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

Last week I did a brief rundown of Superman: The Animated Series as a whole and more specifically Volume One of the DVD set. With the second DVD set we get a show that has finally found its sea legs, a few more familiar faces, and a couple of the best episodes of the entire run. Let’s tie a red towel around our necks and jump in!


Volume Two

Superman: The Animated Series really kicks off in Volume Two. The episodes as a whole are noticeably tighter, more exciting, and better written than in the previous volume. The producers really have a handle on the characters and their relationships and now they are really getting a chance to play around with the world they inhabit. There are fewer episodes with weak villains that don’t provoke much danger or excitement. Quite a few of the episodes in Volume Two rank right up there in what I consider to be the best of the series. This is a show that has really hit its stride and I’m happy to note that it’s only going to get better. The Animated DC Universe expands again with a few more guest appearances from some familiar faces and that’s absolutely fantastic. It’s nice to have Superman play off other heroes, it’s that sort of camaraderie (and sometimes tension) found in group dynamics that is lacking in a solo series.

As always, spoilers dead ahead.


Notable Episodes

Identity Crisis – Anyone who has listened to the Pick of the Week Podcast or has spent anytime around this website probably knows of my distaste for Bizarro. The whole concept drives me up the wall and is probably the number one reason why I’ve dropped Superman comic books over the years. The whole idea of an opposite talking alien from a cubed version of Earth is just too cheesy for me to take, and my cheese threshold is pretty high. Well, here’s Bizarro! I was elated to find that Bruce Timm and company must feel along the same lines that I do because here they shun the alien angle for the John Byrne Man of Steel approach — this Bizarro is a Lex Luthor-engineered failed clone of Superman. There is tragedy in that angle. The only thing that didn’t work for me in this episode – and by extension, this version of Bizarro — is that through the course of a slugfest with Superman, Bizarro breaks down from an exact looking match of Superman to a monster with chalky white skin, and somehow his costume completely changes color and the S-Shield takes on a different shape. I know Superman’s punches pack a mighty wallop but I don’t think they are mighty enough to alter the color and design of clothing. This episode includes a brief entry into the bizarre (no pun intended!) saga of the lack of a Superman/Lois Lane/Clark Kent love story. Before he becomes Bizarro, the cloned Superman asks Lois out to dinner and she accepts in the most blasé manner possible, chocking up his interest to her new perfume. So weird.

Action Figures – Metallo is back! Or shall we call him Frankenstein’s Monster? One year after his last run in with Superman, John Corben has washed up on a volcanic island with absolutely no memory (and no skin!). He is discovered by the totally unsupervised children of one of the scientists living on the island who are studying the volcano. After saving the life of one of the children, they adopt Metallo as their own life-size toy and having no memory of his evil past he is more than happy to play along. He also finds some time to perform another rescue on the island and generally act the hero and it’s all very sad as you wait for Metallo to regain his memory and resume his evil ways. This is a fantastic episode in the classic vein of the conflicted villain that asks the question, “Are bad guys truly all bad?” I’ll say one thing — it didn’t end the way I thought it would and I love that.

Mxyzpixilated – This is probably my favorite episode from the entire set, and it ranks up there as one of the best episodes of the whole series. Paul Dini pens the hilariously frustrating saga of Mr. Mxyzptlk (pronounced here as “Mix-Yezz-Spit-Lick”) and his futile attempts to defeat Superman in a battle of wits. This episode spans more than a year! How often does that happen in cartoons, especially half hour episodic cartoons? Not very often. One of my favorite aspects of this episode is that Superman barely has to throw a single punch or even leap a single building in a single bound to defeat his enemy: He uses his (not-inconsiderable) brain power to trick, deceive, and generally outwit Mr. Mxyzptlk. It’s no wonder that Lex Luthor never wins. And with each passing victory by Superman, Mr. Mxyzptlk ‘s frustration grows funnier and funnier and I became more and more impressed with Superman’s long term strategic planning and quick thinking. He’s not just Superman because he can fly, kids. Mr. Mxyzptlk is perfectly realized by the voice of Gilbert Gottfried. It is brilliant casting and I can’t imagine Mr. Mxyzptlk sounding any other way now.

Brave New Metropolis – It’s an Elseworlds tale in cartoon form! Lois accidentally gets pulled through a portal created by a Phantom Zone projector and finds herself in a world where Superman and Lex Luthor rule with an iron fist! As you can imagine, such a world is not pleasant. Think the dystopian future in the Terminator movies. There are creepy Superman/Luthor statues and both Superman and the police dress like Imperial Officers from Star Wars, with Superman’s familiar S-Shield replaced with a logo more likely found in Nazi Germany. Style is not at a premium for everyone in this world — Jimmy Olsen sports a righteous mullet and some patchy facial hair. Oh, yes — did I mention that Lois is supposed to be dead? It’s the whole reason why Superman is so angry and totalitarian. Yes, there’s a bit of Kingdom Come thrown in there, thematically, for good measure. I really got a kick out of this episode for the same reason I loved the Elseworlds books so much — it’s a lot of fun to get a glimpse into a different world where one little difference can change everything.

