A Look at ‘Superman: The Animated Series’ – Part Three

Last month I began an examination of Superman: The Animated Series by taking a look at Volumes One and Two of the DVD series. Now, with the third and final DVD set, I find an extremely satisfying show with some amazingly executed episodes, great characterizations and a whole lot of fun. Up, up and away we go.


Volume Three

Superman: The Animated Series bats with a really high average in the final DVD set. On the whole, the quality of the episodes is really, really high. As such, the clunkers do tend to stand out, but over the course of 18 episodes they can’t all be winners. Even though the producers didn’t know that this was it for the show, you can sense the intensity building towards the final dramatic crescendo, which quite frankly, was shocking on a lot of levels. You don’t often find a show that is basically a children’s cartoon taking these kinds of dramatic risks and explorations into such adult themes. In the final set, Superman’s family grows by one, some more of his friends from the DC Universe show up, and there’s even a reappearance by a big time character from the last DVD set.

Here come the spoilers.


Notable Episodes

Apokolips… Now! – Part I & II – From the very first season the groundwork was laid down to set up Darkseid as the biggest bad in this Superman’s universe and now in the final stretch of episodes it all begins to pay off. How do we know that big trouble’s a-brewing? After the first battle against a few Apokolips flunkies, Superman walked away with a bloody nose, which for anyone else isn’t a big deal, but it’s always a shock to see Superman bleed. Here we (and Superman) also get the filled in on the whole story of Apokolips and New Genesis, courtesy of Darkseid’s prodigal son, Orion and a Mother Box voiceover very reminiscent of Galadriel’s narration in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A full scale invasion by the armies of Apokolips occurs in the second part and if I have one criticism to level at these two episodes it would be that throughout the course of this series, painstaking efforts were made to establish a shared universe with multitudes of other superheroes beyond Superman. Why then are they absent from this fight for Earth? It could be said that they are all off fighting the armies of Apokolips in Gotham CIty and Central City and various other places throughout the world, but there is no indication of this, in fact it is implied that the main battle is with Superman in Metropolis. The ending to this two-parter is one of the most famous and shocking of all the modern superhero cartoons. With Superman captured and immobile before Darkseid and his minions, the people rise up to fight him, led by Inspector Dan Turpin, the police character whose appearance was modeled after Jack Kirby (creator of Darkseid and all of the Fourth World characters). When the mini-rebellion manages to free Superman and after a timely appearance by the New Gods, Darkseid decides to retreat to live to conquer Earth another day. But not before vaporizing Dan Turpin with his Omega Beams right as he steps into a Boom Tube to make his escape. This was a shocking and heart wrenching ending. First off all, Turpin was a major character who not only died, but died on-screen. That’s still shocking, lo’ these nine years later. Secondly, Superman’s anguished screams has he bashes an Apokolitian war machine with his fists are chilling. The episode ends with Dan Turpin’s funeral and the final coda “Not the End…” Truer words were never spoken.

Little Girl Lost – Part I & II – While exploring the floating remains of Krypton in his Superspaceship, Superman stumbles upon a lost colony on a sister planet of Krypton and a young blonde girl suspended in animation. One of the central tenants of Superman is that he is the last surviving member of Krypton and is doomed to always feel alone, no matter what relationships he forms here on Earth. For my money it’s one of the best aspects of his character. So why do I love Supergirl so much? I’ve read a lot of Supergirl comics in my time, and I’ve even seen that pretty horrible movie on more than one occasion, and I feel pretty confident in saying that this is, far and away, the best interpretation of Supergirl in any media. She’s a very convincing teenager — spunky and headstrong and she thinks she knows it all. She’s a lot of fun to watch — she enjoys her powers in a way that Superman doesn’t seem able to allow himself to do. Oh, yeah — lest I forget the villains in this episode are Granny Goodness and her Female Furies from Apokolips who manage to subdue Superman and bring him back to their homeworld to kneel before Darkseid. They’re really hammering home who we need to really be worrying about at this point. Luckily Superman’s not alone anymore. We are also treated to a cameo by Al Roker in Part One!

Knight Time – The great thing about knowing next to nothing about this show after the first season was that there were a lot of great surprises and I had no idea this episode was coming. One of the stories that I love in comics is the Superman/Robin team up. It’s nice to see Robin teaming up with someone so totally the opposite of Batman, it’s kind of like he’s hanging out with his cool uncle or something. Robin can interact with Superman in a way he can’t with Batman. Although Robin got really testy about Superman mimicking his voice, which was a little weird. In this episode, Bruce Wayne has been kidnapped and a crime crisis is brewing in a Gotham City without a Batman. What’s a Superman to do but step into the familiar cape and cowl! It’s great fun watching Superman try to not only stand-in for Batman, but try to act like him, taking How To Be Scary lessons from Robin. I love these fish out of water tales: little things like Superman dressed up as Batman and not knowing where anything is in the utility belt crack me up. But one question – if all you can see of Batman is his mouth and chin and you see that a lot, an old school cop like James Gordon would probably have it mapped pretty well. Didn’t notice the big ol’ dimpled chin, did he?

