DCAU #131: The Main Man

IN THIS ONE... Lobo is hired by the Preserver to catch the last Kryptonian, but he wants the last Czarnian too. (Two-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Dan Riba.

REVIEW: Are you freaking kidding me?! Lobo is the first DC star Superman meets? LOBO?! And it's a two-parter?! Groan! And don't take this as simple Lobo-bashing. I've liked the character. I've bought most of his early mini-series and specials. But he doesn't play well with other DC heroes, especially not in the more benign DCAU. His very presence is jarring. There's the fact that he's supposed to be a comedy anti-hero, but also admits to genocide. There's the moments of (apparently non-lethal) gore and gross-out humor, like the skin ripped off the sand snake, and the leeches coming off Emperor Spooj, who is plainly a poop monster. There's the unfunny cartoon humor that saps the tension out of the action, like when he gets zapped in the face and it just looks like his cigar blew up. And there's the blaring electric guitar every time he's on screen, as if designed to tell the viewer Lobo doesn't belong on the same show as the Man of Steel. The latter is most annoying. I hate it. Deeply.

The plot's fine, if very obvious to comic book fans. It's clear from the beginning that Lobo is just as rare a creature as Superman, and that this would go the way of a Marvel team-up. I.e. the heroes fight in the first half, then pool their talents to fight the real enemy in the second. It's just one dust-up after another, unfortunately, and by Part 2's unending stream of monsters, robots and mercenaries, this viewer was dead tired. I'm pretty sure it could have been told in a single episode. You only need cut the Lobo side-plot - because there's too much Lobo already and we don't care about his world of grotesques - cut down the various fights, remove the padding like the test flight of Kal-El's craft (which also causes a continuity snafu, see the note at the end of In the comics), and unnecessary stuff like Clark coming out to Lois (she thinks it's a joke) and then her attack of Lobo, which made no sense at all given he was going beating Superman. Never mind the fact Lobo sexually harasses her, just like Metallo JUST did. The Lex cameo was gratuitous. This plotting is just lazy AND dumb.

The Preserver IS a pretty cool character, sure, but back to back with fellow collector Brainiac, was perhaps redundant. I really like the cool monster design of his second self, but I'm not sure about Superman inheriting his zoo. I never liked it in Silver Age comics either. Superman as zookeeper is rather silly, and forces us to watch the benevolent Kryptonian Messiah walk along rows of creatures in cages and force tubes. Some of these guys don't even have habitats! How did he set all that up? How is he maintaining it? Getting food for these things? Too many questions; the concept just falls apart. For that matter, when did Baby Kal-El's cradle ship become so heavily weaponized? Almost nothing stands up to scrutiny in this tone-deaf thing.

IN THE COMICS: Lobo, the Last Czarnian (Zarnian in the subtitles) was created by Keith Giffen as a parody of the violent anti-heroes of the 90s, but the experiment got out of control, and he became what he was intended to mock. Still, the stories were far more humorous than Wolverine's or the Punisher's. Other than his incapacity to kill anyone on screen, Lobo and his comics world are pretty well represented. Lobo and Superman first met in Adventures of Superman #464, for no other reason than Lobo wanting to prove he was the better fighter. The Preserver is original to the show, though it recalls other stories where Superman is almost "collected", from this general era, it's possible Adventures of Superman #452, smack dab in the middle of Superman's exile in space, inspired this tale with its own, which had an alien collecting brains from across the universe. The Preserver's zoo seems to include Starro the Conqueror, the Justice League's first foe, from The Brave and the Bold #28. The Fortress of Solitude seen here is in the Arctic, as per the Silver and Bronze Age comics, and is even inside a similar-looking mountain. It too had a space zoo. Post-Crisis, the Fortress was moved to the Antarctic and wasn't as expansive. (Note: I have inverted The Main Man and Stolen Memories in the broadcast/review order because the test pilot scenes don't make sense in the proposed order, but this means Superman's statement in Stolen Memories that the Fortress has potential is incongruous if he's already housed a zoo there. Still, I think it's the lesser of two evils.)

SOUNDS LIKE: Lobo is played by Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond; he's also Bibbo). The Preserver's voice is that of Sherman Howard, who was Lex Luthor on the Superboy TV series. David Lander, Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley, plays Sqweek. And Night Court's Richard Moll plays Emperor Spooj.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - An annoying attempt to cash in on the popularity of a character the target audience wasn't even allowed to read the back catalog of.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

I liked this one more than you did. I thought the electric guitar (and as a rule, I *hate* electric guitar in an instrumental score, thanks a lot Attack of the Clones) riff on Superman's theme was a fun variation, and for me, the Lex cameo(s) is one of the best gags in STAS. I even think some of Lobo's gags are funny, like his exasperated "Now?!" when Superman calls him to cash in on his debt. Plus, I thought the bit with the animal habitats was clever- it wasn't about luring them in to a dangerous creature, just an environment that recharges him.

So I cut this one a bit more slack; medium-low if not medium. Yeah, there's plenty of dumb stuff, and those pacification sex-robots/knockout gas emitters are more than a little disturbing, both existentially and design-wise. But I guess I tend to remember the little gems (or the things, above, that played as such to me, at least) and forget the junk in-between.

American Hawkman said...

I love this one unconditionally, and it handles Lobo exactly as he deserves... as the butt of his own joke. Between that and the Preserver being interesting, it's a good episode pair, and one I rewatch.

American Hawkman said...

Oh, and probably worth mentioning that Lobo was introduced as a deadly serious threat in Omega Men before the CRISIS... That guy was no joke.


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