#34

Livewire

Directed by Curt Geda

Written by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer

Ahh, the Nineties.  The hey day of the radio shock jock.  Not exactly the kind of threat you’d think Superman would take on, but here we are.

I’m all seriousness, while the episode is quite dated, it still stands up as a decent entertainment.  Lori Petty’s performance as the titular radio host turned villain is loud, but strong, and the scene where Superman rescues a crane operator while she derides him on the air is genuinely thrilling.  It’s some of the best animation in the series up to this point.

Livewire has a cool look and great power set, though her plan to hold the city hostage is rather uninspired.  Still, there have been worse original villains created for a TV show, and it’s great seeing how far Superman would go to help and protect someone who does nothing but criticize him.

#33

New Kids in Town

Directed by Butch Lukic

Written by Stan Berkowitz and Rich Fogel

The Legion of Super-Heroes are one of those comic institutions that I’ve just never been able to get into. While the idea is great– a group of teens in the future band together and use their unique powers to protect Earth– and I quite enjoyed their animated series, the comics just haven’t ever hooked me.

That really doesn’t change with this episode, which is nice but relatively uneventful.  Tying the Legion back to Superman’s early days is a nice nod to the Silver Age, and I enjoy the recursive inspiration from Superman to the Legion and back again.  It’s something different for the series, having a Superman episode where Superman (technically) doesn’t ever appear, and I applaud it for that, it’s just not my favorite installment by any means.

#32

The Demon Reborn

Directed by Dan Riba

Written by Rich Fogel

So, this may be an unpopular opinion, but here it is: “The Demon Reborn” is only just fine.

And… honestly kind of boring.

I know, I know.  It should not be.  It’s the third team up with Batman!  Ra’s al Ghul is there!  This should be gold!

The problem is it’s a story we’ve seen a thousand times before: Ra’s is dying (yet again), the Lazarus Pits aren’t working (yet again), so he needs an alternative method of longevity (you get the idea).  Sure, it’s a familiar story that’s done well, with great vocal performances and some stunning animation, but it doesn’t really do anything compelling with its ideas.  Considering the quality of the other Batman team up episodes, this is a let-down, though it’s still entirely watchable.

Just try to not let your mind wander too much.

#31

Brave New Metropolis

Directed by Curt Geda

Written by Stan Berkowitz and Alan Burnett

If you know me at all, you know I’ve had my fill of evil/tyrant Superman stories to last a thousand lifetimes.  “Brave New Metropolis” is one of the better takes on that tired trope, and not the last time that the series will visit that well, but it’s still not one of the better episodes of the animated series.

When Lois Lane is accidentally sent to a parallel universe, she finds out that Metropolis has been remade as an authoritarian dystopia thanks to two men: Lex Luthor… and Superman.  Where “our” Lois survived a bombing while investigating Intergang, this universe’s Lois didn’t, which sent Superman spiraling.  Credit to Berkowitz and Burnett who aim for some sort of sympathy with the alternate dimension Superman: rather than going crazy and becoming a murderous despot, the loss of his world’s Lois Lane sends him down a path that’s honestly closer to Batman’s war on crime than you might expect.  He needed someone with the resources to enforce a rule of law that would prevent such tragedy from befalling anyone again, and in turn became a tyrant rather than a protector.

Luthor’s involvement is tied up too easily, maybe even lazily, though I do like that Superman wants to seek redemption and make amends with the people of Metropolis.  Personally, given its subject matter and advancement of Lois and Superman’s relationship, this episode feels more like a noteworthy story rather than a great one.

#30

Prototype

Directed by Curt Geda

Written by Hilary J. Bader

It’s a tale as old as time: perfect soldier gets a dope supersuit, said supersuit makes him go insane, and the title character has to stop him from making things worse.  You know the old chestnut.

There’s some cool stuff in this episode, because who doesn’t like a sweet mechanical suit that can fly and shoot lasers and helps you rescue kittens?  The coolest thing, though, is the introduction of John Henry Irons, who will later become Steel.  And Steel is the coolest.

As entertaining as the episode is, it’s pretty standard stuff, and you can tell what’s going to happen the second Luthor introduces the prototype suit.  Still, predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as the story is well told, and while this isn’t top tier Superman, it’s still pretty good.

