Superman The Complete Animated Series Review

  • Series Title: Superman: The Animated Series
  • Season: Complete Series
  • Episodes: 54
  • Discs: 7
  • Network: WB Animation
  • Cast: Tim Daly, Dana Delany, David Kaufman, Clancy Brown
  • Format: Color, Widescreen, NTSC, R1, Animation

Superman: The Animated Series along with Batman: The Animated Series started off what became known as the Timm-verse, a series of related series by WB Animation based on DC Comics. Although I am quite a fan of Batman: TAS and later series Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Batman Beyond, and Young Justice – I had never watched Superman: TAS before, also the first series I saw chronologically was Justice League even though it was a later series in terms of when it was made. (I basically caught some of Justice League on Boomerang a sister channel to Cartoon Network and loved it so much I bought everything on DVD a set at a time. I did not see the Timm-verse in the chronological order of when it originally aired.) Superman has never been one of my favorite DC characters, though, I’m much more of a Batman fan, so I delayed ordering and watching this.

Superman: The Animated Series does well what other series in this set of shows do well – the stories emphasize the character from the comics as he was in the early modern age of comics. This isn’t an angsty Superman or a conflicted Superman who is unsure about his role. Also, other than showing the destruction of Krypton (a sequence repeated in the title sequence) and an almost montage of Clark being found and raised by the Kents and first using his powers as a teenager in Smallville, this series doesn’t dwell on Superman’s origin story. After the 3-part pilot, “The Last Son of Krypton”, the series settles down into its usual format: Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet, is secretly Superman and must battle bad guys and rescue people.

I’ve always found the character of Superman to be too perfect. He has the perfect parents, perfect job, perfect girlfriend, and he’s basically invulnerable to everything except for Kryptonite. That Superman is only vulnerable to Kryptonite is something so well known in modern culture, “What’s your Kryptonite? or, “he’s my Kryptonite” – has become slang for “What’s your vulnerability?” or “He/she’s my vulnerability?” In Superman: The Animated Series – Kryptonite is something that seems extremely easy for any villain to get. Also, because Superman is so over-powered, his villains are extremely over-powered. Many of the Superman: TAS episodes have an extremely strong villain (like Darkseid) show up and try to physically beat up Superman, which tends to not work. We also see a lot of Brainiac, who in this series comes from Krypton and was responsible for no one else being saved from the planet.

Superman: TAS also doesn’t build up a relationship between Lois and Clark. They are shown to be more colleagues than romantic partners. Clark’s relationship with Jimmy Olsen doesn’t get really explored until nearly the end of the series – when Jimmy gets a signal watch (something that Lois doesn’t have as far as I can tell). Even Clark’s relationship with his parents, Jonathon and Martha Kent, is not really explored. We see them a few times, but they are definitely background characters.

However, there are some episodes I really liked. One episode I enjoyed very much was “The Late Mr. Kent”. First, it had a monologue for Clark – this made him more relatable. If the entire series had used a monologue I probably would have liked it better. The episode tells the story of Clark investigating the case of a man found guilty of murder during a robbery and sentenced to be executed. Clark talks to the man and examines the evidence and believes that the man was, in fact, innocent – and framed. As Clark investigates further, he discovers proof. But then his car is blown up by a car bomb and crashes into the ocean. Because there’s a witness to the “accident” Clark fears he can’t just show up again, unhurt. Clark as Superman continues his investigation, while Lois, Jimmy and other characters mourn the death of Clark Kent. Eventually, Superman is able to prove that a dirty cop was behind everything – the frame up, planting evidence, the actual murder, etc. Superman also finds out the witness was unreliable, so with some help from Lana Lang, he returns as Clark, claiming he swam ashore and was under Lana’s care. The convicted man is released and the cop is executed instead.

There are also episodes of Superman: The Animated Series that introduce other characters from the DC universe, including Lobo, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, The Legion of Superheroes, and Batman. I, for the most part, enjoyed these team-ups. The Lobo two-parter felt a little flat to me, but the others range from good to excellent. There are three Batman-Superman team-up stories in this collection and I liked all three. Batman is voiced by Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series and the guest characters are voiced by their Batman: TAS counterparts. I enjoyed seeing Batman and Superman work together, and their mutual relationship was well done. We also get to see Lois fall for Bruce Wayne, whom she discovers is Batman. I thought that was a bold choice, and something different.

