February 16th, 2010


Superman: The Animated Series? More Like The Man of Steel Magnolias!

After mainlining Batman: The Animated Series last year, I was inspired to continue through the rest of the DCAU (sans Static Shock). I really had no interest in watching Superman since I'm not really into him, but I liked the series a lot more than I expected to.

I feel like this is blasphemy, but in a couple aspects, Superman is better than Batman. The main thing I love about the series is that it has continuity!! Batman had very mild continuity, but for the most part, episodes were self-contained, making no references to past episodes and having no effect on future episodes beyond the existence of recurring villains whose recurrences were never explained. From the very beginning, Superman makes sure that episodes don't exist in a vacuum. Things that happen in one episode are visited in the next one, even if they're just minor things. Characters make specific references to things that happened in past episodes. If a villain was previously imprisoned, you actually get to see how the villain breaks out to wreak havoc again! Oh, you all know what continuity is. I'm just appreciating it. The other thing Superman gets away with that Batman could not is that people die. Even named characters! It threw me for a loop since it was clearly against the rules a few years before. The standards of storytelling had changed; it makes me wonder what Batman would have been like if it had premiered a few years later.

Pretty much all I know about Supes I learned from Smallville, so it was great to see an adaptation that held a little bit closer to the comics. For instance, Lois Lane is awesome! She's strong, confident, sarcastic, and hilariously reckless: even in a battle between two superpowered beings, she'll feel the need to get a couple licks in. Hell, she even saves Superman's ass a couple times. There isn't a whole lot done with the Lois/Clark (or Lois/Supes, really) romance, but it's always there. Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen doesn't get a lot to do besides take pictures in perilous situations and, like Lois, get thrown off of buildings every now and then, but he's a good kid. That's pretty much it for the good guys. Supergirl shows up late in the run, and she's great, but for the most part, Supes works alone. There are cameos from other DC heroes, and those episodes are all really good, which makes me more excited for Justice League and more interested in learning about the DCU. There are even some awesome crossovers with B:TAS!

As for the villains, Supes cannot compete with Bats, and I think one of the inherent flaws in the series is that since Kal-El is an alien, he tends to have a lot of alien enemies, which makes everything much less grounded than the world of Gotham. The series wisely makes Superman superstrong but not omnipotent, so even when he's lifting up buses and throwing cranes, it looks like he's exerting himself like a regular person. Otherwise, it's hard to really care about any of the battles, which can frequently be repetitive and boring since they just involve two superpowered beings punching the shit out of each other. Batman has to use his WITS. And his GADGETS. Not his SUPERPOWERS. Okay, Supes does use his powers in clever ways every now and then. Anyway, I did really enjoy some of the villains, especially Brainiac, Parasite, and Livewire. I wanted to like Metallo more than I did. Oh, and I loved Bizarro! I had issues with Tim Daly's Superman voice (even though I grew to like it), but he was a great Bizarro (and I was pleased that he did the voice). Oooh, and Mr. Mxyzptlk was a hoot, of course. Lex Luthor—pronounced Luth-or for reasons unknown—figures prominently as Superman's nemesis early on, but he seems to fade into the background after a while, which is unfortunate because Clancy Brown is beloved for a reason. The major villain of the series, however, is Darkseid, voiced by Michael Ironside, and while a lot of Jack Kirby's Fourth World concepts don't make a lot of sense, they made for a good story.

Superman: The Animated Series was far better than I thought it would be, and it's telling that I'm now much more interested in reading Superman stories. It's not so much the character himself I've gained a new appreciation for but the stories you can tell with him. I still think he's annoyingly self-righteous and causes way too much property damage, but the series really plugs into the fact that he's the Last Son of Krypton, and in those moments where you see Clark as this alien among humans, his entire planet dead, you feel for him, but you're glad that he's on this one and that he likes it enough to defend it.