Friday, June 26, 2020

Superhero Media: Superman the Animated Series

Out of the main Bruce Timm DC animated programmes (Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited), Superman the Animated Series [STAS] tends to be considered the weakest of the set. I can't fairly disagree with that sentiment, but to think that such a rating makes STAS "bad" in any form is doing it a disservice. Produced by much the same team as BTAS, STAS begins with a three-part origin of Superman, featuring Krypton, Smallville, Lois and Lex, all presented in a very Silver Age, Fleischer-inspired style which really works for the character. From there, the DCAU formula of mostly stand-alone episodes with a few multi-parters follows, with classic villains like Parasite and Metallo and new foes like Livewire. Whilst STAS never reaches the heady heights for BTAS, I'd have to say that the overall quality is better, as the team has had more practice putting the programme together. 

The brilliance of STAS is in just how compelling characters as silly as Toyman and Mr Mxyzptlk are made, and without turning either into a serial killer (more on that in a future review). A great guest cast helps, with Malcolm McDowell as Metallo, Lori Petty as Livewire and Gilbert Gottfried as Mr Mxyzptlk, but the writing is sharp and more compelling than most reviews seem to give it credit for. The crossover three-part episode with Batman, "World's Finest" was good enough to be repackaged and sold on DVD as The Batman/Superman Movie; Bruce and Clark have to put aside their differences to defeat a team-up of Luthor and the Joker, made more complex by Lois' new romance with Bruce Wayne. By the end of the crossover, Bruce and Clark agree to work together when they need to do so in future and we've enjoyed the antics of Harley and Mercy Graves constantly infighting. The episodes really demonstrate the scope for a Batman/Superman crossover that really puts Dawn of Justice to shame. 

Much like BTAS, STAS is filled with episodes, enemies and concepts that really could translate well to a film, if only someone at Warner Bros would take a look. Bizarro as a failed Luthor clone of Superman? Great idea. Introducing Aquaman with Superman having to broker peace with the surface world? Brilliant. Batman goes missing and Superman has to don the Cowl to uncover what happened to the Masked Manhunter? Freaking amazing! Seriously, how is that not a film? Hell, I'd love to see Gottfried in a purple suit and derby menacing whoever is going to play Superman next, just go nuts with it. STAS is a decent watch if you can commit to all 106 episodes, the retro-futuristic look of Metropolis, increased depth of some characters and genuine affection for the history of the character are perfect examples of everything wrong with most current interpretations of the character. 

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