Superman: The Animated Series also featured several impressive guest stars including: Mike Farrell (as Jonathon Kent), Michael Ironside (as Darkseid), Malcolm McDowell (as Metallo), Edward Asner (as Granny Goodness), Charles Napier (as General Hardcastle), Robert Hays, Robert Ito, Carl Lumley, Roddy McDowell, William H. Macy, Robert Morse, Michael York, John Rubinstein, Charlie Schlatter, Jason Priestley, Sarah Douglas, Richard Moll, Paul Williams, David Warner, Ernie Hudson, Carolyn Seymour, Ron Glass, and Marion Ross, and as mentioned from the Batman crossover episodes: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr, Mark Hamill, Arleen Sorkin, and Bob Hastings. As with other Timm-verse shows – the casting is extremely impressive on Superman: The Animated Series.

Overall, though I have some issues with the perfect nature of the character of Superman, I find that this series brings the comics to life so to speak. Because it’s animation, the budget is less limited than in a live-action series, and we see Superman in space, huge fight scenes, and impressive story-telling. Superman: The Animated Series is recommended. This particular set consists of discs that have not been labeled consecutively. Also, every other disc is a two-sided disc. And the final disc has one special feature on it and that’s it – no episodes. I would have preferred it if they had remastered everything, putting eight episodes per disc and not doing any two-sided discs, even if that had increased the number of discs and making the set more expensive. I did like the single case with flip pages to hold the discs and slipcase packaging though. Even with the mastering issue, the episodes themselves look good and I recommend this series, especially to Superman fans.

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Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox

  • Title:  Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Justin Chambers, C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd, Kevin Conroy, Sam Daly, Dana Delany, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“They’re motivated by greed. They lack the commitment, the absolute focus…” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)
“…to kill me.” – Flash
“To erase you.” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

“Brake the sound barrier and there’s a sonic boom. You broke the time barrier, Flash, time boom. Ripples of distortion out from the point of impact, shifting everything just a tiny bit – but enough. Enough for events to happen slightly differently.” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox starts with what we quickly realise is a flashback or memory. Young Barry Allen and his mother are stranded at the side of the road with a broken car. Another car passes but fails to stop to help them. Barry is incensed that the person in the car didn’t care enough to do what’s right and stop to help them. Nora, Barry’s mother, urges him to not worry about it – then spots a gas station close by, they decide to walk there to find a phone.

The next flashback finds Barry coming home from school – only to find that his mother has been killed.

In the present, Barry and his wife, Iris are putting flowers on his mother’s grave. Barry expresses his regret that he wasn’t there to save his own mother. He and Iris are interrupted when Barry gets an emergency call, there’s been a break-in at the Central City Flash Museum. As Flash, Barry arrives and confronts The Top, Mirror Master, and eventually Captain Cold, Captain Boomarang, and Heat Wave. It soon becomes obvious that the person in charge of the break in is Eoband Thawne, aka Professor Zoom, aka the Reverse Flash. He uses the distraction of the Rogues Gallery attack to place small but powerful bombs on each Rogue as well as on Flash. He also traps Flash in a gooey substance he can’t escape. Flash manages to trap Professor Zoom, but he can’t get free. The Justice League arrives, and each takes a Rogue to get rid of the bombs, without hurting anyone. The various plans that each Justice Leaguer uses, work and all the bombs are destroyed harmlessly and the Rogues sent back to prison. Meanwhile, Flash is still trapped. Professor Zoom taunts Flash, but Flash manages to disarm the explosives on himself and Thawne.

Next, Barry wakes at his desk. He’s a little confused by the news headline on his computer screen – and even more confused when he exits the building and meets his mother. Things go from bad to worse, as Flash realises he’s in an alternative world that never had a Flash. A world that’s in the midst of War. Barry goes to the Wayne Mansion just outside Gotham City – but the place is a wreck. He gets inside the Batcave and meets Batman – a very violent Batman, who uses guns, and has no problem with killing. Barry quickly realises that this Batman is Thomas Wayne, and it was Bruce who died That Fateful Night. To make matters worse, the death of her son, and seeing her husband become a violent vigilante has turned Mrs. Wayne into the Joker. Though it takes some doing, Barry not only convinces Thomas that his world is “all wrong” – he convinces him they have to re-create the experiment that turned Barry into the Flash. The resulting scene brings to mind various filmed versions of Frankenstein. The first try fails, but, the second try works. The Flash, however, is unable to get enough speed and theorizes there’s another speedster out there also tapping into the “speed force”.

Since using his own power won’t work, Barry’s next idea is to ask for Superman’s help. Batman tells him, though, this world has no Superman. Barry, however, from his own nightmares of the divergent timelines, gets an idea. Batman calls in Cyborg, who works directly for the US Government, and convinces him to hack every computer system he can, looking for information. Eventually Thomas Wayne/Batman convinces Cyborg to hack government and military records. This leads them to find a warehouse that holds the little baby rocket from Krypton. Superman is locked-up, and very weak because he’s been kept in a room with red light and hasn’t experienced the Earth’s yellow sun. Batman, Flash, and Cyborg break Superman out of the military cell.

