Superman vs The Elite (fight 4 of 4)

“Is that… Superman?”

“Not anymore.”

4) Superman vs The Elite

The Fighters:

  • Superman, voiced by George Newbern.
  • The Elite: Manchester Black, Coldcast, Menagerie/Pam, and The Hat. Voiced by Robin Atkin Downes, Catero Colbert, Melissa Disney, and Andrew Kishino, respectively.

The Setup: Since their last tango, the Elite have decided that Superman is yesterday’s news, and declared themselves to be the new world police. They announced they’d settle the Bialya/Pokolistan conflict once & for all, which Superman tried to head off by (in an excellent sequence) non-lethally destroying a squadron of jets that had been sent to attack a civilian population center… only to discover that while he’d been doing so, the Elite had assassinated the bloodthirsty leaders of each nation. An enraged Superman decked Manchester Black over this, which resulted in the miffed Brit issuing a grudge match between the two forces, tomorrow.

Superman spends an anxious night pondering his options– even Lois thinks he might not be able to win– and leaves at dawn to face them. They arrive on the streets of Metropolis but, at his request, the fight is moved to a less-populated area. Flashy as ever, the Elite teleport all five combatants to the moon (Alice), in which the Hat’s magic has thankfully created an artificial atmosphere. But the group has brought along several floating cameras, which they use to broadcast the  conflict to the entire world.

Superman tries one last time to reason with the Elite, but they laugh it off and get right to business.

The Fight: Really, Superman fights against only three of the Elite, while Black hangs back and monologues. Addressing the watching world via camera (and implicitly the viewer, since the speech mostly plays over our view of the battle), Manchester lectures about how the time of old-fashioned “capes” like Superman is over, it’s the 21st century and the world is more complicated than dropping off bank robbers at the police station and getting kittens out of trees. The Elite are an authority (ahem) unto themselves, and they’ll punish as they see fit. “He who has the power makes the rules,” and so forth.

Superman performs well against the other three but like Atomic Skull was in the last fight, he’s overwhelmed by sustained, alternating attacks from multiple opponents– not to mention visibly hamstrung by his moral restraint.

And crazy reptile chicks on his back.

The staging here is probably the most viscerally exciting portion of the whole fight: incredibly smooth animation does a great job with cool stuff like Coldcast smashing away at the hero’s face, Pam straddling him and trying to bite his head off with a giant slug, the Hat summoning rock formations out of the ground to crush him and missiles for him to dodge.The music here is different than anything that’s come before: exciting, but filled with a sense of desperation and sadness. There’s an overwhelming sense of wrongness to seeing these smug punks pound on the Man of Steel.

Finally a tired but determined Superman makes a lunge at Black, who halts his narcissistic speech to hit the Kryptonian’s mind. Superman has adequate mental defenses to keep his mind from being read, but he seems helpless against a direct psychic attack. Manchester induces a stroke that gives him Superman a major nosebleed and sends him to the ground, shouting in pain.

He’s just defenseless enough to be seized Coldcast, who unleashes a full-force, all-out blast of power (it’s unstated but safe to assume he’s stronger than ever after stealing the Skull’s energy) right in Superman’s face. A massive explosion (visible from space) rents the ground, and when the smoke clears there’s nothing left of Superman except the tattered end of his cape.

Smug about their apparent victory, the four re-unite (Black’s telekinetic shield protected them from the area of effect on Coldcast’s blast) and prepare to leave, when suddenly they hear their enemy’s voice. He sounds… different, unlike he has this whole time. He doesn’t even sound angry; he merely speaks with a steady and terrible calmness.

“I finally get it. Thank you… I made the mistake of treating you people like… people. Now, I understand better… I understand now what the world wants, what it NEEDS. The world needs people in charge, willing to put the animals DOWN.”

As he speaks there’s a slow pan around the Elite as their dread mounts. Not only are they thrown off-guard by the fact that they failed to kill their enemy, they also have a palpable sense that the rules have changed. The worst kind of bullies are the ones who derive their advantage from their targets’ innate decency, and it’s clearly no more Mr Nice Superman.

