Ricky Church reviews Superman: The Complete Animated Series…
The past few years have seen many DC Animated Universe series come to Blu-ray with a couple notable exceptions. One of those was Superman: The Animated Series, the second series to expand the DCAU, which fans have been hoping and begging for an HD upgrade. Now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary since it’s premiere, the series finally hits shelves with Superman: The Complete Animated Series Blu-ray. Collecting all 54 episodes, this series is as close to definitive as you can get to Superman outside the comics with its deep dive into the Man of Steel’s mythology, characters and the great voice talent featured throughout Superman and the HD presentation is more than you could ask for.
Right from the first episode, Superman: The Animated Series throws viewers into the grand world of the Man of Steel with a three-part introduction to his origin in ‘The Last Son of Krypton’. The first episode even takes place entirely on Krypton as Superman’s father Jor-El and his mother Lara save him from their doomed planet while setting up a new origin for Brainiac, an enemy who would become one of Superman’s most powerful and personal foes with his ties to Krypton and its demise. The rest of the three-parter follows the typical origin formula as young Clark Kent discovers his alien heritage, moves to Metropolis as a reporter for the Daily Planet working with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, makes his debut as Superman and an enemy out of Lex Luthor. The world-building is exciting and the characterizations of all the players are well done.
First and foremost, the HD upgrade is absolutely fantastic. The details on the characters are rich and the colours are very vibrant, from Superman’s red and blue suit to various lasers. The level of work that went into the Blu-ray remaster is well worth the buy alone for fans who might already own the series on the old DVDs, upgrading to crisp imagery with smoother animation during Superman’s flight and action. Fans who have clamoured for a Blu-ray upgrade will not be disappointed with the presentation.
One of the reasons Superman has been held in such high-regard by fans is how it pushed the hero into the modern era for the mainstream audience. It took cues from the 1980s comic reboot where Clark Kent was the more dominant personality between him and Superman, Lex Luthor was a corrupt and egotistical businessman rather than a mad scientist and other changes to modernize Superman. Led by Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett, the minds behind Batman: The Animated Series, Superman pulls so much from the comic source material while making room for fresh interpretations of the characters and concepts. It is also interestingly much more serialized than Batman as some episodes build off each other or make references to previous events, allowing for full character development for its heroes and villains whereas Batman has more standalone adventures.
It is also interesting how the series de-powered Superman somewhat, making him more vulnerable to strong punches, lasers and gunfire (bullets never penetrate his skin of course, but he doesn’t shrug them off as easily most of the time). Even de-powered, Superman is still presented as a very tough figure whose determination never stops until the day is saved. Tim Daly gives a terrific performance as Clark Kent/Superman, conveying Superman’s heroic and friendly nature while making Clark more confident and well-spoken, ditching the nerdy and clumsy characterization Clark Kent was known for in the older comics and media. Daly balances the two very well and finds ways to make both personas vulnerable through his performance, particularly Superman as he faces some very tough and personal losses in later episodes.
The rest of the cast is stellar. Dana Delany does a great job as Lois, finding nice chemistry with Daly as they play the ‘will they/won’t they’ between their feelings for each other while Delany captures Lois’ sharp wit and intelligence. Much like Mark Hamill as The Joker, Clancy Brown is Lex Luthor, redefining the villain for a generation with his deep voice, selfish nature and absolute hatred for Superman that only grows more pronounced throughout the series. Then there’s the roster of talented guest stars like Michael Dorn, Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell, Gilbert Gottfried, Ed Asner, Michael Ironside and more as various allies and enemies of Superman.
While Superman is a naturally lighter character than Batman and there are light and fun episodes, the series is just as mature and serious as its predecessor Batman: The Animated Series. With its strong focus on character development and stories, Superman never dumbs things down for the audience or treats Superman with kid’s gloves as later episodes had people questioning Superman’s trustworthiness given his superpowers and the appearance of even more powerful villains, especially when it came to Ironside’s Darkseid. The episodes ‘Apokolops… Now!’ deals with Darkseid’s invasion of Earth and ends on a very tragic note as it features one of the rare on-screen deaths of a character in a children’s animated series. Then there are some fun episodes like ‘Mxyzpixilated’ and ‘Speed Demons’ while the three-parter ‘World’s Finest’, arguably the series’ crowning achievement, saw Batman and Superman have their first crossover as they battled The Joker and Lex Luthor while laying the groundwork for the rest of the DCAU. No matter which episode you watch, there is plenty for Superman fans to enjoy throughout the series.
The special features are:
Commentaries – Commentary on four episodes of Superman: The Animated Series with Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Alan Burnnett, Glen Murakami and more. The episodes they provide commentary for are ‘The Last Son of Krypton – Part 1’, ‘Stolen Memories’, ‘The Main Man – Part 2′ and Mxyzpixilated’, with the last of them being a video commentary of the episode.
Superman: Timeless Icon (32 min) – A new short documentary on Superman’s history and the inspiration for the series. We hear from many people behind the series such as Daly, Dini, Timm, Brown, legendary voice director Andrea Romano and more. It delves into the old Superman serials from the 50s and other early animation up to Superman: The Animated Series. It’s a pretty insightful piece and a lot of fun to hear from the creators and actors who worked on the series.
Menaces of Metropolis (13 min) – A look at the creation of the villains featured throughout the series with Timm, Burnett and others explaining why they chose the villains they used and gave them a bit more of a power up compared to their counterparts in the comics.
Building the Mythology: Superman’s Supporting Cast (10 min) – Superman’s got a significant supporting cast who work closely with him as both Superman and Clark Kent. The production team discuss how they brought Lois, Jimmy, Perry White and others to the series along with how they updated them for the modern era.
Superman: Learning to Fly (10 min) – The production team discuss the creation and development process to the series. They talk about their reasons for limiting Superman’s abilities as well as comparing the look and feel of it to Batman: The Animated Series. For those who love the series or are just discovering it, it’s a nice look at how this series came to be.
A Little Piece of Trivia (21 min) – The full episode ‘A Little Piece of Home’ with pop-up trivia of Superman’s history.
The Despot Darkseid (17 min) – A dive into Darkseid, one of the biggest enemies not just for Superman, but for the whole DC universe. This feature looks at Darkseid and how and why the production team chose to build Darkseid up as Superman‘s secondary, if not arguably main, antagonist as he schemed throughout various episodes before making his full appearance. It also looks at comic legend Jack Kirby and how he created Darkseid and the Fourth World he and his allies and enemies come from.
Without a doubt, Superman: The Animated Series is one of the best things to come out of the DCAU and a great piece of Superman’s mythology. The series is nearly definitive with its presentation of Superman and his world with the HD upgrade doing more than worthy justice to the work Dini, Timm, Burnett and their cohorts put into each and every episode. The wealth of special features are insightful into the development process as well as Superman’s comic book and pop culture history. For fans new and old, Superman: The Complete Animated Series is the way to view this amazing show.
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.