Ricky Church on the best episodes of Superman: The Animated Series…
This year marks two really big events for Superman: The Animated Series. First, the cartoon celebrated its 25th anniversary last month (check out our retrospective piece on why the series is great) and second, it has finally been released on Blu-ray [read our review here]. Spanning 54 episodes the show is notable for following in the footsteps of Batman: The Animated Series with a focus on strong writing, characterization, adherence to the source material and many mature stories.
To celebrate Superman: The Animated Series‘ arrival on Blu-ray, here are the top 10 best episodes of the series to check out in all their high-definition glory.
Just as Harley Quinn was created for Batman: The Animated Series, so too was the villain Livewire made for Superman. Leslie Willis was a radio shock jock who had a dissenting opinion on Superman and is turned into Livewire after suffering an accident during a rain and lightning storm. Able to control electricity, Livewire tries to get revenge of Superman who she blames for the accident while reveling in her newfound powers.
Superman is so often thought of as beloved by everyone in Metropolis, but ‘Livewire’ is interesting because it shows that, aside from Lex Luthor of course, there are people who don’t think too highly of him. Though Leslie admits part of her Superman-bashing is to gain attention as a shock jock, she doesn’t like how Superman was seemingly handed everything with his powers and is never asked tough questions by the media. Livewire was an interesting addition to Superman’s Rogues Gallery and, while she has not been as popular as Harley Quinn, she has made her way into the main DC continuity as well as live-action appearances in both Smallville and more prominently in Supergirl.
9. Brave New Metropolis
Before Batman v Superman, before Injustice and before the Justice Lords of the Justice League animated series, there was another evil Superman in the episode ‘Brave New Metropolis’. In this story, Lois Lane was trapped in an alternate universe where she died, sending Superman down a dark path as he teamed up with Lex Luthor and made Metropolis an authoritarian police state. As Lois tries to find a way home, she has to convince this new Superman of the error of his ways and save Metropolis from him and Luthor.
‘Brave New Metropolis’ is an interesting look at Metropolis had things gone differently. It is also intriguing that unlike the examples above, this Superman is still relatively good even if he’s harsher with his brand of justice. Luthor keeps secret from Superman his underground prisons and separation of families because he knows Superman wouldn’t like it, a fact proven once Lois shows him the prisons and marks the turning point for Superman coming back to the light. This episode is also notable for Lois discovering Superman’s feelings for her, something she secretly reciprocates. It marks a slight change in their relationship going forward as their romantic feelings become more pronounced throughout the series.
8. Speed Demons
Before the heroes of the DCAU united in Justice League, Superman: The Animated Series featured several team-ups between Superman and various heroes. One of those team-ups attempted to answer the age-old question of who the fastest man alive really was: Superman or The Flash.
‘Speed Demons’ was the first time another DC hero appeared on the show as Superman and Flash agreed to a charity race around the world to determine the answer. When Flash villain Weather Wizard starts threatening the world, the two have to put aside their race and differences to stop him. The chemistry between Superman and Flash is pretty funny as Superman has little to no patience for Flash’s sarcastic wit and sometimes arrogant attitude compared to Superman’s serious demeanor, but by the episode’s end Superman sees Flash for who he truly is. As the first step toward the greater DCAU, ‘Speed Demons’ is a fun, well written and significant episode.
7. Stolen Memories
While ‘The Last Son of Krypton’ pilot established a new origin for Brainiac as a Kryptonian creation, ‘Stolen Memories’ is where we get our first real look at how Brainiac would be presented in Superman. After Brainiac intercepts a message from Lex Luthor and the two make a deal for technology in exchange for knowledge about Earth and a meeting with Superman, the Man of Steel not only discovers Brainiac’s Kryptonian origins but his role in their planet’s destruction and how he now takes a planet’s knowledge and technology before destroying it, moving onto a new planet to do the same.
The new personal connection ‘Stolen Memories’ establishes between Superman and Brainiac is quite compelling, almost turning them into mirror opposites of each other. Superman was saved out of love and meant to represent the best of Krypton while Brainiac saved himself from the arrogant belief he alone was important and a symbol of the Kryptonian council’s hubris. The cold way Brainiac presents his skewed logic for destroying planets and taking their information makes him a very powerful and evil threat to Superman, one that would pester him throughout the series and beyond as he later battled the Justice League.
