We’re back with more cartoon talk from Tom and Jimmy.
Let’s start with a look at the three part pilot for Superman the Animated Series, “The Last Son of Krypton”
“The Last Son Of Krypton”
Brave scientist Jor-El knew his planet was dying and, with his wife Lara, sent his infant son Kal-El to Earth! Gifted with fantastic abilities far beyond most people, the boy grows up to become the Man of Steel, SUPERMAN.
jimmy: And right out of the gate they set a different tone than Batman. Starting with Superman’s origin, something that was only alluded to but never shown for Batman.
tomk: And having Ma Kent refer to Batman only as the nut job from Gotham City.
jimmy: If she knew he’s mom’s name was also Martha she might feel differently.
That only works on Batman himself.
jimmy: Not that I want to go down this road, but I was reminded of Man of Steel a couple of times watching this. One, with Jor-El being an ass-kicking action star; and two, when Clark uses his powers as a teen to save the people from the bus.
tomk: But also, three, when Pa Kent suggested he shouldn’t have.
Oh wait, that would be awful.
This is a hopeful show.
Aside from the fact almost every character you meet in part one is dead by the end of it.
jimmy: It was a bold move not having the character your show is named after appear in the first episode. Baby Kal-El doesn’t count. (edited)
tomk: Well, remember this originally ran as one long pilot movie.
jimmy: Did it originally run altogether and not 3 separate episodes?
tomk: It ran altogether. I remember watching it when it came out.
jimmy: Cool. Completely coincidentally I watched this on September 6th, which was the 20th anniversary of it first airing.
tomk: Huh. So did I.
jimmy: The theme is not as iconic as the first Batman theme (not The Adventures of Batman and Robin remix) but it is still good. According to Paul Dini the opening is clips from the show and not something new because they simply ran out of time.
tomk: Mostly true. There are two clips that aren’t from the show, one of Superman flying at night and the other where he opens his shirt to show the class S-shield. I believe Bruce Timm said that a good Superman theme must be done in a way where you can say “Superman” to the music.
jimmy: Haha, hey that works.
tomk: It is also, according to Timm at least, true for both the Christopher Reeve movie Superman theme and the one from the old TV show.
jimmy: On the commentary for episode one, Dini commented that one of the reasons he wanted to show the origin (besides it being the greatest super hero origin ever) was to establish that Superman was a science fiction show as opposed to Batman’s more “realistic” world.
tomk: And that fits. Superman’s show is blatantly different from Batman’s, as it should be.
jimmy: Let’s talk about Krypton. Dini also said he hated the “ice planet” design of the Reeve movie. So they redesigned it to make it more of a beautiful utopia that you would genuinely feel for when it got destroyed.
tomk: Well, yes. I watched it off Amazon Prime, and the short there remarked Krypton is supposed to look like something in harmony with nature, like they grew their buildings instead of building them. Considering how little we know of Krypton in general, just about any adaptation would be fine, but this one looks like a nice planet if you like pointy shoulder guards and headbands on men.
jimmy: And Robocops.
tomk: Those too. And creepy computers.
jimmy: C’mon Kryptonians, you should know better than to ever trust Brainiac!
tomk: Well, he’s never steered them wrong before.
jimmy: Back to the Krypton design, so you think the red sky was an homage to Crisis or do I just think all red skies are homages to Crisis?
tomk: I think it was a homage to the red sun of Krypton, sometimes called Rao.
Besides, if those red skies spook you, wait until we see redesigned Gotham.
jimmy: That’s ominous.
tomk: But Rao was the Kryptonian sun, or a god of theirs in some stories. Silver Age Superman used to exclaim “Great Rao!” As did one of those Robocops.
jimmy: You are much more up on your Kryptonian history than I.
tomk: I really enjoy old Silver Age comics, though not so much Superman. Most of his stories showed Superman saving the day through deception more than anything else.
jimmy: And he was also a giant jerk.
tomk: I know I’ve told you about the Batman Brave and the Bold cartoon, Jimmy, but the Superman episode clearly had Superdickery in mind, particularly when Jimmy Olsen almost called Superman a dick before being cut off, and even recreating many of the jerkass Superman covers from that site within the episode.
jimmy: Haha, that I have to check out.
tomk: Seriously, once I got the rhythm of what that show was doing, it was great.
