Superman is one of the most popular superheroes in the DC canon; With the comic book character having a notable presence in both television and movies. Using the Kal-El/Clark Kent version, Superman made his debut in Action Comics #1 (published April 18, 1938) and had had numerous animated adventures including Superman: The Animated Series which aired on Kids WB from September 6, 1996 to February 12, 2000. The series was a critically acclaimed piece that’s been nominated for both a Daytime Emmy and Annie Award. Given how much the landscape has changed when it comes to superheroes, does Superman: The Animated Series stand the test of time?
I have to make a huge confession: I’ve never cared for Superman. Never understood the Clark Kent disguise when it was clear as day that he looks no different than Superman. That aspect just makes everyone look like buffoons. Plus, he’s too perfect. But still, I entered the pilot with an open mind as I’ve enjoyed the character in the past. Considering the fact that modern kids’ shows are simplistic material not meant to challenge the minds of young ones, it was refreshing to see that Superman: The Animated Series was more of a long story-driven cartoon instead of villain-of-the-week drivel. The story wisely thrusts viewers into the world of Superman, actually, Jor-El. It doesn’t focus on the origins of the character and how he became the man that he is today, nor is he still at the discovery stage of his powers, Kal-El is still an infant, but the world around him highlights what he eventually grows up to be. The plot moves at a brisk pace, with Jor-El trying to save his planet Krypton. It’s a wise development to showcase the world in a simple manner, but one that introduces multiple characters and a compelling world with a huge stake.
The only negative with this story is that we’ve seen it a thousand times at this point. The story of Kal-El is outdated at this point. The issue doesn’t lie with the story itself, but for the fact that only one version has been used for most of the animated and live-action versions. So during this modern era, it would be quite predictable where the story goes from beginning to end. However, while it’s clear that the Warner Brothers show focuses on one of the other versions of Superman, I’m not taking points off on something that’s good. It’s refreshing to see an animated series that isn’t just jammed packed with action and minimal character work. The 30-minute pilot does a solid job of showcasing Kal-El’s parents, while introducing the audience to Brainiac. The level of nuance and character building isn’t dumbed down for the kids. Superman: The Animated Series isn’t hard to understand, but it also never feels as if the writing is trying to play to the young audience because the dialogue isn’t clunky and filled with exposition, and the overall arc has a nice level of context and substance. The animation is fine. It’s nothing incredible like Avatar, but at the same time, everything is smooth and crisp, and nothing ever distracts you from the story at hand.
Brainiac has always been one of the better villains in the Superman canon as there’s plenty of directions to go with his character. Why is this supercomputer so corrupt? Whose mastermind that truly programmed him? The pilot leaves you with plenty of questions that builds towards the future in a way that wants to you explore more of this Kryptonian world. It should be commended that the writers created so much layers to an animated show that could’ve coasted on the easy action of Superman kicking butt each week. We may not know much about the titular character at this moment, but the rich world surrounding him open paradora’s box to the numerous stories that can be created from the first episode. Superman: The Animated Series goes above the objective of what a pilot is supposed to do. As previously mentioned, it’s not something that’s wholly unique and original, but given the fact that animation is usually seen as a lesser form of entertainment, shows like this stand out more.
Overall, Superman: The Animated Series is a good opener that allows audiences to invested in an exciting world filled with complex characters. Given the fact that it’s been nominated for both an Emmy and Annie, the series appears to continue its high level of content going forward. It won’t rock your world since its predictable from beginning to end, but at the very least, Superman: The Animated Series is something more than a minor distraction.