Characters & First Appearances (in order of appearance): Jor-El, Brainiac, Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman, Lara Lor-Van, White Dog (Krypto?), Jonathan & Martha Kent, Lana Lang, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Angela, Lex Luthor, John Corben (Metallo), Bibbo
“The Last Son of Krypton” originally debuted as a ninety minute long special movie, but in collections and re-runs is more accurately represented as the first three episodes of the series. In these first three episodes, “The Last Son of Krypton” introduced us to the majority of important and most recognizable characters from the mythos, gave us a standard origin story, and established both the visual tone and story feel that the series would adopt. There is a lot to unpack from these episodes, so let us get started.
First, let us take a brief look at the visual tone of the series, something that co-creator Bruce Timm has talked about in depth, many times in other interviews. Batman: The Animated Series featured a very noir inspired colour palette, and Timm has said they went for a deliberate art deco/gothic style to not only match the colours, but to really emphasize the noir/crime roots of that character. The same can be said with Timm’s approach to Superman, but with stark contrast to Batman; bright colours, and a more “ocean liner art deco” style as described by Timm, gives Superman and Metropolis a clean, modern feeling with welcoming environments compared to the dark, suffocating feel of Gotham City. This is especially evident in scenes were we are treated to Superman flying high in the Metropolis skyline; it harkens back to the old cruise liner billboard advertisements from years ago.
It is also interesting to note that the majority of Batman: The Animated Series is shown at nighttime, due to the nature of the characters. I would wager that Superman: The Animated Series has the majority its episodes depicting daytime as a beautifully simple comparison between the light and dark aspects of these respective characters. I will not be counting the number of scenes, but it is something I intend to keep an eye on to see if this pattern does in fact establish itself.
In terms of plot, it is always safest to give the background of your characters in the opening episodes, and this series did not buck that trend at all. It is interesting to note some of similarities and differences between the cartoon and the comic books. Perhaps too numerous to mention in one article (or in fact, every article), but the important ones include how Superman’s birth planet of Krypton is depicted, the character representation of Lex Luthor and Superman’s power levels (the last of which will be discussed in more detail in future articles).
Krypton up until John Byrne’s reboot of the Superman mythos in the mid 80s was always depicted as a friendly, technologically advanced planet. John Byrne took a different approach in 1986, by depicting Krypton as a cold (both physically and its people), sterile world where even reproduction was down to science; Kryptonians having stopped biologically reproducing centuries before, instead relied on gestation chambers and cloning to maintain their population. Krypton in the cartoon takes elements from both versions of the comic book Krypton to create a hybrid; a hybrid that would in fact become the dominant comic book version in the past twenty years, demonstrating how the comics influenced the cartoon and how the cartoon in turn, influenced the comic books.
As for Lex Luthor, he has always been a science-based antagonist, a hallmark of Superman villains. However, again with the John Byrne reboot, the character was redefined. In fact, it was fellow Superman writer Marv Wolfman who pitched the idea of Lex Luthor being a billionaire business tycoon, which became the definitive version of Lex for the next two decades, and by default, became the inspiration for the cartoon version of Luthor. Since the mid-2000s, the comic books have started giving Luthor’s scientist background equal emphasis along with his status as a businessman.
Upon rewatching these three episodes, it did become apparent how thin the plot appears. Perhaps because of the medium of cartoons, or more likely just due to the sheer amount of elements that needed to be introduced in such a short amount of time, the episode unfortunately comes across as a pretty generic origin story. There are still some great moments and easter eggs such as Martha Kent referring to the crazy lunatic in Gotham City (an obvious Batman reference) or character spots like Bibbo (Superman’s “biggest fan”, introduced in the comics) and the white dog seen playing with a baby Kal-El (a likely reference to Krypto the Super Dog). The easter eggs are not placed haphazardly, and it is apparent that the creative team tried to give long-time Superman fans a bit more with visual and spoken easter eggs. I will not be keeping track of all of the easter eggs in this series either, but I will be mentioning them if any are strongly linked to the plot of the episode, or have significance to the mythos.
Finally, it should be noted that while the creative teams did not know this at the time, but the Bruce Timm produced cartoons started creating a shared universe with Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series by eventually adding The New Batman Adventures (considered the sequel to Batman: The Animated Series), Batman Beyond, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited and Static Shock, along with other one-off projects. As a result, Superman: The Animated Series becomes just as instrumental to this universe building as its slightly older sibling series.