But one thing about the Silver Age Superman was he had great affection for Krypton and Jor-El and Lara despite the fact he left there as a baby and didn’t really know much of anything about the place. He’d even refer to the Kents as his adopted parents like they weren’t the folks who raised him.
jimmy: I did wonder if this version of Kal-El would recall his Kryptonian parents at all. He wasn’t talking but was walking around, so he was probably around a year old? Not that I remember last week let alone when I was a year old, but something might have stuck with him. And he never did the accelerated aging thing in the rocket ship like in the movies.
tomk: Well, because Krypton is basically your standard sci-fi utopia, you can attach all kinds of stuff to the place.
And somehow, they evolved dogs and humans just like the Earth did.
jimmy: I did think it was odd that Kryptonians and humans (and their dogs…Krypto!) were identical but I quickly let that go.
tomk: That’s a standard trope of old sci-fi. Most aliens look at least a little human. Though Star Trek The Next Generation did once dedicate a whole episode to why that was…
jimmy: At least Star Trek were mostly humanoid. Usually a difference in the ears or other distinctive markings on the head/face.
tomk: Well, Star Trek was limited by the fact they were played by human actors. Joe Shuster could have drawn anything and said it was a Kryptonian.
But that was a standard of the 1930s. Flash Gordon met aliens that looked mostly human.
jimmy: Would have been harder to disguise Clark with just glasses though then…
Hard to believe that disguise works as well as it does sometimes.
jimmy: It is the most ridiculous thing ever, so you have to not think about it. Coincidentally, this was in this week’s Superman #6…
Krypto also returns that issue. It is Rebirth-tastic!
tomk: Generally, Superman writers and artists say there are other differences, like how he wears loose clothing and slouches a lot when he’s Clark, and speaks in a deeper, more confident voice as Superman, but you get the idea.
And Krypto…I choose to believe Jor-El did on this show like the comic version and sent the puppy on ahead in a prototype rocket.
jimmy: I think Christopher Reeve was the best at “transforming” from Clark to Supes. Hard to get away with guys like Cavill where he is just this muscle bound hunk to begin with.
tomk: Actually…Brandon Routh had a good Clark Kent thing going.
His Superman? Well, hard to say.
jimmy: True, though he was essentially doing a Christopher Reeve impersonation.
tomk: That’s fine. Bryan Singer was essentially doing a Richard Donner impersonation.
jimmy: I did notice that Brainiac told Jor-El that his mistake was “human error”..shouldn’t that have been “Kryptonian error”?
tomk: Brainiac error?
jimmy: I don’t think Brainiac can make errors.
tomk: Well, he keeps messin’ with Superman, and that sure ain’t smart.
jimmy: Because we all know you don’t tug on Superman’s cape.
tomk: It is also generally recommended that you should not spit into the wind, take the mask off the old Lone Ranger, or mess around with Jim.
jimmy: Jim…Olsen? Because he doesn’t seem very intimidating.
tomk: Well, that’s just the conventional wisdom. Who knows what photos he has of important people?
jimmy: That’s very true. It’s always the one you least expect.
I know they intentionally didn’t make it too graphic, but an entire world exploding is pretty deep for the type of show that will rarely, if ever, show anyone dying.
tomk: True. And the ending was much more graphic.
jimmy: The battle with ED-209 you mean?
tomk: Well, the tentacled version.
But we’ll get to Brainiac later. What did you think of Lex Luthor, one of three classic Superman foes to appear in this story?
The others being Brainiac and…you’ll see.
Clancy Brown brings such a great line reading to Luthor, making him sound like a base thug and a refined gentleman all at the same time. He has such an oily voice, and is at least as iconic in his performance as a DC villain as Mark Hamill is as the Joker.
jimmy: Brown is an excellent Luthor. I wouldn’t put him on par with Hamill, but only a notch below.
