The world was changed in 1992, when Batman: The Animated Series hit the air.  That may sound like an exaggeration, but I assure you that it is not.  Not content to be a cartoon for children– which, ostensibly, it was– Batman: The Animated Series helped completely change the conversation in Western animation about how the medium is used to tell mature stories that were accessible for viewers of all ages.  When it proved to be a massive success, that inevitably led to merchandising, movies, comics, and other television shows, with the humble Batman cartoon spawning no less than eight spin-off series.

The first of those was Superman: The Animated Series, which premiered in 1996 and sought to do what Batman did before.  Namely: become what is widely considered to be the definitive take on the character, his supporting cast, and overall world.

Although Superman is a very good series, it never quite reached the same level as Batman, but you can’t say it didn’t try.  As I said, it’s an excellent series, and having just been released on Blu-Ray, it is stunning, even watching it two-and-a-half decades later.  With this iconic series once more widely available for purchase on physical media, and in celebration of its 25th anniversary, I’ve watched every single episode to see just how well the series holds up.  In viewing the entire series again, some of the episodes were just as great– if not better– than remembered, others were a pleasant surprise, and still others were a disappointment.  One thing that I’ll say, though, is that this series is consistent.  Yeah, Batman is the better show overall, but it had a few lows among its incredibly high highs.  Superman, on the other hand, really only has one episode I’d consider bad, and the rest range from average to stellar.

While the series ran for 54 episodes, I combined the multi-part episodes as single entries, bringing the grand total to 45. So, dear reader, here is a list of every single Superman episode, ranked from least to greatest, all for your reading pleasure.

#45

Unity

Directed by Shin-Ichi Tsuji

Written by Paul Dini and Rich Fogel

This episode almost– almost– succeeds as a tribute to B-movie shlock, but ultimately falls short.  Despite a promising introduction and some game vocal performances, this story of a parasitic alien cult that enslaves the citizens of Smallville just doesn’t work.  It doesn’t help that it came so late in the series’ run and was surrounded by other, much better episodes, resulting in this episode being all but forgotten.  “Unity” is the series’ one true misfire, though you almost have to see it just to believe it.

Again: almost.

#44

Target

Directed by Curt Geda

Written by Hilary J. Bader

Considering the inimitable mark Dana Delaney left on her portrayal as Lois Lane, it’s kind of shocking that she didn’t get a spotlight episode until well into the second season.  To Delaney’s credit, that just goes to show how she made such a huge impact on Lois’ characterization, even when she wasn’t at the forefront.

It’s just a shame that this episode wasn’t better, because Delaney is great.  “Target” itself is fine, and has some interesting ideas: Lois wins an award for her journalistic skills, and becomes the target of an anonymous, vengeful assailant.  There are some red herrings thrown around, and some nice scenes that showcase just how great of an investigative reporter Lois truly is, but the whole affair boils down to a jealous, petty man who feels spurned by Lois’ lack of interest.  At this point in time, that’s a beyond dated trope, and as a kid this episode didn’t hold my interest much, making it a perfect example of a missed opportunity.

#43

My Girl

Directed by Yûichirô Yano

Written by Hilary Bader

Try as I might, I just can’t love this episode.  I’m not really sure what it is, because an episode devoted to Clark’s friendship with Lana Lang should be a blast.  Instead it’s just… okay.

Joely Fisher provides plenty of spunk and attitude as Lana, and she gets some good lines here and there.  Having her in a relationship with Lex and, by extension, in an unintentional love triangle has some interesting potential, especially when she relays some illicit information about Luthor’s dealings to Superman.  That it’s all related to an arms deal just kind of falls flat, and the main conflict feels uninspired.  There’s a cool rescue scene toward the end where Superman has to trudge through some liquid metal, though, and the final scene is nice and sweet.  I just wish there was more to the episode than what we got.

#42

Obsession

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Andre Donkin, Ron Fogelman, and Paul Dini

What an odd episode.  When I saw the name “Paul Dini,” I thought for sure I would love this, because I barely remembered anything about this one when going in.  I’m really not sure what I think of it, though, because it’s just… so bizarre.

