Remembering “Superman: the Animated Series”
By Colin Hickson
Back in the 1990’s, it was not uncommon to see an animated series based on a comic pop up. Big name characters like Batman and the X-Men were both ratings and critical successes, while lesser known properties like “WildC.A.T.s” and “Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot” got their moment in the spotlight. So it should be no surprise to anyone that Superman got his own animated series on Kid’s WB in 1996.
Headed by the team behind “Batman: the Animated Series”, “Superman: the Animated Series” not only drew heavily from the Silver Age Superman comics, but also artist-writer John Byrne’s 1986 reboot. The series starts off as any retelling of Superman’s mythos does, on the world of Krypton. However, the three part pilot does something that no other Superman TV show has done before and explores the planet before it exploded. Another change is that in this version, longtime Superman villain Brainiac (Corey Burton) is native to Krypton and fools everyone into thinking Jor-El (Christopher McDonald) is wrong about Krypton’s inevitable demise just to save himself. The rest is common knowledge even to non-comic fans: Jor-El sends his infant son to Earth, where he is found farmers Jonathan (Mike Farrell) and Martha Kent (Shelley Fabares), who raise him as Clark Kent. As his powers emerge, and he eventually learns of his alien heritage, Clark (Tim Daly) uses his abilities to fight crime in secret, until an incident forces him out into the public, and he becomes known as Superman, courtesy of reporter, Lois Lane (Dana Delaney).
Unlike its predecessor, “Batman”, “Superman” actually had story arcs dedicated to the show’s three main villains: Superman’s two greatest enemies Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) and Brainiac, and the most vile of all DC’s villains, Darkseid (Michael Ironside), a being so evil Superman is willing to kill him. This actually gives the show great continuity, and goes more in depth into these characters. Plus, the show can also serve as a good introduction to Superman’s rogues gallery, like the reality warping Mr. Mxyzptlk (Gilbert Gottfried) and the power absorbing Parasite (the late Brion James), plus new villains like Livewire (Lori Petty) and Luminous (Robert Hayes), which added as the producers felt Superman’s enemies were rather limited.
The show also features superb animation, but this Bruce Timm, so that is no surprise, and great writing that embraces the sci-fi nature of the character. It also benefits from guest appearances from other DC heroes, most notably the Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman, which expands the show’s universe.
Sadly, the show ended with the two-parter “Legacy”, in which Darkseid brainwashes Superman and in doing so, Superman’s reputation is sullied. This was to be resolved in a storyline that would have culminated in the formation of the Justice League (hence the appearance of the Flash, Green Lantern, and Aquaman), but the “brilliant” decision making of the WB undid that. Regardless, “Superman: the Animated Series” is arguably the Superman TV show of all time. It embraces the character’s history, has a terrific voice cast, and is a great gateway to the Man of Steel’s mythology. It is available on DVD, so go out and either buy or rent it, and prepare to believe once more that a man can fly.