Out of nowhere, Menagerie gets hit by a dart, with Superman’s Kryptonian crest on it. The effects are immediate: she howls in pain and falls to the ground as her slug symbiotes forcibly come out of her. Coldcast picks her up and he can’t tell if she’s breathing. The truth hits home for the rest that they might not get out of this alive (“He’s playing it our way!” Black frets), and suddenly a whirlwind forms on the moon’s surface, courtesy of Superman’s incredible speed. He briefly appears in the center of it, a dark silhouette with glowing red eyes.

As the tornado approaches, the Hat cockily levitates higher and begins a spell to undo it, but suddenly chokes off in mid-word, clasping his throat. As he’s carried off into space, the others deduce that magic barrier or no, the Hat still needs to breathe, and Superman’s vortex sucked the air right out of his lungs.

Black and Coldcast teleport back down to Metropolis, thinking that Superman won’t be so destructive in the midst of his favorite town. Black plans to “flatten the whole city” (some protector!) the moment their opponent shows up, but his team’s numbers dwindle yet again when a red & blue blur collides with Coldcast and sends him out of view in the blink of an eye.

Crashing to the ground like a meteor (and sending debris flying everywhere, including apparently on people), Superman informs Black where his teammate went. “Orbit. He went into orbit at Mach 7. If you had super-hearing, any second now you’d hear the… pop.” Superman shows his face for the first time since “dying” and the beating he took has only made him MORE intimidating. He’s streaked with blood, his costume is torn up, and a burst blood vessel has made one eye go red. He looks– and acts– more than a little deranged.

Above: WAY better than how they handled this in Superman III.

Black bellows about Superman having killed his whole team, to which he calmly replies “Your team of killers. Now they won’t be killing anyone else.” As he does so, Black uses telekinesis to throw piles of debris at Superman, which the hero casually sidesteps, so fast that his actual motion can’t be seen, only the still moments in-between. It’s super cool in a way that’s hard to convey in words, so:

Manchester puts up a green force field that Superman wears down with repeated blows, the last one knocking him backward. He summons up debris from all over and tries to crush Superman in the middle of it, but the Kryptonian calmly frees himself and sends several tons of car and concrete out into the crowded area around him… one batch of rubble actually seems to land on Lois, which Superman doesn’t even notice. Or care about.

As Superman slowly walks through a sustained psychic pulse that Black lashes out with, he asks the Brit how it feels to be deconstructed, to be the victim, to watch his dreams die. Manchester responds with an enormous telekinetic blast that pushes Superman farther away, so the hero plays his trump card. His eyes glow briefly, and although Black thinks he was attempting to melt his face off, Superman had actually launched a microscopic ray of heat straight through Black’s eyes, found the abnormality in his brain that’s responsible for his psychic abilities, and cut it out. “Instant lobotomy.”

Black is now utterly helpless, a fact which Superman underscores by calmly approaching and slapping him around. Literally slapping.

Super Pimp.

The fourth and final slap knocks some blood and probably a few teeth loose from Black’s mouth. In tears, he snuffles out “This isn’t you, you don’t do this!” to which Superman replies “I do now.”

It’s ugly and it’s mean. Everyone sees it and is distressed. Even Terence Baxter, the pissed off little urchin who was so enamored of lethal vigilantism earlier (and is nearby this fight too, in an odd coincidence), begs Superman to stand down and not stoop to his opponents’ level. But the hero lets it sink in– the fact that he’s giving them what they think they wanted, and showing them what it would really look like.

Superman can move at the speed of thought, he can level mountains with a blow, he can count the molecules in the air, he has a whole fortress full of advanced alien technology, and he’s nearly impossible to kill. If he abandons his principles, if he believes that life is cheap, if he arbitrates rather than enforces justice, if he decides that his might makes him right, then he’s no longer a protector or a hero. He’s an angry god. And this is what he was actively arguing and fighting against the whole story, if anyone had cared to listen. They’re listening now.

