There’s a simple formula for taking material and translating it to a different medium – involve people who not only know the work, but also love it. I’m not sure how this very simple dictum escapes Hollywood, but all too often it seems to. Thankfully, we have shining examples like Superman: The Animated Series to show us how it works. More after the jump.
Fresh off the success of Batman: The Animated Series, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini got their shot at the other mainstay of the DC Comics Universe – Superman. For those unfamiliar with the character (and really, where have you been?), Superman is a strange visitor from another planet (Krypton) empowered by Earth’s yellow sun to have abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman is the ultimate immigrant story. Superman’s space craft landed in Middle America (Smallville, Kansas). The alien orphan baby is taken in by Ma and Pa Kent and given the name Clark. This wholesome upbringing instills in Clark Kent a strong moral fiber that will lead him to be possibly the greatest hero of all time… depending on who you ask.
The reverence for the source material is evident throughout the series. They were hesitant to make any changes to the characters. One major change is to the origin of key villain Brainiac. Unlike the comic book equivalent, the animated Brainiac hails from Krypton, like Superman. Brainiac fought against Superman’s father Jor-El during the destruction of Krypton, thus creating a generational adversary. Of course, no Superman story can thrive without Lex Luthor, greatest criminal mind of our time. Here, Lex is the figurative architect behind Metropolis who doesn’t tolerate newcomer Superman getting in his way and stealing his spotlight. Memorable appearances across the series include: The Flash, Batman and the Joker, Supergirl and Aquaman as well as a literal host of villains.
Animation in the series is clean and reminiscent of Batman:TAS. Much like that series, a strong vocal cast empowers Superman:TAS. Tim Daly (Wings, Private Practice) lends his voice to Clark Kent/Superman. Daly nails the All-American Boy Scout perfectly, but also shines and lets his freak flag fly in Identity Crisis, the episode featuring the flawed Superman clone Bizarro. Dana Delany (China Beach, Desperate Housewives) portrays the animated Lois Lane and her strength of character shines through. None other than the Kurgan himself provides the voice of arch villain Lex Luthor. You will believe, through Clancy Brown’s (The Shawshank Redemption, Highlander) tones alone, that Lex can go toe-to-toe with Superman without blinking. Corey Burton (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) lends Brainiac his deadly and chill-inducing nigh-monotone. One should also take a moment to appreciate the work of Gilbert Gottfried (Aladdin) as Mr. Mxyzptlk and Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) as not only Bibbo but also Lobo, fan favorites all.
The only real downside to this series is that the potential of the series finale (Legacy) doesn’t get realized in the form of more episodes.
Episodes come packaged on the first six discs (half of which are double-sided) and are available in English, French and Spanish with subtitles in those languages as well. Disc 7 is wholly new for this collection.
Commentary on The Last Son of Krypton – Part 1 by Producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, Director Dan Riba and Art Director Glen Murakami.
A Little Piece of Trivia — 21 minutes of pop up trivia accompany the episode A Little Piece of Home. Did you know the design of Lex Luthor was based loosely on Telly Savalas? Now you do. Fun for fans of Superman in any incarnation.
Disc 2 (two-sided):
Commentary on Stolen Memories and Tools of the Trade by Producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, Director Curt Geda and Art Director Glen Murakami.
Commentary on The Main Man – Part 2 by Producers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, Director Dan Riba and Art Director Glen Murakami.
Superman: Learning to Fly — a nine and a half minute look at how the creative team brought the character of Superman (and Metropolis and Krypton…) to the Animated Series with Paul Dini, Dan Riba, Bruce Timm, Glen Murakami, Alan Burnett and James Tucker.
Building the Mythology: Superman’s Supporting Cast — nine and a half minutes examining the characters of Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Dan Turpin, Maggie Sawyer, Professor Emil Hamilton, Lana Lang, Ma and Pa Kent with Paul Dini, Dan Riba, Bruce Timm, Glen Murakami, Alan Burnett and James Tucker.
Trailers: Batman: The Animated Series Volumes 1 and 2 and Challenge of the Super Friends.
Video commentary on Mxyzpixilated by Producer Bruce Timm, Producer/Writer Paul Dini, Director Dan Riba and moderator Jason Hillhouse — live from Paul Dini’s apartment, the show appears in about a twelfth of the screen as they discuss the episode specifically (including the voice of Gilbert Gottfried). I finally learn how to say Mr. Mxyzptlk properly. The definitive version, if you don’t ask Alex Ross.
Menaces of Metropolis: Behind the Villains of Superman — a thirteen minute spotlight of the series animated villains (Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro, Metallo, Mr. Mxyzptlk, Toyman, Parasite as well as new villains created for the series Live Wire and Luminus) with Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, James Tucker, Dan Riba and Andrea Romano.
Disc 4 (two-sided):
Commentary on Brave New Metropolis and on World’s Finest – Part One by Producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, Series Director Dan Riba and Art Director Glen Murakami.
Trailers for Thundercats Season 1, Volume 1, Batman Volume 4/Superman Volume 2, The Batman vs. Dracula, The Batman: The Man Who Would Be Bat and Teen Titans: Fear Itself/Justice League: Joining Forces.
Commentary on Apokolips… Now! – Part 2 by Producers Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett, Director Dan Riba, Storyboard Artist James Tucker, Producer Glen Murakami and Series Director Butch Lukic.
Superman: Behind the Cape — fifteen minutes hosted by the Jimmy Olsen voice actor David Kaufman filmed at House of Secrets in Burbank, CA and featuring Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett and Glen Murakami. They discuss the inclusion of Kirby’s The Fourth World characters, which appear in about eight episodes in the series, as well as visiting DC Comics heroes and, of course, Jimmy.
Disc 6 (two-sided):
Commentary on New Kids in Town by Producer Bruce Timm, Storyboard Artist James Tucker, Producer Glen Murakami and Director Butch Lukic.
Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman — six and a half minutes worth of excerpts from the new documentary produced by Bryan Singer and Kevin Burns with snippets of interviews with Bryan Singer, Jack Larson, Noel Neill, Margot Kidder, Richard Donner, Dean Cain, Annette O’Toole, and Brandon Routh, as well as footage of the character throughout his many incarnations.
Commentary on Legacy – Part 2 by Producer Bruce Timm, Director Dan Riba, Storyboard Artist James Tucker, Producer Glen Murakami and Director/Writer Paul Dini.
Trailer for Superman: Brainiac Attacks on startup for 6b as well as Superman “Hero” (a look at Superman through the years and the preview of Superman Returns), Justice League Season 2/Superman Volume 3, Sound of Superman (songs inspired by Superman), February DC Comics Kids (The Batman, Teen Titans), Superman EA Game.
The Despot Darkseid: A Villain Worthy of Superman — an almost seventeen minute spotlight on Darkseid but also the other Fourth World characters as well as Dan Turpin (a character inspired by King Kirby) and featuring interviews with Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Rich Fogel, Alan Burnett, James Tucker, Stan Berkowitz, Charles Hatfield (Department of English, Cal State Northridge) and Glen Murakami.
Trailers for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Complete Season 1, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Green Lantern: First Flight – The Animated Movie, Superman Doomsday.
It’s my firm belief that Batman: The Animated Series was the definitive take on that character. While the first two Christopher Reeve films will always epitomize Superman for me, Superman: The Animated Series is a strong contender and a great addition to both the canon and any collection. This show proves that when you let people who know and love material handle the material, it will shine.
Final Grade – A