Superman: The Animated Series was partly made in the same fashion as the massively popular Batman: The Animated Series. The tone was a little more serious, and the stakes were raised in order to create a sense that Superman might just have met his match. It was first produced in 1996 and made 54 episodes through the year 2000. The show received high praise for raising the bar but at the same time keeping what was important to the mythos of Superman. In fact, it even received a nomination for an Emmy. Besides Smallville, this probably stands out as the best television adaption of the one known as Superman, the Last Son of Krypton and hero to the planet Earth (and beyond).
(Summaries taken from previous DVD review; the rest applies to the new Blu-ray version)
Most of us know the story of Superman, but perhaps it is best that we run it over a little bit adapted to the actual animated series. Krypton is approaching devastation, but only one scientist believes it to be true, Jor-El. He feeds his information to a computer named Brainiac, who is in charge of the planet and all of its major operations. The computer analyzes the information and says the planet is safe. Jor-El knows the computer is lying and can’t convince the others of the danger.
Jor-El decides to break into the holding place of Brainiac and see for himself what is the real truth. He finds out that Krypton is indeed dying, and there is nothing he can do about it. With the cops in pursuit, he runs to his home, and with his wife’s help they put their son Kal-El in a spaceship. They set the course for a planet called Earth. As the spaceship flies away, we see two things: the destruction of the planet Krypton and Brainiac escaping.
The scene shifts to the planet Earth where the spaceship crashes. Martha and Jonathan Kent find the spaceship and the adopt the baby as their own. They name him Clark. The next few minutes, we see Clark grow up. But Clark realizes he is different from the other human beings. He has amazing powers, and he uses them to save others. Eventually the Kents tell Clark about the spaceship, and he learns where he came from.
Eventually Clark accepts his powers (and also learns to fly) and takes a job at a local newspaper office as a reporter along with Perry White and Lois Lane. Clark keeps his powers secret as he and Lois investigate Lex Luthor, who is showing off his new battle suit robot. The robot gets stolen, but its up to Clark to change into his suit and take out the bad guys. He succeeds, and pictures are taken. From that point on, he is dubbed Superman. As the show continues and he comes to understand his powers, he battles many more villains and keeps the world safe for at least one more day.
To be honest, I never watched this series all that much. I was a Batman boy and spent most of my time between that and the X-Men animated series. I never got around to Superman, as he always seemed too powerful and too much of a goody-goody image. I should have. These fifty four episodes are some of the most wonderful pieces of superhero cartoons I have ever laid my hands on. Superman is still shown in a goody-two-shoes kind of light, but it’s more edgy and less apple pie.
The stories are excellent, and the range of characters will make any fan-boy squeal in delight. I absolutely adored Lobo (Brad Garrett is awesome in portraying his voice) and new villain: LiveWire. Lobo needs his own animated series so bad, it isn’t funny. But even if you took out those two characters, there are still a good dozen or more that I could still rave on about for the next couple of paragraphs.
Through the course of 54 episodes, there are naturally a few shows that you could describe as somewhat troublesome (examples like Unity & Superman’s Pal). In fact, anything involving the Toy Man wasn’t my cup of tea. He seemed much more suited for Batman. But most of those episodes were at the end of the run when they needed some filler before the final uplifting episodes. Honestly, the complaints on the show are few and far between.
The video is shown in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation. Much like with Batman: the Animated Series, a lot of care was taken in restoring the picture to, quite frankly, amazing levels. With the upgrades, this looks to be on par with many recent DC animated movies. I really wish Marvel and some other vintage toons would take note of how DC and Warner treat their classic cartoons. The color is crisp, the detail feels that much more impressive, all while keeping the original presentation with the same feel and aspect ratio. This is about as close to perfect as possible given the source material.
Audio is presented in 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio in English and also 2.0 Dolby Digital for French and Spanish. There is certainly a bass boost in the sound department. Compared to the DVD set, there are lots of improvements in dialog and the action onscreen. None of these improvements feel overly enhanced; it’s simply taking what’s there and improving the mastering process. Sound effects are very good here, and the pithy sound that once plagued this set is mostly gone. Subtitles are presented in English SDH and French.
- The Last Son of Krypton – Part 1 Commentary – Bruce Timm, Paul
Dini, Alan Burnett, Dan Riba and Glen Murakami: The first of four awesome commentaries in this set. The people you see above reflect the general cast for most of the commentaries. They really put together great tidbits about this incantation of Superman along with past including representations in movies and the comics. If you enjoy learning about Superman and the show, you’ll love these commentaries.
