Superman: The Animated Series debuted nearly twenty three years ago, on 06 September 1996. For a then thirteen year old Michael, finally having a smartly written animated series based on his favourite character seemed like an impossibility. The fact that this series arrived on the small screen and possessed quality that matched that of its predecessor, Batman: The Animated Series, only demonstrated further that the character of Superman still had much life left in him, even after nearly sixty years of publication. Except, Superman: The Animated Series in the past twenty-five years since its debut, has largely been looked over.
While Superman: The Animated Series may not be as universally recognized or lauded as Batman: The Animated Series, there is still an incredibly strong case that this ranks among some of the most successful, faithful, yet unique adaptations for the world’s original super-hero, and is significant to animation in general. For a character that is criticized for being outdated, out of touch and irrelevant, Superman: The Animated Series proves this all wrong during its three season run.
In just fifty four episodes, the same team that gave us Batman: The Animated Series managed to distill sixty years of Superman mythos into a half hour long package that explored, translated, honoured and even added to this same mythos in significant ways. For example, while less remembered than say Harley Quinn or Detective Renee Montoya from Batman: The Animated Series, Lex Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy Graves and femme fatale Livewire both began as animation cells, not as characters in a comic book. Those two characters would eventually be carried over to the comic books, as well as television and movie adaptations, demonstrating that Superman: The Animated Series was more than capable of being the successor to Batman: The Animated Series in terms of quality, and an extremely successful adaptation of DC Comics’ other best recognized character.
It is this mythos and its impact on the source material and other adaptations that I wish to explore in reviewing these episodes. I am no film or animation critic, nor do I have formal academic exposure in either; I am simply a Superman fan, coming back to these episodes for the first time in over a decade (or in the case of season three, my first time ever viewing). I wish to explore just how this series successfully managed to juggle its own history with its own present while also demonstrating that in the right hands and the right medium, Superman as a character remains as relevant as ever.
My intent is not to explore the production side of this series, nor provide strict film/animation critique of these episodes. There are many great websites, blogs and podcasts that have already covered this rich territory, and can add to it far better than I could. It will be referenced, when needed, but I instead wish to write more about the enjoyment of watching these episodes again, while creating those linkages between this series, its source material, and other related adaptations. Again, those fifty four episodes covered a lot of ground, and while it is meant to be a Post-Crisis (modern) representation of Superman, that does not mean developers Alan Burnett or Bruce Timm did not draw on some of the hokey, often times ridiculous ideas of the Silver Age of comics, or the earnest, social warrior ideals that the character debuted under in the Golden Age. My analysis will also track the differences that this adaptation made, the ones that worked, the ones that did not quite work, and even a few surprises along the way.
A a result, my walkthrough of this series is part history (of the series itself, as well as my own recollections from adolescence), part cultural significance and connection to the source material, and part personal viewership. It is my hope that I can shine more light on an animated series that has in the last quarter century, been living in the shadow of its predecessor, when it was meant soar on its own.