But fortunately for all involved (especially current crybaby Manchester Black), Superman didn’t give up the fight against his dark nature. With a deservedly smug grin, he reveals to all how he’d planned this show right from the beginning, with more than a little help from the Kryptonian robots he has stashed in his fortress. His helpers were always there to sneakily protect bystanders so that it looked like he was being reckless with collateral damage, and they’ve similarly whisked off the  remaining members of the Elite– they’re all chilling in the fortress as he speaks, imprisoned and unconscious but alive. Superman’s helpers had even enlisted the Elite’s bio-ship, Bonnie, by promising that they’d free it from the team’s enslavement.

It was hard work, just like the difficulties Superman faces every day when he clings to his principles in an ever-harsher world. Meanwhile, hatred and violence are easy, but worse for everyone in the end. So Superman threaded the needle and maintained his code while still getting everyone real familiar with what they’d see if he didn’t… and what they’d probably see from the Elite, after enough time of unchallenged rule.

Black tells Superman if he thinks this is over, he’s living in a dream world. To which, corny as ever but still right, Superman replies:

“Good. Dreams save us. Dreams lift us up and transform us into something better. And on my soul, I swear that until my dream of a world where dignity, honor and justice are the reality we all share, I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.”

The people cheer. Superman wins, and more importantly, his dream does.

So it’s not perfect. The genuinely exciting portions of the fight are over by the halfway mark, and while the second half keeps up plenty of narrative excitement to make up for it, upon re-watch you find yourself wanting to see Superman take just a bit longer to dismantle the Elite. Though of course that’s probably the primitive lizard-brain part of you talking, the part heroes like Superman want you to overcome. Also, that “heat vision surgery” thing doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Newbern plays it terrifically here, especially interesting after years of hearing him as such a boy scout in Justice League (even the “bad” alternate version of him from one episode sounded pretty cheery). Parts of his performance are even better when you re-watch the film in light of the final revelation: when he lets loose an over-the-top melodramatic laugh during the tornado scene, it’s not because Newbern is hamming it up, Superman is.

And of course all praise due to the writing of Joe Kelly, adapting his own story here. Kelly is somewhat notorious for inserting overt and clumsy political messages into his comics (he even shoehorns them in this film a few times, retroactively applying a War on Terror angle to a March 2001 story), but his dialogue here shines. And he gets Superman.

This is the Superman I love, and the one the world loved for roughly 70 or so years of comic history. If, as the navel-gazers like to say, the old kind of Superman is no longer “relevant” in today’s world, then that’s the world’s problem, not Superman’s. He’s not a reflective figure but an aspirational one.

And this is not, Henry Cavill’s dazzling performance aside, the Superman we got in Man of Steel. (SPOILER WARNING for next sentence). That’s a Superman who not only kills his adversary at the finish, but also causes untold thousands of deaths in collateral damage as he callously tosses his foe through a surprising amount of buildings, taking down whole city blocks just so the filmmakers can aesthetically highlight the scale of superpowers involved. A Superman who exists not to protect or inspire but only to fight… and as the absolute last person on the Internet who should have to demonstrate his affection for fight scenes, I can safely say that I want something a little more from Superman. Something better. Man of Steel’s Superman resembles nothing so much as the act Superman puts on in this movie, in order to fool the Elite and prove a point.

(Not to dump on the movie relentlessly, but… speaking of those fight scenes–you know, the fight scenes that the movie sacrifices so much to portray and are supposed to be its major saving grace? Man of Steel basically has a whopping two fight scenes. Superman vs the Elite has, in case you missed the title cards here, four fight scenes of varying quality, plus a few neat sequences of Superman saving people and the like. And it does all that in half the time.)

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: You & I have unfinished business.


Superman vs The Elite (fight 3 of 4)

An Atomic rematch.

Who NEEDS Kryptonite?

3) Superman and the Elite vs Atomic Skull

The Fighters:

  • Superman, who’s been running hot & then cold with the new team. Voiced by George Newbern.
  • The Elite: Manchester Black, Coldcast, Menagerie/Pam, and The Hat, who’ve risen in popularity lately. Voiced by Robin Atkin Downes, Catero Colbert, Melissa Disney, and Andrew Kishino, respectively.
  • The Atomic Skull, the radiation-powered supervillain. Although basically still the same, he’s quite obviously bigger (possibly eight feet tall or more), badder and a whole lot more dangerous, not to mention pissed off.