Ghost in the Machine – This very Lex-centric episode finds Mr. Luthor the prisoner of Brainiac. It seems being a cybernetic consciousness living within computer systems can get a little boring and after a while you just want a new robot body. Who can build such a body? Why, super genius Lex Luthor can! It’s always fun to spend more time with your chief villain. It’s a time honored tradition in these good vs. evil circles that we travel and it’s done really well here. When these stories are successful you start to feel a little sympathy for the bad guy and then you kick yourself for feeling that way and then you shake your fist at the TV and those infernal producers for throwing your internal moral radar so far off-kilter. It’s especially fun for this bad guy in particular. Lex Luthor is always the picture of perfect control. He is always seen in an expensive suit bellowing commands at lackeys and lording over everything in sight (except Superman). Here, he is tired, he is dirty, he is starving and he does not have the upper hand. Think he’ll learn a lesson in humility? Nah, me either.

World’s Finest – Part I, II & III – How big a deal were these episodes? Well, at this point in the series, Superman: The Animated Series was airing on Saturday mornings. I was a junior in college and Saturday morning was usually when I went to bed. Nevertheless, I made it down to my friend’s campus apartment from my place off-campus so that a bunch of us could watch it in a group. I need to reiterate that it was like… hours before noon on a Saturday. Why did I do this? This was the first time we’d see Batman and Superman together outside of the comics since… well, since the days of Super Friends! This was going to be epic; we were beside ourselves. And the most amazing thing of all? This three parter pretty much delivers the goods! It not only gave us the great Superman/Batman interaction we were hoping for, but also a couple of new twists that we never expected. The most brilliant of all is the Bruce Wayne/Lois Lane (Hey, their names rhyme! How adorable.) romance that made a lot of sense once you were able to put the pieces of your blown mind back together. It isn’t all about the heroes, though. It is a lot of fun to watch Lex Luthor’s obsessive control contrasted against The Joker’s wild mania. And the Mercy versus Harley Quinn beatdown – happening almost entirely in the background and off camera during a conversation between Lex and The Joker – is fantastic. Romance alert! In the beginning of the first episode Lois actually awkwardly asks Superman out on a date and when a bank robbery spoils the moment we’re left wondering where these feelings from Lois all came from and why it’s barely ever dealt with again. The few scenes in these episodes between Lois and Bruce crackle with more tension than all of the scenes between Superman/Lois/Clark Kent throughout the life of the entire series – combined. The only possible downside? Just like in the movies, finding out Batman’s secret identity seems to be a condition of falling in love with Bruce Wayne.

Father’s Day – Just in case you had forgotten the true danger lurking on the horizon we check back in with the denizens of Apokolips. Kalibak, Darkseid’s least favorite son, is desperate to impress his father by defeating Superman. With the help of scheming lackey Desaad, he goes to Earth against Darkseid’s express orders and attempts to do just that. This all plays out against the first visit of Jonathan and Martha Kent to Metropolis. So of course Jonathan Kent becomes one of Kalibak’s primary victims, which sets up a son trying to impress his father against a son trying to protect his father. It seems that all of this madness could be avoided if Darkseid just gave Kalibak a hug or had a catch with him (maybe using the head of an insolent slave as the ball?), but somehow I don’t think that Darkseid is the type. In the midst of the Superman/Kalibak fight through downtown Metropolis, Martha Kent inexplicably almost blows her son’s identity to Lois Lane. Twice. It seems that in an episode about fathers and sons, mothers can do no right. This episode is notable for in the final scene we witness the first meeting of Superman and Darkseid, and in it Darkseid shows Superman that he is not someone to trifle with. In this episode we also learn that when Lois Lane goes jogging she doesn’t tie her hair back.

The Hand of Fate – The third major guest star from the DC Universe had me quite excited. Like Lobo, it’s not an obvious choice; but unlike Lobo, it’s a good one. I don’t know, why but I’ve always been a big fan of Dr. Fate. I think it’s because he appeared in one of the first Justice League comics that planted the seeds for me as a weekly collector around the time when I was in the 4th grade. I’m not usually one for mysticism and magic stories (though I also really like Zatanna, though that might partially be because of the bemused attitude and fishnets) but when those stories have to happen I love it when Dr. Fate is involved. A big factor in my affection for Dr. Fate is what I think is a kickass visual design, which is just slightly tweaked here. This episode involves a freed demon running amok in Metropolis and Superman having to convince Dr. Fate to get back in the game of saving people after a loss of confidence finds him hiding out in the metaphysical realm. There is apparently a reason much of Dr. Fate’s costume is yellow! I kid! If you’ve ever seen a movie or a television show or read a comic book or a book featuring a reluctant hero, then you know who shows up to save the day.

