The Last Son of Krypton
Directed by Dan Riba, Curt Geda, Scott Jeralds, and Bruce Timm
Written by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini
What a way to kick off the series.
Each of the three episodes work well on their own, but together, “The Last Son of Krypton” is as good a Superman movie as you’re sure to find. You get the last days of Krypton– which may very well be some of the best Krypton-focused content ever– Clark’s days in Smallville, and the arrival of Superman in Metropolis, all in a tight 60ish minutes.
From the get-go, the production values are strong, be it the unparalleled voice acting (to this day, Dana Delaney and Clancy Brown alone are the gold standard when it comes to Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, respectively) to the remastered animation that looks positively gorgeous. Props go to Dini, Burnett, Geda, Timm, Riba, and Jeralds for pulling the best aspects of Superman and making some interesting tweaks, be they major (Brainiac being part of Krypton’s destruction) or minor (Clark inheriting his spit-curl from Lara; Lois having purple eyes). Taking a cue from Batman: The Animated Series, this three-parter even sets up some future rivalries and enemies, while still telling a story that stands on its own.
From Jor-El’s frantic pleas and initiative to save Krypton, to the act of Superman rescuing a passenger plane that bridges the second and third chapters, the action moves along at a brisk pace, but it’s the heart of the show that beats strongest. As exciting as the action is, it’s smaller moments like Clark lamenting his newfound fame to his parents and Lois’ first interview with Superman remind us that the Last Son is as human as the rest of us.
Bonus: the show only went two-and-a-half episodes before introducing us to Bibbo Bibbowski, which is nothing but a gift.
Directed by Kazumi Fukushima
Written by Robert Goodman
Oh, sweet, poor, beautiful, hapless Jimmy Olsen. You are too good for this world, and truly the most deserving of the sobriquet “Superman’s Pal.”
And your namesake episode is just as beautiful as you, dear Jimberly, full of heart and humor, along with some exciting set pieces to boot. You run afoul of some of the citizens of Metropolis, but what is a man to do when he suddenly finds himself thrust into the spotlight? Sure, you fudged some facts and maybe sort of exaggerated your involvement in some stories just a little bit, but what does it matter? You just do what you can to be the best pal Superman could ask for, and maybe hopefully get the girl in the end.
It’s a shame that the girl is in cahoots with Metallo, and is only using you to get to Superman because Lois Lane isn’t as easy to trick. Such slander will not stand, James Olsen, Jr., even though you kind of dug your own hole there.
As Superman’s pal, though, you know he’ll always be there to get you out of the pit, both literally and metaphorically. Just… try to be a little more careful next time.
Directed by Curt Geda
Written by Joe R. Lansdale and Robert Goodman
Bizarro is one of the great tragic characters in Superman lore, and his first appearance in the series is full of heart and humor. That he’s an unsuccessful clone of Superman is no surprise, and even if you’re not familiar with Bizarro it doesn’t remain a mystery for long. What this episode lacks in dramatic tension it more than makes up for in pathos, as you can’t help but feel sorry for Bizarro, even when he becomes reckless and causes unnecessary damage. After all, he was created to believe he’s a superhero, so why should he not do heroic things?
There’s an undercurrent of horror to the episode, as the chilling scope of Lex Luthor’s sinister plan to clone the Man of Steel is quite disturbing. It’s Bizarro who provides the heart and soul of the story, though, whether he tries to prevent the destruction of a building, “fix” a bridge, or save Lois.
Just like a Superman would do.
Directed by Dan Riba
Written by Mark Evanier & Steve Gerber
While it’s been teased in earlier episodes, this is where we get our first true taste of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. Darkseid’s forsaken son Kalibak disobeys a direct order from his father and heads to Earth, so he can prove his worth and earn favor.
It goes about as well as you’d expect.
Oh, and the Kents are also in town, hoping to see the sights in Metropolis with Clark as their guide. Which sounds fun, until, you know. Kalibak.
Superman and Kalibak’s brawl is animated really well, stretching across, under, and above the city. It’s the contrast between Jonathan Kent and Darkseid that provides the episode with emotional weight, though. The former loves a son who isn’t biologically related to him, while the latter refuses to acknowledge his own blood as his progeny. You almost feel bad for Kalibak, who is manipulated into proving his worth to a father who barely gives him a second thought, only to be dismissed and disregarded by Darkseid’s cold contempt.
This episode also establishes Darkseid’s desire to corrupt Superman, not destroy him, which is a major theme as the series progresses. When Desaad asks how many casualties there will be before Superman is destroyed and Darkseid responds with “as many as it takes,” I dare you to not get a chill.
Directed by Curt Geda
Written by Robert Goodman
Batman is missing! OH NO!
But that’s okay, because the World’s Finest duo of Superman and Robin are on the case!
Look, this entire episode is nothing but fan service. And it rules so hard.