The Setup: During Atomic Skull’s incarceration he’s been hooked up to a reactor, siphoning off his unlimited energy supply and using it to generate free electricity for, apparently, a sizable portion of Metropolis. Unfortunately some sort of power outage/surge brings the whole system down (seems flimsy) and he’s escaped, looking for blood.

Meanwhile, since their initial meeting, Superman and the Elite’s relationship has deepened. He sought them out and received a brief history from Black, then the five were brought together in an impromptu rescue mission as they worked together to save the victims of a terrorist attack on the Chunnel. After that, however, Superman has been increasingly troubled by the group’s methods, not to mention their attitude– they’ve already fatally intervened during the most recent flare-up in the Middle East. Superman is out in Smallville, grousing with Pa Kent, when Lois calls with the word that the Skull is stomping around Metropolis.

The Fight: Although Superman speeds off, it’s the Elite who arrive first– just in time to save Lois & Jimmy from getting crushed by a falling car, actually. Seeing on the news that his new heroes the Elite are in town, Efrain Baxter’s rebellious son, Terence, runs off to see the action in person, with dad in pursuit.

The Elite’s cocky attitude fails to impress Atomic Skull– he dismisses them as “the interns” before scattering them with a major blast. He easily shrugs off Menagerie’s counter-attack and beats on Coldcast pretty hard. Black catches him with a telekinetic surge and gets assisted by an arriving Superman. The two rivals slug it out pretty hard, but Skull’s time away has improved his power so much he’s able to uppercut Superman into the sky and through several buildings.

Manchester is left alone with Skull, and when they go head to head, Black’s telekinesis against Skull’s radioactive energy, the Brit is no match, and gets knocked back pretty hard. He’s saved by a returning Superman, but when Skull gets the upper hand again and unleashes another devastating blast on the hero, the resulting shockwave kills several people in the nearby area… including Efrain Baxter, absorbing the pulse that would have hit his son. He’s turned into a statue of dead ash right before Terence’s eyes.

Superman recovers and, buying some time by blasting Atomic Skull with his heat vision, orders the Hat to form a perimeter and prevent further collateral damage. The Hat– whose vast abilities are apparently only useful under close supervision, because he’s been sitting around uselessly up to this point– complies by summoning up a bunch of huge terracotta warriors to scare away pedestrians. He also asks if Coldcast can absorb energy as well as direct it, which he can.

Though Black bristles at Superman taking charge of his team, everyone sort of silently agrees to a loose plan where four of them take turns hitting the Skull with harassing attacks while Coldcast finds an opening to get in close. This is probably the best part of the fight, with each superpowered titan having a quick skirmish with the villain before getting batted away, only to get replaced by another hero. The Skull is one heck of a blunt instrument, but he’s quickly outclassed by a coordinated effort. And when Coldcast lunges in and lays hands on the beast, there’s little he can do (thanks to Superman and Pam holding down his limbs) to resist as his excess energy is leeched out, leaving him shrunken and helpless on the ground.

The aftermath, however, is what’s important. Black wants to execute Skull on the spot, which Superman naturally resists. But it’s Terence Baxter who turns the whole crowd against the rule of law, as he urges Black on and blames Superman for his father’s death, saying that this wouldn’t have happened if the hero had put down the Skull for good last time. With the mob’s approval, Manchester sends a point-black psychic pulse that explodes Atomic Skull’s skeletal head– Superman just barely fails to stop him, as he’d stepped away from Black to console Terence. The vigilante group quickly teleports out, leaving Superman to cover up the corpse of the person he’d failed to save.

A lot of improvement here. The Skull’s dramatic change in appearance and his casual murder of even more innocents– notably Baxter, who we’ve gotten to know a bit by this point– really raise the stakes. This isn’t fun & games, people’s lives are on the line. Things get ugly and desperate enough here that it’s less like a superpowered romp and more like a war.

