Superman: TAS – S1 Round-Up

Definitely Not in Kansas Anymore

I had every intention of actually having the entire series completely reviewed by now, but here we are only recapping the first season. There are a lot of reasons for this, and some of them are covered over in my other recent article, “The Many Deaths of Superman”, but I will also add a little bit more to it.

In that article I wrote about how I am struggling to enjoy adaptations these days. I thought I was struggling with Superman: The Animated Series because of this, but in fact, watching the Death and Return of Superman, rewatching Superman: Doomsday and then going back to the first season of Superman: The Animated Series for a second and third watch in a year (yes, I went back two more times during this hiatus) finally helped everything click.

As I said in the other article, I struggle with adaptations, and yes, Superman: The Animated Series is an adaptation of already existing characters, the series also pays homage, tweaks, displays and showcases the best of what the mythos has to offer. So, if when I start seeing this series, and by extension, the Timmverse as an original piece of art, it becomes a different viewing experience altogether.

Batman: The Animated Series was an incredibly successful series, as I’ve written time and time again, but there seems to be zero indication that Bruce Timm, DC or Warner Brothers were thinking much past this series and thinking “bigger”. They would eventually, and that would become Superman: The Animated Series.

As you’ve read throughout my first season reviews, it was a foundational year for the series. For a first season containing only thirteen episodes, it laid a lot of groundwork: the origin of Superman, the introduction of the obvious characters, but also Lex Luthor, a modified Brainiac, Bruno Mannheim/Intergang, Toyman, Parasite, a brilliant interpretation of Metallo, Darkseid, the Metropolis SCU and and the countless easter eggs and scripted references! Again, in thirteen episodes.

It certainly had its weak moments, and even a weak episode or two, but the true measure of its success at the time was the fact that it accomplished so much in such little space. It had created a space in which the Man of Steel could exist in… season two will be about world building. On a personal note, as an adolescent the second season was my personal favourite, and the one that I remember the most. Let’s see just how well it holds up.

Superman: TAS – S1 – Two’s a Crowd Review

Characters: Maggie Sawyer, Professor Hamilton, Dan Turpin, Superman, Parasite,
First Appearance: Earl Garver

A disgruntled ex-STAR Labs employee reveals that he has planted a bomb somewhere in Metropolis, but is knocked unconscious before giving away the bomb’s location. Concussed, Garver is not expected to wake up before the bomb goes off, leaving Superman no choice but to enlist the aid of Parasite in locating the bomb. How does the Parasite fit into this? Superman and Captain Sawyer want Parasite to access the memories of the unconscious Garver in the hopes of obtaining the bomb’s location.

Parasite surprisingly makes one of the best arguments for not helping Superman or the police force. Superman and Captain Sawyer should not have tried to appeal to any heroism in him, as it does not exist. As far as villains go, he is one to usually follow more base instincts, so it was a pretty futile effort to start. Perhaps that goes a bit further to show that dichotomy between pure and impure, good and evil by playing up Superman’s boy scout status to Parasite’s more benevolent intentions. A deal is eventually struck though, but that is not before an attempted double-cross

While this episode may not go into the depths of psychology and psychoanalysis like Batman: The Animated Series did, this episode still sets up some challenging notions, and does some excellent exploratory work with the characters. In fact, the episode is more about Parasite than it is Superman, the Man of Steel being more of a foil for the villain.

As far as season finales go, there is a pretty standard episode. No major cliffhanger like there was in “Tool’s of the Trade” (perhaps it would have made a better finale, what with the big Darkseid reveal at the end, and all?), but this episode still has quite a bit going for it. For one, they got Brian Cox (yes, renowned actor Brian Cox) to voice Earl Garver, but that seems to be the only really ‘big’ thing about this episode. I doubt Cox would have even known which episode he was recording for, and your average cartoon watching individual would not know who he is anyways.

So, while it may not be season finale type material, “Two’s a Crowd” still ends up being a surprisingly solid episode with an excellent character study on a sorely underused Superman villain. Definitely one of the shining moments of the first season.

Superman: TAS – S1 – Tools of the Trade Review

Characters: Clark Kent/Superman, Lois Lane, Bruno Mannheim, Angela Chen
First Appearance: Maggie Sawyer, Dan “Terrible” Turpin, Kanto, Darkseid

Compared to the previous episode, this one is practically a Pulitzer prize winning gem. Now, something may have to do with that, considering renowned author, comics writer and historian, Mark Evanier wrote this episode. In addition to the breadth of his work, he also worked as an intern with Jack “The King” Kirby. This will become important, but first let us get to the plot for a few moments.

This is a rather standard plot structure, but Mark Evanier and the animators obviously took great care in making this episode less about the plot and more about the character interactions and the action; and there are plenty of both.

Intergang has returned to Metropolis, and Bruno Mannheim is looking for something that will give him an edge of the other mob bosses. Enter a mysterious man (Kanto) who offers Mannheim technology that would give him just that leg up he had been looking for. Kanto of course, is one of the henchmen of Darkseid, the dark lord of Apokolips. Intergang and Superman fight, and we learn that Intergang’s recent power boost may just be the beginning.

Evanier has the opportunity to introduce four characters (unless I have forgotten that Sawyer and Turpin have previously appeared), and all of them in their own ways would have a lasting impact.

