DCAU #153: Blasts from the Past

IN THIS ONE... Superman lets a couple of Kryptonian criminals out of the Phantom Zone. (Two-parter)

CREDITS: Written by Robert Goodman; directed by Dan Riba.

REVIEW: Phantom Zone villain, eh? And lots of riffs on Superman II as well. Meh. I applaud the show for not using the same old Kryptonian villains (not using Zod seems almost absurd), but they act and speak like the same old Kryptonian villains. Mala might've been a contender - a unique look, an incomprehension of how Earth works, a one-sided Adam & Eve flirtation, the possibility that she could reform - but even with a whole episode to herself before she releases fellow conspirator Jax-Ur, she comes across as a one-note character, not subtle about her true intentions, nor able to change based on what she sees of, and hears from, Superman. Jax-Ur is even less developed, a simple tyrant, Zod by any other name, and completely boring.

Obviously, you can expect a lot of super-powered from this trio, but with the exception of the bit with the collapsing balconies and the fuel truck explosion, the episode's set pieces lack the expected luster. Either they're not thought through all the way (the revolving restaurant scene that leaves the customers stranded), or they're sluggish. You can almost glimpse the idea of a Superman experienced with his powers battling the others' greater brute force, but that's lost when he, for example, walks by Jax-Ur to get at Mala, as if he were no threat. Or that final chase that causes lots of property damage, today reminiscent of Man of Steel's excesses, and ends in an anticlimactic return to the Phantom Zone courtesy of Lois Lane's button pushing.

So what's good? Well, Superman's dedication to his ethics in initially deciding to release Mala from the Zone, yet prudence in checking her story out. It's true and fair that if some sentences are up, she should be released. But I guess Krypton's Council misjudged her level of complicity, or else the Zone just gives you loads of time to either go insane or plot your revenge. There's absolutely no expectation that a convict will reform in Krypton's penal system. It'll be interesting to see if Kal-El comes to recognize his homeworld's flaws through episodes like this. Hamilton naming the Fortress of Solitude, and his awe at the bounty Superman's already collected there. His insistence that he can force a secret panel in Superman's spacecraft himself. Perry coming to Lois' defense. Lex pouncing on the change to foment xenophobia. The regulars are fine, it's those guest villains that fail for me.

IN THE COMICS: With all due respect to Zod, Jax-Ur was considered Krypton's very worst criminal for having destroyed an entire inhabited moon orbiting the homeworld. He first appeared in Adventure Comics #289 (1961). Mala takes the role usually reserved for Faora or Ursa, but is a character original to the animated series and looks nothing like those other villainesses. Mala's name HAS been used by a Kryptonian, but a male member of a group called the Evil Three who used to be on the Science Council (in comics of the early 50s). It is also the name of an Amazon, in Wonder Woman comics since the Golden Age. The Phantom Zone itself and its red projector first appeared shortly before Jax-Ur did, in Adventure #283. Zoners in the comics are more clearly ghost-like and can observe our dimension unseen. At one point, Lois sarcastically says "yeah, and I'm Wonder Woman", which is a DCAU inconsistency since Diana won't appear to the world until the Justice League pilot. The fact that a benign version of Brainiac exists inside Krypton's memory globe is explained in Superman Adventures #2, which may mean the show and its tie-ins are more tightly connected than their Batman equivalents.

SOUNDS LIKE: The great Ron "Hellboy" Perlman voices Jax-Ur. Mala is played by Leslie Easterbrook, Police Academy's Debbie Callahan.

- It's fine, but the Phantom Zone villains will never be favorites of mine, and here are rather ordinary, even dull, characters.



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