Unlike the previous tussle with Skull, it’s set at night, which is a rather simple but effective way to accompany the thematic with a literal one. And the staging is subtly different: unlike the city-spanning and building-hopping antics of last time, this all goes down on, basically, one street, making for a more tight and intimate feel. The music score (by Robert J Kral) is exciting but plays out in a slow, moody, rhythmic and low-key way, conveying an ever-growing dread.

By the end of the fight, you yourself hate the Skull and rather feel like killing him– when Superman cries out for restraint you see it being almost as pathetic and ineffectual as the crowd in the movie does… yet simultaneously, you pity him. You know the deck is stacked against him, that this is the time when principles are tough to hold onto. We’ve all been there.

Superman is left alone in many senses of the word. Pretty dark.

Grade: B+

Coming Attractions: It gets darker.

THIS dark.

Superman Vs The Elite (fight 2 of 4)

In which we meet monsters.


2) Superman and the Elite vs Pokolistan monsters

The Fighters:

  • Superman, duh. Prior to this event he hasn’t met or heard of the Elite before; this is where they make their debut. Voiced by George Newbern.
  • Manchester Black (sometimes shortened to “Chester”), leader of the Elite and a lower-class Brit with a punk look. Gifted with inherent psychic abilities. Black’s telepathy lets him read (most) people’s minds, project his thoughts to others, and launch mental attacks directly at the victim’s brain. His telekinesis allows him to lift objects and people with his own mind, as well as project waves of raw force (portrayed in the film as a glowing green energy). Quick-talking and humorous, but also crude and more than a little shady. Mostly an analogue of the Authority’s Jenny Sparks. Voiced by Robin Atkin Downes.
  • Coldcast aka Nathan Jones (real name never said in the film). An American and the Elite’s bruiser, Coldcast’s powers are electromagnetic in nature. He can absorb and discharge many different types of energy, an ability which also seems to enhance his physical strength and durability greatly. Voiced by Catero Colbert.
  • Menagerie, aka Pam– unlike Coldcast, her superhero name is the one never used in the film; everyone seems particularly chummy with her. The team’s lone woman, she has a reptilian appearance, with leathery bat wings that allow her to fly with surprising speed and dexterity. Her real value, though, comes from the seemingly unlimited number of deadly slugs she can generate from her body and control remotely. The slugs (apparently the result of bonding her to an alien weapons cache) have a surprising number of offensive capabilities, and she can even use them to briefly enhance her senses. She’s supposedly Puerto Rican, which I don’t buy because not ONCE does she have a hilariously dramatic outburst of anger. Mostly an analogue of the Authority’s Swift. Voiced by Melissa Disney (yep, from those Disneys).
  • The Hat, an Asian man (Japanese in the comic but implied to be Chinese here, and he speaks perfect American English anyway) with mystical powers seemingly centered in his normal-looking hat. The hat’s powers are vague but vast; he generally uses it to summon enormous creatures but it can produce other effects as well. The Hat’s body is also said later to be protected by a magical field, thus minimizing his potential for injury. Clearly an analogue of the Authority’s Doctor, with whom he shares not just similar magical powers but also a substance abuse problem– the Hat is clearly an alcoholic. Voiced by Andrew Kishino.
  • An enormous monster. The product of Pokolistan’s biological weapons division. Resembling nothing so much as a giant, weird, weaponized cockroach, the monster walks on four enormous legs and has an extra limb in its mouth, as well as dual retractable laser cannons on its back. Incredibly strong and durable. Apparently capable of multiplying itself at will. It’s… well, it’s like something a child would design. Voiced by a bunch of inarticulate sound effects.

“rarr,” etc

The Setup: In the aftermath of the previous tussle with Atomic Skull, Superman showed up in person at the United Nations in order to attend to some sort of debate/lecture about the role of superheroes in society (because that’s the sort of thing the UN does, I guess?). Superman admirer Professor Efrain Baxter plays devil’s advocate for the crowd, pondering if these repetitive battles (the previous one cost millions of dollars in property damage, apparently), marked by restraint are really the best way to defend against evildoers. Should those with power not be more proactive and seek more definitive solutions? Is it time to take the kid gloves off? Superman answers in the negative and says that his ideals are worth sticking to, even when things get difficult.