Captain Maggie Sawyer and Detective Dan “Terrible” Turpin both appear, and their longstanding partnership in the comics is translated very well into the comic. They come across as a little more adversarial than in the comic books, but there is still a mutual respect there. Coincidentally, the animated models Turpin off of his creator… Jack “The King” Kirby, who also created Kanto and Darkseid, along with the other major characters of New Genesis. Kirby influences are now really beginning to show in this series, and that’s incredible consider his massive contributions to the edges of the Superman mythos, but also since his death in 1994 was not too soon before production of the series would have began (Superman co-creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel also predeceased this cartoon in 1992 and 1996 respectively).

In many regards, this episode is like a love letter to those three creators, and as such this episode slotted in near the end of the first season often slips under the radar, but is well worth a watch.

Eagle-eyed fans will notice the subway stop for “Centennial Park”. This park is an analog to NYC’s Central Park, but notable also contains the statue of Superman that served as his tomb complex during “The Death of Superman” storyline in the comics.

Superman: TAS – S1 – My Girl Review

Characters: Clark Kent/Superman, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Lana Lang, Mercy,

If this is not the worst episode of the entire series, I do not even want to think about how bad it actually gets. So, it should come as little to no surprise that I am not going to be particularly kind towards this episode, because I likely will not be, and that is largely due to some very cringeworthy material that does not hold up today.

This episode sees the introduction of Lana Lang as an adult into the Superman: The Animated Series universe, if you want to call her that. I say that, because this version of Lana Lang does not go through a particularly interesting or worthy redemption arc during the episode. Actually, I would argue that a foil like Lana should not need such a story, but having accepted this episode’s existence, can only say that this arc is more character assassination than character redemption.

First, having her on the arm of Lex Luthor? No. Just no.

I should probably point out at this junction that I am comparing the characterization of Lana Lang to that of the Post-Crisis version of the character. You know… the one that Lex Luthor tortured in an attempt to learn the alternate identity of Superman.

Not that this episode does Lana Lang any better. She is shot at, kicked out of an elevator kidnapped, and nearly drowned in molten metal all in twenty-two minutes. The damsel in distress motive is tired (and I will admit, I cheer when Lois gets out of scrapes before Superman needs to be there).

So then, if the show has already established Lois Lane as a strong female character, why can we not do the same for Lana?

Oh, and just when you thought this episode’s representation of female characters could not get any worse, the episode actually opens with a scene where Lois comes off incredibly jealous and petty towards Lana. Not a good look, and one that the comics did touch upon in the late 80s/early 90s, but largely abandoned when it became clear they worked better as a support system for each other; a sisterhood of sorts.

The men do not come off too much better in this episode though. Superman comes across as that earnest, traditional values sort which is fine, if a little too cliched, and Luthor comes across like a familiar business tycoon towards women, and this is not the first time such comparisons would happen, and come true between the fictional and real world (re: presidency).

To say this episode is an absolute mess, perhaps is not entirely fair. But, does it hold up well? No, not at all. Can it teach us anything? We still have a long way to go in our narratives; both fictionally and in the real world.

 For folks looking for easter eggs, the hometown of Barry Allen, Central City, and Batgirl are both dropped throughout the episode.

Superman: TAS – S1 – The Main Man Review

Characters: Superman/Clark Kent, Professor Hamilton, Angela Chen, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor
First Appearance: Lobo, The Preserver

Almost a quarter century ago, a then teenage Michael never in his life thought he would see the following things:

  1. An animated Superman series,
  2. Lobo in the opening credits of an animated Superman series,
  3. Lobo actually featuring in not one, but two episodes in the first season of the show.

Okay, perhaps that second one is a bit of poetic embellishment, but the sentiment behind it is no less sincere. I have written about how I never thought I would see a good Superman animated series, so imagine my surprise when I see Lobo in the opening credits. I knew there would be an episode featuring Lobo in my future, but I was also incredibly hesitant of that.

Lobo is a character that only really works well as a parody. Not only that, but a very specific type of parody that unless done by the right kind of writer, loses its edge and in turn becomes a parody of itself. It takes a writer such as Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison, Alan Grant or his creator, Keith Giffen to succeed at this type of character writing, so imagine my surprise when I see it is a Paul Dini written episode. You normally would not associate such writing with Dini, but then again, Joker and Harley over in Batman: The Animated Series were best handled by him; there is no denying that Dini knows his DC lore and has a passion for it.

Another concern of mine, was language tone. Two of Lobo’s catch phrases, “Bastiche” and “Frag” are a little similar to common swear words, so I figured those would not get past the censors. Imagine my surprise when carefully placed “frags” ended up in the final episode. Perhaps this Lobo would not be too watered down after all.

I remember loving this episode as a teen, and watching it as a guy pushing forty…. it is still funny in places. Sure the plot is cliched as all heck, but I am finding that has a very charming quality for this series. I am also beginning to appreciate that while Batman: The Animated Series was innovative, perhaps the whole point of Superman: The Animated Series was to be an “opposite, or in this case, more nostalgic feeling cartoon? Midway through the first season, and I am already beginning to reevaluate my own assumptions about this series. I am not normally the type to say something is really good or really bad (this is all subjective, right?), but these two episodes, really, truly are two of my fanboy favourites from an already cherished series.

Oh, and Superman reveals his identity to Lois. She does not believe him (c’mon Lois, you’re a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist!), harkening back to a time in the Silver Age where such goofy reveals were common. It was even pulled a few times during John Byrne’s reboot (most notably using Lex Luthor the first time around) before Clark Kent finally revealed his dual identity shortly after Lois and Clark got engaged.