For DVD Talk, I have had several opportunities to write about Bruce Timm and company's
take on the world of DC Comics superheroes. Timm's work simultaneously
celebrates, enlivens, and retroactively contributes to the Golden and
Silver Ages of Comic Books. It's hard work making such highly
canonical, well-known characters feel new and exciting again, but Timm's
animated television series and features consistently do just that.
While Batman: The Animated Series is broadly considered the crown
jewel of Timm's productions, Superman: The Animated Series
holds its own. Injected with a Fleischer-like sense of invention
and action, the show takes on the best-loved superhero of all time and
provides a string of robust, involving adventures. Although the
series lasted for only 54 episodes over three seasons, there is a lot
of excellent, memorable stuff here.
Superman: The Animated Series
starts out with a three-part reworking of Superman's origin story
called "The Last Son of Krypton." The basics are the same
- Krypton is on the verge of destruction, and Jor-El's warnings
are ignored by the planet's rulers. Jor-El and Lara send their
baby son to Earth on a specially-built rocket, just before the planet
explodes. Things play out as pretty much as expected - which
isn't to say that it's not a nice redressing of a familiar, oft-told
story. However, what is especially unique to this version is the
re-design of Krypton; it's a mostly red and purple place that is ultimately
destroyed by geysers of what looks like liquid kryptonite shooting from
As the series progresses, the
pace picks up. Several of the one-off episodes comprise parts
of larger story arcs - particularly the one involving Brainiac, the
supercomputer supervillain we first see in "The Last Son of Krypton"
(in which it refuses to help prevent the planet's destruction), and
which returns in several forms throughout the series. In other
instances, stories are spread over two or three contiguous episodes,
presaging the format of Justice League, which worked exclusively
in this more expansive way. The two-part finale, "Legacy,"
brings Superman into the ultimate conflict with Darkseid, and ends the
series on a note of high stakes and strong drama.
The writing and direction is
excellent; the show is unpredictable, often gripping, almost always
entertaining. The writing by Timm's usual stable of talent keeps
things moving along at an energetic clip, with humor playing a relatively
subtle, non-cheesy role. Superman is a do-gooder, and that has
always hampered the character's ability to take on any truly self-generated
inner conflict (Superman was definitely not meant to be a tragic hero;
his "fatal flaw" is not a product of his personality). Still,
the writers were able to generate an interesting catalog of villains
and mayhem for the Man of Steel sufficient to maintain the average viewer's
interest; dedicated fans of the character who are new to the series
will no doubt be even more satisfied with the storytelling.
The Animated Series does not measure up to Timm's other work is
in the design and animation. Generally, the show is visually flatter
than Batman: The Animated Series
or Justice League. Backgrounds are slapdash and character
design is inconsistent - in fact, several different looks and character
styles are often combined within the same episode. These vary
from a look that resembles Golden Age comics, to character styles clearly
based on an anime model. This can be distracting; the show's
storytelling is solid, so it's a shame the visual sloppiness undercuts
the work of the writers and voice actors.
Like Warner Brothers' recent
release of Justice
League: The Complete Series,
this, too, is simply a repackaging of existing material, with a very
minimal bonus disc that contains a single new seventeen-minute featurette
about Darkseid. Although the packaging is different, collecting
the seven discs efficiently in one large keepcase, it doesn't include
a nice tin slipcase like the Justice League set did (this one
comes with a glossy card slipcover). Even worse, the discs are
in the exact same format as the previous releases - each season features
one single-sided disc with art on the front, and one flipper containing
the bulk of the episodes. This is a real disappointment, and will
prevent those who already own the series from purchasing the new collection.
The bonus disc is practically a cheat - and the lack of any remastering
of the audio or video is like a boot in the head. As with the
recent Justice League release, Warner Brothers is having a laugh
at the expense of fans who they think can be won over by, as they put
it, "Limited-Edition Collector's Packaging." The studio
should give their consumers a little more credit.
As suggested above, a single double-wide clear keepcase houses all
seven discs. A small booklet guides the viewer through the contents.
A shimmery iridescent slipcase covers the whole.
The video transfers are the same as the previous individually-released
season sets. The full-screen image is bright, but not without
dirt and minor damage here and there. Occasional evidence of compression
crops up throughout. Colors are even, but the picture has a tendency
to be over-sharp at times.
The stereo soundtracks are
holdovers, too, of course. They are serviceable and clear, but
not terribly dynamic. The strong score by Shirley Walker and Lolita
Ritmanis (mostly) is appropriately heroic and driving, and is well-reproduced.
Again, nothing new here besides the regrettably thin (almost non-existent!)
"bonus" disc. Here's a breakdown:
Disc 1 - Commentary
on "The Last Son of Krypton - Part 1," and an optional Pop-Up
Trivia Track on "A Little Piece of Home."
Disc 2 - Commentary
on "Stolen Memories," "The Main Man - Part 2," and "Tools
of the Trade," plus two featurettes.
Disc 3 - Video commentary on "Mxyzpixilated" and
Disc 4 - Commentary on "Brave New Metropolis" and
"World's Finest - Part 1"
Disc 5 - Commentary on "Apokolips...Now! - Part
2" and one featurette.
Disc 6 - Commentary on "New Kids in Town" and "Legacy
- Part 2," plus one featurette.
Disc 7 - Contains the new featurette The Despot
Darkseid: A Villain Worthy of Superman, plus a few trailers.
Once again, as with Justice League:
The Complete Series,
we have existing content released in an ostensibly "deluxe" format,
but without any special care or attention given to what fans might actually
be looking for in a complete series set. Superman: The Animated
Series is largely excellent, but those who own the previous season-specific
releases have no reason to pick up this one. For those new to
the show, this is recommended.
Casey Burchby lives in Northern California: Twitter, Tumblr.