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Superman: The Complete Animated Series

Warner Bros. Television Animation (September 6 1996 – February 12 2000), Warner Home Video (November 24 2009), 7 disc set, 1182 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital Stereo Surround, Not Rated, Retail: $53.98

Storyboard:

The Man Of Steel returns to the animated screen in Bruce Timm’s follow up to Batman: The Animated Series.

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The Sweatbox Review:

In the 1990s, a friend of mine who worked in merchandising showed me a peek at the pitch bible Warner Bros. had put together to get the toy manufacturers excited about the upcoming Batman: The Animated Series. The designs were great, a terrific, hyper art deco look to the environments and architecture, and retro but lean and bold treatments for the character designs unlike anything really seen in animation until that point. Tim Burton’s Batman feature had hit huge in 1989, becoming Warners’ most profitable picture ever, and the Bat-insignia was everywhere and, it seemed, on every toy. Burton couldn’t keep the movies coming fast enough, so how better than to keep Bats exposed each week than to give him his own animated show?

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Unfortunately, aside from the first few episodes and the later feature-length outing Mask Of The Phantasm, I never really got into the series. By this point, the extended toy commercials of the 1980s had all but put me off television animation, though the launch of Batman: The Animated Series, which fed off the hype surrounding Burton’s film and its sequel Batman Returns in 1992, was enough to get me interested. I could appreciate that producer Bruce Timm and his team were especially keen to move away from the toy commercial aspect of kids television cartoons, and the writing reflected the darker, more mature world that Batman inhabited, and I felt the continuation from Burton’s movies in the program through Shirley Walker’s arrangement of the theme she had originally orchestrated for Burton’s Batman composer Danny Elfman.

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But the stumbling block for me was in the budget animation, which while bold and full of visually striking poses, was often ham-fisted, awkward and without style. Sure, they looked great, especially the heroic posing, but once those images that I had seen in the promo pitch book began to move, they did so without the kind of fluidity that would have lent the same awesome grace to the movement that the drawings exhibited, lunging from keyframe to keyframe. For me in such cases, as with much Japanese anime, I find it difficult to engage with characters who can not come across as being “real”, especially when something like Batman was supposed to be rooted in some kind of reality. Usually, if the writing is very good and captures me, then the barrier between myself and the animation can be broken down, and a great deal of enjoyment can be had.

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I’m obviously in the minority here, since Batman: The Animated Series went on to almost 100 successful episodes, including follow up series, The Adventures Of Batman And Robin and The New Batman Adventures (all released as Batman: The Complete Animated Series on DVD last fall), as well as several direct-to-video features and spin-off series such as Batman Beyond, and generally laying the foundation for the complete DC Comics Animated Universe that continues with great success today, overseen by Bruce Timm and thus sparking the geeks’ coined nickname of the “Timmverse”. But, whatever the hoopla surround the series, I just couldn’t get into it, and sadly a large number of these projects have passed me by or left me unimpressed and, although Superman is one of my favorite all-time characters in any medium, I never really took the time to discover how he adapted to the Timmverse.

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Well…consider me impressed.

For some reason, when Superman: The Animated Series came along as a successor to Batman in 1996, I just hadn’t been that interested in the new designs, an overly bright look and a perceived tackiness to the animation. It seemed to me that, in trying to get away from everything we knew and associated with Kal-El and his adventures on Earth, the developers of the show had kind of ended back at square one anyway, having been all around the houses and not, ultimately, been able to come up with any outstanding new concepts. I didn’t – and especially – like the logo, which followed the usual pushed out perspective style of presenting “Superman”, but raised it so much that the treatment was more about the extruded drop-shadow than the name itself. Even now, I still don’t like it: it’s simply trying too hard.