New Kids In Town – I know next to nothing about the actual Legion of Super-Heroes. I know that I’ve read books that they guest star in and big universe-spanning crossovers where they have made appearances. I really seem to like them in concept, just not so much in practice enough to buy their books. Considering Superman’s strong connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes (he inspired their formation!) it’s only right that we get a guest appearance from Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Cameleon Boy (with a brief cameo by ten other Legionaires). Here the trio goes chasing Brainiac through the timestream (he’s apparently still a nuisance in 2979), and end up in Smallville during Clark’s high school years. And guess what? Clark’s kind of an arrogant dick. He still hasn’t come to terms with his new found powers and it’s all gone to his head a little bit. Enter the Legion of Super-Heroes to help Clark find the hero within. So, just as he inspired them in the future, they inspire him in the past. Of course, a convenient memory wipe courtesy of Saturn Girl and Clark doesn’t remember anything about the Legion of Super-Heroes or his future as Superman or Brainiac, but clearly his newfound heroic tendencies stick around. Time travel: It hurts the head, you see.

In Brightest Day… – I have really mixed feelings about this episode. On the one hand, taken objectively, it’s a lot of fun to watch. On the other, it’s a mish mash of Kyle Rayner and Hal Jordan. On a third, mutant hand, it kind of digs a hole for the DC Animated Universe in terms of Green Lanterns that I imagine they just sort of ignore when it comes to Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. Here we basically have Hal Jordan’s origin (Abin Sur crash lands on Earth, sending his ring out to find a replacement as his final heroic act), only instead of the ring finding Hal Jordan, it finds Kyle Rayner. This just sits wrong with me. Really wrong. If you want to feature Kyle and not Hal I can understand that especially since at the time Kyle was the Green Lantern featured in the comics, but to basically wipe Hal from existence and to replace him with Kyle left a really bad taste in my mouth. Funny story. This show originally aired when we were in college, and Josh and his roommates taped it (on a VCR!) and they were excited to show it to me even though at the time I wanted no part of Kyle Rayner. They were convinced that I would really like the brief reference to Hal Jordan. I didn’t. I walked out of the room in anger. Strangely, the only episode to have skipping and freezing problems in all three DVD sets was this one. Coincidence?

Superman’s Pal – It’s probably pretty cool if everyone knows that you’re Superman’s best friend. You get stuff for free, you get attention from women way out of your league, you get kidnapped by criminals hoping to trap Superma– wait, what? That actually doesn’t sound like much fun at all. Welcome to Jimmy Olsen’s world. Jimmy Olsen gets sort of the short shrift on this show and it wasn’t until watching this episode that I realized that Jimmy, Perry White, and to an extent, even Lois Lane are somewhat neglected in this series. Only a handful of episodes feature stories that center around the Daily Planet or rely on actual reporting and as a result there isn’t a whole lot of use in shining the spotlight on the people at the newspaper except to point Superman to a bad guy that needs a pounding. So it’s nice that Jimmy gets a chance to shine here — he even helps save Superman from Metallo.

Fish Story – Aquaman! Again, this episode caught me totally by surprise. I knew that Aquaman made a guest appearance on Justice League (I made a point of watching those episodes, that’s how much I love me some Arthur Curry), but I had no idea this was coming. And he’s in the classic orange and green! I was in heaven. As for this story, Lex Luthor is involved in some dastardly underwater hijinks and has captured Aquaman who is using his mental telepathy from his watery prison cell to make his fish buddies attack Lex Luthor’s ships and such. There’s a bit of uneasiness as Lex and the other evil scientists refer to Aquaman as “creature” and “specimen” implying that Aquaman had under gone some sort of scientific testing that I’m sure was not approved by the proper scientific boards. Lots of specism in this one. Of course, Aquaman busts out and he and Superman team up to bust up Lex’s under water military demolition experiments and war between Atlantis and the surface world is narrowly diverted. It’s somewhat of a rote Aquaman story (very similar to his first appearance in Smallville, actually), but I didn’t care I loved every minute of it. My one disappointment – and this is across the board for all of Aquaman’s non-comic book appearances – is that I have always felt that Aquaman should have an accent of some sort. This was even briefly referenced in the comics (I think it was JLA: Year One?), where upon first meeting Aquaman, The Flash thought he was Russian. It makes logical sense to me that Atlanteans wouldn’t sound American and it would be a good way of setting Aquaman apart from the other characters. Although his voice does have a nice edge in this one, as provided by George Clooney’s cousin Miguel Ferrer.

The Demon Reborn – As I was loading this episode I figured from the title that it would feature Etrigan, The Demon. Boy, was I ever wrong. Instead it’s Ra’s al Ghul! What? Brilliant! I really enjoyed my own slow realization as to the true meaning of the title. “Okay, they are in a museum… there will be some sort of artifact or maybe Jason Blood will be there and Etrigan won’t be far behind… wait, ninjas? Okay. That’s weird. Why would ninjas be…? That looks like… that can’t be… it is! It’s Talia! But that would mean… ‘The Demon’ is Ra’s al Ghul!” I love it when villains crossover, when a hero faces off against someone they aren’t used to fighting. It’s a lot more interesting sometimes to see Superman square off against Ra’s al Ghul than to see him go up against Toyman for the umpteenth time. But not only did it feature Ra’s al Ghul, but it’s another Superman/Batman team-up! I actually think I like this one slightly more than the “World’s Finest” episodes if only because the introductory stuff is out of the way and Ra’s al Ghul is one of my all-time favorite villains. I love the international eco-terrorist who also commands an army of deadly ninjas and has a scary but hot daughter angle. I love him, he’s a really interesting character. David Warner provides the voice of Ra’s al Ghul and I’ve always felt that was stunningly brilliant casting. This episode also features a brief reunion of those crazy star-crossed lovers, Bruce Wayne and Lois Lane, in an almost note perfect scene involving people who were once involved and still have unresolved feelings.

Legacy – Part I & II – The two-part series finale that wasn’t meant to be a series finale is actually quite awesome as one. The culmination of all of the Apokolips stories happens here with Darkseid’s full-scale invasion of Earth. How did he achieve this? Well, he snatched Superman and brainwashed him into becoming one of Darkseid’s own lieutenants. Superman led an army of Parademons and wrought havoc on Earth (even taking out Supergirl) before a big missile blew up in his face and returned Supermen to his senses. But even though Superman survived a jail cell assassination attempt by Lex Luthor, and traveled to Apokolips to have it out with Darkseid in a brutal fist fight in retribution for the attacks on Earth and for the brainwashing and for the murder of Dan Turpin, it was too late – the damage was done. Superman found that he could never really truly defeat Darkseid without stooping to his level and worst of all, Lex Luthor’s dream was finally realized – the people of Earth no longer trusted Superman and in many cases outright feared him. And this is how the series ends! Fantastic! I love having my expectations subverted and this one was a do-ozie!


Overall Thoughts – Series

I really loved this series. I had heard a lot about it over the years – mostly from Josh – but never really seriously considered giving it my full attention. I wonder if I was waiting until I was ready and I just didn’t know it because I don’t know that I would have appreciated this show as much when it was first on. We’ll never know for sure of course and in the end it doesn’t really matter when I came to find this series and when I came to love it. The bottom line is that it is a truly great cartoon and it has really made me appreciate Superman more these last six months, if that was even possible. It makes me long for good Superman stories.

One thing almost everyone in the civilized world knows about Superman is that he is in love with Lois Lane and she with him. That just makes it all the more strange that on this show there was almost zero Lois/Clark/Superman romance. It’s not that the show was devoid of romance entirely, it’s just that there was hardly anything going on in the central love triangle. Lois and Clark had hardly a spark between them. Hell, Lois was clearly more in love with Bruce Wayne than she seemed to be with Clark. And what made it even weirder was the seemingly random instances of possible romance that were thrown in here and there that were so obvious for their out of place awkwardness. Superman and Lois finally did share a kiss in the very last scene of the show but there’s no emotion in it, it doesn’t feel earned. There’s nothing in my head screaming “finally!” as often happens when two long time characters come together after years of tension.

Another common element in the Superman mythos that everyone knows is that Lex Luthor is Superman’s primary nemesis. Batman has The Joker, Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty and Superman has Lex Luthor. And for a good portion of this series Lex is the primary villain. Slowly but surely, though, the spotlight of evil shifts over to Darkseid and for basically the entire third DVD set Darkseid is the main concern with Lex Luthor almost an afterthought.

It’s a shame they had to change the way the ending of Apokolips… Now! Part Two was originally presented when that episode first aired. The original funeral for Dan Turpin featured amongst the mourners: The Fantastic Four, Peter Parker, Nick Fury, Orion, Scott Free and Big Barda, all in their civilian identities, as well as Stan Lee, Mark Evanier, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Alex Ross. These famous faces were all replaced for the DVD by generic faces. It sounds like a nice tribute to Jack Kirby, who had died only four years earlier, but I’m sure it didn’t pass legal muster.

In an age when cartoons (especially superhero cartoons) are moving away from older, more adult audiences and subject matter, it was almost shocking to see the level of sex and violence in this cartoon. Batman: The Animates Series was dark and dealt with a lot of adult themes but this series just took things to another level. I remember what a big deal it was when they showed a trickle of blood in one of the first episodes of Batman: The Animates Series. It was such a big deal that it was removed in later airings. Here in Superman: The Animated Series there’s a whole lot of bloodshed, especially with the fights involving Apokolips and Darkseid. As for sex, I was shocked — it was everywhere! This series was dripping with sexual innuendo and flirtatious dialogue. Lana Lang clearly enjoyed flaunting her overt sexuality in the face of Lois and all of her conservative reserve. There as a lot of eyebrow raising on my part while watching this show. Not only that but in “Legacy – Part One” there’s an implied threesome between Superman and two of the Female Furies! Incredible.

I don’t know if I can properly express how much I love the ending of this show. Now, I understand that it was not meant to be the ending of the entire show, just the season, but it ended up being the end of the show, so here we are. The idea that they ended this show with their main character — who just happens to be an international icon for truth and justice and all the good that humanity can aspire to — feared and mistrusted by society is mind-blowing. In a very real sense we find at the end of 54 episodes that Lex Luthor is in fact the winner in this epic battle. His goal was always to defeat Superman, either outright or in the eyes of the people, and in the end his goal has been achieved. Lex might not have done it outright, and he might not have been responsible for the people of Earth turning their backs on Superman, but the result is the same — at the end of this show most of the people of Earth are terrified of Superman, and I think that is a pretty damned cool choice to make. Bravo, Superman: The Animated Series.

If you haven’t checked this show out and you don’t mind that I’ve already spoiled just about every interesting and surprising element to the show, I strongly suggest you give it a look. If you’re looking for some good time Superman action, or even just a smartly written and put together superhero show you can’t go wrong with this baby, especially the latter two-thirds of the series.


I shall now take my leave of you. Don’t worry, I will wave before I go flying around the globe.


  1. Any thoughts on the extras on any of the sets? I know some of these animated shows really don’t have that many, but am curious what you thought about what was out there.

  2. I’m really glad that you enjoyed Superman:TAS as much as you did. I’ve really enjoyed these reviews and would like to see more done in a similar style(doesn’t have to be about a show, reviewing a run of a comic would be cool too). It was really well put together. Good on ya, Conor.

  3. Great reviews. When that extended Dan Turpin funeral did not appear on the DVDs I started to think I had imagined it. It is really too bad that they cut it.

    So what DVDs are up next for review?

  4. Its really amazing the continuity that exists between Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS, Batman Beyond, and the Justice League Series. You could prob string together about 40 episodes, leaving out the clunkers, and get some FINE storytelling, deep characters, and awesome action. All the while it cohesively staying together. 15 years…fantastic run. Just wish JLeagueUnlimted could have stayed on the air for a few more years.

  5. Ok, so here’s my question: I recently picked up Justice League: Unlimited, Season 1 and in watching, realized that a lot of what is going on is from previous plot points from the other shows, etc. Come to find out, JLU is really Season 3 of the original Justice League series. Also, it seems that there are story threads coming in from the Superman: Animated Series that play into that show.

    Now, this is going to make me sound like Ron, but where in continuity do these shows fall in terms of the Animated Universe? Like, should I watch these before Justice League? I feel like I would enjoy the shows more, if I wasn’t spending half an episode trying to figure what the hell is going on, or who certain characters are. Or, would I be ok just watching the Justice League seasons?

  6. Thanks again for these reviews, Conor. I remember writing off Superman after spotty viewings of the first season. Batman and Gotham had such atmosphere and a strong POV where squeaky clean, blue skies, Metropolis seemed bland.

    Definitely worth getting the DVDs.

  7. yeah the 90s had some really decent cartoons Batman, superman, I’m not sure Exo-squad is from the 90s. Animaniacs and all those shows with connection to it, Pinky and the Brain Freakazoid.

  8. I’m starting to pick up the DC animated sets now. Should I pick this or Batman first?

  9. So i just added a whole shit load of the animated series on to my netflix queue and to my surprise they dont have superman vol.2? its put down in my “Save” Queue.

  10. Hey MastaP,

    Start with the Batman series, and then move into Superman. The JL and JLU series all take place after both the SAS and BAS had concluded. I guess it doesn’t hurt to watch Batman Beyond somewhere in between as this series is visted 3 times during the JL series.

  11. Thank you Conner for reviewing this series. I’ve been a big fan of the JLU series and the original Batman series, but never thought to pick this one up.