Unreality Reader Recommendation: Superman vs. The Elite

superman elite

As my first installment of Unreality Reader Recommendation was about Under the Hood, an animated DC feature, the other suggestions that came at the end of the post were mostly also animated superhero features. While that’s not meant to be the entire theme of the column, I felt I owed it to you guys to give another one a try since Red Hood went so well.

We’re staying in the DC universe this week, but switching from Batman to Superman. Specifically, Superman vs. The Elite. I knew nothing about this film going in, but it was suggested by a few of you so I figured there had to be something to it.

Superman vs. The Elite tells the story of our famed spandexed hero interacting with a new group of superheroes, The Elite. The title may imply that they’re not exactly the good guys, but it takes a bit of time to get to that point.

Rather, when they first show up, the Elite don’t seem so bad. There’s Hat, a magician who pulls demons out of his hat, Menagarie, a flying gargoyle woman who has a bunch of alien worms do her bidding, Coldcast, a dude who uh, shoots energy, and Manchester Black, their fearless leader and a powerful telekinetic.


“Oy mate!”

All is well initially as they assist Superman with some key world events include dispatching of a monstrous bioweapon and saving a train from an underwater tunnel collapse. But Superman begins to suspect their true nature when the team starts torturing the terrorists responsible for information, and being outright slaughtering them eventually.

Superman vs. The Elite is almost entirely about the central question of Superman. Why doesn’t he kill? In this world, the public has started to grow tired of Superman and his boy scout ways. When he locks up a villain like the Atomic Skull instead of killing him, the Skull simply lives to escape another day, and kill even more people later.

The Elite position themselves as the answer to Superman’s apparently archaic philosophy. In one of the film’s best moments, Manchester tells Superman how it is.

“They don’t want to see a nanny spank the bad guys, they want a surgeon who cuts the cancer out, and makes sure it never comes back.”

Eventually, The Elite turn their attention from the villains of the world to Superman himself, and stage an epic brawl to rid the world of him once and for all. After apparently killing Superman, he comes back with a vengeance and slaughters the members of the Elite team, and renders Manchester powerless through a heat vision lobotomy.


Unleashed Superman is the scariest Superman.

“I finally bought what you were selling,” an enraged Superman screams as Manchester can’t believe the demon has finally been unleashed inside the man.

But it’s all a ruse. Superman didn’t kill anyone, and ensured Metropolis was kept safe from the conflict via his army of super-bots. The cameras capturing the whole thing prove to the world that if violence WAS the means to rid the world of evil, it would be a very scary thing.

The entire movie functions as not just commentary about Superman and his philosophy, but really the entire United States of America, which is called out directly by the English Manchester more than once. Made in 2012, the film is meant to make the audience think about if zipping around the world assassinating terrorists with drones is really how “justice” should function.

The film is incredibly well presented, though I’m not sure if Superman wins the argument in the end. I will never understand personally or karmically why it’s wrong for Superman to kill a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds, thousands or millions, be it The Elite or any other of his foes. In real life, it’s why I can’t oppose the death penalty for a serial killer. In the film, we watch as the escaped Atomic Skull kills a good friend of Supes, along with a lot of other innocents. How is Superman in turn not at least indirectly responsible for that after sparing him so many times before? The crowd cheers when Manchester executes the Skull on the spot, and honestly, who could blame them?


Vader force chokes work in other universes too.

Both Batman and Superman have this code, but it’s never really explained in a way that makes much sense. Superman vs. The Elite does the best job of it I’ve seen, but that said, it’s supposed to add up but I’m not sure it does. Superman can’t kill because that’s simply part of his core. Whether his core is supposed to universally apply to all situations not matter what, well, that’s an argument I’m not sure you can make. Granted, this is a philosophical question that goes far beyond the DC universe, and I think this film is at least a good framework for discussion about it.

It was interesting to see Superman in a new style, as this is not the “New Adventures of Superman” type of animation we’ve seen from the TV cartoons. Rather, it’s different animation, different voices. I didn’t really like Superman himself visually, but they did a really great job with Lois Lane and The Elite. Their voicework especially was top notch, considering I hadn’t heard of anyone involved.

Whether I agree with the moral of the story is beside the point, this was an expertly made feature and presented a more coherent and interesting story than anything I’ve seen in any of the live action Superman films to date. Great recommendation guys.

Alright, what’s it going to be for next week? Remember it doesn’t have to be more things in this genre. It can be a movie, show, game, book, whatever. Just let me know what I should be consuming and writing about!

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  1. I was a big fan of this when I caught it on Netflix the other week. There were a couple of points that did bring it down a notch or two thought – the ending was a little over the top in terms of ‘the right way’, and the depiction of England was laughable – apparently we’re still stuck in the Industrial Revolution!
    On the other flip side of that point, it is quite funny seeing people use English swearwords that apparently aren’t translated as that bad to the states (seeing Superman say ‘wankers’ will always be a highlight for me).
    In terms of the ‘why doesn’t Superman kill point’, I can see where you are coming from (like I said, I think the ending is way over the top to drive home the point), but isn’t it about Bats and Supes always looking to use the right, legal methods to do things? If they were to kill and use their powers as they saw fit then there it’s a slippery slope to them imposing their will – particularly if you have someone as overpowered as Superman.

