Alright, here's a list of my top 5 episodes (or more accurately, top 5 stories) of Superman or Superman: The Animated Series. I have found an interesting theme among them.

I am not a big fan of this intro. The producers said they wanted to make an original opening like they did for Batman, but just never had the time. They also informed me that a good Superman theme song needs to be able to support the repeated lyric of "Superman" within the music. So now Ben and I break into singing "Superman" every time we hear this theme play.

5. Brave New Metropolis

Alternate dimensions or dark futures can be tiresome. However I think with a character as idealized as Superman, seeing him fall is an interesting dichotomy from his regular character. The episode also showcases and moves Lois more than they had before (Dana Delaney is a great great Lois). I think their gradual push towards building a relationship between Supes and Lois was a good idea and it works well for this episode because it gives them something lasting to give the audience, which is often the downfall of an alternate dimension story. This story did however fall into a the trap of a hohum 3rd act. Which as I began to think about it more, boring and standard third acts is quite common. In this show as well as the other Timmverse shows, but honestly this is a fairly universal ailment. 3rd acts seem to be just pushing down the dominoes you've set up with no attempt to make your dominoes zig or zag or provide an especially effectual thud. Especially with as well versed as our culture is in the 3-act system, most people could pretty much fill out the script for the 3rd act after they've seen the first two, whether they do it consciously or instinctively.

4. The Last Son of Krypton
The rest of my picks are all multi-parters. The Last Son of Krypton was the origin story. This specifically gets picked for the first part which takes place entirely on Krypton. They actually succeed at making a story that most everyone knows (or at least the nerds you'd expect to be watching this) interesting and compelling. They create a whole and distinct world for a 22-minute episode. They made complete characters out of Jor-El and Lara and wrapped Brainiac effectively into the Kryptonian mythos. The rest of the origin story is good and effective, but the first episode especially stands out. It also has the best animation of the three episodes if I recall.

3. World's Finest
Normally teamup stories don't work. They sell well, but are uninteresting. Now this rule gets proven wrong plenty often, but at the same time this series also reinforced the rule many times over. They did many teamups, but most were not great. The only sell was getting to see the new character get introduced. But for World's Finest they worked hard at putting a worthwhile story together and then they let the dynamic characters do the rest. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill immediately raised the voice acting quality of the whole show. Clancy Brown is a great Luthor, and Tim Daly is an effective Superman. But Bruce Timm told the story of Daly first hearing Conroy do his Batman voice and Daly's jaw just dropped (and he proceeded to drop Superman's voice an octave and gave it a bit of gravel). All told, the character interactions really set this story off. The Lois bit at first seems forced, but as the story unfolds it proves very effective at pushing all the different ties that bind these characters. I would say the final 3rd act again proved boring. The first episode is probably again the best of the bunch. It definitely had the best animation.

2. Legacy
Well this is rated higher for perhaps the opposite reason of some of these other stories. It is specifically in the third act that this episode shines. In fact it keeps growing on me. It will perhaps overtake number 1 on this list at some point as I sit on it. I am realizing that parts of what make this 3rd act good is that they have an ending that moves and effects things. The series as a whole would have been greatly different if this had not proved to be the series finale. Timm mentions how TV shows at this time (live action or otherwise) did not bother to do season finales. And thus everything was extremely episodic and everything had to be neatly wrapped up. This series moreso than Batman or Batman Beyond really started pushing a bit of a bigger story feel. Legacy is perhaps their best example of this. Or would have been if they had proceeded to make any more episodes.

I keep thinking through this story because it plays with the key attributes to my current puzzling over the Superman icon. This story has Superman pushed to the brink. He begins to give into the darkness. He begins to turn. He begins to fall. Many people have a problem with Superman being too good, too perfect. I have had this problem. But now I am more intrigued by it; moreso I am intrigued by how people react to it. One who defends Superman's perfection may have trouble with Legacy. But I like it as the story sits in my head longer. Timm said something about how he liked that they ended the series on almost a darker note which is counterintuitive of what you'd expect from a Superman series. I however saw it as darkness that ended with the first steps towards redemption. To me that is actually a very positive ending. Redemption requires darkness. I think Timm's specific point was that it shows Superman fail (even when he gives in to the darkness he still fails). But again, the dawn that comes from this night I think replaces it. Not only that, but the steps Superman will have to undertake to undergo his redemption is harder than any of the other battles he's fought. Yes, most of it is projected, as the episode ends with only hints of what is to come, but you know where this thing is going... err would go.

The following clip is the final battle. It actually takes out the parts that redeem this ending. This part is actually storyboarded by Bruce Timm himself. In his words, he can't storyboard a fight scene to save his life unless the combatants absolutely hate each other. The thing I found most striking is considering how much of this series turned into a Jack Kirby lovefest, this last fight and specifically the ending brought Frank Miller to mind many many times in the art. I don't know if that was intentional. Timm never said it was. It actually works for me quite a bit, however, if at first a little distracting. I don't know that any of you would actually want to watch this as you are probably split between people who would rather see the entire story or could care less.

And again, all that redemptive stuff comes after this. Or is read into the cracks by me.

1. Apokolips ... Now!
The amount I just talked about Legacy is gonna make it look like it should be listed #1... Oh well. Hopefully I can make this sound good. I am more specifically referring to part 2 of Apokolips ... Now! The show had been building towards something with Darkseid for quite some time. And I knew of Darkseid, but I just knew he was a big bad. Beyond that, all I knew was what they slowly began to show in this show. Apokolips ... Now! is when Darkseid gets his full reveal in terms of plans, power, motivation... err well sort of. Some of those details are still a bit vague, but you learn, if ever so briefly about New Genesis and its war/truce with Apokolips. Orion gets some air time and Earth gets invaded. Before this point, the Superman series was just these guys finally getting to do sci fi after keeping Batman "down to Earth". Well in this story, they get to do something else that just wouldn't work for Batman, and that is fending off an invading army.

What they pull off though is that you can feel this invasion. As they begin to tear apart Metropolis you feel the impact. It easy in these shows, with all the careless wreckage and destruction going on, that you just kinda grow numb to it. But in this episode you feel the dread. And the burning red skies, along with the swarms of parademons, you just can't see how the world could stay the same after this episode. Admittedly this still lacks the scope that they would better serve in the Justice League series, but you may actually have a stronger sympathetic connection to it because of it.

What is more, they could have fended off the invasion and then Metropolis just goes back to normal. But instead they make sure their is a cost. You think the day is won and victory is decided (and it is) but Darkseid has one last gift. It twists and turns the characters in new directions. Seeing an enraged Superman proves how deep Darkseid had truly cut him. More so than any of his other threats.

What is more, they fittingly dedicate the whole story to Jack Kirby, creator of all of the Fourth World stories (Darkseid, New Genesis, Apokolips, all this junk I've been rambling on and on about, along with many many other wonderful works of imagination). I think the thing about this episode was just how shocking it all was. They had never done something like this before. It was not in all ways perfect, but it was a shock. I remember the first time I saw it I was left a bit amazed by what I had just seen in a Superman cartoon.

Again, a good 3rd act elevates this episode above the rest.

Concluding comments: For someone who is not immediately drawn to the Superman mythos, this series does a lot to change my opinion of the property. Will he ever be a favorite, no. But he can be the vehicle for good/entertaining stories.

Moving into Justice League I am already frustrated by the way he is drawn... It was also a stark contrast between where Superman left off and Justice League picks up as to the public sentiment towards the Supes. And the voice actor changed... So it is a bit of an adjustment. We'll see how it goes.

No comments: