Following up the incredibly successful and acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series, Superman began airing in 1996. Only lasting three seasons, TAS still stands as one of the best interpretations of Superman. Set in the same universe as Batman, the show not only told amazing Superman stories, but opened the door for the greater DCU.
Superman kept the same art style and maturity level as the previous series, the biggest difference being they switched back to white backgrounds. Much of the production staff stayed the same, with Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, and Dan Riba ushering the series. A few new writers were added, including comic creator couple Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer. Like Batman, the opening credits featured vocal-less music that echoed of John Williams epic score.
Tim Daly voiced the titular character, with Dana Delany as Lois Lane, and Clancy Brown (Mr. Crabs!) as Lex Luthor. Daly was replaced on Justice League with George Newborn, but Delany and Brown went on to voice their characters for years. Brown voiced Luthor as recently as the Lego DC Batman movie.
No superhero is complete without a rogue gallery to thwart on a weekly basis. Much like Batman before, Superman streamlined many of the goofier aspects of the characters, changing and updating as necessary to give a cohesive feeling. Along with Lex Luthor, Superman fought Brainiac, Metallo, Parasite, Toy Man, Livewire, Bizarro, and even Mr. Mxyzptlk (pronounced mix-yes-spit-lick, voiced by Gilbert Godfrey).
Among the cadre of threats facing Metropolis, and Earth, none were greater than Darkseid (Michael Ironside). Darkseid remained one of Superman’s greatest villains through the series, and into Justice League. The tyrannical despot brought with him other Fourth World Jack Kirby creations like Granny Goodness (Ed Asner), Kalibak, Highfather, and Orion. On several occasions throughout the show, Darkseid attempted to invade earth, only to have Orion and other New Gods come to their aid. During his first invasion, Detective Dan Turpin was killed be Darkseid. The episode was dedicated to Jack Kirby.
A few aspects of the character was wisely changed for the show. Chief among them, Superman’s power level. Superman is still the strongest guy in the room, but Bruce Timm has said that their Superman can be killed. Most of his power set is based off the John Bryne post Crisis incarnation, where he struggled a bit to perform amazing feats. Watching the show, I never felt like Superman was underpowered. I think they hit a perfect balance.
Another change was Superman’s origin. Looking at comics alone, I’ve lost count of how many iterations there’ve been of how baby Kal-El made his way to Earth. While the particulars have changed countless times, the basics remain. Krypton was dying, so Jor-El put his only son on a rocket and sent him here. On TAS, Brainiac was the supercomputer on Krypton that ran their civilization. Jor-El, a scientist, knew something was amiss, and investigated. Jailed for his insubordination, he discovered that Brainiac knew about the planet’s imminent demise, but chose not to act, thinking it was fruitless. Brainiac escaped the planet before its destruction.
Not knowing what the future held for the DCAU, different DCU characters were introduced on the show. Along with the New Gods, we saw Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, The Flash (Wally West incarnation), Aquaman, Lobo, and even Doctor Fate. One episode had present day Brainiac travelling back to kill Clark before his powers matured. Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Chameleon from the Legion of Superheroes came from the 30th Century to protect the budding hero. At the end of the third season, Supergirl was added as a main part of the cast.
The popularity of the show granted audiences another season of Batman in the form of The New Batman Adventures. This led to an amazing three part episode where Batman came to Metropolis, and the two met/teamed up for the first time to takedown the Joker and Luthor. The two had a few more outings, with Ra’s Al Ghul coming to Metropolis to steal Superman’s powers, and Supergirl dropping into an episode of Batman to team up with Batgirl against Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and Livewire. One of my favorites had Superman going to Gotham to look for the missing Batman. With Tim Drake’s help, Superman goes on patrol impersonating Batman. It’s hilarious.
Season 3 of the show ended with a bit of a shake up. Darkseid nearly succeeded in taking over Earth and turning Superman into his pawn. Eventually, Superman broke free from the control and pushed back the forces to Apokolips. After this, no one trusted Superman. The fourth season would have been him redeeming and rebuilding. As much as I would have liked to see that, I was happy to trade that for 5 seasons of Justice League.
The show began airing Saturday mornings, but was paired with Batman during it’s second season as The New Batman/Superman Adventures. The animation block eventually began airing weekdays as well.
Unlike Batman, only one movie was made, Brainiac Attacks. This feature was odd as it had Daly and Delany returning as Superman and Lois respectively, but replaced Corey Burton and Clancy Brown as Brainiac and Luthor. Though in the same animation style, this feature is considered out of continuity compared to the rest of DCAU. It’s serviceable.
Sadly, TAS had two related video games. The first was Superman 64, which is still considered the worst video game ever made. Ask around. You’ll know if someone’s played it by the cold distant look in their eye… 2002 saw Superman: Shadow of Apokolips for the Playstation 2 and Gamecube. A decent but forgettable game. Just play Lego DC Batman 2.
What did you think of the Timmverse Superman? Think Supes has been done better elsewhere? Comment below!
I’m curious to see what they would have done with Zod.
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