Remembering the Excellence of “Superman: The Animated Series”

With the success of his iconic adaptation, “Batman: The Animated Series” behind him, creator Bruce Timm was asked by Warner Bros. in 1996 to produce a companion series to the darker crime drama. The natural jumping off point from Batman was, of course, Superman, the equally recognizable and ever immortal character from DC Comics. With “Batman: The Animated Series” ensuring the success of DC translating in to the animated medium, Superman was a welcome change of pace for the medium Timm had helped innovate for the decade. It was also a welcome reboot for Superman fans who wanted the Man of Steel brought in to the decade.

An amalgam of Superman lore both past and contemporary, “Superman: The Animated Series” was a brighter, and much more hopeful superhero series, that features the Man of Steel and his introduction to Metropolis. Superman is the character built on the mold from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, but garners much less angst and is not as morose as his present incarnations. Combining several different iterations from various creators, “Superman: The Animated Series” began on Krypton before it exploded, laying the groundwork for much of the series, and what would also become the foundation for the DCAU as a whole. There’s a lot of foreshadowing to future episodes (There’s even a cameo from Krypto), including the mention of Kryptonian criminals. The series re-imagines Brainiac as a crucial computer system and database for Krypton who betrays scientist Jor-El and the people of the planet for the sake of self-preservation.

The series opens with a two parter featuring teenage Clark Kent learning about his alien heritage, coming to grips with his superpowers and his inevitable entrance in to Metropolis as Clark Kent and Superman. In this version, Clark is less a stumbling nerd, and more a go-getting and humble reporter who competes with Lois Lane. Meanwhile, Lex Luthor goes from mad scientist to wealthy CEO who doesn’t just want to own Metropolis, but wants to carve it in his image and become its ruler. When Superman appears for the first time to save the day and become adored by the people of the city, Lex forms an instant hatred for him and plots against him throughout the course of the show’s four season run.

The series garnered an excellent cast of character actors, including Dana Delaney (China Beach) as Lois Lane, Clancy Brown (in what would become one of his most notable roles) as Lex Luthor, along with Tim Daly (Wings) playing the quintessential Superman that all future animated Superman voices would be modeled after. The pedigree of voice actors didn’t end there, as respective folks like Michael Ironside, Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell, Gilbert Gottfried, and William H. Macy would later appear in recurring roles.

“Superman: The Animated Series” made some headway in the scope of the DC Universe, even though it didn’t quite have the influence as Batman did. It introduced new characters like villainous radio shock DJ Livewire, as well as Lex Luthor’s tragically submissive chauffeur and bodyguard Mercy Graves. Both characters would be given immortality in the pages of DC, along with other instant favorite Harley Quinn. “Superman: The Animated Series” had a much larger scope in terms of the DC Universe, allowing the premise to go farther than Batman did in his series.

While Batman did confront supernatural foes like Ra’s Al Ghul, as well as Jonah Hex, “Superman: The Animated Series” opened up vast new areas of the DC Universe not previously explored. Over the course of the series, we were given the New Gods, Green Lantern, The Flash, Darkseid, the Legion of Superheroes, and even Aquaman. We also met extended Superman family members like Supergirl, and Steel. The series lasted four seasons on television ending in 2000, with the third season being merged with the Batman series, and renamed “The New Batman/Superman Adventures.”

This combination would set the stage for more crossovers between Batman and Superman, and their supporting characters, as well as the eventual meeting of the heroes in the two part episode “World’s Finest.” In it, Superman and Batman do battle with their worst foes Lex Luthor and The Joker, when the latter team up to bring down the crime fighters. While there were some plot points left dangling at the end of “Superman: The Animated Series,” many of them were carried over in to the equally fantastic blockbuster Bruce Timm series “Justice League” and “Justice League Unlimited.” In the two part finale of “Superman: The Animated Series” titled “Legacy,” he is caught by Darkseid and brainwashed in to becoming his soldier, conquering Earth and defeating Supergirl.

The fall out would later be felt in “Justice League” where many of the storylines would reflect Earth’s paranoia toward Superman going rogue yet again. As well, the US government and STAR Labs would develop their own Supergirl clone named Power Girl to fight Superman should he once again become a menace. “Superman: The Animated Series” is still a wonderful part of the Bruce Timm animated DC Universe. It hasn’t shown its age since 1996 and I love to re-visit it almost every year to help me remember why I love the character of Superman and his mythos so much.