Superman: The Animated Series - A Review. ~ What'cha Reading?

Superman: The Animated Series – A Review.

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“The Last Son of Krypton” – Parts I, II, and III

Written by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini

Part One directed by Dan Riba; Part Two directed by Scott Jeralds and Curt Geda; and Part Three by Dan Riba and Bruce Timm

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As we’re a month away from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I’ve started to countdown to the upcoming film with a self-imposed 64 day challenge of sorts.  The self created challenge started with one Zack Snyder film a day, moving to one Superman movie a day (SupermanSuperman IISuperman Returns), and then to Superman: The Animated Series.  The popular cartoon, produced by the same great people that brought us Batman: The Animated Series, ran from 1996 to 2000 and then spun off into Justice LeagueUnlimitedBatman Beyond, and the often forgotten The Zeta Project.  (Am I forgetting Static Shock?)  When Superman: The Animated Series originally aired, I wasn’t the most devoted watcher as I was yet to become the Man of Steel fan that I am today.  I saw “The Last Son of Krypton” numerous times, along with having the Kenner/Hasbro action figures of Transforming Superman/Clark Kent and Lex Luthor.  I even had the Metropolis playset by Micro Machines, along with a PC game complete with coloring activities, puzzles, and a game of Othello (which is the reason I love the game to this date.  It’s supposedly Lex’s favorite.)  When Man of Steel released in 2013, I spent the 54 days leading up to the Zack Snyder directed film by watching one episode a night.  With less than 54 days to go (54 is how many episodes of Superman: TAS were produced), I’ve once again returned back to the Bruce Timm and Paul Dini produced world of Superman.

superman-last-son-of-krypton“The Last Son of Krypton” aired in three parts and is presented as three separate episodes on the Superman: The Animated Series DVD.  I viewed each episode over the course of three days and, hopefully, it’ll be more comprehensive to approach the Alan Burnett and Paul Dini written episodes as one complete story.  Part One, directed by Dan Riba, takes place solely on Krypton in the days leading up to the cataclysmic destruction.  We’re introduced to Jor-El, Lara, Brainiac, and Lara’s father, Sol-Van.  Part One stands out as a dramatic departure from 1979’s Superman: The Movie and is more in line with the 80’s “Superman: Man of Steel” reboot by John Byrne.  Despite the update, Burnett, Dini, and director Dan Riba cleverly begin the series premiere episode with Jor-El navigating an ice land area of the planet Krypton.  He’s using subterranean probes to study the planet and to verify his theory of planetary destruction.  With Superman: The Animated Series taking place a few years after Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and several years after Superman IV, one has to take into consideration the long gestating Warner Bros. reboot of the film series, which at this time would have been the Tim Burton/Nicolas Cage film Superman Lives.  Superman sat in a place perfectly preserved in frozen nostalgia, where if one moved too far from the Donner/Reeve version, it would be considered heresy worthy of damnation in the Phantom Zone.  But, if one could skillfully navigate the Superman mythology and move it away just enough to be respectful of what fans had widely accepted as cannon, but give it just enough of a new spin, it could easily become regarded as definitive as Batman: The Animated Series.  I didn’t need to re-watch “The Last Son of Krypton” parts I, II, and III to be reminded that Superman: The Animated Series accomplished just that and became just as definitive as Batman: TAS.  But, it sure is fun to re-watch these episodes.

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Clark and Lana from Part II.

“The Last Son of Krypton” may, in some ways, be even more of a triumph in story telling than that of the Fleischer classic shorts.  Interestingly, it was the Fleischer shorts that inspired the look of Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series, which in turn led to them spinning off that show with Superman: The Animated Series.  Part One explored Krypton and Part Two brings us to Clark Kent’s coming of age in Smallville which leads to his arrival in Metropolis and debut as Superman.  Part Three, as expected, gives us our first episode fully devoted to the standard Superman story of Clark Kent as a reporter, having to become Superman, court Lois Lane, and make enemies with Lex Luthor.

Superman-TAS-The-Last-Son-Of-Krypton-Part-Three-6“The Last Son of Krypton” does more for Superman’s origin than Fleischer’s shorts ever did, and in respect to Lois and Clark, provides fans with a worthy origin to make us proud to be fans of the big, blue, boyscout and granddaddy of all super heroes.  I love the Fleischer shorts and it may not be fair to even compare the two as they both entered pop-culture at different times, but I am a Superman fan boy and I stand by Superman: The Animated Series as my favorite incarnation of the Man of Steel.

Parts Two and Three of “The Last Son of Krypton” give us a loving portrait of Clark’s upbringing along with the relationship he shares with Martha and Jonathan Kent or Ma and Pa.  When Pa Kent reveals to Clark the weird origin in which he was at first believed to be a “Sputnik baby”, we understand Clark’s fear and pain in realizing he’s not the legitimate blood relative of two people he’s grown to love more than anyone else.  It’s nearly crushing when Clark finally meets Jor-El and Lara through Kryptonian technology and when he runs away from the farm and first discovers the ability of flight, the sequence tugs more at our hearts than inspire us in the way the first flight sequence does in Man of Steel.  The level of authenticity in Superman: The Animated Series is very reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series and reminds us exactly why Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Bruce Timm are so revered!  (Timm is my favorite animator and artist.  Just take a look at the masterwork and framework of both Batman and Superman.)

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“The Last Son of Krypton” reliably introduces Lois Lane, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, The Daily Planet, and the usual staples of a good Superman story.  We also get a re-envisioned John Corben, voiced by Malcolm McDowell, and a terrific Lex Luthor voiced by Clancy Brown.

Superman: The Animated Series has been criticized by a few for its blockier renditions of classic DC Comics characters, but the artwork does keep it in the same lineage of Batman: The Animated Series, which was inspired by the one of a kind, Jack Kirby.  The art does work very well for Superman: TAS and with it coming a few years after Batman: TAS, the colors and lines are sharper and more pronounced.  However, the art style used for Superman: The Animated Series is completely different than the early seasons of Batman: The Animated Series.  As different as the Man of Steel is from The Dark Knight, enjoyment and favoritism really comes down to which character you enjoy more.

Findings Worthy of Brainiac

  • “Rao” is referenced in Part One,
  • Superman saves a plane in Part Two.  It’s similar to not only the Man of Steel’s introduction in John Byrne’s 80’s mini-series, but also Superman Returns and CBS’ Supergirl,
  • “That nut in Gotham City.” – Martha Kent
  • Bibbo, as voiced by Brad Garrett and Pa Kent, as voiced by Mike Farrell,
  • TIM DALY!!! If you have yet to watch The Daly Show on YouTube, please check it out.  Every episode contains a Superman reference, and
  • A “Shoggoth” appears in Part One on Krypton.  That’s a Lovecraft reference.

Whether you’re counting down like me, or you just happen to be looking for a great, memorable, show, I cannot recommend Superman: The Animated Series enough.

“The Last Son of Krypton” Part I, II, and III get five stars!  Stay tuned for my take on additional episodes here at What’cha Reading and make sure to leave your comments in regards to both the Superman and Batman animated series!

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About Author

Mild mannered reporter, Steven Biscotti, has an avid interest in all things comic books, movies, and music (especially pertaining to Coldplay.) Always ready, professional, and on the scene, those closest to him may suspect he's actually from another planet. @ReggieMantleIII

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