From beginning to end, this episode is just nonstop fun, and you can tell everyone had a blast making it. Superman apprehending Roxy Rocket (who unfortunately never got her due), the Man of Steel masquerading as the Dark Knight and just kind of learning as he goes along, and the parade of beloved Batman villains are all a treat. It’s all lacking in substance, because really, this was clearly a case of “if we can do it, why not?” But it’s shallow fan service done well, and we’re all the better for it.
The Main Man
Directed by Dan Riba
Written by Paul Dini
You can blame this for my love of Lobo.
As far as pure entertainment goes, you can’t get much better than the two-part “The Main Man.” Seeing Superman play the straight man against Lobo is absolutely hysterical, and the introduction of the Main Man is particularly noteworthy for what it meant for the series. This is very much a Superman show, of course, but more than that, it’s a DC Comics show. Like Jonah Hex or Zatanna making appearances in Batman: The Animated Series, the arrival of Lobo is just a hint of greater things to come down the line.
But really, at its core, this episode is just a blast. Lobo manages to be lewd, crude, and juvenile while still staying well inside the standards of censors, and Brad Garrett’s performance is so far beyond perfect that I really can’t hear anyone else in the role. Having Lobo get hired to bring Superman to an intergalactic collector of near-extinct beings, only to be captured himself is a pretty great plot twist, though the second episode does run out of steam a bit for a few stretches.
Still, aside from all its Loboness, this pair of episodes has great action, some endearingly weird alien designs, and a ridiculous guitar-centric score. It’s genuinely funny, and genuinely moving when it shows how much Superman cares for every living creature.
Directed by Toshihiku Masuda
Written by Rich Fogel
If Lobo opened up the show to the wider DC Universe, then “Speed Demons” teased the potential of an onscreen Justice League. In one of the series’ tightest episodes– and one that is just pure fun through and through– the Flash shows up to take part in a “fun run” race against Superman. Unbeknownst to the heroes, the armbands used to track their progress are being used by a scientist to power his weather controlling device, which his extortionist brother then utilizes to demand ransom.
Classic evil genius plan, and I’m here for it.
Seeing Superman interact with another high profile hero is just a taste of things to come, both on the show and in the series to follow. He and Flash play well off each other, with Flash easily going from cocksure attitude to true heroism when the situation calls for it. The late Miguel Ferrer is brilliant as the Weather Wizard as well, clearly savoring the B-movie villain dialogue that he so wonderfully delivers. It’s the first of many team ups Superman will have with other DC heroes, and it’s one of the very best.
Directed by Curt Geda
Written by Rich Fogel and Paul Dini
There are three lines in “Legacy” that really stick out to me. Two are delivered by the same character, and one serves as the final line of the entire series, wrapping up the themes of the episode and the show as a whole.
Before we get to the lines, though, the plot of the two part finale should be discussed. As mentioned before, I am beyond done with evil/corrupted/mind-controlled Superman stories.
Which is exactly what we get here, as Superman has fallen under Darkseid’s influence.
What makes it work, though, is that we’re dropped in the middle of the action, left to find out just how this happened and what’s going on along with Superman and his allies. We don’t see the events leading up to Superman’s fall, just the effects of him becoming Darkseid’s adopted lieutenant. To that end, it’s a mystery story as much as anything, with answers parceled out over the course of the two episodes.
It also works because it resolves threads that have been woven into the series from some of its earliest episodes, particularly with Darkseid’s drive and desire to corrupt Superman. For the lord of Apokolips knows that death would not be a suitable fate for the Man of Steel, as that would make the hero a martyr. No, Darkseid needs to break Superman, make humanity lose their faith in his goodness, and make Clark doubt it himself. That’s what makes the line “had I known one human’s death would pain you so, I would’ve killed more” so affecting: Superman is so good, and Darkseid so incapable of understanding compassion and empathy, that even one death would be enough to move the hero.
And then when Superman has finally thrown off the shackles of Darkseid’s influence and travels to Apokolips to put an end to his regime, he finds that even in defeat Darkseid retains influence. “I am many things, Kal-El. But here… I am god.” It’s a war of ideals, one that cannot be won with a fist fight. Even when Superman presents the oppressed people of Apokolips with freedom, they are so used to life under the boot of a tyrant that they don’t know how to escape.
And then there’s Lois’ line. One that shows how views and perception can change: “one person at a time.” Superman may have lost the public’s trust, but he can win it back. He just needs to continue being their hero, even if it takes time.
Directed by Dan Riba
Written by Paul Dini
Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Mxyzptlk is perfect casting. Full stop, no questions.
And his first appearance as the Fifth Dimensional imp is genuinely, utterly, absolutely hilarious to this day. Mxy is an obnoxious pest, and Gottfried is having a blast in the role. It helps that Paul Dini’s jokes are actually really funny, and there are gags galore. From Ma and Pa Kent acting like chickens to Mxyzptlk creating a giant suit of armor, only to be immediately banished back to his home, to the less absurd but still fun nod to Clark shaving with a mirror and his heat vision, everything about this episode works.