Metropolis is enraptured by the hottest new model on the scene, one Darci Mason.  To anyone who sees her walking down the runway, she’s perfect.

Too perfect.  And Winslow Schott, the Toyman, has his eyes set on her.

The idea of a “packaged beauty” making headlines is a little on the nose, and while there’s some interesting body horror type imagery once Darci’s secret is revealed, I feel like there’s just too much here that’s derivative of other episodes.  In particular, I was reminded a lot of The New Batman Adventures episodes “Mean Seasons” and “Chemistry,” and similar themes are explored in this series’ own episodes featuring Metallo.  Despite that, I appreciated how strange Bud Cort’s performance as Toyman was, though he wasn’t quite as disturbing as in “Fun and Games,” his first appearance.  The delightfully ironic ending practically saves the episode too, though this is still one of the weakest installments of the series as a whole.

#41

“In Brightest Day…”

Directed by Butch Lukic

Written by Hilary J. Bader

My man Kyle Rayner finally gets his due.

Too bad this is just kind of… there.  It’s cool seeing Green Lantern, Sinestro, the Guardians, and other aspects of that mythology, to be sure.  Kyle also has some fun hero moments as he gets more comfortable with the power ring, and Ted Levine’s snarling performance as Sinestro rocks. Mashing together Kyle’s personality with Hal Jordan’s origin feels weird, though, and tying it in with Superman even more so.  It’s treated almost like an obligation, as if the creators felt they needed to have an episode with Green Lantern even though they didn’t have a story.  I get the intentions, but the episode is less than the sum of its parts, and there are better appearances by other DC heroes throughout the series.

#40

The Hand of Fate

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Hilary J. Bader and Stan Berkowitz

This is a very okay episode with a cool guest star that unfortunately gets lost among the stronger episodes that surround it, when you watch the series in order.  Doctor Fate is always cool, and I enjoy seeing him on the show, as it opens up the animated world to the magical aspects of the DC Universe.  Despite the villainous monster Karkull having a weird, Lovecraftian design, there really isn’t much to this episode that’s particularly memorable.  Even Superman– who is out of his element with magic– seems more nonplussed by the magical threat than anything, though his inspiration leading to Fate’s intervention at the end is a nice Superman moment.  It’s okay, but nothing amazing.

#39

Blasts from the Past

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Robert Goodman

Superman fighting evil Kryptonians is never my cup of tea, as it’s a trope I find to be overused and uninspired.  It can still be done well to tell an engaging story, of course, but if I had my way this storytelling well would be sealed for a long, long time.

“Blasts from the Past” is an example of this story being told… pretty well.  This is due in large part to the grand performances of Ron Perlman and especially Leslie Easterbrook, as the Kryptonian warriors Jax-Ur and Mala, respectively.  The two-parter brings the Phantom Zone back into play after being introduced a few episodes earlier, setting the stage for the duo to break free and wreak havoc on Earth.  The story is at its most interesting early on, when Mala seems to have reformed and makes attempts to follow Superman’s example.  It’s in the second half when Jax-Ur is freed from the Phantom Zone that things start getting a little more formulaic, though Professor Hamilton’s attempts to build a new Phantom Zone projector are kind of interesting.

Perlman and Easterbrook are having a great time as the evil “power couple,” and it’s kind of fun seeing Superman when he’s able to let loose a little more than with his other villains (and his “parole revoked” action movie one-liner is delightful).  It’s a fine set of episodes, and adequately engaging, but not the best the series has to offer.

#38

A Little Piece of Home

Directed by Toshihiko Masuda

Written by Hilary J. Bader

This is an episode that’s more noteworthy for its content than its execution.  As the introduction to Kryptonite, it’s certainly a landmark entry that shouldn’t be missed, but as an overall story it’s a bit lacking.

I mean, no Superman series would be complete without that little green rock, which– along with magic– is the only physical weakness the Man of Tomorrow has.  As an introduction to the element, “A Little Piece of Home” works just fine: we have the strange new rock, Superman’s uncertainty as to why he’s suddenly becoming vulnerable, and both the hero and his adversaries trying to exploit that knowledge for their own gain.  In execution, the great Hilary Bader’s script is a little scattershot, as this feels more like several linked setpieces rather than a straight, consistent narrative.

