Based on the storyline from the Superman/Batman comic book, the film poses that a large chunk of the planet Krypton is on a direct-heading for earth, which seems to be all of the ammunition that Luthor needs to bring the Man of Steel down once and for all.
“To a large degree, this is Luthor’s story,” offers writer Stan Berkowitz, who adapted the comic. “When you first meet him, it seems that he’s been reformed and is making a real difference in America. It’s just this meteor that screws everything up, and Luthor’s hubris to not want to work with Superman. That’s his fatal flaw in this story. He’s the science nerd who won’t accept the help of the star athlete and he just goes crazy.”
Jeph Loeb, who had been writing the Superman comic before launching Superman/Batman, explains that his goal with “Public Enemies” was to deal with the fact that he had made Luthor president. “It was time for Luthor to go,” he says matter of factly. “So that was the big story. At the time, the whole idea was to act as a metaphor for a country insisting there were weapons of mass destruction in another country and then invading that country. Which we all know would be fiction. This was another fictional account of what would happen if the President of the United States decided that something was an imminent threat and would then make sure that people, who were actually innocent, would be hunted down and put into some kind of prison situation. It was a great way to kick off the series, which was to have Luthor offer a billion dollar ransom for the capture of Superman, which meant every villain in the world would come out after him and that anyone who helped him would be convicted as well, which put Batman on the outside — which is where he wanted to be anyway.”
The challenge of adaptation, says Berkowitz, was to make it believable that the public would turn against Superman. This was accomplished when it seems that Superman has killed one of his enemies, Metallo, and Luthor makes the claim that the closer this Kryptonite meteor gets to earth, the more impact its radiation will have on Superman, causing him to act irrationally. The general public then becomes paranoid about Superman, making it all the more believable.”
Initially President Luthor offers a bounty for Superman’s capture, resulting in numerous villains going out after him. Then he turns to America’s superheroes and, issuing an executive order, has them (including Hawkman and Captain Marvel) try to bring Superman and Batman in, resulting in an incredible super powered smack down that spans a decent part of the film’s running time.
“These are violent, powerful, big-fisted, big-muscled fights,” offers supervising producer Michael Goguen. “We had a real strong storyboard crew that just went for it on these big fight scenes. I also think what was really interesting about this film was for us to see Superman, the iconic character, really put at a disadvantage and forced down into Batman’s world, which is fascinating. These characters both have to adapt to things that are not their normal element. It’s definitely a Superman plot in many ways, but a lot of it takes place in Batman’s world with them heading underground and sneaking around. I think in the end, as they work through this together, it says something about these two characters as icons and friends and about why they have this deep connection. In many ways, it’s a powerful story about friendship and loyalty.”
Executive Producer Gregory Noveck notes that their desire was to “play the contrast between the two characters. In a lot of ways, I think it’s a more mature approach in that we’re going in with the attitude that our audience, at the very least, has a strong idea of who Batman and Superman are as icons and characters, and if we can play to that and kind of go from there, it gives us room to maneuver and handle the character interactions not only with each other, but with the other characters in the DC universe.”
For longtime fans of the animated TV adventures of Batman and Superman, Public Enemies reunites the voice talents of Kevin Conroy (who began voicing Batman back in the early 1990s on Batman: The Animated Series), Tim Daly (currently starring in Private Practice, but also the voice of the Man of Steel on Superman: The Animated Series in the ‘90s), and character actor Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor on both the Superman and Justice League animated series).
“Stepping back into the role of Batman fit like a comfortable glove,” says Conroy. “It was great seeing Tim Daly and Clancy Brown. It’s such a great team and it’s really fun to get back together. It doesn’t happen very often where you get so many people that mesh so well together.
“What’s different about playing Batman in this,” he adds, “is that what usually makes the character interesting is that he’s a lone hero. He’s very much an isolated character and audiences really relate to that. That’s part of the appeal. In this, he’s teaming up with Superman and they’re helping each other, which is not something the character did a lot of in previous series. So it was unique in that I was working with Superman and, I might add, saving Superman.”
Voicing the last son of Krypton brought with it a fair number of surprises to Daly. “Mostly,” he smiles, “I realized how much I missed voicing Superman. I thought that this particular script was really good and, for those of us who are interested and aware of certain things in our world and our country, I think that it presents a very kind of subtle social commentary. I think that makes it cool and relatively bold for something that’s an animated Superman film.
“Doing animation,” he continues, “is always interesting, because you don’t have to all be in the room together. It can be done separately. But it’s always better when you’re in the room, because at that point you are responding to another actor or, in this case, actors. That makes it more real and elevates everyone’s game. Kevin is such a good Batman and, unlike Superman, Batman is pretty cynical. He’s a darker character. When you have those two flavors playing off each other, in real time, there’s a lot more sizzle to it. You’re not in a vacuum. So being in the studio together is definitely helpful. And then there’s Clancy, who has such a beautiful, resonant voice. That, alone, is fantastic, but he’s also a really good actor. Villains are a tremendous amount of fun, because you can really take those characters out there. And Clancy takes Lex wherever he needs to go perfectly — he really has a lot of scenes in this film.”
Brown, who has made a career of playing fascinating darker roles, explains that he actually found that he has improved as an actor, and therefore Luthor as a character had evolved since the last time he played him. “He’s a much better, clearer, more subtle character as time passes and I love voicing him,” he enthuses. “Just when I think it’s impossible for him to grow or get better, the writers take him an order of magnitude further. It was a blast.
“Lex is subtler, smoother, more politically polished,” Brown continues. “If I had to boil it down, he seems to be a better student of human nature and more willing and equipped to manipulate that knowledge to his ends. He thinks more long term and intricately, which makes him scarier. Look, the ‘bad guy’ never thinks he’s bad. So, personally, I never perceive him simplistically. The context is what makes him subject to that judgment. The fact Lex is President may have been anathema to fans 50 years ago or maybe even 10 year ago, but it’s conceivable now because of what we’ve all experienced collectively. Lex for President makes complete sense. Torture was and still is rationalized. So what’s outrageous about President Lex?”
The original Superman/Batman comic was designed to be the equivalent of a summer movie blockbuster, and that certainly seems to be the case with Public Enemies, which combines drama, characterization and spectacle to new heights, as audiences will witness with its September release on DVD.
“This is really focused on that main struggle of Superman with Batman to overcome this frame-up that Luthor has done on Superman,” says Goguen. “They’re focused on trying to stop this Kryptonite meteor from hitting earth, in the context of having to clear Superman’s name and being forced to move underground while all the villains and even the heroes are coming after them. That basic story is what we’ve stuck to, making it more of a straight-forward action thriller.”
States, Berkowitz, “It’s Superman, it’s Batman, it’s a zillion villains, it’s a meteor crashing towards earth — all of the elements are there, and on top of that you’ve got superhero fights!”
“I think the appeal is that you’ve got the two greats icons in comic book history teamed up together for a single adventure,” sums up Noveck. “That’s what everyone wants to see: you want to see Superman and Batman together, arguing and teaming up. It’s Yin and Yang, with plenty of action for both sides and a lot of unexpected twists for the audience. I just think it’s a really fun ride. And this one, more than anything, we wanted to be a fun and great ride.”
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