Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Recap: Superman: TAS "Fun and Games"

Today, Superman gets to deal with his first colorful, gimmicky villain. Which is more than his film counterpart has done to date.

It's always Lex Luthor this, General Zod that...

Well, I guess Nuclear Man counts as colorful and gimmicky.

Though there are some who would declare "Nuclear Man never counts. For anything."
The episode begins with something I haven't really seen in a superhero cartoon in a while: police officers attempting to do their jobs en masse.

In superhero shows, it's easy to overlook the police, since they inevitably will be unable to stop the menace of the episode. After all, if they could, then the show wouldn't need superheroes. But sometimes, it seems like all I see animated cops do is stand back and let the superheroes handle it while they make a perimeter. And one of them will probably get zapped/frozen/tossed away by some kind of villain to show how woefully unprepared they are for said villain. And that's even if the cops show up at all.

As fun as it is to see superheroes do their thing, the fictional world feels that much more real when you see something as simple as emergency services.

But as I said, this is a superhero cartoon, meaning that when the robbers in the armored car end the chase by tossing out a smoke bomb to make their getaway, Superman has to get involved. And he does just that by flying down to check up on the officers.

The police are fine and are already radioing backup to tell them to head down to the warehouse district, so Superman... flies off in the other direction. Possibly. Due to the camera angles, it's difficult to tell which direction the chase was proceeding in, but I got the impression that Superman flew off in the opposite direction. But that can't be right. I'm sure Superman will be arriving at the robbers' hideout within the next few seconds.

Speaking of those guys, they speed into an abandoned warehouse and celebrate a score well robbed. Or a robbery well scored. But before crime can pay....

Voice: "Hello, boys."

The voice (Bud Cort) doesn't belong to Superman. Instead, a small man in a doll-like mask walks out of the shadows, bouncing a ball.

Man: "I'm ever so sorry to spoil your nice celebration... but I have a very important message for your boss, Mr. Mannheim. Please tell him the Toyman is calling time-out on his little games."

"And tell him that he has to finish all his apple slices before he's allowed to go out and play some more."
And with that, he drops his ball on the ground and walks out of the warehouse, locking the door behind him. As the criminals attempt to force open the door, they remain unaware that the Toyman's green ball is apparently made out of flubber, since it actually gains height every time it bounces on the ground. Because in Metropolis, the laws of physics are broken as often as the laws of man.

Eventually, the flubber hits the ceiling and starts bouncing around the warehouse, smashing up cement, metal, wood, anything it rams into.

It's at this point that I would like to point out the anime influence in this DC cartoon.

And not in the same way that Teen Titans was influenced by anime.
Superman: TAS and Batman: TAS were both largely animated overseas by various companies in Asia. Why? Well, it boils down to time and money. They could do it fast and cheap. And this isn't a phenomenon exclusive to the DC Animated Universe. Other Warner Bros. cartoons like Tiny Toons and Animaniacs were done the same way. Even non-Warner fare like The Simpsons still gets outsourced to many of the same animation studios, such as AKOM.

So there are times when Eastern animation flourishes can be seen in these shows, such as the case here. When the Toyman's flubber ball hits something, it breaks into a million pieces, which just kind of float there instead of flying off, or falling to the ground. Which, all things considered, is something you'd expect to see happening when Goku tosses somebody into a mountain, not when a Superman villain is tossing around a lethal toy.

Of course, this aesthetic is to be expected, since the company behind the animation of this episode, TMS Entertainment, also animated a little film called Akira.

You may have heard of it.
TMS Entertainment was certainly one of the better studios Warner Animations hired, to the degree that Warner actually allowed them to direct some episodes themselves, such as today's fare, directed by Kazuhide Tomonaga.

Anyway, back in the actual episode, Superman lazily flies toward his destination until he hears the robbers' cries for help, which is when he makes a beeline to go save/arrest them. But I think we can forgive Superman for getting a little lost while chasing these mooks. He's still new to Metropolis and might not know where the warehouse district is.

When Superman arrives, he gets whacked around a bit by the flubber.

