Monday, January 19, 2015

Recap: Superman: TAS "The Last Son of Krypton, Part I"

Superman: The Animated Series is criminally underrated. Sure, you'll find plenty of praise for it around this great, big, wide internet of ours. But you'll typically see more praise for its sister show, Batman: The Animated Series. My theory for this is simple: People generally like Batman more than they like Superman.

People cut Batman more slack than Superman; we've seen all the arguments.

"Superman's too powerful."

"Superman's not interesting."

"The glasses are an impractical disguise." (They're not, BT-dubs.)

But I would argue that Superman does have one thing working in his favor, and that's this show.

After the smash-hit that was Batman: TAS, the masterminds behind it got to work creating the same type of show for Superman. And because the ironed all the kinks out making Batman's show, Superman's just seemed more polished. But that's not to say they just rehashed what made Batman: TAS work. Where Batman's first episode was either a Catwoman team-up or a monster hunt, depending on which episode you consider to be the first one, Superman: TAS began with a three-part epic detailing Superman's nigh-mythological origin story.

And it is truly a masterpiece. In all seriousness, it just might be the greatest story in the DC Animated Universe.

Now let's begin.

Now that I've likely hyped this up too much.
The series opens with no teaser of any sort, as this was the 90's. Teasers before titles, post-credits scenes, they just weren't things that happened that often. Sans teaser, we just go straight into the opening title sequence. The Superman: TAS theme is pretty dang awesome. It takes a few cues from the famous John Williams score, but is 95% new stuff. It's a little less bombastic than Williams's theme, but just as heroic. When I think of the Superman theme, personally, this is the first one that comes to mind. The original plan was to animate an intro like the one for Batman: TAS that illustrates Supes in action, but they ended up just stringing together a bunch of clips from the early episodes. Still, it works.

Our premiere begins in the depths of space. As a computer satellite orbits a planet known as Krypton, we pan down to its arctic region, where a Kryptonian scientist named Jor-El is riding a hovercraft across the frozen plains. You know, in the original comics, Jor-El's big claim to game was inventing the hovercraft. Makes you wonder why he's on an arctic geological expedition, huh?

In comic books, scientists are just scientists. If it's "science," they dabble in it.
Anyway, he's investigating a huge crack in the ice. He lands in the icy base and checks in.

Jor-El: "Gathering readings for final subterranean probe."

He sends down said probe, but is dismayed by the readings. Even more dismaying is the nearby abomination that sends down a tentacle to grab him.

Dear Evolution, What the heck were you thinking? Sincerely, Newt
But some quick thinking and a flare let Jor-El make a speedy escape from the affront to man and God, and he sets off on his hover platform for the home base where he reports in.

Jor-El: "Frostbite, ice monsters. Same old, same old."

Holy crap, Superman's dad is awesome.

Jor-El enters a lab and is greeted by the AI computer, Brainiac.

Brainiac: "I'm awaiting your data."

Apparently, Jor-El's been gathering data for the Planetary Council, and they're very antsy about getting it. Why, Brainiac's been watching him from far above the planet in his satellite. Watching Waiting. Up there in space, Brainiac looks down on them and his lasers trace everything they do.

Brainiac, Krypton's elected electric spy.
Jor-El sends the info out, placating Brainiac.

Jor-El: "You're welcome. Glutton."

So Brainiac loves him some data, eh? I'm sure that this won't ever cause problems for Jor-El or, one day, his heirs. Speaking of Jor-El's heirs, his son, Kal-El walks up, excited to see his daddy. But like toddlers do, Kal-El gets distracted and runs off to chase some kind of fuzzy animal. Jor-El's wife, Lara comes in to welcome her husband back, as the Arctic Base begins moving towards home. While being able to go back to their home should be a wonderful thing after being cooped up in the frozen North, Lara is hesitant. Because this means that Jor-El is going to have to go over all that data. And he might find something horrible.

Jor-El: "We can deal with it. Trust me. The truth can only help."
Lara: "Oh, Jor-El. Such a beautiful world, even up here. It's hard to believe it can all come to an end."

Once back home, Jor-El goes over a holographic model of the planet's data. It explodes. Not a good sign.

Over with Lara, her crotchety old dad, Sul-Van (voiced by Tony Jay) grumps about how Jor-El will no doubt ruin his career with all these rants about doomsday, and rants for a bit himself about how no one on the council supports Jor-El. I would like to point out that Sul-Van is on the council. Jerkface.

Who's a good Krypto? Who's a good puppy?
Jor-El comes in to defend himself, but Sul-Van makes one final good point about convincing the council.

Sul-Van: "Unless Brainiac agrees with you, it's all over."

But Krypton itself seems to agree with Jor-El's doomsday prophecy, because it begins shaking. Apparently, tremors like this have been happening for a while, and it has nothing to do with the Graboids in the Arctic.

The next day, Jor-El stands before the Planetary Council and presents his findings. The planet's core is undergoing a chain reaction which will tear Krypton apart. But the absurdly-dressed council decides to ask Brainiac to double check Jor-El's findings. Brainiac chalks all the disasters up to a slight polar shift that will soon pass. So, basically, Brainiac is an all-knowing database of everything that even political leaders will use to deny the validity of scientific studies. In the comics, Brainiac hid on Earth as the internet. Not sure why I felt the need to bring that up.

