This time around, it’s our third solo outing with the Man of Steel. However, everything that he stands for when it comes to fighting crime and injustice will be facing a daunting task in a film called..
Originally released on June 12, 2012, this film is based on a 2001 story called “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, And The American Way?”. Released in Action Comics #775, it was written by Joe Kelly (who also wrote this adaptation) and drawn by Doug Mahnke & Lee Bermejo. How does this film hold up when compared to its source material? Let’s dive in and find out.
We open to a series of monitors displaying various catastrophes going on throughout the world. From Doctor Light causing mayhem upon escaping incarceration to the foreign country Bialya engaging Pokolistan (both do not exist in the real world) in war despite sanctions from the United Nations, various events are being viewed upon by a jacketed figure. With a rising demand by citizens for swift justice upon these events, he prepares to take action.
Following the opening credits, we cut to Metropolis where Clark Kent a.k.a. Superman (voiced by George Newbern) and Lois Lane (voiced by Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame) are watching a newly-developed Superman cartoon series. After finding it beyond corny, she tells her super-powered husband to keep his public identity as the Man of Steel in check.
Just then, a glowing purple man approaches them as the citizens can only watch as he withers into dust and die. On cue, his killer arrives as it turns out to be Atomic Skull (voiced by Dee Bradley Baker).
After telling Lois to get to safety, Clark ducks into an alley and removes his civilian clothes to reveal his Superman outfit. He then proceeds to fight Atomic Skull, slamming him into buildings, enduring atomic blasts, and even using a downed electricity pole as a melee weapon. Superman ends the fight as he smacks his foe into Centennial Park’s built-in lake. After it dries up from Atomic Skull’s radiation, the Man of Steel then carries the fallen foe off to custody.
Later that night, a group of dock workers see some figures floating towards the city. It turns out that the jacketed fellow from before is leading the group and he ensures them that they’ll find Superman.
The next day, Kal is at the United Nations building as Prof. Efrain Baxter (voiced by Henry Simmons) scolds him for the property destruction and lost lives caused by the repeat felon. When he asks Superman why he didn’t end his reign of terror permanently, Kal says that his powers doesn’t put him above the law and that all humans have the potential for good.
Just then, the Bialyian Ambassador (voiced by Stephen Stanton) had found out that his country’s capital city of Tamarev is under attack and instantly blames the Pokolistani Ambassador (voiced by Nolan North) for his country’s assault, despite him saying that his people are honoring the peace treaty. As such, Superman flies off to take care of the situation.
As Supes makes his way towards the foreign nation, a newscast is covering the horrific event. Just then, a giant spider-like creature emerges from the smoke. It turns out that it belongs to Pokolistan since they have their own bio-weapons program. Using the twin cannons on top of its body, it continues to blast away at anything that gets in its path.
Before Superman can get the chance to attack the huge monster, a super-powered figure fires away with electromagnetic blasts as he instead rescues Bialyian soldiers from getting hurt.
Shortly afterwards, the lone woman of the group flies in and uses her symbiotic aliens to dig into the bio-weapon itself and split it in half.
Unfortunately, both sides are quickly able to grow new limbs. Despite finally being able to go and attack one of the towering monstrosities, the other is able is strike freely.
While recovering, Superman gets a psychic message from the jacketed one that the bio-weapon doesn’t have a brain to attack. As such, he uses his Freeze Breath and encases the monster in ice before hovering upwards to fiercely strike down and cause the beast to shatter into tiny pieces.
The last super-powered figure wrapped things up by summoning a giant dragon that eats the remaining bio-weapon, shrinks into a small, golden statue-like figure, and disappears into the fedora belonging to said being. Superman then approaches them and thanks them for their help, but they teleport away before he could get a chance to know them.
The next day at the Daily Planet, Editor-In Chief Perry White (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) is ecstatic over the appearance of the new superhero team and reminds his staff to be the first ones to cover them. Meanwhile, Clark finishes up his report and sends it to White. Shortly afterwards, Lois discovers that a old woman in England claims to know about them.
After flying across the Atlantic Ocean, they arrive in England as an elderly lady named Mrs. Munsch tells the local reporters about her jacket-sporting, super-powered son (though doesn’t give much detail).