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But Superman is a character who’s always worth watching, whatever he’s in, and my devotion to him has always been more based in his ethics as much as the brilliance of Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s creative concept. I had seen a handful of episodes of Superman: The Animated Series on and off, but only in bits and pieces, so when this Complete Series set came up for review I was eager to try it out with my full attention. One of the episodes I’d seen before was the three-part opener, The Last Son Of Krypton, though really sitting and watching it properly is quite a revelation. Taking liberties with Krypton’s past, though not to extremes, the plot manages to fill us in on more of Jor-El’s past than before, and finds an interesting – and actually perfectly logical and dare I say brilliant – twist on Brainiac’s origins, also giving veteran vocalist Corey Burton a very welcome, meaty role for him to get his teeth into.

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The look of Krypton isn’t as original as the producers were striving for: they mention in the supplements that they wanted to go in a new direction, but the retro-30s ideal of a futureworld or advanced civilisation is pretty much in effect in full here. It’s all rather Flash Gordon or, indeed, mirrors the opening of the 1949 live-action Superman theatrical serial, but apart from the very uncomfortable looking and heavy clothing (the Kryptonians being so far advanced but not to have discovered leisure suits!), it’s nice to see the show return to something that at least feels familiar and authentic as opposed to trying to come up with something so different it fails.

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A problem in the Timmverse projects for me has always been that practically every woman looks the same, and it is something that crops up again here for me: baby Kal-El’s mother Lara looks like the Lois Lane we will later meet, as does the young Martha Kent and any other number of female reporters, police officers and helpless victims. The same could be leveled at the strong male characters, but the effect is not quite so obvious and, besides, it is correct that the grown up Superman should somewhat resemble his father. A nice touch is that Kal-El’s famous kiss curl in his hair seems to be inherited from his mother, while the political aspects (including Tony Jay, bringing weight to the voices) of Krypton both deviate and mirror the 1978 Richard Donner movie’s opening. Once on Earth and discovered by the Kents, another nod has Martha picking names for the young boy: Christopher (Reeve), Kirk (Alyn) and Kevin (possibly a name check for Conroy, who was Batman/Bruce Wayne in the Batman series).

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Krypton’s silver-age comic feel switches to a more edgy and contemporary version of Superman lore when we reach Metropolis (which happens far too quickly, at the end of the second episode, for me), following more the tone and characteristics of John Byrne and Marv Wolfman’s post-1986 comic reboot and even some villains from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World reimagining. Here, Clark Kent isn’t quite so shy and retiring, and Superman actually has to struggle more when faced with a mighty foe. This wasn’t particularly new to animated Superman: way back as far as the Fleischer cartoons, the big blue Boy Scout didn’t have the invincible means of simply destroying an adversary as easily as he came to do in later comics and cartoons, but it creates a more plausible version of the Man Of Steel and naturally provides more danger and the true threat that, this time, he may not come through.

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What I also enjoyed about this version is the continuity: far from being a syndicated styled “villain of the week” show, storylines, even outside of any mini two or three part structures, have far reaching arcs: something that happens in episode one doesn’t come back to haunt Superman until part-way through the first season, and nearly every episode ends with a set-up for something that will not be paid off or even referenced until a good several episodes on. This adds to the feeling that there’s a creative vision in force on the show, rather than simply telling a short story and being done with it, and it serves the epic nature of the character and his adventures on Earth very well. In fact, rather than my sampling a few episodes here and there, I became quite gripped by the ongoing narrative and attempted to watch nearly each one for this review.

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Of course, over more than 50 episodes, not every one is going to be a humdinger, and Superman: The Animated Series has its fair share of filler. After the three-act opener (a highlight of which is Clark’s realization that he can fly), which wastes no time in introducing and setting up Superman’s relationships with the primary cast of Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, a couple of diversions featuring Supes battling The Toyman and, inevitably, a T-Rex dinosaur, though even these episodes progress the Superman mythos by introducing the Fortress Of Solitude, his fatal aversion to Kryptonite and several recurring villains including Parasite, Metallo and the return of Brainiac. Less successful is The Main Man, the screen debut of Lobo, an asinine bad-boy bad guy who’s just an annoying mush of noise and violence, and not in a cool way, unbalancing an otherwise decent concept for a two-parter in which an alien being scours the universe collecting the last specimens of endangered species.