- Stolen Memories Commentary – Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami and Curt Geda
- The Main Man – Part II Commentary – Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Glen Murakami and Dan Riba
- Mxyzpixilated Commentary – Bruce Timm, Jason Hillhouse, Paul Dini, and Dan Riba
Disc Four and Disc Five
- No Special Features
- Superman: Timeless Icon 32:45 – The lone new special feature on the set. The creators of the show talk about their influences and we get a lot of vintage video from the Superman shows of yesteryear. They really set to create a Superman show that was going to stand apart. They talk about the tone differences between the Superman and Batman animated series and how much they loved creating the show. Despite DC’s stance on Superman’s motto as of late, they do discuss in this feature how Superman embodies Truth, Justice and the American way to close out this fine featurette.
- Menaces of Metropolis 13:02: Another great feature that goes over all of the various villains found in the series. This includes old enemies that everybody knows ,from Lex Luthor to Brainiac. But it also includes some new ones made especially for this series, like LiveWire & Luminous.
- Building the Mythology: Superman’s Supporting Cast 9:37: This features goes over all of the supporting characters in the series from Lois Lane to Ma & Pa Kent. Good for people who are watching the show for the first time.
- Superman: Learning To Fly 9:40: A behind-the-scenes look at the Superman animated series. They talk a lot about the show in general and we learn that a lot of magic occurred in editing with this series. Apparently the product given by the animators wasn’t up to standards and they really had to work out quite a few things in editing.
- A Little Piece of Trivia 21:29: This is like a pop-up video track, but it is all about Superman and it is run over the “A Little Piece of Home” episode. Pretty informative and lots of good tidbits about the series and Superman in general.
- The Despot Darkseid: A Villain Worthy of Superman 16:55: A good lengthy feature all about Darkseid, including information from the comic and the series. He replaced Luthor as the central villain for the last bulk of episodes. I have no qualms with the featurette, just question a 17-minute featurette by itself with a few trailers on a single disc. It seems like they could have given us something else.
Notes about Extras from Previous DVD Set
- For those of you who have the 7-Disc Complete Adventures of Superman DVD Set, you might want to hold on to that set(or at least certain discs). Unfortunately Warner made a poor misstep here and removed half a dozen audio commentaries from the previous set including those from Apokolips Now! Part II, New Kids in Town, and World’s Finest Part 1 among others. In addition, we also lost a couple of featurettes, though I will say Timeless Icon makes up for that (but not for the audio commentaries). Discs Four and Five were completely bare of extras and could have easily contained a couple more of the previous commentaries. Furthermore, Disc Six was so packed that they could have easily compressed the audio commentaries a bit to fit on the appropriate disc. I really wish I hadn’t given my old set to my friend (whoI don’t even talk to anymore), but alas we move on.
The packaging is rather simple this time around (for the better) and is six discs in an appropriate Blu-ray case. It also contains a digital code for the set (unless you have a review copy).
Superman is always so difficult to do properly when it comes to the animated arena. We realize that Superman is ultra powerful, and almost nothing in the universe can touch him. This is why live-action series tend to focus on the drama, romance, or in the case of Smallville, him as a teenage boy when he was a little more vulnerable. But unfortunately when it comes to animation or something not aimed at adults, DC really can’t focus on Clark Kent and Lois Lane. That’s why this animated series is so special and really defied the odds (and hasn’t been duplicated since).
This Blu-ray set is mostly a home run. The video is fantastic, and the audio is greatly improved. Even the packaging when comparing it with the previous set has been enhanced. But there is that one problem area: extras. The extras for the DVD set were awesome, and while a lot of those were retained, we lost half a dozen commentaries and a couple of featurettes. Honestly, there was no excuse for this (if you compare how they did the last disc, space was not a concern). Still, this gets a high recommendation from me, and I’m glad to finally have this series back, especially with my six-year-old, who will get a lot of mileage out of the set. Enjoy.
Last Son of Krypton Part I
Last Son of Krypton Part II
Last Son of Krypton Part III
Fun and Games
A Little Piece of Home
The Way of All Flesh
The Main Man Part I
The Main Man Part II
Tools of the Trade
Two’s a Crowd
Blasts from the Past Part I
Blasts from the Past Part II
Ghost in the Machine
World’s Finest Part I
World’s Finest Part II
World’s Finest Part III
The Hand of Fate
The Late Mr. Kent
Apokolips…Now! Part I
Apokolips…Now! Part II
Little Girl Lost Part I
Little Girl Lost Part II
Where There’s Smoke
New Kids in Town
Little Big Head Man
In Brightest Day…
A Fish Story
The Demon Reborn
Legacy Part I
Legacy Part II