In Europe, which has been flooded by Aquaman, then taken over by Queen Diana and the Amazons, Lois Lane is about to be killed by Amazons. She’s rescued by the Resistance, another group of Heroes, like Cyborg’s group. Lois swears she saw a yellow-clothed speedster, but the Resistance Group tells her that no speedster works with them. When Batman sees the footage, he tells Flash, who realises it’s Dr. Zoom.

Lex Luther, Deathstroke and Clayface work together on a US Military Carrier to attack Aquaman and attempt to find his doomsday weapon. They fail.

The Military also find Hal Jordan and offer him the chance to fly a captured alien spaceship. Hal jumps at the chance. (The ship’s pilot is dead and enclosed in a glass tube.) The air force general tells Hal that when he died, a glowing green ring flew off his hand and into space. Hal has trouble believing that part of the story. However, Hal has no trouble flying the ship. He too goes after Aquaman, specifically attacking a giant octopus-like creature. Unfortunately, Hal and his ship are swallowed by the creature and Hal is presumed dead.

At that point, the President fires Cyborg, stating there’s nothing left to be done. Cyborg goes to Batman and the Shazam kids and tells them it’s over. Flash talks everyone into not giving up. They all go to Europe. In Europe, they meet Lois and the Resistance group. However, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are in the midst of their final battle. There’s a huge fight, and one by one, most everyone is injured or killed. Finally, Reverse Flash arrives and confronts Flash – explaining that everything that’s happened is his fault, he changed things – and created the mess.

There’s more destruction and heroes, Amazons, and Aquaman’s troops dying. Superman arrives, and cuts off Aquaman’s arm to save Cyborg. However, severely injured, Cyborg dies. Diana goes to kill Aquaman, but he launches his doomsday weapon, Captain Atom. Barry’s absorbed the info from Professor Zoom. Batman kills Zoom, and gives Barry a letter for Bruce. Barry runs and runs, barely escaping the Doomsday weapon, and catches himself.  He prevents himself from changing the past.

Barry again wakes up at his office – and everything is back to normal. He visits Bruce and gives him the letter. Bruce recognizes his father’s handwriting and is moved to tears by Thomas Wayne’s letter.

The first time I watched this film, I really didn’t like it. It seemed so unfair to Barry that he’d have to sacrifice his mother and his happiness with Iris to save the world (in the alternate reality – she’s married to someone else and has a child.)

Watching it a second time, I liked it slightly better, but the film still has some issues. First, Barry, The Flash, is thrust into the altered reality suddenly, and with no explanation. We don’t see him time travel, or Professor Zoom trying something, or even a strange portal. There’s no visual or other indication that somehow time has changed. So the audience is as much in the dark as Barry Allen. And, although in some films, that technique of utter confusion can work, because the audience has faith that All Will Be Explained, in a short, animated film, it becomes wearying to have no idea what is going on. The film is full of action sequences, that sometimes make sense and other times don’t – because so little is explained in the film. And the only explanation is at the end, and from the villain – who places the blame squarely on Barry’s head. Really? How did Zoom know? If he was from the altered reality – he shouldn’t know anything about Barry Allen, because Barry never became the Flash in that reality. Not to mention, if Zoom tapped into the Speed Force by copying the accident that made Barry the Flash – how could he exist without an accident to copy?  (A non-invention paradox.) Meanwhile, Barry actually brings up the other problem – how could his interfering with his mother’s death have affected events before that event? Professor Zoom’s explanation is inventive, but not quite convincing. My guess is he actually lied to Barry – and it was Zoom who messed with things to create the Really Messed Up world then dumped Barry into it. Or, caused a version of Barry to exist that never became Flash. It certainly sounds more like a plot put together by a supervillain.

The other issue was the animation – which I thought was crude, and frankly, pretty bad. The Justice League in the opening barely looked human – or, Kryption or whatever they may be. And in some scenes, the animation was OK, in others, especially the opening flashbacks – it looked very much like Japanese anime, and it others the humans/heroes just didn’t look right – at all. (Diana / Wonder Woman looks awful in nearly every shot she’s in.) It really was quite messy – and there seemed no reason for it.

I will say, it was nice to see a story about Barry Allen, The Flash, but this particular story was dark, and the execution wasn’t very successful.

Recommendation:  For die hard DC fans only, otherwise skip it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  No idea – I have, The Prestige, Inception, Superman Unbound, Justice League War (New 52 Origins)”, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on deck.

Batman Mask of the Phantasm

 

  • Title: Batman Mask of the Phantasm
  • Directors: Eric Radomski, Bruce W. Timm
  • Voice Direction: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 1993
  • Studio: Warner Brothers
  • Genre: Mystery, Action, Animation
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Dana Delany, Mark Hamill, Stacy Keach Jr., Abe Vigoda, Bob Hastings,
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • Length: 76 Minutes
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC, Double-sided Standard/Widescreen

“I know I made a promise, but I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t count on being happy. Please, tell me it’s OK.’ ” Bruce Wayne to his parents’ grave

“The way I see it, the only one in this room controlled by his parents is you.” Andrea Beaumont to Batman

The first in a series of animated movies that followed the very successful DC Animated Universe on WB and it’s associated networks (Cartoon Network, Boomerang), Batman Mask of the Phantasm is a promising start. The film opens with wonderful art deco titles, and quickly moves into the plot: someone is killing top gangsters in Gotham City, and a new congressman assumes it’s Batman and makes him Public Enemy # 1. Meanwhile, an old girlfriend of Bruce’s — Andrea Beaumont, has returned to town.

Much of the film is flashbacks to their blossoming relationship, from their first meeting in a graveyard – Bruce, visiting his parents, overhears Andrea talking to her (dead) mother – to their courtship, and Bruce eventually proposing (a proposal quickly shattered by the emergence of a huge number of bats from a nearby cave). Bruce even decides that he would put aside the cape and cowl, and his mission, to be with Andrea. However, she sends his ring back the next day, and Bruce adapts the Bat as his symbol. He’d been working on a costume, something to scare criminals, but hadn’t quite gotten it perfected yet at that point in time.

In the present, Batman is trying to discover who is killing off these old gangsters, a crime being pinned on him no less. Gradually he discovers all the gangsters were clients of Andrea’s father (some sort of accountant or investment banker, it’s not really spelled out), however, he assumes it’s Andrea’s father responsible for the crimes.

The Joker shows up, voiced by Mark Hamill, as he was in Batman: The Animated Series, to wreak havoc. The “Phantasm” (not actually named as such in the film) confronts Joker, the last one involved in Beaumont’s forced exile from Gotham and eventual death, only to be unmasked – it’s Andrea. Batman arrives, and fights Joker in the now decrepit World’s Fair grounds, which, ironically, were dedicated to portraying a brighter future. Batman and Joker fight in the 1/3rd scale “city” appearing like Godzilla and King Kong – Joker even sends a group of toy airplanes after Batman. But Joker has an ace up his sleeve — he’s rigged the entire place to explode. Batman is able to stop Andrea from killing the Joker, and escapes himself, but fears Andrea is dead (she’s not, we see her leaving Gotham by boat, but she’s not talking either).

This film had the producers of Batman: The Animated Series experimenting with a longer format for the first time. Aspects do work — there’s some great filming, and the plot is nice and complex with enough twists and turns for just over an hour. There’s one scene where Batman, having chased the “Phantasm” ends up in a graveyard — he suddenly realizes he’s in the graveyard where his parents are buried. And there is a wonderful shot of Batman looking at the Wayne grave, and we see the shadow of Batman’s outline fall on the grave. It’s a shot worthy of Citizen Kane in all the complexity of what it suggests: about Bruce, about Thomas and Martha Wayne, about the effects one act of violence had on a life. And Andrea too was affected – the night Bruce proposes to her, her father announces they have to go on the run – the mob wants money from him, money he doesn’t have. Both Bruce and Andrea are robbed of any chance of being happy. But the Bruce/Andrea romance is also, in a way, the downfall of the story. Bruce in love just doesn’t work the way, say Clark Kent’s romance with Lois Lane’s does. Or even Bruce’s occasional flirting with Wonder Woman does (see Justice League and Justice League Unlimited). Bruce may flirt, he deliberately brings “eye candy” to his social functions, but he’s way too dedicated to his night job to get serious with any woman.

And, oddly enough, though well played by Mark Hamill, Joker seems almost like an after-thought to the film. He’s not orchestrating events at all, but merely reacting to them. This makes him seem oddly under-used, though there are some great moments with the Joker anyway.

And, finally, for a mystery, the film ends with a giant plot-hole. We know the “Phantasm” killed the mobsters, and that “he” is a “she”— Andrea Beaumont. Bruce knows this as well, and thinks she’s dead at the end of the film. But the cops don’t know that. Just how was Batman planning on convincing them? When they’d chased him all over Gotham City trying to kill him?

But, overall, a good try – and successful enough for an additional string of DC Animated films to be made, most of which I have.

By the way, for the curious, the DC Animated Universe is: Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Batman Beyond, plus various movies. Don’t ask me to put them in order — I originally saw them widely out-of-order, tho’ I now own all on DVD but Superman.

Recommendation: For the serious Batman collector, a “should have”, but otherwise rent it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars