Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin: Superman -- The Animated Series

Welcome back to another edition of Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look at one of the many, many, many movies in my home video library.  Today, it's my recent attempt to tackle a TV series.  It's the classic 1990s cartoon Superman: The Animated Series.  This is originally dated in my notes as June 10, 2012.

I've been sitting on this for a year now...putting off sitting down and writing it.  But now that I've resurrected Fishing in the Discount Bin, I figure it would be a good entry for it.  I know, usually I sit down and write it shortly after I watch the movie, so a year after might seem like a bit much, but darn it this is my blog, and I make the rules! 

Another new rule for the blog:  ladies drink free!

This tale begins a year ago when I was literally fishing around in a discount bin looking for any good deals.  And I found the greatest deal I've ever found.  Superman: The Complete Animated Series for just $10!  Every episode!  A 7-disc set!  Just $10?  How could I say no?

(In that discount bin, I also found Batman: The Animated Series Volumes 2 and 3, so I still need volumes 1 and 4 to complete my set.  Keep that in mind if you're ever looking for a birthday/Christmas/I-think-you're-awesome-and-don't-know-how-to-express-my-feelings present.)

Superman: The Animated Series has become one of those iconic cartoons of the 1990s.  It ran from 1996 - 2000, and formed the official second chapter it what is known as "the DC Animated Universe."  Back in the 1990s, Saturday morning was still a thing, and when Warner Brothers was looking to launch their new TV network the WB, they needed a line-up of Saturday morning cartoons.  For their flagship show, they went to Warner Brothers animation, re-united as much of the talent behind Batman: The Animated Series as they could, and issued the order:  "You know that totally amazing job you did adapting Batman for a kick-ass, critically beloved cartoon?  Now do that with Superman!"

Its run time also coincided with my time in college, so I spent many a Saturday morning and weekday afternoon (as it was on 6 times a week), watching the adventures of Superman.  One thing I liked about Superman was he was more ready for team-ups, and whenever the Flash or Green Lantern showed up, there was a huge novelty factor.  Like a lot of folks, I wondered why they made Lex Luthor a black guy.  (Eventually, the creators had to make it clear, Lex Luthor wasn't black, just deeply tanned.  In fact, they patterned their portrayal of Lex Luthor after Telly Savalas's portrayal of Ernst Blofeld, James Bond's arch-enemy, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service.  Fun little fact for you.)

So, about a year ago, with this new DVD in hand, I binge-watched the entirety of Superman: The Animated Series.  Now, as I said before, I'm not sure how to tackle TV series in this column.  But, since I did binge-watch the entire series, I figured what I'd do is re-cap my top 5 episodes and why I like them.  I'm also going to try to avoid the team-up episodes, because the novelty factor in those tends to cloud my judgement.  Ready to go?  My top 5 episodes of Superman: The Animated Series.

5)  Target
Lois Lane is being pursued by a stalker, sending Superman into overtime trying to protect her.  The stalker turns out to be a guy who ratted out Lex Luthor to Lois Lane for an expose on Lexcorp.  This ruined his career and now he's seeking revenge.  I like this one because it is so unusual.  A stalker just seems like such a run-of-the-mill, everyday villain for Superman to do battle with.  That fact that Earth's Mightiest Mortal goes after such an everyday villain just makes it...unusual. 

4)  The Late Mr. Kent
Clark Kent is granted an interview with a death-row inmate, and that gets Kent's investigative reporter juices flowing.  Researching the story, Clark Kent uncovers evidence that this inmate is innocent.  The true killer then decides to kill Clark Kent.  However, the way in which Clark Kent is killed is in such a public manner, that it would expose Clark Kent's identity as Superman.  So, he has no choice but to go along with it and let the world think Clark Kent is dead.   While he goes off to uncover the true killer, Superman ponders what life would be like without his secret identity.  This episode serves to be a neat exploration of Superman's character and why he needs to be Clark Kent.  The idea he comes up with at the end of the episode to resurrect Clark Kent is novel, and it has one amazing twist ending.  I'll spoil the end:  the true killer is sitting in the electric chair, turning events over in his mind, wondering how Clark Kent survived.  He finally figures it out, lifts his head, and whispers, "Clark Kent is Superman."  CUT TO the executioner throwing the switch on the electric chair.  The end. 

3)  Mxyzpixilated
Superman's first encounter with the omnipotent imp from the 5th Dimension, Mr. Mxyzptlk.  Seeking new challenges, Mr. Mxyzptlk shows up to just torment Superman, and the only way Superman can get rid of him is to get Mr. Mxyzptlk to say his name backwards.  This one is just funny.  The entire second act is just one long montage of Mr. Mxyzptlk showing up, and Superman promptly disposing of him.  And getting stand-up comic Gilbert Gottfried to voice Mr. Mxyzptlk was inspired casting.  It's too bad they didn't do more with Mr. Mxyzptlk in the animated series...apparently, they just couldn't come up with enough good gags.

2)  Brave New Metropolis
An experiment at STARLabs goes wrong and Lois Lane is sucked into a parallel universe.  In this universe, Lois Lane was killed.  Realizing he needs to take extreme measures to keep the city safe, Superman teams up with Lex Luthor to become brutal dictators of the city.  Of course, the reappearance of Lois Lane threatens the fragile alliance that Superman and Lex Luthor have formed.  Why does Superman become a more compelling character when he falls to the dark side?  I always get fascinated whenever I see Superman just get consumed with rage and unleash the full fury of his powers.  And of course, as we know, only his love for Lois Lane is enough to pull him back from the dark side. 

1)  Apokolips...Now!
A 2-part episode.  In Part 1, intergalactic hero Orion arrives on Earth to warn Superman that the intergalactic warlord Darkseid has his sights set on Earth, and helps to fight off the initial wave.  In Part 2, the full-scale invasion begins, and Superman quickly finds himself outmatched against Darkseid.  Perhaps the cleverest thing the creators of Superman: The Animated Series was incorporate Darkseid.  As they point out in the running commentary for this episode, Darkseid is atypical of a Superman villain.  He goes to places that Superman's usual villains don't go.  He is a warlord, and does the atrocities worthy of that name.  And besides, the image of Superman crucified on Darkseid's tank is shocking.  And the ending, where Darkseid just flat-out kills a guy out of spite.  Amazing.

And that's Superman: The Animated Series.  All in all, it's still a great TV series, but I don't think it really holds up as well as Batman: The Animated Series.  It's like the creators didn't quite have the same handle on Superman that they did on Batman.  But, they did their best, and it's still pretty good.

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