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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: 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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Superman: The Animated Series – The Way of All Flesh (Review)

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

Although it was quite clear from The Last Son of Krypton that Superman: The Animated Series was going to be quite a different beast than Batman: The Animated Series, there were times when the show borrowed a trick or two from its older sibling. Particularly early in the show’s run, there were a number of “villain origin” episodes which seemed to emulate the more successful villain-centric stories from Batman: The Animated Series.

Fun and Games, the origin episode for Toyman, could easily have been adapted for the other show with a minimum of fuss. It was probably too similar, and a demonstration that Timm’s approach to Batman couldn’t be expected to work perfectly for Superman. Feeding Time and The Way of All Flesh are two single episodes designed to introduce two of Superman’s second-tier bad guys, the Parasite and Metallo.

While they retain a stronger sense of serialised storytelling than many of the Batman stories, there’s a very clear attempt on the part of the writers to humanise and almost empathise with these villains. The Way of All Flesh is probably the most successful, in part because Metallo has a great hook for writer Stan Berkowitz to mine, in part because he’s an interesting villain is his own right, and in part because it does this without seeming too much like an attempt to copy Batman: The Animated Series.

The real man of steel...

The real man of steel…

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Superman: The Animated Series – Last Son of Krypton (Parts 1, 2 & 3) (Review)

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

After the success of Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series must have seemed like the most logical choice. Bruce Timm had already assembled a team of writers and production personnel who had collaborated to produce one of the finest distillations of one of DC’s most iconic characters. Giving Timm a chance to work with Superman seems only reasonable. After all, Superman is a character that Warner Brothers has always had a bit of difficulty exploiting to his maximum potential.

However, Superman is not quite Batman. Despite the fact that he’s older and (at the very least) just as iconic, Superman hasn’t been quite as popular as Batman for quite some time. He doesn’t have the same depth of supporting characters, and his iconography isn’t as thoroughly integrated into popular consciousness as that of Batman. Superman didn’t have a live-action technicolour sixties television show to introduce an entire generation to the Parasite, Metallo, the Kryptonite Man or many others.

Opening with a three-part pilot, it’s immediately clear that Timm knows that Superman is a very different character than Batman, and that he can’t simply apply the same formula which made Batman: The Animated Series such a high-profile success. From the opening episode of Last Son of Krypton, it’s clear that Superman: The Animated Series is going to be a very different animal.

Up, up and away!

Up, up and away!

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The Demon by Jack Kirby (Review/Retrospective)

Of all of Jack Kirby’s seventies DC work, I think that everything must be somebody’s favourite. His Fourth World books bristled with ambition and perhaps serve as the most high-profile, influential and long-running of Kirby’s work with the publisher, but you never have to look too hard to find a proponent of the author and artist’s work on O.M.A.C. or Kamandi. While I am fond of all of Kirby’s DC work, enjoying the raw energy and sheer volume of ideas he brings to his high concepts, I have a soft spot for The Demon, if only because it’s a delightfully off-the-wall example of Kirby’s multiple interests bouncing off one another and familiar archetypes to create something that is often quite difficult to pin down.

Night of the Demon!

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The Dark Knight Rises 101: Or, Tell Me About Bane…

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

To help get everybody in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises later this month, I thought it might be worth taking a look at the third film in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, the sequel to both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

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Batman Beyond: The Call (Parts I & II)

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. This review/retrospective was meant to go out over a week ago, when I looked at Justice League: New Frontier, but unfortunately my package was delayed in the mail. However, I thought it might be worth a look back at the first time we saw a Justice League in the DC animated universe.

It seems that Bruce Timm and his staff of writers had considerable advanced notice that they’d be working on a Justice League cartoon show. The last season of Superman: The Animated Series contained animated introductions of characters like the Green Lantern in In Brightest Day and the Flash in Speed Demons. However, the introduction of the Justice League as a concept, a team of superheroes working for the greater good, came in Batman Beyond of all places. Portraying the distant future of the animated universe after Batman retired, it proved an interesting way to look at the team without getting too involved in the personalities involved.

Batman goes Beyond the call of duty...

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Justice League – Maid of Honour

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. With the review of Wonder Woman earlier today, I thought I’d take a look at one of the better Wonder Woman episodes of the DC animated universe.

While Batman: The Animated Series leaned more towards noir crime stories or gothic tragedies, and Superman: The Animated Series favoured high-concept science-fiction and space opera, Justice League offered action adventure stories, typically told in two or three half-hour episodes for a somewhat grander scale than most of the episodes of the earlier series allowed. In particular, Maid of Honour is essentially a superhero taken on a quintessential Bond film.

They share quite a Bond...

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Superman: The Animated Series – Brave New Metropolis

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. I’ll be looking at movies and episodes and even some of the related comic books. Since I looked at Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths earlier, I thought it might be worth a look at what a world run by a well-intentioned Superman might look like.

The interesting thing about Superman is that, as a character, he’s very frequently defined by what he isn’t – or what he shouldn’t be. It’s very hard to codify what Superman is, but easy to agree on what he shouldn’t be (for example, the suggestion that Superman should be light and fuzzy is more likely to spark an argument than the observation that he shouldn’t be dark; or the suggestion that he should be a “sci-fi” hero is bound to more controversial than the suggestion that he shouldn’t be a street-level vigilante). Stories like Mark Millar’s superb Red Son define the character by what he isn’t (a proactive political figure) – while interpretations seeking to define the character in more positive terms are frequently divisive (for example, the space hero of James Robinson’s New Krypton or the “down with the people” “wandering the earth” traveler in Grounded). Brave New Metropolis follows a similar structure, in defining Superman by what he isn’t or shouldn’t be: he shouldn’t be a ruler or people.  

Lex Luthor is bald because he got sick of people holding him like that...

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Superman: The Animated Series – The Late Mr. Kent

This post is part of the DCAU fortnight, a series of articles looking at the Warner Brothers animations featuring DC’s iconic selection of characters. With the review of Superman: Doomsday yesterday, I thought it might be worth taking a look at some of the other times Superman has “died” in these animated stories.

Superman: The Animated Series wasn’t quite the huge success that the earlier Batman: The Animated Series had been. It was still a superb animated adaptation of an iconic comic book property, but perhaps Superman is just a tougher character to get a handle on than the Dark Knight – there’s no denying the popular perception that Superman is “boring” by virtue of the fact that he can do just about anything. We can debate that idea back and forth, but I’d argue that the a really good Superman story makes his powers irrelevant by avoiding (or at least downplaying) the physical threat. The character isn’t necessarily defined by how hard he can hit things or how fast he can fly, but by who he is. (Of course, this doesn’t really excuse the “emo-Superman” approach DC seem to be so fond of with Superman Returns and all that.) The Late Mr. Kent is – for my money – one of the most fascinating episodes of the animated series by virtue of the fact that it finds a rather interesting and deeply personal angle on the Man of Steel, without feeling the need to be “grand” or “epic”. Sometimes it’s enough to be intimate.  

Clark was blown away by the story he uncovered...

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