Protoype – Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Or, cybernetic supersuit power corrupts, um… cybernetic supersuit-ly. Lex Luthor tries to sell the Metropolis Police Department on outfitting the Special Crimes Unit with cybernetic battlesuits over the strong objections of the suit’s chief designer, John Henry Irons. It seems that Irons is concerned about the psychological effects that the suits have on people hooked up to them for long stretches of time. But of course Lex Luthor doesn’t pay John Henry Irons to worry about namby pamby stuff like that so he’s out the door. At this point in the series I’m starting to think that Lex Luthor doesn’t care about the well being of those who work for him, rather his only focus is on his own power and on his bottom line! Methinks that by the end of this episode, one bald headed man will be proven right, one bald headed man will be proven wrong (although he probably won’t admit it) and a third bald headed man will really enjoy himself watching it all play out on his TV. Something tells me that this isn’t the last we’ll be seeing of John Henry Irons.

The Late Mr. Kent – By the time these episodes were airing I really wasn’t a regular viewer anymore (or, to be honest — even an occasional viewer) but I remember randomly catching this episode when it was on and I was blown away. Superman has to intercede on the execution of an innocent man, and in doing so not only compromises his secret identity but basically breaks the law himself by busting the condemned man out of the gas chamber just as the poisonous fumes are released! What?! Are you kidding me?! Not only that, but the final scene features the real killer’s execution (a corrupt cop — natch), just moments after realizing that Clark Kent is Superman! Unbelievable! An entire episode of a cartoon airing on Kids WB that dealt with capital punishment! Was this what I had been missing this whole time? This episode was the first indication that something special was going on with this show. Something I wouldn’t fully discover for eight more years.

Heavy Metal – Hey! John Henry Irons is back! I knew it! And this time he’s got his own battlesuit and he’s ready to help Superman battle the forces of evil in Metropolis under the guise of Steel. He’s not being presumptuous, in Prototype Superman strongly hinted he could use the help. And it’s not a moment too soon because our old pal Metallo is back! It’s probably a good thing that Superman’s got help from someone who’s not affected by Metallo’s kryptonite power source. Anyone who says that there are no good new characters coming out of DC or Marvel in the modern age need to look no further than Steel. He’s a great character that has been used exceedingly well over the years. Plus, he fights evil with a big ass hammer! What’s cooler than that? The only thing I would have really liked out of this episode was a few fewer black “jokes” from Metallo — he calls Steel “Superfly” at one point. But I guess Metallo is evil and that’s to be expected. I just wish we didn’t have to spend so much time highlighting a black character’s blackness every time.


Next week — The third and final volume of Superman: The Animated Series!


  1. Wow. I had forgotten there were so many great episodes of this series. It makes me want to go back and rewatch them. I thought the way Timm and company created the Bizarro world was pretty clever too. World’s Finest is a great episode. I love the comment, I think, Bruce makes about Lois not loving the “other guys.” The Late Mr. Kent, capital punishment and an actual on camera execution? How did standards and practices let this episode through? Who cares? It is one of the best.

    Keep them coming, Conor. I can’t wait to read what you think of Apokolips Now, Aquaman, and Superman and Batman’s second cross over. Great reviews.

  2. The Late Mr. Kent

    That’s the one I always think of when I want to tell people just how f’ing good this show could be.

  3. Oddly, Netflix has volumes I and III, but lists volume II as a “Save” title that you can reserve for when they eventually have a copy of it.

    So clearly it’s so good nobody who rents it gives it back.

  4. I had completely tuned out at this point – I too was usually just turning in at this point. Sounds like they really started to create an overall story through the entire season, which is something I dig.

    I do remember World’s Finest turning up as a prime-time special at one point – probably the first showing – and that’s how I caught it. Completely forgot about the Mercy-Harley fight, but now that you mention it, that was a great bit.

    On a related tip, according to this site, Toon Disney (it’s in the 100s in my cable channels – your experience may differ) is going to start showing both Superman and BTAS at 7 p.m. weeknights. I know for a fact Batman is coming back – already set the TIVO – but didn’t even think to look for Superman. Gonna make for great dinner viewing. This Sunday is a Joker-centric three episode mini marathon.

  5. My html sucks – here’s the actual url


    I can verify the Batman, but not the Superman at this point.

  6. Yes, Toon Disney will soon be the home of the Timmiverse. The world has turned upside down. Bill Murray cats and dogs quote here.

    Great write up, Conor. (Kohn-R, to use his Kryptonian name) Since the family is always wondering what to get me for Christmas, I find great use for your recommendations.