Tuesday, August 31, 2010

'Superman: The Animated Series' Vol. 2

Starring Tim Daly, Dana Delaney and Clancy Brown
Developed by Bruce Timm

This second batch of fun, colorful "Superman" episodes ups the ante in a number of ways.  More sequels to earlier episodes pop up, with villains like Metallo (Malcolm McDowell), Livewire (Lori Petty) and Brainiac (Corey Burton) returning to cause more trouble for Superman (Tim Daly) and Lois Lane (Dana Delaney).

The centerpiece of this collection, however, is the three-part "World's Finest" crossover, wherein the Joker (Mark Hammill) comes to Metropolis, armed with a huge chunk of Kryptonite.  He enters into a devil's bargain with Lex Luthor to kill the Man of Steel.  Meanwhile, Batman (Kevin Conroy) appears in Metropolis as well, hot on the Joker's trail.  Though they dislike each other, Batman and Superman team up to defeat the Joker and expose Luthor's involvement.

The crossover marked the point in the series where the two shows were officially brought together, setting the stage for further crossovers and eventually the "Justice League" series.  The Batman series was given an overhaul, with redesigned characters and settings to match the Superman series.  While this is mostly successful (the new design for Batman is a favorite of mine, as well as other characters like Scarecrow) it's not entirely so.  The new Joker is strange-looking, and the design was ultimately refined further later on.  But this crossover episode is finely animated, more fluid and detailed than either shows usually exhibited (but would become more of the norm afterward).  

Other fine episodes litter the collection, including a jaunt to a dark parallel dimension where the death of Lois Lane has turned Superman into a bitter tyrant, a return visit from Bizarro who tries to turn Metropolis into a twisted version of Krypton, and more hinting appearances by the evil god Darkseid (Michael Ironside).  Much like Kevin Conroy's Batman has become so ingrained in my mind that I hear his voice when reading the comics, so the same is for Ironside as the voice of Darkseid.  I was saddened to learn that Ironside wouldn't be returning along with Daly and Conroy in the upcoming "Superman/Batman: Apocalypse" movie.  He's that good.

This collection also further expands the series' cast of recurring characters like Lex Luthor's bodyguard, Mercy Graves, Metropolis cops Maggie Sawyer and Dan Turpin and STAR Labs scientist Emil Hamilton all getting some time in the spotlight.  There's a greater sense in this collection that Superman is part of a larger universe, something that began in the first volume with the Flash, but is continued here by introducing Batman, Dr. Fate, and even Steel. 

The stories here also seem a bit more mature than those of the first collection, with some darker, more dangerous plots and tone in a number of episodes.  One episode in particular sees the Daily Planet building possessed by a demon named Karkull.  The episode is filled with twisted, scary imagery and uses sound to great effect. 

Still, at just over twenty minutes each, these episodes are pretty easy to get through in batches.  Each disc contains six episodes, or just over two hours of cartoons.  I have no problem chewing through these discs at a fast pace.  The show is still just as smart and fun as ever, perhaps even more so thanks to the expanding universe its creating.