The event is interrupted by news that violence between Pokolistan and Bialya (two fictional Middle Eastern countries; presumably the writers made up fake ones so as to avoid offending any *actual* Middle Eastern countries by suggesting they’re constantly locked in pointless wars) has flared up again. Superman flies off to the war zone, seeking to do what he can to minimize damage. Instead, he arrives to find that rumors of one side deploying WMD in the conflict are true, except that in Pokolistan the “M” stands for “monster,” as Gamera’s retarded cousin is tearing things up left and right.

The Fight: Superman gets some Bialyan regulars (their weapons are no match for the creature’s thick hide) away from the thick of things, and is surprised to find that Coldcast is already blasting away at one of the beasts, albeit ineffectually. Menagerie flies by and lodges about a dozen slugs along the back of the creature’s spine, which causes it to split in half right down the middle. This apparent victory is short-lived, however, as each half grows another new half, forming two monsters each the size of the previous.

Whoops. Superman is able to fly in and knock one monster on its back, but it recovers and cheap shots him through a building just as he goes to town on the other one. It seems like a stalemate, but the hero is soon contacted telepathically by Manchester Black, who, while watching from a distance, tells him that the monsters are brainless and technically not even alive (which he confirms with X-ray vision), so he’s free to use extreme force. A few passes with super breath freezes one monster solid, leaving Superman free to shatter it in a thousand frozen chunks with a single blow.

The second creature is dispatched when it’s swallowed by an enormous magical dragon, which then shrinks down to hand-held size and returns to its summoner, the Hat. The battle finished, Superman approaches the Elite as a friend and they, for all their too-cool attitude, are actually a bit star-struck. The conversation doesn’t last long, however, as they soon teleport out. (Transportation provided, it will later be revealed, by the team’s dimension-hopping sentient ship– another nod to the Authority.)

This one’s a bit underwhelming, and more than a bit silly. Giant bug-monsters as a form of warfare is a kind of bonkers-fun idea, but the creatures themselves are, for all their strength, a bit underwhelming. Not to mention they’d probably be inefficient in traditional combat. Plus they present all sorts of logical/science Fails: if they don’t have brains, how are they controlled? If they can multiply at will, why not send in two (or more) to begin with? And when they multiply, where does all that extra mass come from?

They’re dispatched a little perfunctorily as well. The freeze/smash thing is a nice, but the Hat’s swallowing act is a  abrupt, and this, the first combat use of his power, is shockingly broad: if he can simply absorb anything he wants into his magical hat, you wonder why he doesn’t just do that every time.

The fight does a handy enough job of introducing the Elite one by one, with a nice if hardly thorough demonstration of their abilities. Too bad it’s short and a touch on the goofy side. Fortunately there’s better to come.

Grade: C+

Coming Attractions: Your second-favorite flaming skeleton returns.

Your first favorite damn well better be this guy.

Superman vs The Elite (fight 1 of 4)

Yep, you probably thought I’d do the brand-new, ostensibly action-heavy cinematic reboot Man of Steel, but [cue record scratch noise]:

Tricked ya.

Without getting overly fanboy-ish (… yet), let’s just say I have major problems with the treatment Snyder, Nolan and Goyer gave The Man of Steel’s title character. Even putting aside from a lot of narrative problems and logical head-bangers, the Superman in the film is not really recognizable as Superman in several very crucial ways (to the extent he is at all it is largely thanks to the absolutely fantastic performance by Henry Cavill).

Superman Vs The Elite (an admittedly cheesy and bland title, but less unwieldy than that of the comic issue it was based on, Joe Kelly’s “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?”), is not a great movie, even if it is one of the better examples of DC Entertainment’s many straight-to-DVD one-offs; the animation aesthetic is a little off-putting if still smoothly done, the PG-13 language is gratuitous, and the voice acting doesn’t always click.

It does, however, have a great Superman. One who is recognizably the Superman that has endured for 70+ years while still retaining vulnerability and the ability to kick some ass. It’s a Superman who is definitely about something– he has a specific meaning to the people he protects, he’s not just an action figure. This, and some other things we’ll get to, will put him into stark contrast against the caped Kryptonian you can currently see in theaters. And while this movie has of course been seen much less, it’s currently available on Netflix Streaming, so I’d advise you to check it out.

