CREDITS: Written by Rich Fogel and Bruce Timm; directed by Dan Riba.
REVIEW: This Fourth World two-parter is huge. HUGE! And they've brought all their best craftsman to bear. The music is more epic, the action is bigger and better, and the stakes have never been higher, ending each of its two parts with the death (and you know how rare this is!) of a recurring character (I think people often forget that Manheim bites it in Part 1). The Fourth World myth is ripped out of Kirby's comics directly and given a lush panoramic treatment, and tons of the King of Comics' characters swoop in. It's just gorgeous. Darkseid's attempt to turn Earth into a second Apokolips, fire pits and all, turns the skies Crisis red, and I can't even begin to draw a complete list of the episode's great moments, from Superman's dousing of the fire to the simple things like Kalibak stinging at the attention Orion gets, or Superman standing by a grave at magic hour, or even just the way Jimmy's camera flash plays on the fiery atmosphere. Just too many to count.
But it's more than a visually rich action epic, there are strong thematic underpinnings to it as well. Think about it. What does Darkseid represent? His feeding on despair and his quest for the Anti-Life Equation (which would squash freedom in all its forms) are a fascist ideal. On Earth, he finds people who are simply unbreakable, who will not kneel down. Superman, of course, but the real hero of the piece is Turpin, a middle-aged man who nevertheless punches the heck out of Parademons, throws insults at Darkseid, and is the one who frees the defeated Superman. When Darkseid kills him with his wonderful fake-out Omega beams, he's really killing the strongest part of us, and in that moment, finally makes Superman feel despair, the Man of Steel screams heard from miles away and he useless punches at machinery. It's amazing. And it's not just Turpin either. Even Manheim seemed to think he was using Darkseid to get what he wanted, he was never a slave. You could argue the day would have been lost regardless since New Genesis enacted a literal Novus Deus ex Machina, but I believe it is humanity valour that summoned the New Gods to our side and made the Fourth World treaty cover our asses.
Score some points for diversity too, something Darkseid would no doubt stamp out if he could. When Maggie Sawyer is injured, we see her in the hospital with her partner Toby Raynes, who comics fans would have recognized as her girlfriend. I did not expect a 90s animated program to confirm Maggie was gay like that, and they're no explicit about it, but that just makes it a normal thing. Full props. And Turpin's Jewish funeral, that's not something you see every day. I think we have an idea of what funerals are like from TV and movies, and they're very Christian-centric. All this to say that Darkseid has won a battle, but can't possibly win the war. Not so long as we breed Turpins (and Sawyers and Lanes and Olsens and Kents).
IN THE COMICS: The origin of the Fourth World is ripped right out of the comics, with all characters, looks and relationships on point. In addition to Orion and Steppenwolf, who get lines, there are cameos introducing Granny Goodness, Forager, Big Barda, Black Racer, Mister Miracle, Lightray, Highfather and Avia. Apokolips' shock troops, the Parademons, play a big part. Digging fire pits on Earth is a visual taken up by the New52's Earth 2 series. The episode also introduces Toby Raines, Maggie Sawyer's girlfriend in the comics (and apparently her partner here too, though that's not said outright); in the comics she is a reporter for the Daily Star. Having decided to kill off Turpin, who is based on Jack Kirby, there are many references to Kirby's main inkers over the years. In addition to Sinnott Air Force Base and Ayers Island, there are police officers called Giacoia, Royer and Colletta. As originally aired, many comics/animation pros and Kirby characters were present at Turpin's funeral, including Alex Ross and his father Norman Ross, Bruce Timm, Captain America, Mark Evanier, Tony Stark, Glen Murakami, Dan Riba, Paul Dini, Goody Rickles, Stan Lee, Alan Burnett, Reed Richards, Nick Fury, Sue Storm, Johnny Storm and Kamandi. They were removed in subsequent airings and on the DVD.
SOUNDS LIKE: Orion is played by Steve Sandor, Lars from Star Trek's The Gamesters of Triskelion. Toby Raines is voiced by Laraine Newman, who was part of SNL's original cast. Steppenwolf is Sherman Howard, a former live action Luthor last heard as the Preserver in The Main Man.
REWATCHABILITY: High - A great epic where anything could happen and shockingly, does.