After Lois heads off to try and find out about the new super-team herself, the featured fellow appears next to Superman. After they fly up to the rooftops, Supes learns that his name is Manchester Black (voiced by Robin Atkins Downes). He promises to tell more about himself if Superman agrees to talk somewhere else, to which Supes complies.
Meanwhile at Stryker’s Island Penitentiary in Metropolis, Atomic Skull is hooked up to a massive generator as it constantly absorbs his energy and places it into the city’s electronic grid. Should he ever try to escape, extinguishers built into the ceiling are capable of stopping him.
Back in England, Manchester Black introduces Superman to the rest of his team (from left to right), The Hat (voiced by Andrew Kishino), Coldcast (voiced by Cateo Colbert), and Menagerie (voiced by Melissa Disney). Shortly afterwards, Superman gives him permission to use his telepathy in order to show off his back story.
He and his sister Vera (voiced by Tara Strong) were the youngest of six siblings with their mother losing her life while giving birth to the lone daughter of the family. Because they lived with their deadbeat-drunken father, they were forced to pickpocket in order to survive. They couldn’t be with their four older brothers due to them either being in jail or ending up dead.
One day while hiding out at an abandoned train station, Manchester was physically crippled in excessive pain. For a while, his telekinetic powers were developing.
To make things worse, the police are able to catch up to them. With her brother unable to move, Vera tries her best to fend the officials.
The police manage to grab Vera and try to get her under control. She manages to struggle herself out of their grasp, but she unintentionally puts herself in the path of an oncoming train. In frightened and desperate horror, Manchester’s telekinesis completely kicks in as his newfound power violently stops the train in its path. Upon hearing about this, he was taken in by Her Majesty’s Secret Service and was trained to fight criminals with his power. He met his fellow teammates during a tour through Africa and they eventually decide to go on a freelancing business. When Superman asks him if his sister survived the ordeal, Manchester Black tells him no. Suddenly, his head gets a shrilling wave of psychic pain as he feels the terror of screaming people from a distance.
Over in a train chunnel, both ends have been sealed off with a passenger train stuck inside. As the authorities quickly find out, it was caused by a terrorist attack. Even worse, water from the English Channel has started to pour inside. Upon their arrival, Superman and company learn of the dire situation at hand. Supes then tells Manchester Black and his posse that this is the perfect opportunity to test themselves as a team.
Superman kicks off the rescue operation by drilling into the channel floor and using his Heat Vision to cut up the part of the chunnel that the train is at. After completing the task and getting underneath it to push upwards, he telepathically tells Manchester Black to use his power and helps to lift it out of the water.
The Hat then completes the rescue mission by summoning a frost alien from his own fedora and has it plunge into the channel to form an ice platform for Superman and Manchester to place the chunnel onto and allow rescue helicopters to come in and get the passengers to safety.
During the rescue, Menagerie’s symbiotic aliens allowed her to hear where the Pokolistani terrorists were from a distance. After she and Coldcast rounds them up, Manchester Black demands to know who they work for. After they refuse to talk, he uses his telepathy to cause vicious pain. Superman makes him stop and tells him that they’ll be punished, just not like that.
After returning to Metropolis, Lois & Clark find out that despite his growing concerns over their actions, Manchester Black and company’s recent exploits has helped them gain a huge amount of fan support. Lois reveals in her talks with the British tabloid “The Mirror” (Yes, it actually exists.) that they couldn’t confirm Manchester’s backstory. There’s also nothing of a birth record or death certificate for his sister Vera that exists.
Just then, Manchester Black pops up onto every single projection screen across the entire globe. He announces to the world that “The Elite” aren’t associated with any government nor any boundary of any kind and that they’ll eradicate anyone who poses an evil threat to them. After the broadcast concludes, the crowds applaud the new triumphant message of swift justice. Not pleased, Clark swiftly changes into Superman and tells Lois to get her coat.
After his concludes his worldwide broadcast, Manchester Black proceeds to interrogate the other pair of Pokolistani terrorists from the Chunnel incident. Like their fellow comrades, they refuse to talk. As such, Menagerie uses her symbiotic aliens to crawl into their ears and cause unbearable pain and death to them.
We then cut to the Fortress of Solitude where Superman and a small group of Superman Robots try and find out where Manchester’s worldwide transmission came from. It turns out that the Elite are unable to be found since they’re hiding in-between dimensions. Also, any and all internet sites that talks about them aren’t informational (nothing about their pasts). With nothing but dead ends for now, they pick up the Elite’s presence over in Biayla as Superman flies off to confront them.