I’ll note here that the comic book story this was specifically based on came out in March of 2001, which demonstrates that all these hand-wringing “is Superman still relevant?” essays you’ve seen over the past year or so are hardly anything new; the question was an old one back when Kelly penned this issue. It was also a response to certain comic book trends in early 21st century, and the film’s ultimate villains (spoiler), the Elite, are a blatant pastiche of the Authority– one of Warren Ellis’ abandoned projects, the Authority were a pointedly proactive team from the Wildstorm label who upended their world’s status quo and took life & death into their own hands.

1) Superman vs Atomic Skull

The Fighters:

  • Superman, aka Clark Kent aka Kal-El. He’s… look, I’m not going to explain Superman’s powers to you. This is not an origin story; Superman is already a well-established hero in this film, and married to Lois Lane. Voiced by George Newbern, already a veteran at voicing the Man of Steel thanks to five seasons of the animated Justice League series.
  • The Atomic Skull, aka Joseph Martin. His powers are based on being exposed to some kind of “gene bomb,” which in the comics was courtesy of an alien race, but his origin is only obliquely referred to here. He can discharge powerful blasts of radioactive energy (often strong enough to turn non-powered humans to ash on contact), and has advanced strength & durability somewhere in the neighborhood of Superman’s own. Voiced by Dee Bradley Baker.

The Setup: Refreshingly simple. Atomic Skull has escaped from custody somehow, and he literally goes looking for a fight, specifically for one with the last son of Krypton. He starts killing bystanders in Metropolis left & right so as to goad Superman into showing up. It’s not spelled out whether the villain is just spoiling for violence or if he wants payback against Superman specifically (it’s clear from dialogue that they’ve tangled before), but when the hero expresses shock at how callous he would be, the Skull simply replies “you do what you do, I do what I do.” Indeed.

Kinda hard NOT to be a villain when you look like this.

And just before Atomic Skull can do what he does to a mother and her screaming baby, Superman flies in and clocks him g0od.

The Fight: The Man of Steel wastes no time following up with a tackle that takes them both farther away from civilians. Superman quite notably does use the terrain against his adversary here, but (and this is important), ONLY in minimal ways. He drags the Skull up the side of a building but only causes surface damage to its wall, he smacks him into other buildings but again only in glancing ways that cause superficial damage. This of course means that Atomic Skull is likewise not caused maximum harm, but that’s the price Superman pays for being cautious and conscientious. The hero’s deliberate restraint is not spelled out here, but it will become clear much later on just how damage a more careless Superman could cause.

After some more blows, the Skull gains the upper hand when he’s able to get a grip on Superman– direct contact increases the damage his powers can dish out, apparently. Superman frees himself by using his super-shout to bellow “LET GO!” with a shockwave that shatters nearby windows (more property damage), and creates some distance from his opponent’s deadly reach by seizing a telephone pole (one of Skull’s blasts had tore it from its moorings) and smacking the villain around with it for a while.

Eventually the whole thing ends when a blow from the Kryptonian sends the airborne Atomic Skull into a pond in a nearby park, which for some science or comic book “science” reason foams up around the villain and renders him unconscious. To the cheers of bystanders, Superman flies the villain away into custody.

Like many opening fights, it’s fairly brief and not particularly impressive but it does set the right tone. The movie establishes a proper “superhero” aesthetic early on, roughly demonstrating the scale these kind of players operate at.

The setup is also deceptively simple: the villain shows up spoiling for a fight and gets one, right in the middle of a crowded urban area. That’s the kind of thing that’s entertaining for us to watch on screen (or read on a page) but what would it be like to live in a world like that, where your loved ones could end up dead or your business trashed just as collateral damage to a grudge match between two superpowered weirdos? Wouldn’t you want that to be solved once and for all via drastic means? How many times do these freaks have to escape from an inefficient system before someone puts them down for good?

We’ll see.

Grade: B

Coming Attractions: We meet the new guys.

Elite, but not beat agents.