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But there are also very good shows and an impressive layering of emotions and plotting, such as a returning Lana Lang knowing Clark’s secret, and the various teasing (to us, the audience) of his future with Lois Lane, which are small slices of geek heaven. 1997’s Season Two begins with a doozy: the two-part Blast From The Past, in which the Phantom Zone is discovered and the prisoners Mala (Leslie Easterbrook here, but geeky-coolly voiced by Superman II’s Sarah Douglas in a later episode) and the Zod-like Jax-Ur (Ron Perlman) are released. The next episode of note is the crossover Speed Demons featuring smart-aleck The Flash where, just as in the comics, the two superbeings race around the world to see who is fastest in aid of charity, finding their contest disrupted by the blackmailing Weather Wizard.

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Two old chestnuts are combined in Identity Crisis, covering the inevitable doppelganger conundrum and the introduction of Bizarro (a nicely impeded Tim Daly doubling up). Metallo returns in the excellently edited Action Figures, and Mxyzpixilated brings back another of Superman’s primary super-villains, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried who is somehow perfect, and it was nice to see a “Looney Tunes” design that returned closer to Siegel and Shuster’s original than I had seen on screen before. Every Superman screen cartoon needs a giant monkey outing, and Monkey Fun is it, though Lois is used to much better effect in the epic Brave New Metropolis, in which she is transported into an alternate dimension in which Lex Luthor rules the planet…with a black-suited Superman at his side!

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Crossovers are always fun and the next major story of note is the epic, three-part World’s Finest, in which The Joker (a guesting Mark Hamill, reprising his role) and his accomplice Harley Quinn move out of Gotham City and put it to Luthor that they have what it takes to kill off his Kryptonian nemesis. Meanwhile, Luthor has just announced a business deal with Bruce Wayne (dual voiced by Conroy), who visits Metropolis and is soon donning Batman’s cowl and cape to track down The Joker. With Superman not liking his turf invaded by such an unpredictable crime-fighter, the two butt heads at first, before a team up that sees them both taking on their ultimate foes! Exciting and well crafted, it’s no wonder that this three-act story was released individually as The Superman/Batman Movie on home video.

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The Hand Of Fate and Bizarro’s World both explore the interesting concept of superheroic beings who have become disillusioned with their power, while The Late Mr Kent is another standout show where Kal-El must let Clark “die” when an attempt on his life results in a situation from which any mere human would not survive. Told in a film noir style, this detective story, told in narrated flashback, is a departure from the program’s format and thus adds a new layer of interest, as Kal-El must face the possibility of revealing his secret identity.

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With a good amount of fairly routine episodes in the second season, Season Three packs a punch with a number of very good two-part stories, specifically Apokolips…Now!, where the hellish Darkseid (a menacing force who has been in the background of a handful of stories) comes to the fore, and Little Girl Lost, which introduces Supergirl Kara to the series (by the way, Apokolips is still the “alternate” edition which removes the brief one-shot nod to Kirby’s other characters for copyright reasons, though it can be partly-glimpsed in the new Darkseid featurette).

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Though these shows are self-contained within themselves, the storyline really does stretch out over all four episodes, and the expanded scope of Apokolips…Now! and Little Girl Lost starts to suggest the real maturity and depth that Timm and his team would begin to introduce in the follow-up Justice League series; episodes with rich backstories, emotional intensity and epic struggles. If anything, I’d argue that it was in Season Three of Superman where the intentions of a Saturday morning styled cartoon were replaced with much grander ambitions, and the DC Animated Universe really started to build on what had come before and found a sure footing for its future endeavors. The hinting towards what would come in Justice League continues with “big blue” becoming “big black” to travel to Gotham in Knight Time, when Superman covers for Bruce Wayne when Batman goes missing, teaming up with the Boy Wonder, Robin, for a dark but dryly amusing episode.