#29

Feeding Time

Directed by Curt Geda

Written by Robert Goodman

If you want a slick, lean, villain-centric episode, you could do much worse than “Feeding Time.”  Paced almost like a horror movie, we see the pitiful Rudy Jones go from down-on-his-luck janitor to real superhuman threat.  The scene where he gets doused with experimental chemicals is genuinely terrifying, and it’s “shot” with some truly creepy camera angles.

Like “A Little Piece of Home,” there’s quite a bit of trial and error on the sides of both heroes and villains, but I think it works better here because Rudy is figuring out his powers at the same time as Superman.  That allows us to see how he reacts to his abilities and their limitations, and adjust his approach from there.  So as much as he is a physical threat to Superman, there’s lots of troubleshooting and brainstorming from Rudy. That’s pretty refreshing, as this could have easily been a mindless brawler of an episode.  What’s more, the ending is pretty chilling, and would have served well as a conclusion to his story had the creators decided to never bring Parasite back again.

Extra credit for an early example of Jimmy Olsen being Superman’s Pal, too.  We always need more Jimmy.

#28

The Way of All Flesh

Directed by Kenji Hachizaki

Written by Stan Berkowitz

A lot of the early episodes of the series had plots that contained parallels with a lot of old horror films, and “The Way of All Flesh” is one of the best of that batch.  It’s a tragedy about a man who is driven by nothing but hate, and when he gets what he thinks he wants, he realizes too late what he had to sacrifice for revenge.

Pretty heavy stuff for a children’s cartoon, but it’s pulled off incredibly well.  There’s back-stabbing and a conspiracy against John Corben, who’s been in prison since the end of “The Last Son of Krypton.”  While the writing is strong and there are some splendid action scenes, it’s the always reliable Malcolm McDowell’s performance that really sells it.  You can feel his pain, rage, and disappointment, all leading up to the episode’s final, haunting image.

#27

The Prometheon

Directed by Nobuo Tomizawa

Written by Alan Burnett and Stan Berkowitz

Here’s an episode I wasn’t a fan of as a kid, most likely due to overexposure.  It felt like any time I turned on Superman or The New Batman/Superman Adventures, there was a pretty good chance that this episode would be on.  Even if it wasn’t on that often, I know I’ve seen this one a lot.

And it’s definitely one of those episodes I appreciate more as an adult.  The idea of a nameless, simple-minded prisoner from the stars crash landing on Earth is interesting, especially when it’s a gigantic rock monster like the titular creature.  Contrasting Superman’s desire to cause no intentional harm to any living creature with the late Charles Napier’s General Hardcastle having a singular drive to destroy the monster at any cost is a great example of Superman’s image goodness and compassion.  Plus, I just think that the solution to subdue the creature is pretty ingenious, and results in one of the series’ most striking final images.

#26

Double Dose

Directed by Yuchiro Yano

Written by Hilary J. Bader

Now that her origin is out of the way and her powers are established, Livewire is allowed to have a little more fun on her second go around.  “Double Dose” provides us with an odd couple team up between the electrified villain and Parasite, though the latter seems perfectly content to laugh at daytime television in his prison cell.

All in all it’s a fun episode, if light on substance.  Seeing Superman outfitted in clear rubber to fight stave off Livewire’s powers is as clever as it is silly, and I genuinely love the doofus janitor whose poor decisions set the plot in motion.  The villainous duo also have a weird conflicting chemistry, even if they aren’t given enough to do to really play off each other.  Still, I’m all for mixing and matching bad guys to create some interesting dynamics, and there are worse examples than this episode.

#25

Warrior Queen

Directed by Curt Geda

Written by Hilary J. Bader

Here’s another episode that was better than I remembered, and one that’s bolstered by a great vocal performance.  This was another one of those episodes I wasn’t too keen on as a kid, and was kind of dreading watching it, but I had a great time.

That’s thanks largely to Sharon Lawrence as the Lady Maxima, daughter of the Royal House, Ruler of all Almerac… and Superman’s betrothed.  Lawrence goes all in with the role, making what could have been a truly unlikable character into a genuinely funny foil.  Her early attempts to force Superman into marriage are pretty shallow, but once the pair end up back on Almerac and become victims of a coup, Maxima is seen in a much more sympathetic light.

The late Miguel Ferrer voices his second of three characters in the series, as he portrays the sleazy mutineer De’Cine, which adds a sense of gravity to the otherwise lighthearted premise.  The episode is also capped off with a final gag that I’d totally forgotten, so I laughed out all the more when it happened.  Yes, this is maybe two shades away from being a sitcom plot, but I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed it.