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Superman: The Animated Series – Legacy, Parts 1 & 2 (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

It seems like I’ve spent far too long comparing Superman: The Animated Series to its direct predecessor, Batman: The Animated Series. However, it’s interesting how radically different Bruce Timm structured of the two shows. Batman came and went off the air with episodes that could only barely be described as a pilot and a finalé. On Leather Wings featured a Gotham still coming to terms with Batman, but it wasn’t an origin story. Judgment Day teased the possibility of closing Harvey Dent’s arc (and maybe killing off some recurring bad guys), but it didn’t offer too much else in the way of closure.

In contrast, Superman: The Animated Series opened and closed with two large-scale multi-part episodes designed to bookend the show, opening and closing the character’s arc. While Legacy doesn’t feel absolutely final, with plot points leading directly into Timm’s Justice League television show, it does offer a fitting end for Superman: The Animated Series.

He comes in peace.

He comes in peace.

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Superman: Birthright (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

You gotta love a good Superman origin. It seems like there are just so many of them floating around, especially in recent years. Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run, Geoff Johns’ Secret Origin and Mark Waid’s Birthright were all published within the last decade. You could throw in Kurt Busiek’s Secret Identity if you aren’t too bothered about the weight of shared universe continuity.

All of these stories are interesting on their own merits, worthy additions to the character’s back catalogue, but none of them really completely define Superman as a character. None of them really encapsulate everything essential about the character in the way that a strong origin story really should.

Birthright is a fascinating take on Superman’s origin with several clever twists and wonderful ideas, but it feels somehow inessential. It’s an alternative take, a version which feels – by its nature – somewhat secondary. It doesn’t encapsulate everything essential about Superman, but instead allows as a glimpse at the hero from a different angle.

This looks like a job for...

This looks like a job for…

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Non-Review Review: Superman Unbound

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Superman Unbound is a little disappointing. These direct-to-video animated films can offer brilliant and energetic takes on established comic book characters and stories. The recent two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns and the animated version of New Frontier come to mind. However, Superman Unbound seems to be just treading water, offering a fairly generic Superman story with no real insight into the character and his world.

Up, up and away...

Up, up and away…

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Superman: The Animated Series – Knight Time (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

It’s always fun to compare and contrast Superman and Batman, partially because they are two of the oldest and most iconic superheroes in popular culture, but also because the lend themselves to contrast. Superman is all smiles and primary colours, while Batman is shades of grey and shadows. It’s fun to see the worlds of the two superheroes overlap, if only because they are so radically different in tone, atmosphere, mood and content.

While World’s Finest brought Batman and the Joker to Metropolis to play with Superman and Lex Luthor, Knight Time sees the Man of Steel substituting in for an absentee Batman in Gotham.

I gotta get me one of those...

I gotta get me one of those…

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Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Silver Age comic books are, by their nature, different from modern comics. It’s more than just evolving social norms, or even shifting artistic sensibilities. There’s a massive world of difference between a fairly average comic written in the mid-sixties and a similarly average comic produced today. While I’d be reluctant to describe the comics contained in Superman: The Man of Tomorrow Archives, Vol. 1 as “great” or “brilliant”, they have a certain charm or novelty to them. They feel alien and unique, as if offering a raw and unrefined sample of a mood that Superman has been chasing for the past two or three decades.

While I don’t think Batman was as well-served by the sixties as he was by later decades, there’s a surreal innocence to these comics which speak to Superman as a character. These are the comics that probably inspired Richard Donner’s Superman film, and though artists like Al Plastino, Curt Swan or Dick Sprang might not have drawn a Superman who resembled Christopher Reeve, it’s very easy to imagine him fitting in among these stories quite easily.

The Silver standard?

The Silver standard?

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Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Battle of the Superheroes (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Batman and Superman. It’s a great combination, like cookies and cream or spaghetti and meatballs or… feel free to insert your own analogy here. The two characters are two of the oldest and most enduring superheroes, both owned by the same company. They also both embody two very different ideals. Batman is a pulp action hero in a silly outfit with gothic trappings, while Superman is an alien from another world dressed in primary colours. Pairing the two up to compare and contrast is great fun.

