Superman! Superman! Look up there, it’s Superman!

Seeing as I’ve broken into doing some Batman: The Animated Series episodes, I thought I’d have a look at a random smattering of Superman episodes, with animation again from the top level TMS production company.

The Prometheon (by Alan Burnett and Stan Berkowitz)

Before I get into the actual episode, it’s interesting that at least 95% of the opening to this show is recycled material from the actual show, rather than a separately produced piece like Batman had, and I was actually never as struck by the Batman opening, despite everything working and the animation being great – I wanted REAL villains in it! Anyway, to this episode. The US production side had purposely streamlined character designs and gone for a more stylised look to aid with the animation, which is noticeable immediately. A giant creature is found bound to a meteor near to Earth. Sunlight awakens it and it plummets to Earth, heading for Metropolis.

Great “slowed down” animation to depict the movement in space, as well as capturing explosions, sunlight and the craggy, brown features of the monster. We’re given a taciturn, unemotional creature that’s basically a walking weapon, absorbing energy and blasts, which make it stronger, making the protagonists think about how to defeat it. Even when it dips its hand into molten steel, it draws all the heat out of it and leaves it a cold, muddy substance.

The night time setting is great, as it heads into the environment, getting darker and darker. The idea that even the moon takes on a dangerous quality, as the light of it can power the Prometheon, adds to the eerie feeling as it’s revealed.

General Hardcastle makes his first appearance here, played by the awesome Charles Napier, who was the more talkative guard that gets killed by Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (the one that gets strung up like a death angel against the side of the cage, not the one who has his face removed for Lecter to disguise himself with). He’s anti-Superman in a more low key way than he’d end up being before the series ended.

There’s a great lack of saying stuff in the show or making noise, for instance removing any incidental music so you can hear the sound of his footsteps. When Professor Hamilton finds out the awful legacy of the beast, we don’t get all the details, just enough to infer how destructive it is. When he’s defeated at the end of the episode, there’s no conversation about it, nothing trite is said, just visible acknowledgement that they just about did it.

This episode probably doesn’t come up on the list of favourites for a lot of people, but I thought it was fantastic.

Action Figures (by Hilary J. Bader)

A goofy “Where are they now?” item from Angela Chen leads us back to Metallo, last seen plummeting to the bottom of the ocean. He’s back now, “befriending” a boy and girl at a research centre on an island, making a horror movie-like emergence, stripped of all of his synthetic skin, a visible rictus grin, covered in mud and seaweed, seemingly about to menace the girl. As is, he’s lost his memory, so Malcolm McDowell plays him in a really interesting way, sympathetic and almost heroic, as he does things that help people, but he maintains his creepiness through regaining his memory fully, at which point he becomes the same old piece of shit that he always was (“Lois Lane! I’d give you a kiss if I still had my lips!”). He even looks sinister in a goofy raincoat and hat.

The vehicle movement is animated far more realistically than computer-animated vehicles in shows today do. I know it’s so that they can maintain consistent dimensions and shape, but it just doesn’t look as good as when it’s done well here. As Metallo is a robot and Superman is practically invulnerable, the level of violence and damage is high, with Superman’s head being stuck into rolling lava (no burns, luckily!). Metallo is defeated, making a tinny screaming sound at the end that will make you shiver. There’s some beautiful animation at the end set against the sun, like a moment of relief after a horror movie has just concluded and everyone is safe, but then it moves to end with Metallo, locked in lava, talking to himself to keep himself sane, but quite obviously going insane (“I am Metallo. I am Metallo. I am Metallo…”). It’s an episode that on paper sounds shit, but it’s pulled off so well that it makes it a great one.

Ghost in the Machine (by Rich Fogel)

After the rare occasion of a Lexcorp weapon demonstration going wrong, Lex Luthor receives an anonymous call giving him a tip-off and drawing him to the basement. Once there, he is locked in and trapped by robots under the control of Brainiac, existing electronically within his computers and with an almost completed new body on the table, which Luthor is required to put the finishing touches to, an early stage of their partnership (forced or otherwise) that would continue through to the very end of the DCAU in Justice League Unlimited.

To rescue Lex, bodyguard and driver Mercy Graves has to partner up with Clark Kent/Superman, giving us a bit of her back story (being rescued from the streets by Lex, given responsibility and trust, but never crossing a certain line, although her role would change in his organisation by Justice League). Superman gets to melt some robots. Brainiac gets a cool electronic leitmotif as he rises up finally completed from Luthor’s work desk, like Frankenstein’s monster. We feel a bit sorry for Lex when he’s a captive, but he doesn’t stop to go back and help Mercy when she becomes trapped and doesn’t thank her or show her much appreciation once he’s free, as noticed by Superman. There’s an argument that it’s not a job that’s paid in thanks and pats on the back, it’s a job where putting her own life on the line for the boss is expected, but it does add to the interesting relationship between the two.

Conclusion: I was watching these episodes on account of who animated them and not having watched them loads of times, like Brave New Metropolis or Apokolips… Now or The Late Mr. Kent, but luckily it’s three episodes I was impressed with and I give them three out of three and will doubtless go back and watch more.

Tomorrow: A trio of Thundercats episodes!

Sunday: A trio of MASK episodes!