Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review: Superman: TAS "Fun and Games"

What is it about childlike, toy-obsessed men that we as a culture find so creepy?

Could it be the contradiction? That they seem to have simple, childlike minds, and yet they're capable of manipulating, and often creating, intricate examples of craftsmanship? That perhaps there is something within them able to manipulate US through their actions in the same way they would pull the strings of a marionette?

...I dunno. I'm just here to talk about this Superman episode.

Like many of the introductory episodes for this show's villains... well, how can I put this without it sounding like an insult....

His first appearance is all about establishing him as a threat. His origin story, his gimmick, et cetera. It's his second appearance that the writers, for lack of a better term, do something interesting with him.

Now, I'm not saying that this episode isn't interesting, or that it's boring, or anything like that. This is a fine episode. It's just not... flashy? This is really hard to explain, but I'll do my best.

This is a simple revenge story. Albeit one featuring a rather colorful villain out for revenge. Compare this to an episode with aliens, and monsters, and robots, and double-crosses... well, it can look a little quaint.

But again, this is not necessarily bad. This is a good episode with solid characterization, well-written dialogue, and a plot that, though fairly straightforward, provides high-enough stakes and twists to keep the audience's attention between fight scenes.

And the killer toys are pretty creative, though I have to wonder where Toyman got the funding.
And the biogenic Dopey Doh.
If I had to come up with some kind of quick, alliterative way to describe episodes like this, I'd probably use "Quiet Quality." Just because the episode isn't complex and filled with spectacle, that doesn't mean it isn't good.

This was definitely a tricky episode in terms of scheduling, though. This was the first Saturday morning installment after the Friday-night premiere of the three-part... um... premiere. Any episode is going to pale in comparison to that powerhouse beginning, especially one without a flashy supervillain.

But I feel that the Toyman's introduction sets the stage for other villains well. Batman: The Animated Series is filled with gimmicky, powerless villains, so using a Batman-esque villain might have been a good way to ease the audience in to this new show by placing a new hero into a familiar setup.

As for the actual plot... well, there's really not much to analyze regarding the plot itself. The Toyman goes nuts and decides to get revenge on the man who ruined his and his father's lives. Any meaningful analysis of the plot would primarily focus on the characters themselves.

So... I'ma go ahead and move on to doing that.


Lois Lane
In a nice touch, Lois is very protective and proud of her story on Mannheim/the Toyman. Which is to be expected, since she missed out on the Superman story.

Toyman (Bud Cort)
Toyman is one of the first things that was largely reinterpreted for this cartoon, following Brainiac and his new Kryptonian origin in the series premiere.

In the comics, Toyman is more like a Batman villain. He has an unhealthy fixation on toys, and he uses them to commit his crimes because... reasons. I don't know, it's hard to keep track of all these minor characters' retconned origins. That's why I don't do regular Character Studies anymore, because any specific information on characters' histories seems to be quickly retconned, either independently or with the rest of a comic company's continuity.

...But I'm getting off track.

This version of the Toyman gets his schtick from two sources. First of all, he seems to have had a very close relationship with his father, who met a very unfortunate end after being manipulated and used by Bruno Mannheim. And secondly, he bounced from foster home to foster home, losing any opportunity to have a childhood in the process.

So when all was said and done, he probably formulated his gimmick as a way to get some sort of poetic justice for his father.

Bud Cort's performance is perfect for this version of the character. He delivers a blend of unhinged menace with childlike behavior, and it really makes you feel bad for the Toyman, even as you worry about what he might do to Lois.

So it's a darn shame that the Toyman is criminally underused, if you'll pardon the pun. He'll only appear in one more episode of this show, "Obsession," in the third and final season (unless you count a cameo in "Action Figures.") His only meaningful DCAU appearances after "Obsession" will be a sequel to that story in Static Shock as well as some minor appearances in the later Justice League series.

You'd think his vendetta against Bruno Mannheim could be explored in future stories, but Toyman is one of those villains now. You know, the villains who forget their original motivations and focus on killing the heroes who stopped them in the first place. See also: The Sinister Six.

Bruno Mannheim (Bruno Weitz)
Mannheim is basically a pettier Lex Luthor.

He's a cunning criminal boss with a vast criminal network at his command, but he doesn't have the smarts, the charm, or the ambition that Luthor has. But like Luthor, he's a criminal piece of crap and everybody knows it.

Mannheim also differs from Luthor in that he's not afraid to get his hands dirty. Lex Luthor would try to elevate himself above a criminal deal like this, allowing himself to distance himself from any possible repercussions while still reaping benefits from the deal. Mannheim went in personally to make this deal, which led to the Toyman targeting him. Personally.

This won't be the last of Mr. Mannheim, but I'd imagine that this whole ordeal may leave him open to changing how he goes about his business. After all, if some punk with a toybox could nearly kill him, then it might be time to team up with somebody who can supply him with a bit more in the way of personal protection.

The technical side of the animation is pretty great, with some pretty hand-painted backgrounds on the coastline where the duck battle takes place. And I love the redesign of the Toyman, too.

The comic version of the Toyman is yet another villain whose costume consists of a brightly-colored jacket, like the Joker, the Prankster, certain incarnations of the Riddler, et cetera. By wearing a childlike mask, the Toyman is basically playing dress-up by becoming a child in an attempt to reclaim his lost childhood. And the doll-like appearance lends another meaning when his name; he disguises himself as a toy man.

But the familiar woes of outsourcing animation to people who don't speak English as a first language show up here and there.

Ah, the iconic symbol of the DAILY PLAИET.
And the random gibberish surrounding the article on Winslow Schott.
"Alcohol is wise," indeed.
Final Thoughts
One of the best episodes? Maybe not.

One of the most memorable episodes? Probably not.

A good episode? I'd say so. I enjoyed it.

Next time, Lex Luthor follows the Ewok example by using rocks to fight a superior foe from space. See you then!

No comments:

Post a Comment