DCAU #127: Fun and Games

IN THIS ONE... Superman first encounters the Toyman.

CREDITS: Written by Robert N. Skir and Marty Isenberg; directed by Kazuhide Tomonaga (a Studio Ghibli animator).

REVIEW: It may be a truism that Superman's rogues gallery isn't entirely made up of winners. Case in point annoying "masterminds" like the Prankster, the Puzzler and the Toyman who feel like Gotham City rejects. This episode takes the Toyman and completely redesigns him, turning him into a much more impressive threat, and all without the unseemly pedophilic undertones the post-Crisis era brought to the character. Instead of a dumpy old toymaker, we get a man who looks and sounds like a living doll. He could be a robot, and for all we know, could have been acting through a mechanical avatar. Like the best Batman villains, his particular obsession manifests in a variety of visually interesting ways, but as he's a Superman villain, his technological tricks are on another level.

The episode gives us a destructive flubber ball, a raid by toy planes that ends with their target trapped in playground apparatus, a giant yacht-eating rubber ducky, choker soap bubbles, a giant doll house in which Lois is imprisoned (all dolled-up for the occasion), positively Lovecraftian play-doh, an origin story told with a pop-up book (oh, I used to LOVE pop-up books!), a toy soldier firing squad, wind-up bombs, and a farm playset HQ complete with plastic horses (it's actually subtle). All this crazy stuff is animated to feel like something out of Akira, and it's perhaps no surprise to find a Japanese animator at the wheel. Lots to challenge Superman, is what I'm saying, and his supporting cast too. Lois may be captured by the Toyman here, but she's no damsel in distress.

In fact, she takes charge during the air raid, and prevents Clark from running off and changing into his blue jammies. She's protecting him. This more or less forces him to play the hero AS Clark Kent, without using his powers. Nice! Both Clark and Lois will end up saving connected crook Bruno Mannheim from the Toyman's ire, which lays yet another seed into the show's fertile ground. Intergang is mentioned, but not seen, and it represents a gateway (or should I say a Boom Tube) to the Fourth World and some of the show's most memorable moments. STAS continues to play as a serial. Oh, and the Toyman isn't brought to justice either.

IN THE COMICS: Toyman first appeared in Action Comics #64 (1943) and Winslow Schott hasn't really changed much since. Sure, there have been different incarnations (including the Super-Friends one), and they darkened him some over the years, but when John Byrne reintroduced him post-Crisis, he was essentially the same character, especially visually. So this is quite the departure, even if the tricks are somewhat familiar (notably, Byrne's first Toyman issue starts with an armored truck hijack as well). This is a younger Toyman, whose FATHER was destroyed by another party; in the comics, he's the one who was mistreated and has an axe to grind. Bruno "Ugly" Mannheim first appeared in Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen #139 (1971) as Intergang's boss. This amped-up mob anwered to the New God DeSaad, and ultimately to Darkseid, and had access to Apokalipsian technology. The shadow of Jack Kirby looms large in this show, as we'll see.

SOUNDS LIKE: Toyman is played by Bud Cort, previously Wormwood in BTAS' The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy. Bruno Mannheim's voice is Bruce Weitz's; he previously played Lock-Up. Spider Spinelli is played by Joe Nipote, best known as Frankie Waters on Viper.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - But just. It's a bit "this happens, then this happens, then this happens" as a plot, but it's filled with cool action beats, so I'm not really complaining. Excellent reinvention of a lame villain.


LiamKav said...

I remember going into STAS really trying to give Superman's rogues a fairer shake of the wheel. It can't be true that Batman has so many awesome ones and Superman just has Lex and Brainiac and Lex again (and maybe Darkseid if we fudge it). Of course, Lex is awesome, but he's required to do a lot of weight pulling in a way that the Joker doesn't have to.

It's a powers problem, I think. Batman's villains were psychologically interesting in a variety of ways, but they were usually capable of being a threat. A puppet as a gang leader is silly, but if that puppet has a machine gun and your hero isn't invunerable to bullets, he's still scary. With guys like Toyman, part of my brain is always saying "okay, he is interesting, but Superman should be beating him before the opening credits have finished". Of course, Superman forgetting half his powers to allow fights to go on longer has always been an issue (seriously Clark, you have super speed and can attack things from a distance. Most of your fights should be over in 4 seconds).

Siskoid said...

Which is why it was a good idea to give us an inexperienced Superman. He's fighting on instinct and hasn't mastered the best strategies his powers afford him yet.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

Can we talk for a second about how disturbing it is that the Toyman apparently changed Lois' clothes and made her up while she was unconscious? Even if the doll clothes were just put on top of the rest, you don't immediately know that when she wakes up, and even the makeup is creepy enough.

My wife and I were both quite distracted by how disturbing this felt when we watched it...

American Hawkman said...

This iteration of the Toyman is genuinely scary AND a valid threat, the second great working reinvention of the rogues gallery for this show.


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