And a hat tip to Christopher MacDonald as Jor-El as we probably won’t get to talk about him much (at all?) going forward.
tomk: Actually…MacDonald will voice Superman himself on Batman Beyond.
jimmy: Interesting. Makes sense.
tomk: But yes, not someone you’ll hear a lot from.
jimmy: Oh, and Malcolm McDowell is awesome…but I’m pretty sure he’ll show up again.
tomk: Yes, I would agree.
jimmy: Tim Daly will always be “that guy from Wings” but he does a great Superman. It’s not at the same level as Conroy’s Batman, but when I see an animated Supes, this is the voice I am expecting to hear.
tomk: Well, he’ll be replaced for Justice League due to being busy. Daly actually does a lot of TV work. He did a few episodes of The Sopranos, starred in a remake of The Fugitive for TV, and did some legal drama not that long ago.
jimmy: Really? I figured he was in the DCAU for the long haul like Conroy, but can understand his being busy.
tomk: He does come back for a lot of the straight-to-DVD movies, but he didn’t do Justice League.
For what it’s worth, actor George Newbern is also a pretty good Superman once you get used to the fact it isn’t Tim Daly.
jimmy: Well, we’ve got a ways to go before that.
tomk: True enough.
And while we’re talking casting…Dana Delany?
jimmy: Ya know, she wasn’t quite what I remembered of Lois. Maybe her inflections, etc. change over time. And Perry’s voice caught me off guard too. I was expecting it to be different.
tomk: Well, Perry was George Dzundza. You may remember him as the Ventriloquist and Scarface, or that shifty doctor in Subzero.
jimmy: Yes, for sure. Is he Perry throughout the series run?
And here’s something I just learned: Ma and Pa Kent are married to each other.
jimmy: Well, duh, they have the same last name.
tomk: No, I meant the actors are.
And that makes for a weird relationship I have with my brother…
jimmy: Heh, I kid. Really, were they married prior to this show?
tomk: Since 1984 apparently.
jimmy: Well, if you need to cast for chemistry, it makes perfect sense.
tomk: It does.
I mean, I knew both were sitcom actors, Mike Farrell from M*A*S*H* and Shelley Fabres from both The Donna Reed Show in the 60s and Coach more recently, but since I like to make sure I spell names correctly, I double-check stuff and wouldn’t you know it…
jimmy: BJ Hunnicutt was Pa Kent?
jimmy: Cool. And speaking of Ma Kent, do you think her first suggested baby name was a nod to Christopher Reeve?
jimmy: Did you have more to say on Dana Delany?
A creative writing professor I had once saw her as a very young woman in a stage performance of Equus.
I’ll leave that at that.
But she did get to play Lois Lane quite a bit, almost as much as Brown would continue to play Luthor.
She (with Brown and Justice League‘s Newbern) would reprise those roles for The Batman, actually.
jimmy: I’m gonna assume Equus would be Watson approved material?
tomk: Yes. Yes, it would.
And, for what it is worth, it’s a great play that just so happens to have some Watson-approved material in it.
jimmy: Well, ahem…
And no discussion of the “regular” cast would be complete with Brad Garrett’s Bibbo!
tomk: Ah yes, Bibbo.
Bibbo in the comics was a somewhat drunk old, retired boxer who idolized Superman and tried to be like his hero in his own way.
Somehow, I think making him a sailor here is a tribute to Max Fleischer’s other super heroic cartoon character, Popeye.
jimmy: Quite possibly. He’s Supes biggest fan in either case. Supes or spinach.
tomk: He even looks a little like Popeye here.
jimmy: An older, overweight Popeye, but indeed he does.
tomk: Garrett has another role that’s a bit more…memorable.
But I really want to talk about Luthor.
jimmy: Then you go right ahead!
tomk: Well, there’s a lot to unpack here.
First, John Byrne is a pretty polarizing figure these days, but his Superman reboot worked out pretty darn well.
One of his best additions was changing Luthor from a mad scientist robbing banks or stealing pies, which is just terrible, into a corrupt billionaire.
jimmy: Who steals pies? Honestly?!?
tomk: But the thing about Luthor, no matter the incarnation, is he is a highly egotistical man. He can’t believe Superman doesn’t act out of some sense of jealousy of Luthor’s own brilliance.