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Among the final disc of episodes, standouts are New Kids In Town (where three members of the future Legion Of Superheroes travel back to save a young Clark Kent when Brainiac attempts to kill him off Terminator style, in a story that pre-dates a similar plot in the live-action Smallville), and Absolute Power, which sees the reappearances of the Phantom Zone renegades. The last handful of shows feature a final few team-ups (In Brightest Day… and Fish Story introduce us to the Green Lantern in modern DC animation, or at least one of his variations, and Aquaman, respectively), and more showings for Supergirl and Batman, though there are also some near duds, Little Big Head Man and Superman’s Pal not doing anything much other than providing scope for some more beat ’em ups.

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The series closes with the excellent two-part Legacy, essentially a continuation of the Apokolips and Little Girl Lost storylines, in which Darkseid’s diabolically clever scheme to brain-warp Kal-El into believing he was born in Apokolips and is loyal to him finds Kal-El abandoned by the Earth he had previously vowed to protect. In a reversal of sorts to the episode Brave New Metropolis, Lois is able to help Superman breakthrough the mind-meddling and escape, but the damage has been done: our hero is imprisoned and sentenced to death! A mighty-mean Superman naturally survives to take on Darkseid, but Legacy does leaves Superman: The Animated Series on something of a despondent note (a hinted at Season Four would have dealt with Superman regaining our planet’s trust, later developed in the following Justice League), even if it raises some interesting points, such as how protected would we be if such a super-being was able to be manipulated to turn against us?

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As well as the robust writing on Superman: Animated, much of it under the super-supervision of television animation veteran Paul Dini, bringing the words to life is a terrifically strong voice cast full of some surprising names. Filling the red boots is Tim Daly, a TV and stage actor probably best known for this very role, matched by the much more prolific Dana Delany (China Beach, various films and many other DC Universe projects) as Lois Lane, and none other than Shawshank Redemption and Highlander’s Clancy Brown as Luthor, sounding much more suave that we have heard him before. Brown’s an underused actor on the big screen, but he keeps turning up as a vocalist, on such shows as varied as Gargoyles and Spongebob Squarepants, and projects as diverse as those for Disney (Little Mermaid II), Marvel (Spectacular Spider-Man, Wolverine) and more for DC, where he has been playing Luthor, amongst other roles, longer than any other actor.

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Bringing his dark and intimidating rumble to Darkseid is Brown’s Highlander franchise and Starship Troopers co-star Michael Ironside, a major star in how own right if not a Hollywood marquee name. A long career has seen him used often as a tough guy in action blockbusters (Total Recall, Terminator: Salvation) and he’s also remained a member of the extended DC cast, memorably popping up as Lois Lane’s military father in Smallville. The rest of the supporting voices are heavily impressive too, counting such big names as Malcolm McDowell, George Dzundza, Mike Farrell, Jason Marsden, Brad Garrett, Michael York, Joanna Cassidy, Joseph Bologna, Charles Napier, Charlie Schlatter, Miguel Ferrer, Robert Hayes, Jonathan Harris, Ernie Hudson, Dean Jones (yes, Dean Jones!), Michael Dorn, Xander Berkely, Ed Asner (before going Up), William H Macy, Peter Gallagher, Roddy McDowall, John Glover, Paul Williams, Henry Silva, Jason Priestly, Melissa Joan Hart, Nancy Travis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dennis Haysbert and screen veteran David Warner among those performing vocal duties from one-offs to recurring secondary characters – quite the super roll call!

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The visual aspects are clearly inspired by the groundbreaking Max and Dave Fleischer animated shorts of the 1940s (there’s a name check at one point, and a villain in Tools Of The Trade may be another intentional nod), though pulling away from the film noir feel of those cartoons, Superman: The Animated Series goes for a brighter Metropolis to suggest an optimistic feel for an art deco influenced city of the near future. Though the animation can’t hold a candle to the fluidity if a full theatrical cartoon from the golden age of animation, there is enough visual interest in both those backgrounds and the primary character animation, and with the audience more engaged in the characters’ often complex situations, the technical limitations are not as distracting. The animation is still limited, but it seems this is a creative choice, allowing for those savings to be used in bursts of expressive cartooning when the action scenes really demand it, resulting in some often quite astonishing special effects work.

