You don’t really have to think too much about Superman. It has complexities, but it is not complicated. He rushes headlong into conflict, but he is not in conflict. He is invincible, but he is not invulnerable. And yet recent film adaptations of him, in particular, have insisted on using the same tools and methods used to fashion more modern heroes, in ways that are detrimental to the character. Simply put, Superman is not an allegory of Christ. He is neither Batman nor the Punisher. He is not angry, violent, wronged, or traumatized. His superpower is not that he has superpowers. It’s that he has superpowers and he’s still a good guy, because he was brought up well.
DC and Warner Bros. in fact had an excellent grasp of this problem in the 90s, when the creators of the highly regarded Batman: The Animated Series in turn created Superman: The Animated Series. While the entire show recently became available in crisp HD for the first time courtesy of HBO Max, now is a great time to look back at why it might really be the show. best and most faithful adaptation to the origin of Superman.
Lois: “I have lived in Metropolis most of my life and I just can’t figure out how a Smallville yokel is suddenly getting all the hot stories in town.”
Clark: “Well, Lois, the truth is I’m actually Superman in disguise, and I’m only pretending to be a reporter so I hear about disasters as they happen and then get you out of the signature.” ”
Lois: “You are a sick man, Kent.”
You can say a lot about an adaptation of Superman by his Lois, and if we judge Superman: The Animated Series only on Dana Delany’s badass metro reporter, there’s just no contest. The series begins with an excellent all-time cast, centering on the trio of Clark Kent of Tim Daly, Lane of Delany and Lex Luthor played by Clancy Brown, each of whom line reads indicate they are having the best time of their life. . Much like with its precursor, the show was ably guided by voice director Andrea Romano, whose efforts elevated cartoon shows for decades.
Everything is in the service of stories that give a new twist to the classic elements and characters of the Superman plot. Superman: The Animated Series doesn’t assume his viewers haven’t seen a Superman story before, but he also understands that every adaptation needs to set the ground rules and do something new with them. The show’s first season is a master class in getting everyone up to speed on the Man of Steel. The epic three-part pilot “The Last Son of Krypton” sees the fall of Superman’s homeworld, the discovery of his powers and legacy as a goofy teenager in Smallville, and his emergence as a hero of Metropolis and nemesis of Lex Luthor. The show quickly connects with episodes that establish Kryptonite, the Fortress of Solitude, and big bad guys like Brainiac.
The later seasons of the series have gotten bigger and more epic, introducing more classic villains and raising the stakes. Kryptonian criminal Jax-Ur (Ron Perlman!) Makes an appearance, and of course, the one and only Darkseid (Michael Ironside) is erected as Superman’s ultimate enemy.
The portrayal of the latter, in particular, ranks among the most dramatic story arcs of any superhero show in recent memory. After an arrival that establishes him as a bellicose tyrant and killer, Darkseid makes another play to enslave Earth using brainwashing on Superman. This leads to a final conflict which sees the two dragging themselves across the surface of Apokolips. This is one of the best arcs of any show based on the DC comics, period.
The show also benefited (and in turn strengthened) from the broader continuity of “Diniverse”, the shows named for chief writer Paul Dini who began with Batman and ended with Unlimited Justice League-or, if you want to straddle the timeline, Batman beyond. Daly’s Superman and Kevin Conroy’s Batman introduced an entire generation to the idea that the two heroes were besties in a number of crossover episodes, as well as the villains and concepts introduced in Superman returns again and again in the greatest continuity.
Despite all its great qualities, it seems that Superman: The Animated Series never quite reached the same level of acclaim as its immediate ancestor located in Gotham City, and it’s hard to really say why. The ’90s weren’t a good time for comics, and despite that and the hugely popular Lois & Clark were briefly airing at the same time, it felt like the young fans were sort of reacting to Man of Steel. We wanted Spawn, I guess.
It could also have been a perceived drop in quality between the two shows. Supermanthe animation of never quite skipped like the Batman show, but it also seems unfair: at one point, the same creative team were simultaneously producing this, the original Batman show, and the first season of Batman beyond. Despite the rush, all three shows feature unforgettable portrayals of classic DC characters and stories, and arguably some of the most iconic portrayals of their heroes and villains.
The only failure of the series, and it’s not unique to it, is that Superman: The Animated Series becomes a much more show about Clark hitting super hard stuff and fighting aliens through the seasons. The show never misses a chance to show him saving someone in danger or being kind to kids and pets, but it doesn’t really focus on real-world issues, and some of the stories. Superman’s most fascinating are the ones where it’s front and center. In the 80 years since Superman was conceived, the world has changed much less than anyone would admit: we are still fighting fascism, still clashing with authoritarian business leaders, still counting on crime and random violence. And we always want to believe that if someone with the power to win a fight with an airplane was just raised by two benevolent Americans, they would use that power responsibly.
Does that sound like a lot to put on a kids’ show, CW series, or blockbuster movies that want to catch all the demographics? Perhaps. But that of Gene Luen Yang Superman crushes the Klan, the 2019 graphic novel with bright-eyed illustrations by Chifuyu Sasaki and Naoko Kawano, adapts an older story that is about Superman, well, breaking the Klan (or a very lightly veiled replacement). It’s kid-friendly, full of overpowered superheroes, and explicitly centers Superman as struggling with his identity as an immigrant. No punch, no bullet, no idiot in a white hood has nothing on the guy, but what will he do if his adopted home rejects him?
There’s another bright spot in the CW Superman and Lois show, and in particular Tyler Hoechlin’s Clark Kent, who is featured happily responding to a compliment on his super-costume by telling the kid his mom did it, and who’s worried about how banks fuck Smallville residents with reverse mortgages. Watch the first episodes before diving back into Superman: The Animated Series, and for the first time in some time, you’ll see two shows that operate from the seemingly mind-boggling premise that the Man of Steel is someone who only needs one reason to do the right thing. thing: it’s the right thing to do.
Superman: The Animated Series is now streaming on HBO Max.
Kenneth Lowe is a regular contributor to Paste Magazine. You can follow it on Twitter and read more on his blog.
For all the latest TV news, reviews, listings and features follow @Coller_TV.