Jor-El, being allergic to bullcrap, breaks out in a fit of yelling "He's wrong!" But the leaders of Krypton decide to trust the thing they built to watch over all of Krypton and refuse to put any sort of contingency into place.

Councilman: "There's not a square foot of Krypton Brainiac doesn't know!"

"Why do you think our shoulder pads are so big? It's the only way we can get some privacy."
But they mainly refuse to make a contingency plan because of what Jor-El's plan actually is.

So, a while back, they discovered this other dimension with weird properties that they call the Phantom Zone. Naturally, that's where they stuck all their criminals. And Jor-El wants to put everyone in there to escape their doomed world. One person would stay behind and use a one-man ship to take the Phantom Zone projector to another world where they would be restored. For some reason, the Planetary Council doesn't think this is a good idea and they walk out on him. Well, now Jor-El's got a one-man rocket lying around with nothing to do with it. Oh, well. I guess it won't become important.

Back at home, Jor-El mopes as he watches his son play with a toy rocket. Lara wants to put little Kal-El to bed early so she and Jor-El can do some subterranean probing of their own (I apologize for that joke), but Jor-El wants to go down to Brainiac Operations for some work. Brainiac is lying, and Jor-El wants to know why. Lara, however, is sick and tired of Jor-El's continual obsession with the end of the world and angrily tells him to go and get it out of his system once and for all.

Once at Brainiac Operations, Jor-El wants to know why they disagree.

Brainiac: "Human error, I'm afraid."

Uh, that's Kryptonian error.

But as Jor-El discovers, Brainiac's been busy moving some data around, which Brainiac claims is just the Kryptonian version of defragmenting a hard drive. As Jor-El tries some hacking, he gets kicked out of the system. He goes down to a lower level where Brainiac denies him access, so he lasers his way in. Because Jor-El is cooler than you will ever be. While Brainiac rants about how many rules Jor-El is breaking, Jor-El discovers that Brainiac is uploading himself and all his data into the satellite. He's going to save himself and leave Krypton to die. This is brilliant, from a writing standpoint, because this gives Brainiac a hand in the destruction of Krypton, making him an enemy of Jor-El and Kal-El, and we get some insight into the logic that fuels his schtick for his eventual turn into cartoonish supervillainy.

Brainiac's logic is that since he contains all of Krypton's knowledge, then it's all right as long as he survives. Brainiac lied to the council to avoid them panicking and making him work on futile escape plans.

Jor-El: "How much time is left?"
Brainiac: "Hours. This world has seen its last sunrise."

This is actually a really sad moment. I'm not making a joke.
But suddenly, the Science Police arrive to arrest Jor-El for all this breaking and entering. Jor-El manages to escape on one of their hoverbikes, and an aerial laser fight ensues as Brainiac advises use of deadly force. As such, the hoverbike is brutally shot down by Brainiac's lasers.

Guard: "Great Rao!"

Heh, continuity nods. See, Superman said that all the time in the Silver Age. Since Rao is the Kryptonian God, this basically means "Oh, my God."

But Jor-El ditched the bike and escapes through a window. And when he reaches the bottom of the building exterior, Jor-El is bleeding. In the first episode of Batman: TAS, they had to fight tooth and nail to get Batman to bleed in a fight. Here, standards were obviously relaxed a tiny bit to get this injury that really does feel just... Just brutal. I mean, he fell off a building. And it looks like it.

Well, at least it won't hurt tomorrow. ...Too dark?
He manages to limp back home, where Sul-Van is going over the data himself, grudgingly admitting that the findings are hard to disagree with. But the badly injured Jor-El returns and tells her it's time for their final plan. They go get baby Kal-El and prepare to send him to Earth in the rocket that Jor-El was going to take with the Phantom Zone projector.

The police arrive, and Jor-El prepares to take care of them while Lara and Sul-Van stay with Kal-El. Sul-Van is less than thrilled at all this, but Lara simply asks him what he's willing to do for his grandson. Hey, as long as it's better than how Tony Jay treated Quasimodo in one of his other animated roles.

The cops soon follow an escaping hovercar and shoot it down, only to find Sul-Van inside of it.

Sul-Van: "Good evening, officers. Is there a problem?"

Meanwhile, Jor-El and Lara are finishing up prepping Kal-El's ship for takeoff. They put a small box in the ship that will no doubt come into play next episode. Jor-El offers to make some modifications so she could go along with him, but she declines.

Lara: "No, my love. I'm staying with you."

And as Brainiac completes his download and leaves orbit, Jor-El and Lara watch their son fly away as the final tremors begin.

Again, I can't make a joke here. It's too powerful of a scene.
Slowly, the city is shaken to pieces. The ground splits. Buildings collapse. Jets of fire erupt. Krypton is gone. And Kal-El's ship flies off towards Earth through an artificial wormhole.

Followed by some green glowing rocks that I'm sure are absolutely harmless.
To be continued! What will become of Kal-El? Will he be able to live a normal life? Is Krypto the dog okay? Tune in next time!

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