More powerful than a locomotive, ladies and gentlemen.
I find it funny, but he clearly doesn't. So he looks around, predicts its flight path, and claps his hands together like he was swatting a fly, simultaneously catching it and crushing it into green dust.

The crooks thank their lucky stars... until Superman flies them off to have a chat with the cops. Reporters and paramedics arrive on the scene to investigate and treat, respectively. The robbers seem to be mostly okay, save for one who keeps babbling.

Robber: "It was... it was Toyman. Calling... time-out. Tell- tell Bruno... the Toyman..."

"He's got times! He's got times!"
The only thing more damaged than the guy's mental health is the armored car, which baffles Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, since it was apparently parked at the time.

Lois decides to question one of the crooks, named Spider, and lucky for her, he decides to waive his right to remain silent. But that's not to say he gives up any goods. Except for the goods the police confiscated. He sort of had to give those up.

Lois Lane: "So what's the lowdown on this Toyman character? I hear he's got it in for your boss, Bruno Mannheim."
Spider: "What boss? I happen to be a... independent agent."

"If you wanna talk about annuities, then I can help ya."
And with that, he gets ushered away by an officer before she can ask any more questions. Jimmy asks if they're going to go back to the Daily Planet, but she has other plans.

Lois Lane: "Actually, I was thinking about a picnic in the park."

"But you hate the outdoors."
Said park has some food tables and a small stage set up, since there's a little opening ceremony to be held later. The opening of Mannheim Park will feature none other than Bruno Mannheim (Bruce Weitz) himself, which is why he's currently testing out both his speech and the sound system.

Mannheim: "And it is my honor to dedicate Mannheim Park to the true heroes of Metropolis, our children."

"Children can't catch a runaway plane. What do I have to do get a park in my honor?"
Lois arrives, assuming that Clark Kent is here to scoop her on the Toyman thing, but Clark claims that he's covering the park opening, leaving her free to get to work grilling Mannheim.

Lois Lane: "Mr. Mannheim. Lois Lane. Daily Planet."

"Now that the pleasantries are out of the way...."
Lois Lane: "Any comments on this morning's armored-car hijacking?"Mannheim: "Why would I have a comment? I'm a legitimate businessman."

Independent agents, legitimate businessmen... Man, Metropolis sure is full of industrious people trying to make an honest living! Like that Lex Luthor chap. What a swell guy. He should run for public office.

Anyway, as Mannheim goes on to respond that he's never heard of this "Toyman," a few toy planes start buzzing about. When machine guns pop out of them and start firing, that's the cue to hit the dirt, sending sandwiches, punch, and oddly-blue candy canes flying everywhere.

Mannheim runs off to try and get to some facsimile of safety, and Clark tries to run after him to stop him, since the surrounding area is less "safe space" and more "kill box." But this is exactly why Lois grabs Clark's arm and pulls him behind a bench.

Mannheim ends up hiding in some playground equipment, saved only by the fact that Clark can shoot thermal energy out of his eyeballs, destroying each plane in the nick of time.

Jimmy: "Looks like they just broke apart."

That's right, Jimmy, get your fingerprints all over that evidence.
Once back at the Daily Planet, Lois rubs her page-one story in Clark's face, which is probably a little cathartic for her, considering how she got scooped on that "angel" story that turned out to be the greatest news story of all time.

Lois Lane: "It's all here. The attacks on the armored car and Mannheim, and as a finishing touch, a preliminary profile on the perp by a noted police psychiatrist."

"I don't know, Lois, something about this 'Dr. Wertham' just doesn't seem credible to me."
Fun Fact: In real life, such profiling is inaccurate a shocking amount of the time, and can lead to many wrongful arrests.

But the idea of it just seems so cool. To have somebody, like, listen to a kidnapper's recorded demands and determine that he's a left-handed middle child with ADHD? That just seems like such a cool ability, despite the fact that it's nearly as dubious as phrenology. Which is why film and TV often depict such profilers into mixtures of Adrian Monk and Sherlock Holmes, able to pick out the tiniest clues and make incredibly accurate deductions.

The idea that a police profiler could get any sort of accurate profile of the Toyman is utterly ludicrous, since there's really only two pieces of information. First, he's got it out for Mannheim. Second....

Lois Lane: "He uses toys as weapons."

Which could simply mean that he works at a Toys R Us and converts unsold merch into weapons.

Lois Lane: "We're talking about a guy with very serious issues."

Or maybe he thought it'd be fun to have a gimmick? All the cool villains in Gotham are doing it. Granted, most of them have psychological issues related to their villainous theme, so... you know what? Okay. With a track record like that, I'll admit it's a good bet that the Toyman is seriously messed up in some way.

Apparently, the "shrink" is of the opinion is that the Toyman is "an emotionally-stunted, amoral narcissist with paranoid delusions desperately seeking external validation through antisocial behavior."

Are we sure we didn't accidentally get a description of the Riddler? Because that's Edward Nygma to a T.

The Toyman, in his lair, doesn't seem to think too fondly of Lois's article before we cut to Mannheim berating his thugs on his yacht.

Mannheim: "That creep made me into a laughingstock. How could you let him get so close?"
Thug: "You wouldn't let us in the park, boss, remember?"
Thug 2: "You was afraid we'd scare the kids."

If Bruno really cared about that, you'd think he wouldn't have been there either, with a mug like that. There's a reason his nickname in the comics is "Ugly." Not "Ugly Bruno," or "Mr. Ugly," or anything. Just plain ol' Ugly. Like him.

As Mannheim wonders exactly where his would-be assassin could be hiding, a gigantic rubber duck emerges from the seafoam like a golden kaiju.

Well. This is happening.
"Hey! That's my gimmick!"
Bruno Mannheim: "What're you waiting for? Shoot it!"Thug: "It's a big ducky..."

"That's my favorite animal."
Bullets merely bounce off, and the gigantic, metal duck starts roaring and pecking the boat to pieces, making me want to see this thing fight Godzilla. But Superman will have to do, I guess.

Let's be fair, a giant rubber duck is only slightly more ridiculous than some of Godzilla's foes.
Mannheim goes overboard and washes ashore, only saved from the anatidae's onslaught by the timely arrival of the Man of Steel. The duck holds its own against Superman, though, as it's armed with missiles.

As Mannheim runs off from the fight, he finds the Toyman waiting with a gigantic bubble wand and a bucket of suds.

"How does the saying go?"

Which one? There are a lot of them.

A penny saved is a penny earned?

I think, therefore I am?

Never rub another man's rhubarb?

Toyman: "'Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble.'"

Oh, that saying. And no, that's not how it goes.

It's "double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble, fillet of a fenny snake, in the cauldron, boil and bake." And so on, and so forth, including the now-stereotypical "eye of newt." Yes, I've heard all the jokes about that.

Anyway, Mannheim recognizes the Toyman's voice and identifies him as "Winslow," who's apparently supposed to be dead. Mannheim whips out his gun to try and rectify that, but Toyman's bubbles pop in a blast of sleeping gas, knocking Mannheim out before he can pull the trigger.

Toyman: "Ashes, ashes, we all fall down."

Superman manages to defeat the missile-launching duck in a firey explosion, but can't find any trace of Mannheim when he returns to shore. Save for a couple things he and the Toyman left behind.

"The heck is this metal thing?"
Over at Lois Lane's apartment, she seems to be freshly showered and in her bathrobe. She finishes up a call with her boss when the doorbell rings, expecting dinner. But all she finds is a present for her waiting outside her apartment. And for some reason, she decides to take it in.

This can only end well.
Lois Lane: "Let it be flowers, please."

Flowers aren't always safe, Lois. Just ask Vicki Vale.

But the gift in question is a talking doll named "Princess Nighty-Night," who sprinkles some sparkles that knock Lois right out. When she comes to, it's in a scene that you could faithfully recreate in live-action, stick in an episode of Gotham, and have it be one of the creepier things in that show.

Lois wakes up in doll makeup and a doll costume, meaning that somebody has removed her bathrobe and dressed her. And she finds herself in a gigantic dollhouse, outside of which the Toyman awaits.

The next day, at the Daily Planet, Clark furiously types while Jimmy returns, having heard nothing regarding Lois's whereabouts. Clark suspects that it has something to do with Mannheim's disappearance, but can't find anything in the computer database regarding a connection.

Jimmy: "You know, you can cross-index with this system. Like the names 'Mannheim' and 'Toyman.' Mind if I take a shot?"

Wow, Jimmy Olsen knows how to use the "search" function. How impressive; he's capable of doing something my grandparents can do with a computer.

Back with Lois and the Toyman, he's looking forward to their playdate as he pretends to cut life-size plastic food for breakfast. He tells her that he wasn't too impressed with her article, so he's brought her here to do a better job.

Jimmy's search finally gets a result when he cross-indexes "Mannheim" with "toy," finding an article on a Toymaker who was sentenced to ten years in prison. As they read the article, the Toyman whips out a homemade pop-up book to tell the same tale. A tale about a kindly old toymaker, who just wanted to make a wonderful toy factory, despite a lack of funds. Luckily, a rich guy came along to help.

In retrospect, perhaps the horns were a bit of a giveaway....
The guy, a certain Mr. Mannheim, paid for the whole factory on one condition. The toy factory became a front for a numbers racket. Bruno Mannheim was suspected to be behind it, but was never pinned for the crime. But the toymaker, Winslow Schott, went to jail. The saddest part? Schott died in prison. Meaning that this version of the Toyman is not Winslow Schott, as in the comics, but Winslow Schott Jr., his son who was bounced around from foster home to foster home.

Toyman: "A childhood is a terrible thing to lose, Miss Lane. But I'm getting mine back. With a vengeance."

You know, this version of Winslow Schott, Jr. is never seen without his creepy mask, but something tells me he's not as awkwardly handsome as his Supergirl counterpart. That show has no shortage of attractive men. Par for the course with DC's live action shows, really.

Anyway, as Superman flies off to investigate the farm Winslow Schott used to own, the Toyman hands Lois a kitty-cat doodle pad and tells her to play reporter.

Toyman: "This time, I want you to take good notes."

Toyman has Bruno Mannheim strung up like a puppet in a prisoner's uniform, but that doesn't keep him from making blatant threats on Toyman's life.

Mannheim: "I mean it, Schott. I got friends."

"I got friends in town, outta town...
Heck, I've probably got a few friends up in space I don't even know about yet."
The thing that stops him from making threats is the army of robotic tin soldiers aiming their guns at his head. Toyman gives the prisoner a blindfold and prepares to give the order to fire, but Lois knocks the soldiers down like dominoes before they can shoot.

Toyman picks up a rifle and aims it at Lois, but Superman arrives to do what he does best: save her. Lois cuts Mannheim down with a bayonet as Toyman whips out an unbreakable surprise for Superman called "Dopey Doh."

"Pfft. Like a small, green chunk of anything is going to be able to take me down."
It's not just green and gooey, it's also alive and growing. Like Monster Blood. Only without the repetitive sequels.

Toyman: "Maybe you should read the warning. 'Dopey Doh is a lethal biogenic organism.'"

Yeah, well, strictly speaking, my cat is a lethal biogenic organism. He ate a mouse the other day.
Toyman: "'Contact with the skin can prove fatal. It won't stop growing until it asphyxiates its host. Not for children under 3.'"

Superman tells Lois to hide, and he unleashes his Tazmanian Devil impression, destroying the Toyman's toy collection as Dopey Doh flies everywhere. But the Toyman has one last ace up his sleeve in the form of a hundred bombs he deploys from the ceiling. With only a few seconds, Superman flies Lois and Mannheim out of the building shortly before it explodes.

Later, as the paramedics, cops, and firemen look over the scene, Lois is happily wearing her shock blanket and drinking her coffee. Though their opinions on the Toyman differ (Lois feels sorry for him and Mannheim's happy he's dead), she and Mannheim are both glad that the nightmare is over.

Except that the cops can't find a body. But they did find a broken mask....

My God, he was a Doombot this whole time!
And with the yet-to-be-broken promise of sequels to come, the episode ends. So I'll go ahead and review as I explain exactly what I mean by "broken promises."

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