6. The Late Mr. Kent
One aspect to Superman: The Animated Series it did really well was exploring Clark Kent’s job as a reporter. It never forgot Clark was a smart, insightful and successful investigative reporter in favour of more Superman action and one episode in particular put Clark’s role as a reporter at the forefront. ‘The Late Mr. Kent’ sees Clark Kent investigating a death row convict’s claims of innocence and once he discovers evidence to clear the man’s name, Clark is apparently murdered through a car bomb and it’s up to Superman and Lois Lane to uncover the real killer while Superman has to figure out if his life as Clark Kent is truly over.
‘The Late Mr. Kent’ is a different type of episode than others in Superman as it’s framed almost like a film noir detective story with Superman narrating a good portion of the events. It’s an intriguing mystery as he and Lois try uncovering who killed Clark and how it connects to his story. Lois also reveals to Superman how broken she is over Clark’s potential death as she admits she always respected him and considered him a good friend. It’s not only a good team up between Superman and Lois, but a very nice and welcome step in Clark and Lois’ friendship.
5. The Last Son of Krypton
This is one of the only exceptions on this list to multi-part stories from the series, but it is an exceptional one for introducing Superman to a new generation of young fans. ‘The Last Son of Krypton’ three-parter is a great re-telling of Superman’s origin and eases both new viewers and well-familiar fans into the world of Superman: The Animated Series.
One notable aspect to ‘Last Son’ is how the entirety of the first part takes place on Krypton, following Jor-El as he tries desperately to convince Krypton’s council of the planet’s impending doom only for Brainiac to cover up the facts in order to save himself. With no recourse left, Jor-El and Lara launch little baby Kal-El out to space where he lands on Earth and grows up as Clark Kent. The episodes follow the typical origin pretty well while updating it for a modern audience, making Clark Kent more confident rather than the clumsy persona he puts on, enough so to impress Lois Lane with his keen eye for investigative journalism. It also perfectly establishes the rivalry Superman and Lex Luthor are to have with an iconic confrontation between the two. Anyone wondering where a good place to introduce their children or friends to Superman is, you can start right here.
4. Legacy Part II
If the series finale of Superman could be described in one word, it would be ‘epic’. The second part of the two-part finale is one of the series’ best as it picks up after a brainwashed Superman invaded Earth with Apokolips forces only to be cured of the brainwashing just as he’s captured by Lex Luthor and the military. Now in captivity, Superman has to convince people he wasn’t responsible for his actions and heads to Apokolips to confront Darkseid in a one-on-one climactic battle between the two enemies.
‘Legacy Part 2′ brings together so many elements the series weaved, from Lex Luthor’s plotting, Supergirl’s arrival on Earth, Darkseid’s chess master scheming and Superman and Lois’ romantic interests. It is quite a satisfying moment when Superman, powerless due to Lex’s red sun lamps, actually punches Lex right in the face. The climactic battle between Superman and Darkseid is quite good and ends on a unexpected note that while is a physical victory for Superman, it is a philosophical loss for him. The fact the series ends on a rather somber note as the world’s trust in Superman is temporarily broken and he wonders how he’ll ever earn it back, to which Lois tells him one person at a time, is a very bold move that reflects how much Superman: The Animated Series pushed its boundaries in mature and character driven stories.
Superman has no shortage of enemies who want to kill him, but there is one foe in particular who wants to defeat Superman out of a warped enjoyment of annoying him. That person is Mxyzptlk, a fifth-dimensional imp with the power to reshape reality as he sees fit. He comes to Earth every 90 days to challenge Superman to some twisted game and the only way he can be sent back to the 5th dimension is if Superman gets him to say or spell his name backwards. Oh, and Mxyzptlk is voiced by none other than Gilbert Gottfried.
As much as Superman is annoyed by Mxyzptlk, the magical imp is equally annoyed by Superman because no matter how many times he comes to Earth, Superman always manages to trick him into revealing his name backwards, often very quickly and due to Mxy’s own hubris. This episode is a hilarious one as Mxy’s plans just get bigger and bigger and, in true Gottfried form, he just goes nuts when Superman wins. One of the best moments is when Mxyzptlk, in a full-body and dangerous mech suit, departs the 5th dimension to challenge Superman. Once he leaves his girlfriend Gsptlsnz, completely indifferent to Mxy’s shenanigans, counts down from five when he suddenly reappears completely angered by however Superman defeated him in a matter of seconds. It is an absolutely hilarious episode and no one else but Gottfried could pull of Mxyzptlk.