Battle of the Superheroes focuses on Batman and Superman as friends and colleagues, a portrayal which seems somewhat dated. After all, ever since Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns, the tendency has been to treat the pair as grudging allies rather than bosom buddies. Still, the Silver Age aesthetic of The Brave and the Bold suits this approach well, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the wry enthusiasm of it all.

Superhero team-up time...

Superhero team-up time…

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Flashpoint: Project Superman (Review/Retrospective)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

I actually quite liked Flashpoint. I can accept that the event had its flaws. It was a less than ideal set up for a radical shift in the status quo and a significant proportion of its tie-ins were absolutely terrible, but these are problems that seem inherent to any big “universe-altering comic book event.” However, despite that, I liked the idea of viewing the DC universe “through a glass, darkly.” Seeing familiar, but distorted reflections of DC icons cast as terrifyingly cynical nineties anti-heroes.

By positing that any world inhabiting these grim anti-heroic substitutes was severely broken, Geoff Johns was able to reaffirm the idealism of the Silver Age. Contrasting DC’s stable of iconic heroes to their darkened reflections allows us to take stock of what is really essential to them as characters. Project Superman provides a glimpse at an alternate version of Superman, one raised under very different circumstances. It dares to ask what is the essential ingredient in making Superman the character we know and love.

It’s a deeply flawed three-issue story, and can’t measure up to Brian Azzarello’s superb Batman: Knight of Vengeance, but it’s still a fascinating look at what makes Superman into Superman.

A broken world...

A broken world…

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Superman: The Animated Series – Ghost in the Machine (Review)

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Ah, Lex Luthor. Luthor is, in the right hands, an absolutely fascinating character. The arrogant, ruthless, egocentric hero of his own story – the man who resents the world for not acknowledging his genius are recognising his boundless compassion. He’s a crusader against the alien threat that has lulled his city into a false sense of security, and he’s willing to make untold sacrifices in order to expose Superman as the menace that Luthor knows deep down that he is.

Well, not really. Luthor is a greedy and manipulative sociopath with delusions of grandeur and a ruthless streak a mile wide. However, there’s something quite intoxicating about the romantic mythology he’s created from himself. Ghost in the Machine is really the first time we’ve focused on a character taken in by that mythology, somebody won over by Luthor’s propaganda and his alpha male charisma.

Mercy Graves was never the break-out character that Harley Quinn was, but she’s another valuable addition to the DC universe made by Bruce Timm and the rest of DC animation. Ghost in the Machine is as much her story as Superman’s or Brainiac’s, as she finds herself caught in the middle.

Another day in the body shop...

Another day in the body shop…

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Justice League: The Nail (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

What would comics look like without Superman? The character is so iconic and influential and omnipresent that it’s a fun thought experiment to take him out of the DC universe and watch the narrative threads unravel. Alan Davis is a pretty incredible artist. He’s done great work with writers like Mike W. Barr (on an underrated Detective Comics run) and Chris Claremont (on Excalibur). However, he may not have been the best choice to write this three-part Justice League of America Elseworld. It’s a great concept, but the execution leaves a little to be desired.

Is somebody missing?

Is somebody missing?

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Non-Review Review: Superman vs. The Elite

To celebrate the release of Man of Steel this month, we’re going Superman mad. Check back daily for Superman-related reviews.

Superman has struggled with his pop culture credibility for quite some time now. The character is seen as too old-fashioned or outdated to really resonate in the modern world, standing for an overly simplistic and unquestioning moral philosophy which doesn’t take into account the nuances of current realities. Superman vs. The Elite, adapted from Joe Kelly’s What’s so Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?, represents an attempt to counter this opinion of Superman as a character. Unfortunately, it never really does so be convincing us that the character is still relevant. Instead, it creates a bunch of convenient straw men to oppose our hero, and never allows him to win on his own terms.

Beware the Superman...

Beware the Superman…

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