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Also of note is the musical score, supporting both the storytelling and the adventurous moments. I wasn’t too sure about Shirley Walker’s main theme at first, which didn’t capture the broadness that she brought to Batman and certainly struggled to give Superman the triumphant boost that other composers have managed, most notably John Williams. Of course, Williams is a very tough act to follow, especially at the height of his game when he wrote that immortal main title march for the 1978 film, but Walker unfortunately doesn’t even come close, going for a repetitive motif that is overused even by the end of the title cue. It doesn’t help watching episodes back-to-back-to-back, but hearing the same three-note phrase over and over can get irritating, especially when its played whenever Superman makes an entrance on screen. Thankfully, the team of episode composers move away from reusing this theme after the first handful of shows, going for simpler heroic music that only references Walker’s theme when it needs to and actually recalls some more of Williams’ music every now and then, including a lovely, mechanically paced plodding march for several oversized villains.

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Although Superman: The Complete Animated Series only ran to 54 episodes (eleven short of a standard 65-episode syndicated run), this does appear to be an artistic decision rather than down to poor ratings. The show was teamed with the remainder of the Batman run for The New Superman/Batman Adventures for a year or so longer, but waiting in the wings was the Timm-ed up version of Justice League and the later Justice League Unlimited, which would take both characters and several more from the DC stable (also expanding on the mistrusted Superman material storylines intended for The Animated Series) and raise the bar yet again on television animation superhero shows, paving the way for the current line of DC Universe animated movies that have seen such successes as Justice League: The New Frontier, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the upcoming Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths.

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As noted by the production team themselves, Superman seems to be the result of four years honing their craft on Batman, with sharper stories, a better understanding of working with the outsourced Japanese animation companies, and a more refined approach to the overall techniques in general, which turned out, if not exactly groundbreaking, then a program of surprising depth, imagination and superiority over other TV animation of the time. More than anything, it treats Superman as he should be treated, and sets him up as the character with flaws as well as merits that would be a big part of his relationship with Batman in Justice League. Having very much enjoyed the lighter Super Friends series of the past, the League has been something I try to follow whenever I can, though now I am pleased to have caught up and filled in my gaps in Timm’s animated Superman chronology.

Is This Thing Loaded?

As with previous “Complete Series” sets put out by WB and other distributors, the first six discs are replicas of the original volumes previously released, right down to the dated (and not listed here) preview trailers. However, Superman: The Complete Animated Series does once again follow Batman’s trend by including a bonus seventh disc with an all-new retrospective exclusive to this compilation release. As before, the supplements for each season is spread across the corresponding discs, with Discs One and Two of Volume One being the first two discs here, Disc One and Two of Volume Two being the third and fourth discs in this new configuration, and Discs One and Two of Volume Three becoming the fifth and sixth disc here, if that makes sense.

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That all of the second discs in those sets were flippers means that this collection actually features a fairly generous ten platter sides to contain everything, though confusingly they retain their original Volume One/Two/Three markings. Going by the new numerical system, Disc One’s offerings present the first of many Audio Commentaries with Timm, Dini and other assorted crew members. On The Last Son Of Krypton: Part I, the talk is retrospective and intelligent and it was instantly recognizable to me why these folks are continuously applauded by the geeks for what they do, while other episodes reference the issues the American team had communicating with the Japanese animators, and the power of editing the returned footage into something more satisfactory.

Respectful of the source material, wanting to bring new elements to tried (and sometimes tired) and tested routines and considering every concept and idea, it’s clear that this core team, responsible for the majority of DC’s animated programming in the past 20 or so years, really knows their stuff. I was only able to sample but a few of these tracks, but mostly they were full of good stuff, with only a few instances where I wondered why a particular episode had been picked for this treatment when they simply didn’t have a lot to say about it. Despite the sometimes seemingly random choice of shows that have optional commentary, Timm and his team’s comments always bring up something that leaves you feeling the characters are ultimately in safe hands.

