Reign of the Supermen #207: WB's Animated Superman

Source: Superman Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, etc. (1996-present)
Type: TVAs good as the WB's Batman animated series was, it was great to see Bruce Timm's team exchange their trademark black paper for white and take on the Superman mythos. The WB Superman rarely gets the praise it deserves, though it lasted three seasons and was THE AWESOME. Very much grounded in John Byrne's version of the character (businessman Luthor, space plane and all), it still managed to create its own continuity which I sometimes prefer to that of the comics (indeed, to any other). Tying Brainiac to Krypton, in a way combining him with the Eradicator, was a stroke of genius and has produced one of the most viable versions of Brainiac I've ever encountered. This Superman also had the better Toy-Man and managed to make Lobo work as a cartoon character. The show owes a huge debt to Jack Kirby, as Intergang and the New Gods were integrated into the Superman mythos, producing some of the most kickass sequences of Bruce Timm's early years. Animated Dan Turpin even had Kirby's face!

I also have to praise the impressive voice cast. Tim Daly made for a likable (if young-sounding) Clark/Superman, Dana Delany as Lois Lane is one of my favorite castings ever, and Clancy Brown quickly became THE Lex Luthor voice. But there's more! Joanna Cassidy as Maggie Sawyer. Michael Ironside as Darkseid. Lisa Edelstein as Lex's bodyguard Mercy. Malcolm McDowell as Metallo. Michael Dorn as Steel (and Kalibak). Even Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Mxyzptlk made sense.

Superman would eventually move on to co-star in Justice League, this time voiced by George Newbern. It was a low point for the character (though a high point for almost every other Justice Leaguer). In the first season especially, Superman's powers were downplayed to give other members a shot. Bottom line: They over-compensated. Superman would too often get pwned by a stray energy beam, sometimes from a henchman's gun. Though meant to show him as more of a veteran, the lines under his eyes and sunken cheeks simply made him look more tired and gaunt.
He got better attention in Justice League's second year, then on into Justice League Unlimited and the WB animated films that can reliably be considered part of the various shows' continuity, like the by-all-accounts awful Superman: Doomsday, and the much better Crisis on Two Earths.

If you'd like to learn more about Superman: The Animated Series, may I suggest blogger pal Max G. Robison's weekly watch'n'review at the Hive of Scum & Villainy?

15 comments:

Steve said...

I sent this comment earlier but Blogspot went crazy and it vanished. I got awarded an award, and as such was asked to award it to other blogs, one of which is yours! See here: http://moody-by-name.blogspot.com/2011/05/awarded-award.html

snell said...

Superman in first season Justice League was essentially the Star Trek security officer, the red shirt who got clobbered to show us how the monster worked. Which is odd, since they had J'onn J'onzz, who is certainly used to that role...

Delta said...

I've not watched much of the Superman series, but all of the Justice League stuff and it's one of my top 3 favorite cartoons -- at some point all of that voice-casting you mention shows up and you're right, it's amazingly strong and fantastic.

Such a relief when they stopped slamming down Superman after JL season 1. TV Tropes calls that "The Worf Effect".

Bill D. said...

I like this series a lot, but way too many Metallo episodes, or at least it sure seemed that way at the time. It's like they got a deal on Malcolm McDowell and used him all the time as a result.

De said...

"Apokolips... Now!" is such an awesome pair of episodes that they remain handy on those days when I'm not feeling so chipper.

Seeing Jack Kirby kicking Parademon ass is nothing short of awesome. We also have the quiet acknowledgment of Maggie Sawyer's relationship, that whimsical New Gods theme music, a Jewish funeral (rarely seen on TV yet alone in animated form), and that title card thanking Jack for the Fourth World.

Hell, this makes me tear up just typing it out.

LiamKav said...

You can explain away Superman's first season JL look by saying that the events of the final episodes of S:TAS have taken their toll on him. Hence him being out of sorts on the battlefield and looking so rough. By season 2 (or a year later roughly) the lines have gone and he's performing better in battle, having gotten over things.

Craig said...

as I may have said here before, this is the only version of Superman's origin that made me cry.

Anonymous said...

Craig: you are too right. S:TAS's version of Krypton is the only one where you really see what good and decent people live on that doomed world.

S:TAS also boasts smartest version of Jor-El yet, the only one who had a workable plan that was immediately actionable (put everyone in the Phantom Zone, then have one man fly to another world in a rocket and free everyone).

Episode two of the three-part origin was remarkable for telling its story so compactly and yet not missing anything vital. They spent the time on all the right things (such as Clark's elation at discovering he could fly), while wasting no time on the things we don't need to see (such as the details of Clark leaving Smallville and arriving in Matropolis). Even the scene where Superman saves Lois for the first time conveyed how strange it must have been: you open your eyes and there's a guy in tights keeping a beam from squishing you.

Anyway, I have to opine that S:TAS peaked on the three-part origin story, which is a shame, but then again I can't fault them for it. It just proves that Superman's origin is a fine story to tell, even if you've heard it before, and even if it can be condensed into as few as eight words if you want.

dcollins said...

Interesting to hear comments on the origin story. Without having seen it, it's similar to the effect the JL "For the Man Who Has Everything" episode has on me (witnessing life on Krypton and the hypothetical son Superman would have there, and has to give up). Kind of amazing.

Siskoid said...

A story that was itself animated in Justice League.

LiamKav said...

As an extra thought, I normally agree with the John Byrne view that Jor-El's part in the story ends the moment he puts his son in the rocket. Too many versions (*cough Smallville *cough) trot Jor-El out all...the...bloody...time, because everyone loved Marlon Brando or something. I usually go for the "Get him off of Krypton as soon as possible".

S:TAS actually goes against this, but it still works. Partially because, after we've gotten to Earth, Jor-El doesn't reappear every 5 minutes. And also because it adds depth without being too angsty. By showing Lana and Jor-El as good parents, AND also showing the Kents as being the same, it feels like a legitimate adoption. (Although I can't quite remember the throwaway line, but what excuse do they use in this? Adoption? Natural son?)

Also, this origin keeps Johnathan alive, which is another good thing that Bryne did. Killing off the dad is such a cliche by now that, by giving Clark a normal, loving, living pair of parents he's actually in the minority.

Anonymous said...

I think the throwaway line was something like, "You always told me I was adopted, but I never imagined ..."

One other thing to love about Jor-El on Krypton ... ? It shows that it's in Kal-El's blood to be a man who rights wrongs and isn't afraid to risk his life. I don't mean that in a literal sense -- that he is genetically inclined to fight evil -- but rather I like to think that Jor-El would "get" the man his son grew up to be, and would be proud of him. Damn you, S:TAS, for making me care about what a fictional dead alien would think!

Toby'c said...

Superman: Doomsday really isn't that bad - it's not perfect but it's a lot better than you would expect for a 75 minute condensation of a year's worth of comics.

I would also give credit to the two Superman/Batman movies, if only for the voice acting. They are about as stupid as the comics they're based on at times, though.

Jayunderscorezero said...

As a kid I really did not like this show at all, but I caught the opening episodes the other night and they are amazing! What on Earth was young-me thinking?!

diego78 said...

Superman is still amazing! My little siblings watch these shows a lot and even though I don’t accept it, I like these shows too. I even like Andy Yeatman shows that my siblings watch from time to time on Netflix. This man has come up with some great content and like it a lot.

 

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