2. Apokolips… Now! Part 2
Though the ‘Legacy’ series finale has the most intense battle for Superman against Darkseid, it is Darkseid’s initial invasion of Earth that stands out more. Prior to the ‘Apokolips… Now!’ two-parter, Darkseid had made a couple appearances as a shadowy figure ruling from his throne on Apokolips. Though it was understood very quickly he was a powerful villain, the depths of his cunning and evil were not fully grasped until part two of ‘Apokolips… Now!’, especially in the episode’s closing minutes.
Darkseid’s forces invaded Earth after one of his human underlings paved the way for their arrival in the first part of the two-parter. It became apparent Superman and his allies were nearly outmatched even as Superman fought them and Lieutenant Dan Turpin led Metropolis’ police force on the ground. While Superman and Darkseid met very briefly in a prior episodes, this was the first time they actually interacted as Darkseid made Superman an offer to join his army, declaring “If you will not be my knight you will be my pawn.” Superman obviously declined and was punished severely for it, being paraded through Metropolis’ streets as a trophy while Darkseid announced to the world he would rule over them. Turpin, however, stubbornly resisted and rescued Superman and were it not for the intervention of Darkseid’s biological son Orion and New Genesis, the powerful enemies of Apokolips, Darkseid might have won. He was forced to retreat and ‘claimed’ he would not attack Earth again… but not before leaving Superman with a parting lesson of vaporizing Turpin to dust for his defiance.
The death of Turpin, who was a fairly significant supporting character, is the most shocking moment of Superman. It happens so suddenly viewers barely have time to react before Turpin’s body has disappeared. It is one of the rare few times an actual death has been shown in an animated children’s series. Darkseid killed Turpin for no other reason than spite and his smug smirk as he departs says it all. This is also the only time Superman loses his cool, screaming his lungs out and violently punching debris hard enough to make the city shake. The funeral scene is especially poignant as many Metropolis citizens and other Jack Kirby creations like the Fantastic Four and Nick Fury attended. It is a powerful moment when Superman closes out the episode by solemnly telling Turpin’s grave “In the end, the world didn’t need a ‘super man’. Only a brave one.”
1. World’s Finest
The other exception to the multi-part arc is the three-parter ‘World’s Finest’ which saw Superman in a crossover with The New Batman Adventures as the Dark Knight and Man of Steel finally crossed paths. For as great and epic as ‘Apokolips… Now!’ or ‘Legacy’ is, nothing quite beats the first team-up between Batman and Superman as they take on the combined threat of The Joker and Lex Luthor, overcoming their differences to find value in their partnership. For children of the 90s, this was arguably their Avengers moment.
It all starts when The Joker discovers a large piece of Kryptonite and, sensing an opportunity for cash, offers Lex Luthor a deal: he’ll kill Superman in exchange for $1 billion. Batman, who happens to be in Metropolis as Bruce Wayne for a business with Luthor, tries tracking down Joker and comes into contact with Superman. The two don’t see eye to eye at all with Superman thinking Batman is a crazy vigilante and Batman thinking Superman is too much of a boy scout. Adding to the drama is a blossoming romance between Bruce Wayne and Lois Lane and The Joker’s increasingly deadly plans that even Luthor is upset at.
‘World’s Finest’ is the crowning achievement of Superman: The Animated Series as it brings the two heroes together for the modern audience. Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy give fantastic performances as Superman and Batman, finding the nuances in each character’s personalities to hit just the right buttons against the other while Mark Hamill and Clancy Brown are hilarious polar opposites of each other as Joker and Lex. ‘World’s Finest’ was such a big moment it was later released as The Batman/Superman Movie with all three episodes strung together. It is also significant as the first step toward the greater DC Animated Universe, leading all the way up to Justice League Unlimited. It cannot be overstated how excellent and important ‘World’s Finest’ is as the best story in Superman: The Animated Series.
What are your favourite Superman: The Animated Series episodes? Let us know on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Ricky Church – Follow me on Twitter for more movie news and nerd talk.