  2. Oh, and in terms of recommendations- have you seen the Triplettes de Belleville or the The Illusionist? Both French animations with very little dialogue- they call to mind Studio Ghibli in terms of style and approach.

  3. I doubt we want this to turn into a debate on the death penalty because those arguments can often turn pretty ugly, but my views on it can be summed up with one sentence (and I feel it’s probably applicable to how Supe’s and Batman’s characterizations would view it as well).

    Is safety worth the cost of your soul?

    I’d imagine the act of ending someone else’s existence to be a pretty traumatic experience regardless of how much they “deserved it”. It should never be an easy decision, lest it become mundane and thus dehumanizing.

    The “No Killing Rule” ALWAYS made sense to me in that Superman (and Batman to a lesser extent) aren’t simply meant to be policemen or protectors of our safety, but rather ideologues to look up to as a species, a catalyst for us to attempt to rise to out of the muck of petty revenge and want for physical safety towards a (possibly) unobtainable goal of an idealized Utopian world.

    Is this an utterly unrealistic worldview to have? Possibly, but then I ask, what’s the point of all this if we can’t hope and strive for something better, not just for ourselves for our fellow man?

  4. Yeah, I’m with you on the ridiculousness of the “I-will-never-ever-ever-kill-no-matter-what” rule but it can make for some interesting drama I guess. I think it would be more interesting to explore what Geoffrey talks about, which I will summarize as the question of “how far is too far?”. Clearly “kill everyone” isn’t the answer and “kill no one” isn’t the answer, so what exactly is?

    I’m not going to tackle the question of drones directly, it’s a finicky subject that I think we could have a long and interesting debate on. However, the rules of criminal law do not apply in a wartime situation, it is simply a different beast. There is a significant difference between a soldier and a cop, and there should be. Now, once again, the question of “are soldiers more like soldiers or more like cops?” would be very interesting to explore.

  5. Good review. The problem Superman sees with killing is not whether or not someone deserves to die, but with whether any of us have the right to make that decision as an individual. Superman is pretty much God in terms of power. If he begins using death as an answer, how long until it becomes just a thing he does? How long until it’s no big deal and he can do it without batting an eye? How long until his standards for imposing death become more lax? How long until it becomes the simplest answer for everything? He’s afraid of dehumanizing himself and the effect it could have.

    And for the record, I support the death penalty i extreme cases (although I respect the opposing philosophy), but I don’t believe in giving one person the power to decide who lives and dies just because he’s REALLY strong.

  6. Oh, now you are just asking to watch “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox”. It doesn’t have messages nor social commentaries like Under the red hood and the elite, but it’s damn fun “what if story” with couple “holy cr*p” moments. Especially with Batman and Superman…. and Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Especially Aquaman and Wonder Woman

    As always, this was nice detailed review, and i agree with most of your points. However you got to admit the moment when Superman “turns” evil, you got chills a little. I know i did. And it’s a great moment. Sadly you never feel that while watching the new movie.

  7. Whats funny is this movie was what the superman returns movie was trying to be with the whole “why the world does/doesnot need superman” but this was so much better… and yea i think the ambiguity with the moral is part of the conversation the movie is trying to have, but yea it was cool….
    and i say again watch Equilibrium!!! (sorry i just dont think enough people have seen that movie)

  8. Paul we need many more of these. I’ve grown up loving superhero but always had a hard time getting into it because, lets be honest, the vast majority of Comic related media is garbage. Whether that’s comics that don’t make any linear sense to animated movies absed on said comics it’s tought to find.

    I managed to find The Dark Knight Returns but that was solely because I lvoed the novel soo much I was willing to risk watching a shitty movie. I loved Iron Man 3 a lot so I watched the “animated” movie that is on Netflix which of course ended up being shit (in the sense it’s a bedtime story, not a movie). I then tried the black panther movie that is on Netflix and that too was trash.

    So again, please Paul do some more of these. I like anime and animated movies but after soo many years of running into shit I’ve given up looking. Idk maybe it’s just me and my search methods but it’s hard to find the good one’s, but when you do it is immensely rewarding. Thanks for these and hopefully you or a comrade finds this and it or something else entirely inspires you to keep the good folk on Unreality informed on what’s out there.

  9. I recommend watching and reviewing the French film Time Crimes. A sci-fi thriller. Not much in the way of twists in the story but really rather interesting in terms of character growth and development.

  10. And in case you didn’t notice, it’s original comic version was a direct response to Image Comics “The Authority”, a Team who held exactly the same attitude as “The Elite”. Even its Members are “based on” the original characters.

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