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A Little Piece Of Trivia plays an alternate version of the A Little Piece Of Home episode, with Superman facts swooshing up on screen throughout. Not actually a subtitle track, this is its own version of the episode, meaning that the graphics actually look pretty cool. Some of the info, such as running through Supes’ powers or those that have played him in the past, are a little redundant, but other nuggets, like revealing that the design for Luthor was based on Telly Savalas, are very rewarding. Commentaries also feature on Disc Two’s Side A, for Stolen Memories, The Main Man Part 2 and Tools Of The Trade, as well as a Learning To Fly featurette which takes a nine minute retrospective look back over the production of the first season. On Side B, Building The Mythology: Superman’s Supporting Cast featurette, running almost ten minutes, focuses on the characters’ designs and attitudes rather than the voice cast.

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On Disc Three, there’s a video commentary on Mxyzpixilated, in which writer Paul Dini, who has been geeking out over mentioning his favorite Superman villain throughout the previous tracks, is strangely subdued when joined by Timm, director Dan Riba and host Jason Hillhouse. This is pretty cool, with the guys in “Dini’s apartment” as they sit and watch the episode, presented in a split-screen fashion predating the picture-in-picture technology of Blu-ray. It takes a while for the guys to warm up, with Timm especially coming over as rather nervous going by his initially hyper attitude, but once Dini comes out of his shell it’s a little more balanced and entertaining, even if the visual aspect of seeing them talk is a bit redundant. Secondly on this disc, the 13 minute Menaces Of Metropolis: Behind The Villains Of Superman featurette celebrates the baddies of the series and their development from the original comics to this series.

Disc Four’s two supplements are to be found on Side A, a pair of two more audio commentary tracks, for Brave New Metropolis and World’s Finest Part I. The first track starts off well, with some good talk, but the gang quickly run out of things to say and it ends up being quite funny as they start to pick the show apart, if affectionately in fun, though I was glad that they kind of addressed the fact that many people thought Timm’s Luthor was black, as I did find myself wondering the same thing every now and then. World’s Finest covers the ground of how the two titans came together and the reasons why (it was basically a way to introduce new Batman adventures in the one-hour Batman/Superman format), and again it’s an interesting insight.

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I mentioned above that Season Three’s shows started to feel more like the DC Animated Universe properties that we encounter today, and there’s good reason, as it turns out, since these are the shows that most heavily draw from the comics that had Jack Kirby’s fingerprints on them, as we find out in a welcome featurette Superman: Behind The Cape on Disc Five. These 15 minutes, hosted by David “Jimmy Olsen” Kaufman, promise a look “behind the scenes”, but it’s actually a good in-depth discussion by Timm, Dini and producers Glen Murakami and Alan Burnett about the inspiration, sources and intentions for this final 18 episode run, including those shows they didn’t think turned out so well and hints on what a fourth season might have brought us. There’s more similar talk on a packed commentary track for Apokolips…Now! Part II, which essentially covers both episodes.

The extras on the original volumes end with a commentary track for New Kids In Town on Side A of Disc Six, which doesn’t bring up much information from the crew, and another commentary, for Legacy Part II, which does – in spades – and elaborates on the intentions for the season and how Supes’ continuing story was developed into Justice League. A routine inclusion on many Superman releases of 2006 was an extended preview (promoted as “excerpts from”, but really it’s just an extended preview!) for the feature-length documentary Look, Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story Of Superman, which was really just about the only good thing that came out of the whole Superman Returns mess of that year. Produced to get everyone excited about the return of the Man Of Steel on cinema screens, Look, Up The Sky! turned out to be much better than the completely useless movie it was basically put out to promote and if you haven’t seen it (the documentary, not the awful movie), either on its own pre-movie released disc or as part of the awesome Ultimate Superman Collection, then this should do the trick in whetting your appetites.

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Finally, the new bonus disc features The Despot Darkseid: A Villain Worthy Of Superman featurette, exclusive to this collected set. Delving far deeper into Kirby’s Fourth World than the show did, this is a decent addition to the set that explains how hard it is writing for a superhero that ostensibly can not be destroyed, which led to the decision to being in the ultimate threat. It leans towards being an out and out tribute to Kirby and his style, which would have been most interesting, but loses that focus after the first few minutes of its 17 minute run time, and falls back into a fairly obvious re-cap discussion that doesn’t tread any new ground for long time or hard core fans.

