Friday, January 23, 2015

Review: Superman: TAS "The Last Son of Krypton," Parts 1-3


That was epic. And I mean that literally and figuratively.

This is the Superman everyone knows. The creative team took the best parts of Superman's nearly 50-year run and cobbled together probably the most iconic generalization of the character ever.

This, basically.
You have the Krypton of the 40's, the Lex Luthor of the 80's, the Lois of the 50's, all in a timeless setting. It's just perfect. (I'm going to be using that word a lot. Just FYI.)

Plot/Themes (Part 1)
Amazing opening. It's a foregone conclusion that Krypton is doomed, but the focus on the characters gives you a chance to care that they die. You don't want to see them die, because you've grown to love them. And there's so many potential plots started!

You have the Phantom Zone escape plan, explaining why the projector is in the ship later. You have the origin of Brainiac, creating a future villain. Weaving all of this together was brilliant.

One of my favorite things was Jor-El, symbolically representing the precursors of Superman. Because the idea of Superman and "super heroes" came from the classic pulp scientist/adventurers, like Doc Savage, they made Jor-El into a scientist/adventurer. I love that detail.

Plot (Part 2)
Superman's childhood is summed up succinctly, because everyone knows that he gets powers and decides to use them for good, but again, it's the characters that make you invested.

Plot/Themes (Part 3)
Superman's first adventure, fighting against Lex Luthor's machinations. Classic.

How else would you begin a Superman series?

Again, everything is put into place. The Daily Planet. Lex Luthor's villainy. John Corben, pre-transformation. Lois's attraction to Superman. A token mention of S.T.A.R. Labs. Everything to come is set up brilliantly.

Basically, these three episodes take the story everyone knows, and they compress the bits everyone already knows, while still including them for newbies to the franchise.

Jor-El and Lara
Perfect. Simply perfect.

In Jor-El, we can easily see where Superman gets his bravery, and in Lara, we can see where he gets his kindness and compassion. The designs are great two. Adult Clark Kent looks just like Jor-El, but with Lara's little curl in the front.

Jonathan and Martha Kent
Again, perfect.

A kindly couple in the heart of America, raising themselves a good, American son. It's easy to see why Clark ends up being a good kid with parents like these. They're always willing to talk with their son and give them advice. And they must be pretty darn understanding to raise an alien as their own with a minimum of fuss when super powers appear.

Lana Lang
A good friend and confidant, but there's clearly some attraction there towards Clark. She barely appears here, but she leaves a good impression for when she reappears.

Lois Lane
I already expressed my love for Dana Delany's portrayal, but here's some more.

While Superman and Wonder Woman are impossible ideals, and Batman is the peak of human perfection, Lois Lane is the everyperson with a heart of gold. She's compassionate, but still feisty. Serious about her work, but with a sharp sense of humor. She suffers no fools, but admits when she's been foolish. She don't necessarily need no man (finger snaps), but she wants herself a super one.

Does she swoon head over heels for the Man of Steel? No. But she likes what she sees and clearly wouldn't mind seeing more. Does she wait for Supes to save her? No. Sure, she fails to save herself, but she's only a single human in a world entering an age of gods and monsters. But that won't stop her from trying.

Seriously, I love this character.

Perry White
Da chief, I mean, boss. He only appears sporadically, but his laid back demeanor is a good foil for Lois's temper.

Jimmy Olsen
Again, he only appears sporadically, but Jimmy's earnest gumption in immediately apparent.

Holy crap, but Corey Burton's voice is absolutely terrifying.

Brainiac, like Mr. Freeze, has been transformed from a gimmick villain to a reimagined menace. But while Mr. Freeze got himself some humanity, Brainiac got all of his taken away.

Brainiac's eventual schitck of shrinking cities for study is justified. He's a database. In his eyes, as long as he collects information about a place, he can destroy it. It'll live forever as data. It gives Superman immediate history with Brainiac, as well as a more personal conflict between them.

John Corben
Malcolm McDowell's smooth, foreign mercenary is set up for future appearances. All we know is that he's a bit slimy. Proper character development yet to come.

Lex Luthor
Perfect. Again.

Clancy Brown was disappointed initially, because he auditioned for the role of Superman, but grew to love the role very quickly. Sorry, Clancy. You won't be a hero until Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. Again, I'm sorry, Clancy.

But this Lex Luthor takes cues from the comics at the time. Yes, he's an evil inventor, but he realized that those inventions can make him money. Don't use a robot to rob a bank. Sell the robot! We'll see more of his villainy later, but it's immediately apparent even before his dirty dealings.

And no, Lex Luthor is not black. It's a common misconception that he's a light-skinned African-American, but he's not. He was designed to look like Telly Savalas, aka Blofeld.

Spot. On.
We'll learn more about him in future episodes.

Clark Kent/Superman
Let me say it again....


Tim Daly's performance is... just...

He's a boy scout. In a good way. You feel like he'd have your back. Always be prepared, you know?

His Clark and Superman are different enough in tone, and their animated mannerisms help the illusion.

Interestingly, this Superman seems to visibly struggle to accomplish some of his feats. I like this; it makes it feel like there are stakes involved. It helps alleviate the common criticism that Superman is too strong. There's a lot to humanize Superman in this show. He wants a normal life, but he wants to help everyone. But at the same time, he doesn't know how far he should go in helping people. That is Superman.

This show is when the DCAU design style was firmly cemented. The general Batman: TAS look was taken and given a sharp, angular, art deco makeover, and it is absolutely timeless. Batman: TAS would be given an overhaul into The New Batman Adventures with a redesign to make it match Superman: TAS a bit more.

While it has many of the same errors as the animation in Batman: TAS (due to the practice of outsourcing animation to Asia), the level of detail is frickin' amazing. From subtle eyelash flutters when Lois flirts with Superman, to little Easter eggs you won't notice the first time, like putting the message box in the spaceship in Part 1. And all that has to be animated by hand. That is amazing attention to detail. Seriously, rewatch some of the episodes sometime and just look at the level of detail in animating every character's gestures, movements, and reactions.

All in all, the fact that they turned the most well-known origin story in comics into a compelling, interesting, unique three-part tale makes this a solid contender as one of the greatest anythings to come out of the DC Animated Universe.

And next time, the story continues. Never the end!

See you then.

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