Just as he makes it to the foreign nation, a gigantic EMP Blast forms and hits Superman with enough power to make him crash down onto the streets. Staggered from the explosion, Supes is surrounded by a war-torn city as a group of Pokolistani troopers encircle him and prepare to finish him off.
Just then, the Elite show up. Not only do they easily defeat the Pokolistani soldiers, they practically tear them apart as Superman can only watch in horror as these super-powered beings dish out their version of “justice”. After the Elite wrap up their exorcising of human life, Supes passes out.
Afterwards, he wakes up to find himself within the Elite’s own headquarters as Manchester Black then proceeds to give him a tour of his base of operations. It turns out that this “spaceship” is actually a gigantic bacteria colony that can travel between dimensions. Having been named “Bunny”, it also used to have emotion nodules that Black and company managed to get rid of. Not wasting anytime, Superman berates him and his team for their complete murder of the Pokolistani troops.
Despite Supes’ best efforts to convince him that the people of Earth are capable of understanding the right way to deliver justice and that evil people can be dealt with without the need to kill them, Manchester Black is unable to be swayed since his team’s methods continue to be approved worldwide. As such, he teleports Superman back to Earth in disgrace.
After arriving back in London, informational dead ends continue to surface for Lois as she’s escorted off of MI5’s headquarters. Shortly afterwards, she’s confronted by Manchester Black’s very own sister Vera (voiced by Marcella Lentz-Pope). Alive and well, she gives Lois a USB Drive containing the exact background checks on her corrupt brother before she drifts off into the shadowy English night. With newfound hope restored, Lois gets transported back to Metropolis via a Superman Robot.
Over at Stryker’s Island, we have a quick scene where Atomic Skull manages to escape from his containment cell by overloading the same generator that’s been absorbing his own power.
We then cut to the Kent Family Farm in Smallville where Clark is visiting his earthbound parents. Jonathan “Pa” Kent (voiced by Paul Eiding) lets his son know that eventually, the people of Earth will grow wise to the Elite’s way of stopping crime and realize that they’ve got Superman to fall back and teach them the right way. Just then, Clark gets a call from Lois to get back to Metropolis in a hurry.
After all, Atomic Skull has gone on a destructive rampage throughout the city and any human being unfortunate enough to be in its path ends up withering and dying at his hand. The Elite arrive and do their best to take him on, but even when Superman joins in, he’s still able to withstand any possible assault. Manchester Black tries unleashing his telekinetic powers, but Atomic Skull is able to fire back and counter.
Superman comes back in and tries to fight him, but Atomic Skull regains the upper hand and uses his power to strike down with a force so hard that it sends out a wide-range decaying blast. Terrence Baxter (voiced by Ogie Banks) is about to get hit from the explosion, but Efrain manages to shield his son. However, the protection of his kin ended up costing him his life and he ends up withered and lifeless.
With the fight getting out of hand, Superman has The Hat summon a group of tall samurai monoliths to get the civilians away from the area. He then comes up with a plan where he and the Elite will distract Atomic Skull long enough for Coldcast to leap onto him and absorb his immense power.
Despite Superman wanting to return Atomic Skull to Stryker’s Island, Manchester greatly disagrees since the recent battle was a direct result of what happened to letting felons live. Even worse, an enraged Terrence demands for Atomic Skull to die. Not only that, but the populace joins in on the chant for vengeful justice. As such, Manchester uses his telekinesis and kills him by literally shattering his own head. Afterwards, the crowd roars with delight.
Over the next few days, various street interviews spread the word of the Elite’s method of justice effectively becoming the more popular choice over Superman’s. Also, threats of war continues to escalate between Biayla and Pokolistan. As a further blow to his pride, Superman’s super-hearing lets him find out that even kids have fallen out of his favor.
After returning to the Fortress of Solitude depressed on the world’s utmost support towards the Elite, Lois contacts him to let him know what she found out from Vera’s handy USB. It turns out that Manchester Black faked his own back story. Not only did he fail to mention that his own sister is still alive, but he also committed two series of telekinetic murders. The first one was giving his own dad a massive stroke and the second belongs to a dozen people when Black crushed the train that nearly killed Vera. Not only that, but the rest of the team each have extensive criminal records. However, British Intelligence has shot down the Daily Planet’s attempt at publishing the truth.
Just then, the Elite pop in due to The Hat’s magical abilities. Despite Superman’s demand for them to surrender themselves to the proper authorities, they refuse. Manchester Black lets Supes know that come tomorrow, he and his posse will put a permanent end to the crisis in Biayla before teleporting away.
The next day, Biaylian fighter jets are on a mission to bomb away on Pokolistan. Armed to the teeth with missiles, they plan on laying waste to the capital city. Just as they’re about to begin their attack run, Superman rips their jets and missiles apart while rounding up every single fighter pilot.
As the Elite arrive on the scene, Superman declares that his next course of action will be to have the leaders of Biayla and Pokolistan get together and have a peace conference. However, Manchester Black informs him that they’ve already killed every last one of them.
Enraged by what’s transpired, Superman decks him in the face while the rest of the world witness the event due to the Elite’s hovering cameras. With this declaration of war, Manchester lets Kal know that he and his team will duel to the death tomorrow.
Despite Lois’ wishes for him not to fight, dawn arrives as Superman is ready to challenge the Elite. They accept Supes’ request to fight somewhere other than the city to which their spaceship teleports both parties to Earth’s moon.
With “Bunny” providing a wide-spread oxygen field and hovering cameras that allows everyone on Earth to witness the fight, the final battle begins as Superman withstands a fierce pounding from the Elite.
Afterwards, he then tries to take on their leader. However, Manchester Black easily strikes back with his telekinesis. With it, he makes Superman have a seizure and immobilizes him.
As such, Coldcast releases a gigantic burst of energy to put the Man of Steel down for the count once and for all. Back on Earth, everyone is stunned and shocked by what’s happened. With only a shredded piece of Superman’s cape remaining, the Elite prepare to head back to the Mother Planet.
But to the combined shock of both the Elite and everyone on Earth, the Man of Steel survived. In full-on intimidation mode, Superman says that he finally realized what the Earth wants in terms of dealing justice as the Elite are unable to track him in advance.
Suddenly and without warning, Menagerie is struck in the back of the neck by a specialized dart. This causes her alien symbiotes to repel themselves from her body and leave her in a comatose-like state.
Having now fully embraced the form of rough justice that’s now accepted on Earth, Superman continues his psychotic rampage as he whips up a gigantic funnel that separates Menagerie’s lifeless body from the rest of the Elite. The Hat tries to use his magic to protect his team, but starts violently choking. It turns out that even though his body isn’t getting hit, the high winds are causing his lungs to collapse due to the vacuum.
Now running scared, “Bunny” teleports Manchester Black and Coldcast back to Earth and onto the streets of Metropolis as they use the surrounding area as a means of defending themselves. Just then, a swift blur speeds by and takes Coldcast away before coming back to confront Manchester.
Returning as a blooded and shredded mess, Superman tells him that he sent his fellow teammate into orbit at Mach 7. As such, a frightened and enraged Manchester Black goes on a telepathic fury as he and Superman clash with each other. The confrontation forces the petrified onlookers to run for their lives as cars and debris fly through the air.
Superman then ends the fight by using his X-Ray vision to find the abnormality in Manchester’s brain that gives him his telekinesis. Combined with his Heat Vision, he’s able to perform a lobotomy and cut off Black from his powers.
When Manchester asks why he’s unable to use his telekinesis, Superman tells him that he focused his Heat Vision enough so that they would pass through his pupils like a scalpel. Having been reduced to being Supes’ personal slapping dummy and awaiting the death blow, Manchester states that the whole world saw his actions and that he’s no better than anyone else. To his shock, Superman reveals that he had his own robots protect the citizens (especially Lois) during the battle.
They were also the ones that rounded up Manchester’s K.O.’d teammates and had them brought back to the Fortress of Solitude to be de-powered before being sent to their proper holding cells. As for Bunny, she actually helped out Superman in exchange of helping her return to her own dimension.
With the people of Earth once again fully believing in his brand of justice as Manchester Black gets taken away to join his fellow de-powered team in prison, the film ends with Superman sharing a passionate embrace with Lois as they fly off towards the rising sun.
In terms of what differences exist between this film and the comic that it’s adapted from, our main villains get plenty of time to get acquainted to the world and established in the story as they develop their ruthless tolerance towards evil. They have their first fight, they help out on a rescue mission, and we even get back stories that develop over the course of the movie. In the original comic, it feels like they’ve been together for a long time but we never know about them until now. Maybe the rest of the Superman titles helped build them up to that particular comic and it’s quite possible that this film uses that in an effective way, but the movie feels like a more appropriate expansion to the original source material as it takes a good tale and builds it into a much more solid story.
Some other differences I could find: In the comic (and this particular one is following Coldcast’s EMP Blast), the Elite save Superman from an evil Japanese mutant team called the Samurai Roshu. Plus, that was in Japan. In the film, it’s Pokolistani forces and you can guess which county this scene was in. In the comic, it was after being saved from the Samurai Roshu that Superman meets the Elite and their spaceship. Here, it’s in Biayla as they stop Pokolistan’s bio-weapon. In the comic, the final battle is sparked when Superman decks The Hat after some rogue D.E.O. Agents were defeated and about to be killed by them. Here, Superman decks Manchester Black for his team claiming the lives of both the Biaylian and Pokolistani leaders. In the comic, Superman’s final battle against the Elite takes place on the Jupiter moon Io. Here, it’s the moon that belongs to Mother Earth.
Like in the source material, Superman remains steadfast and proud towards the true ideals of fighting crime no matter how much the other side gets forced upon him. This may make him arrogant to his peers, but he truly knows the right way of taking care of criminals. His Fortress of Solitude gets a bit of an expanded role since it uses Superman Robots to help him out during the final confrontation on both the moon and Earth as they allow Superman to look like he finally snapped on what the Elite do with their crime-fighting. Meanwhile in the comic, the Fortress is only in one two-page scene where he’s with fellow superhero Steel and Superman apparently rounds up Manchester Black’s team fast enough so as to make it appear that he killed them only to place them in a pile that Black didn’t notice. Yeah, the film does a better job with that.
At the heart of this film is the dual nature between Superman and the Elite. The title sums up perfectly what the main draw for this film is. On one hand, the Man of Steel representing the ideal form of justice where criminals are punished and imprisoned for their wrongful deeds. However, some villains can either be very skillful with performing their evil tasks and have lots of people who are able to take the fall for them (i.e. Lex Luthor) or those who never learn their lesson and manage to strike back in a painful way despite having been scolded and punished before. On the other hand, Manchester Black and his posse represent what humans feel towards the most despicable of people: That they should be permanently taken care of so that they would never have the chance to retaliate in a harmful way. However, they’re not Judge Dredd. They’re not judge, jury, and executioner and are easily capable of going way too far if anyone breaks the law or doesn’t play nice, even if what they did was bad but not extremely terrible. The dual ideals represent the balance that we as a society must be able to deal with in order to strive towards a perfect justice system. It’s just that Superman is obviously more stable and most likely to be understanding towards this practice. In the end, it comes down to what Jor-El told him in Superman: The Movie: “They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way.” Supes helps the people of Earth be re-shown the light to what works towards a better path to fight crime over in any way that he can.
A fun little easter egg that I noticed during my review is that in the scene where Superman is abord “Bunny” and talking to Manchester Black in front of his mutlple screens, you’ll notice that some of them are actually from the series’ previous entry “Justice League: Doom”. It has lots of scenes from Green Lantern’s hostage situation fin the salt mine and only one scene of tied-up train officers that the Flash saves. To see what happened in those moments, check out my review of that film. Either way, nice touch.
Overall, this is a solid film. While not a layered-look at what makes Superman what his is like it was in “All-Star Superman”, this film in an enjoyable romp. George Newbern is solid as ever as the Man of Steel, Pauley Perrette is really solid in bringing out the spunky-yet-tough-as-nails personality of Lois Lane, and Robin Atkins Downes makes the most of his first starring role for this series as he makes Manchester Black an enjoyable baddie to watch. Also, the animation is smooth, the story is solid, the action scenes are thrilling, and it shows an intrinsic part of Superman’s character as a spirit of hope. Overall, check this film out if you ever get the chance.
Next Time: The Caped Crusader is celebrating 75 years of striking terror into the hearts of the criminal psyche. I can’t think of a better time that to look at the adaptation of one of the most quintessential stories that helped him become an all-time superhero great. It’s once again Miller Time as we dive into, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”.