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Most superhero movies try so hard to be the “definitive” story for the broadest possible audience that a lot of great, strange, and nuanced story arcs from the character’s life in print get ignored.

Thankfully, they sometimes turn up in animation, such as DC Comics upcoming Superman vs. The Elite, a PG-13 rated adaptation of a 2001 comic tale in which the Man of Steel finds himself fighting alongside — and then against — a quartet of young superpowered upstarts who are famous not just for stopping their foes, but killing them.

In EW’s exclusive clip from the direct-to-video film, out tomorrow, we see Kal-El encountering this team of rivals for the first time. As testament to the fact that this isn’t just a kiddie cartoon, one of them immediately puts the moves on ol’ Supes — who looks like he just swallowed some kryptonite.

The movie is adapted from a 2001 single-issue comic called What’s So Funny ‘Bout Truth, Justice and the American Way? (pictured, left) by Joe Kelly (who also wrote the screenplay) Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo.

In addition to referencing a classic Nick Lowe song (made famous by Elvis Costello and The Attractions), which pointedly asks “Where are the strong? And who are the trusted?,” it was also a prophetic allegory for the question that would define America over the next decade: At what point does the hunting and killing of villains make a hero into one?

Published in March 2001, just months before the 9/11 attacks, this comic book story asks whether Superman’s noble code is outmoded, part of an endless cycle where he stops evildoers, but avoids deadly force if he can — only to have them escape later and cause more havoc.

Should he be executing villains on the spot to prevent them from ever doing harm again?

This is anathema to the do-gooder heart of Clark Kent, but it is part of a vicious philosophy that makes The Elite into the planet’s most popular new team of righteous warriors. Led by Manchester Black, a telekinetic and telepath with a dark sense of a humor and vengeful streak, the group’s other members are Coldcast, a metahuman who can harness electromagnetism; The Hat, a drunk whose mystical fedora can produced virtually any object; and Menagerie, a woman who had been bonded to an “alien weapons cache” and now flies with gargoyle wings and controls a small army of extra-terrestrial beasts.

She’s also the one with the hots for the guy who can leap tall buildings in a single bound but still has a hard time talking to girls.

Here’s the clip of their first encounter from Superman vs. The Elite. Note how annoyingly naive and Boy Scout-ish Superman seems, and how laid-back and non-threatening The Elite try come off.

Things don’t stay that way for long.

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  • Movie
  • 151 minutes
  • Richard Donner