So, this Luthor more or less telling Superman off in that smooth-yet-sleazy way at the end, that’s a Luthor who can’t conceive of a Superman who isn’t there to take away whatever Luthor himself has earned, despite the fact Superman never really intended to cross paths with the bald billionaire.
Luthor sees himself as the hero. Look how he brags about building Metropolis here, and how 2/3 of the citizens work for him in some capacity.
jimmy: So you’re saying that Lex is a richer, smarter, balder J Jonah Jameson?
tomk: More evil and corrupt, yes.
Jameson wouldn’t be selling arms to terrorists.
And let’s be realistic here…Jameson just doesn’t care for Spider-Man. Hasn’t he, on multiple occasions, spoken well of Captain America?
jimmy: For sure. It’s pretty much just a Spider-Man thing.
And even after numerous reboots and rebirths that egotistical Lex is still with us today.
tomk: I think the person who got Lex the best was Grant Morrison in All-Star Superman.
Lex has managed to gain Superman’s powers. He’s going on and on about how he could cure cancer and whatnot, but Superman won’t let him.
Then Superman points out Lex had more than enough opportunities to do all those goods thing…but he never did. And it hits Lex right then and there what an awful person he really is.
jimmy: All-Star Superman is great.
But yes Lex always considers himself the hero. By the sounds of it, we’ll be seeing more of that attitude here.
And to step back slightly, Byrne’s Superman reboot is classic as well. So endearing in fact, that he’s returned as the current Superman in the (don’t call it) New 52.
tomk: He has?
jimmy: Well, the pre-Flashpoint Superman at least. Unless Final Night or some other reboot bumbled up Byrne’s post-Crisis version along the way.
tomk: Well, a lot of the Silver Age stuff he did away with was gradually returned. Heck, Jeph Loeb even brought back Mad Scientist Luthor.
jimmy: Who brought back his flowing red locks?
tomk: I have no idea there.
jimmy: As good an answer as I have.
tomk: Point is, while Joker is just a psychotic lunatic, Luthor is a much more complicated figure, capable of being a good guy if it means showing up Superman, but mostly obsessed with someone feeling non-existent jealousy over Luthor’s own brilliance.
Well, you wouldn’t just want a Joker clone. You’d end up with this…
tomk: I’d have to check which character came first. But Joker/Luthor team-ups used to happen to mess with Superman and Batman.
jimmy: It’s always been an interesting aspect of Superman lore that his greatest nemesis has no super powers.
If he’s not driven by ego, he hates/distrusts Superman because he is not human.
tomk: Luthor fights with his mind, not his muscle. That might make him more dangerous.
And sometimes the ego gets involved in his xenophobia. He can’t believe some alien from another world is showing him up all the time!
jimmy: Exactly. Everyone should love him, not some alien that could turn on humanity at any time. (But hasn’t in 75+ years.)
tomk: An alien that looks human, too.
Seriously, Superman is such a prototypical example of the American immigrant story. Comes from another place, makes good, is a really good citizen, but some folks who were born here don’t see him as the real thing.
jimmy: Those roots were probably helped by being half-created by a Canadian.
tomk: Well, there are those who say that Joe Shuster was drawing Toronto when he designed Metropolis.
jimmy: And Superman’s original tag line of fighting for “Truth, Justice and Apologizing”
tomk: Well, maybe not that.
There’s also some speculation he represents the Jewish experience since both his creators were Jewish.
jimmy: Very likely.
tomk: And the whole Kal-El/Jor-El thing looks vaguely Hebrew.
But for more confirmed things, Lois Lane was based off a girlfriend one of the guys had (and I think eventually married).
jimmy: Well, Tom, they’re off to a good start. Anything further to add on our first taste of the last son of Krypton?
tomk: Superman is clearly a different kind of hero and a different kind of cartoon. Bright skies and futuristic design will make for a much more light-hearted and, if need be, silly approach to a character that is, in many ways, Batman’s opposite number.
What about you, Jimmy?
jimmy: No, I think I’ve said what I needed to about the pilot episodes. Looking forward to seeing more.
tomk: Good. First stop is the Toyman.
NEXT TIME: Tom and Jimmy see how Superman fares in his new home with “Fun and Games,” “A Little Piece of Home” and “Feeding Time”.