Characters: Clark Kent/Superman, Professor Hamilton, Jimmy Olsen, Angela Chen, Lois Lane, Perry White
First Appearance: Rudy Jones/Parasite, Ron Troupe
I learned that just because a character is classic does not mean that their debut will be a classic. I have also learned that even when an episode of this series does not meet my expectations, I still end up finding considerable enjoyable out of watching them, thinking about them, and now writing about them. So, I guess I am already hitting one of the major goals of this project.
Parasite happens to be one of my favourite Superman villains. Parasite falls into the brute strength column for villains, but that does not mean he is a joke character; Parasite is a credible threat, in that his powers are not only energy absorption based, but Parasite literally needs to feed of the life-force of people, animals and plants to survive, and someone like Superman is the equivalent of an all you can eat buffet.
While one would probably see Parasite as a one-note villain (he is), he is also a character that when written properly, is still a compelling character even if his motives are often two dimensional. His origin in this episode is taken straight from the comics and simplified, which is to say, they somehow managed to simplify an already fairly simple character. That said, the series did give Parasite a very iconic and menacing look for the Parasite, in a very streamlined version of his origin comic book visual. It is worth noting that Parasite has been drawn quite differently since the 1990s in the comic books, making him even more grotesque and menacing, but considerably less appropriate for a cartoon-watching audience.
There are a few odds and ends worth mentioning for this episode. For one, Parasite is not the only character to get an introduction. During a Daily Planet staff meeting, we see an African American man. He does not have a speaking role, but we do hear Perry refer to a “Ron Troupe” off-camera at the end of the scene. Ron Troupe is a Daily Planet reporter who debuted shortly before the classic Death of Superman storyline. A mainstay of 90s Superman comics (especially under writers Dan Jurgens, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern), Troupe would go onto marry Lois Lane’s younger sister Lucy, breaking up what was traditionally considered a Jimmy/Lucy dynamic.
Speaking of Jimmy, he gets the supporting character spotlight in this issue, and it seems to be at the expense of Lois who only appears in one scene. Unfortunately, nothing of depth is done with Jimmy, and his role in this episode could have easily been done by Lois Lane, or even Professor Hamilton. Jimmy does get the spotlight though, and in a twenty-two minute long cartoon that should still count for something.
Finally, from a narrative perspective, this is the first episode where there seems to be a tangible attempt at serial storytelling. Superman has found another piece of Kryptonite since the last episode (the connection). Professor Hamilton has created a suit that Superman can be used o block out the Kryptonite, and it obviously serves a purpose in this episode more. Which, when you consider it comes across as merely coincidental, but the writers actually slipped in a narrative device known as Chekov’s Gun. It broad strokes, Anton Chekov suggests that if a gun is show prominently in the first scene of the story then it must be used before the climax of the story. As a kid, I used to think it was just a convenient plot device. In university I thought it was a deus ex machina, but now, I see it far more like a Chekov’s Gun. While it would take a lot more to argue cartoons as high forms of literature, but there are certainly some great dramatic devices used, if you know where to see/hear them.
This episode has the makings of being a classic episode, had all of the classic ingredients to make it happen, but falls just short of making it a classic episode. Instead, it serves as a solid introduction to what we know will be a recurring character, and one that hopefully improves on his first appearance.