up a further notch with Tim Daly from Superman: The Animated Series reprising his role as the Man of Steel, throwing us back to when both heroes crossed over in the DC Animated Universe. It added a shot of nostalgia with his warm, light disposition balancing out the darkness and grim attitude of the Bat. This team-up was certainly a dream come true, reuniting two signature voices who made these characters pop big time.
As for Lex, the trifecta was complete with Clancy Brown bringing the pain as the criminal mastermind. His voice has always been one of the best interpretations of Lex from the DCAU, and this almost felt like DC was making up for an unresolved plot point in Justice League: Unlimited, where Lex found the Anti-Life Equation. This film embraces a similar idea, where Lex is able to convince the world these heroes are evil and makes everyone think they'd be better off with these saviors dead. In short, these performances added emotion, drama, tension, flair and suspense to a solid, political script with aplomb.
While there have been dozens of DC movies since this one, none of them have captured the distinctive visual tone of the source material or paired a well-chosen script with an iconic voice cast quite like Public Enemies.