It’s difficult to write about, because the joy comes from watching Superman best Mxy time and time again, rather than reading about why the episode is funny. I’ll just say that this is one of the episodes that I was most concerned about not aging well, and my fears were quelled within ten seconds of the title card. “Mxyzpixilated” is an A+ episode all around.
Directed by Toshihiko Masuda
Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Rich Fogel, Hilary J. Bader, Steve Gerber, and Stan Berkowitz
Back in 1997, I taped this when it premiered, and practically wore out the VHS cassette. There was a time that I could practically quote each part verbatim, I loved it so much.
And yes, it still rules.
But I don’t need to tell you that. We’ve all seen it, we all love it, we will always speak highly of “World’s Finest.”
Even all these years later, when I’ve grown tired of Batman and Superman being jerks to one another, the meeting between the two titans and their emerging respect for one another is gripping storytelling. Maybe it’s nostalgia, or maybe it’s the strong writing and acting, with Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy playing both sides of their superheroic alter egos to perfection. The pair have phenomenal chemistry as Clark and Bruce and Superman and Batman. The way the pair discover each others’ secret identities is brilliant, played less as an intrusion of privacy and more as the first step in a game of wits to lead to a great partnership.
What doesn’t get as much recognition, but still stands out all these years later, are the performances of Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin, and Clancy Brown as Joker, Harley Quinn, and Lex Luthor, respectively. Harley and Mercy’s rivalry might be the funniest thing in either of Superman or Batman’s animated series, and I found myself laughing out loud at Sorkin’s line deliveries in particular during this viewing. Be it the squeal she lets out when she picks up the “hitchhiking” Joker, her desire for a cheese sandwich, or that infamous “puddin’” during the climax (though to be fair, Batman’s ice cold “at this point, he probably is” is what truly sells it), there’s never been a better Harley than the woman who inspired her creation in the first place.
In just sixty minutes, we’re given everything we could want out of a Superman and Batman team up, and it has yet to be topped on screen. Neither hero upstages the other, for even with the intimidating presence of Batman throughout, this is still very much a Superman story. “World’s Finest” is consistently entertaining across all three of its parts, with great action and plenty of humor.
To be honest, I came into this rewatch trying to be as objective as possible, open to the possibility that this mini movie wasn’t some of the best this series had to offer, but who am I kidding? It’s some of the finest superhero content around, full stop.
Directed by Dan Riba
Written by Rich Fogel and Bruce Timm
Darkseid’s most terrifying trait isn’t his power, or his stature, or his desire to enslave all of creation.
No, what makes Darkseid so terrifying is his patience. He gets bouts of anger, but more often than not he stands there, calm, cool, and collected, without an ounce of concern for any other being. To him, you are either a pawn or an obstacle, there to serve his purposes or be disposed of. And often, the former will eventually become the latter.
As a kid, this two-parter broke me, mostly due to the eleventh hour death of one of Superman’s fiercest allies. As an adult, it is still beyond devastating to see Darkseid callously doom a mortal man who dared to stand up to him, but it’s become more clear over the years just how frightening a character the lord of Apokolips truly is. His disregard for life and lust for power and control are on full display, as is the assertion that he does not deal in defeats, but merely setbacks.
“Apokolips… Now!” is a crash course in Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, and a very good one at that. It sows seeds that were planted earlier in the series, hints at bigger things to come further down the line, and deals with themes of death and subjugation. Like Batman: The Animated Series, this story proves that Superman may be a kids’ cartoon, but it’s not just a cartoon for kids.
The final line is also one of the all-time greats: “In the end, the world didn’t really need a Superman… just a brave one.” Heartbreaking perfection.
The Late Mr. Kent
Directed by Kenji Hachizaki
Written by Stan Berkowitz
Truly, this is a perfect episode of television. I’m not exaggerating when I say that you need to see it yourself to truly get what makes it so great, as it’s a genuinely gripping mystery that works best when you go in completely cold.
It’s still engaging even if you’ve seen it once or a hundred times, don’t get me wrong, but if you’ve never seen it before I won’t be the one to ruin the surprises.
“The Late Mr. Kent” is an anomaly in many ways, because it’s structured much like a film noir, right down to the voice over narration by the main character. Every twist and turn of the narrative is brilliant, and it never feels like the creators are taking the easy way out. As viewers, we know that Clark Kent can’t truly be dead, but it’s in the “how” he can make his return and the “why” someone wants him killed that makes the story so gripping. It might not be structured like a typical Superman story, but at its core it’s all about how the Man of Steel does the right thing because it’s the right thing, and that’s what makes it a great Superman episode.
The best Superman episode.
There you have it: every episode of Superman: The Animated Series. From least to greatest. It’s a lot of good television and Superman content, so enjoy.
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