I’m not too aware of any Superman: Animated Series specials that were ever aired to promote the show during its original broadcasts, and the supplements on the whole cover the basics rather comprehensively, but I’d have very much welcomed a look behind the microphone for something – of any depth – on the amazing voice cast, supporting players and guest stars. On the new bonus disc, the Darkseid featurette is a good enough exclusive for new collectors, but those with the previous three volumes shouldn’t feel the need to add this to their shelves for this one extra. What would have made it more enticing would be the inclusion of the Batman Animated: Girls Night Out and Static Shock: Toys In The Hood episodes, which continue the narrative set up in this show and, in the Toys program especially, tie up the loose ends from the Superman Season Three show Obsession, thus truly making this The Complete Animated Series but, alas, they’re not included here.

Case Study:

After such luxurious re-packagings for The Flintstones and Batman: The Animated Series last year, one might have felt Warners would treat their original superhero with a little more well regarded treatment, but the truth is that Batman has easily overtaken him as the more profitable enterprise (at least for now, the damage mostly done by the painfully terrible live-action abomination from a couple of years ago). As such, Kal-El doesn’t get any special packaging other than a very glossy and embossed slipcover that replicates the sleeve artwork to be found in the double-width plastic case underneath.

The limited disc count over Batman’s multi-disc set is a consideration as well, with just seven discs not needing the space old Bats did, and for a space-saving re-packaging of previously released material, it’s solid and non-fussy looking. Inside, the reversible printed sleeve doesn’t offer up anything other than Supes in flight against the big S, but there is a welcome eight-page booklet that lists all the episodes and disc-by-disc content, which has been nicely designed. Less thought seems to have gone into the disc storage system – held in flappable trays, a concern is the amount of potential scratching some of the double-sided discs are exposed to (three sides out of the seven platters).

Ink And Paint:

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Considering Superman was animated on cels and shot to film before being mastered to video, The Animated Series looks pretty spectacular. Sure, there are the odd cel scuffs here and there, but the prints are largely speckle-free and the coloring is super-vibrant. Warners’ usual careful disc spacing means they never try packing in more than two and a half to three hours maximum per side, so compression doesn’t rear its ugly head.

Scratch Tracks:

Since television programming went to stereo more widely in the 1990s, animation – and action animation in particular – has benefited from extremely well crafted soundtracks, and Superman: The Animated Series really packs a punch. With the voice talent on hand, and the expert services of the various composers and mixers, these tracks raised the bar in this terms and, though they can sometimes be front heavy to deal with the dialogue, the Dolby Surround goes to town in the many action sequences, with every smash and explosion (it’s a wonder Metropolis actually lets Superman stay given the amount of damage he winds up being involved with!) coming through loud, clear, and really bouncing the bass around on occasion. A combination of English, French and Spanish subs and dubs are bundled onto various individual volumes as previously released.

Final Cut:

As I mentioned at the top of this review, I haven’t been the strongest DC animation supporter since the Timmverse began, and I still have to profess a personal weariness to the Batman series, but I’m very pleased to admit to really enjoying Superman. I’d suggest this was for two reasons: maybe I wasn’t expecting as much and so was more easily won over, and as I also mentioned, my enthusiasm for the Man Of Steel himself as a character usually breaks through any barriers (hey, I even thought the so bad it’s good 1960s musical had its good points)! This new collection doesn’t offer anything those with the three previous volumes don’t already have, save for the new Darkseid featurette which is little more than a summarization of those later episodes in the series anyway. But surprisingly resonant stories, excellent vocal performances and tons of exceptionally animated action and special effects sequences created on television budgets in a pre-digital age mark Superman: The Animated Series out as a very well realised slice of DC animation and the turning point where it started to grow up from Saturday mornings to capturing the adult imagination.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


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