Characters: Lex Luthor, Mercy, Lois Lane, Clark Kent/Superman,
First Appearance: Kryptonite, Professor Peterson, Professor Hamilton
With this, the fifth episode, we start to get into some dangerous territory: the series is becoming boring and pedestrian. This is something that I actually do remember from the initial run; it started off with a pretty decent three part origin story, then gave us… Toyman as a follow-up, and now… an episode that introduces Kryptonite to the cartoon series.
Now, Kryptonite is an essential part of the mythos (not bad, considering it was first created for the 1940s radio serials, and not the comic books), and is pretty much known as one of two things that will guarantee stop the Man of Steel in his tracks (magic being his other big weakness… and bad writers, if you want to count a third). It is necessary to introduce this harmful meteorite first, because we will eventually be get to Metallo, and his robotic body is powered by Kryptonite. But, this episode first? Why not give us a bigger named villain that can be introduced in a single episode (Parasite?), and then give us Kryptonite? The sequence that these episodes were released in could really benefit from a change in pacing and order.
The probable answer to why we got this episode: because we need to have a proper episode where Lex Luthor is the antagonist plotting behind the scenes. Superman as a character has always been steeped in science fiction and technology, but he is also a character that requires villains that can either go toe-to-toe with him physically (Metallo, Parasite, Darkseid), or in the case of Luthor, an intellectual “superior” (I will come back to these themes a few more times, especially the next time Brainiac makes an appearance).
This does seem to be the gist of the problem with this series though; there is a lot of ground to cover and Superman’s villains are widely varied (so are Batman’s, but at least you can argue that they all are rooted in psychology and psychiatry in some form or another; psychoses, obsession, etc.), and there is often a need to introduce something/someone before you can introduce someone else; we cannot have Metallo until we have Kryptonite, but you may not be able to cover that all in a single episode (at least not in a way that would do both concepts true justice). So, in the end, that leaves us with filler episodes like this, and the placement in the production order really disrupts the overall quality of the series.
Even the basic premise of the episode is mired in tired plot devices. Lex Luthor is opening a new museum, ‘cause he is such an upstanding citizen (cliche). Lois and Clark happen to be covering the event, and surprise, there are some thugs inside trying to steal rare gems (coincidence). Clark excuses himself to change into Superman to stop the heist and in the process is exposed to Kryptonite (coincidence) and is stopped dead in his tracks. Luthor finds out about this, tries to use the Kryptonite against Superman in an elaborate trap (cliche), that Lois springs (cliche), but also manages to save Superman from (coincidence). The Kryptonite is dealt with, Luthor gets away with the whole thing, and an end credits scene shows us there’s still Kryptonite on Earth (cliche).
Like I said, pedestrian, too many coincidences and honestly, just not a particularly good episode.
The episode is not without some decent moments, though. Lois Lane again is shown to not be the hapless damsel in distress, and really saves the day in the end. This is a strong, confident depiction of Lois Lane (despite plot cliches), and sadly it is probably a huge missed opportunity, because I doubt many little girls were watching this cartoon at the time.
For the comic book fans, you will recognize Professor Emil Hamilton from the pages of the various Superman series. He is a background character for this episode, and while I remember that he makes more appearances, I cannot remember if they ever gave him a backstory similar to the comics (I suppose we will find out).
I should also note the exception vocal performances by Clancy Brown. Lex Luthor was not a huge part of the comic books during this time period, having been taken out of the series in 1994 (by the end of the 90s, he was back to being a full-time thorn in Superman’s side), and the only other depiction we have of Lex Luthor from that decade was John Shea on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman…. the less said about this the better. Brown as a result, becomes one of the more faithful portrayals of Superman’s most famous villain, in a decade where he did not get a ton of exposure. It is also worth noting, that the only actor who has depicted Lex Luthor more than Clancy Brown, was in fact Michael Rosenbaum on Smallville!