There’s lots of good to be had, though.  The jazzy score during the chase through the Metropolis skyline is a great counterpoint to the almost slapstick nature of some of its visuals, and the fight between Superman and a robotic dinosaur kind of rules.  This episode also serves as the first appearances of both Lex Luthor’s assistant Mercy Graves and Professor Emil Hamilton, who will each have greater roles as the series progresses.

All in all, this is an episode you feel like you should love, but just end up kind of liking in spite of its flaws.

#37

Fun and Games

Directed by Kazuhide Tomonaga

Written by Robert N. Skir and Marty Isenberg

What do you do after you’ve established the look and tone of the series with its excellent three-part pilot?  Which one of Superman’s foes would pose enough of a threat to keep the energy high and provide a formidable threat?

How about… Toy Man?

An interesting choice, to say the least.  While this might seem like an unorthodox choice as the first “regular” episode after the series’ premiere, it has quite a few things going for it.  It introduced Bruno Mannheim and Intergang, giving us just a taste of all the Jack Kirby goodness that will be served up over the course of the series.

This take on Toyman is pretty interesting too, reimagined as “super creepy living doll” from “unpleasant average sized dude.”  The disturbing character design and eerie, whimsical score make this episode pretty unsettling, considering it’s a Saturday morning cartoon.  Given the limitations in place for a show of its type, it can’t go far enough with its content and themes to be more than just a surface level of weirdness, but I give the creators credit for trying.

#36

Two’s a Crowd

Directed by Hiroyuki Aoyama

Written by Stan Berkowitz

After all these years, the one thing that really stuck with me about this episode was Parasite’s demand in return for helping Superman: cable television.  Not a commuted sentence.  Not more amenable living conditions.  Sweet, sweet TV.

The story isn’t bad: terrorist Earl Garver plants a bomb somewhere in Metropolis, but is knocked out before he can reveal its location.  As the bomb will go off in mere hours, but Garver isn’t expected to recover for a few days, Professor Hamilton, Maggie Sawyer, and Superman enlist Rudy “Parasite” Jones’ help to find the bomb.  When Rudy absorbs some of Garver’s memories, Parasite is overtaken by the madman’s stronger personality, resulting in two dangerous men inhabiting the same body.  That adds another wrinkle to the “ticking clock” threat of the bomb, upping the stakes a bit.

The legendary Brian Cox is delightfully slimy and evil as Garver, and the episode does a nice job of escalating Parasite’s abilities after his first appearance in “Feeding Time.”  What holds the episode back a bit is that the internal struggle between Jones and Garver isn’t explored to its full potential, and there’s just something silly about Superman wearing a diving suit with his S-shield on the chest.  I love camp and goofiness as much as the next person, and still kind of love that, but it felt a bit out of place in an otherwise fairly tense episode.

#35

Solar Power

Directed by Kazuhide Tomonaga

Written by Robert Goodman

Lois Lane’s nemesis and would-be admirer Edward Lytener is back on the scene in an episode that kind of surprised me.  In reading the description (Lytener escapes prison and uses “solar technology” to become the new villain Luminus), I remembered this being a very average episode that was in regular rotation when I was a kid, so my expectations weren’t high going in.  While it is slow going to start, it actually becomes pretty interesting the more it goes along.

Lytener’s revenge scheme is pretty boilerplate, standard supervillain kind of stuff, and his costume is incredibly similar to that of Metron of the Fourth World, but there’s a lot of really cool visual tricks and playing around with light throughout the episode.  A series of satellites filters the sun’s light to emit radiation like a red star, which significantly dampens Superman’s powers, and Luminus uses holographic doubles and vanishing tactics to stay ahead of the Man of Steel.  I particularly loved Lytener’s invisible base (discovered by Jimmy Olsen and Lois, the latter of whom makes an excellent point about locking unseen doors), and the hard-light illusions cast within allow for some pretty fun set pieces.  It’s better than I remembered, which is always a plus.