Superman assumes the role of Batman when Bruce Wayne disappears.
Written by Robert Goodman
Directed by Curt Geda
Music by Michael McCuistion
Animation by Koko/Dong Yang
Kevin Conroy as Batman
Tim Daly as Superman
Mathew Valencia as Robin
Bob Hastings as Commissioner Gordon
Corey Burton as Brainiac
John Glover as The Riddler
Charity James as Roxy Rocket
Roddy McDowell as The Mad Hatter
Henry Silva as Bane
Paul Williams as The Penguin
This supple, subtle comedy of character pulls the stockings off the Batman character and tickles his feet. It tickles ours, too, and it's a rare sensation to get from the series. I don't mean that the show never has a sense of fun. I only mean that it rarely goes in for this kind of feathery daffiness. Batman is a grim customer, and when we do get a laugh it is usually an unwholesome Joker jest or something thrown away in the margins. Only Batman Beyond's "Out of the Past" dared to mock the title character openly, and even that was only as prelude to one of the blackest stories we were ever given. This one also slips under Batman's cowl and opens a humorous vein, but does so with such sly underplaying that even the most fang-toothed fanboy is likely to smile.
That's because it goes at him indirectly. As Bruce Wayne, our hero has been attacked and nullified by Brianiacinfected by mind-controlling nanitesso he is both out of commission and out of sight for most of the story and only recovers himself at the end when all the loose ends have been tied up. Of course, it pays him the compliment of showing that when the Bat's away the criminal rats will play, and so Superman, who is suffering the spillover effects in Metropolis, has to put on the cowl, at least until he can track down Bruce.
And that's how the story has its fun. Structurally, it is a variation on the "prince in disguise" genre of fairy tale: Superman is the hidden warrior who goes out to rescue the damsel, and he can easily rout his adversaries because they do not recognize him and so are totally unprepared when he opens up a can of super-whupass. The success of such a story, however, is built on our seeing him as outclassing the enemies he is fighting and, by implication, outclassing the person he is pretending to be. The comparison is only more humiliating for Batman because he is the damsel who has to be saved. The relative lack of effort that this adventure requires of Superman is nicely illustrated by those smiles (which so amuse Robin and discomfit the Hatter) he lets creep in, showing the unconscious self-ease he has but which is denied to Batman.
All this might be too much for the die-hard Batfans in the audience if Superman himself didn't come in for a few digs as well. He has to be coached on some of the not-so-fine points of the Batman persona, which shows that he's a comically over-large "fish out of water," like a whale in a fishbowl. And Robin sticks up valiantly for his boss's modus operandi by proving that a kid who has been trained by the Bat can handle himself well enough, thank you very much, and by winking that all the sneaky skulduggery that goes with the job is more than half the fun. And scribe Robert Goodman throws in a lot of nice, funny lines and keeps the action bouncing around lightly, like a plump balloon at a kid's party.
This is easily the airiest of the Batman-Superman crossover stories (it is technically an episode of Superman: The Animated Series), but its very success shows the limits that exist on that kind of a game. Every superhero has a decisive home field advantage, and if Superman plays better here than in "The Demon Reborn," it is probably because this story takes itself not at all seriously and is content to give us the action show equivalent of a Saturday afternoon exhibition game. Pass the peanuts and beer.
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Legends of the Dark Knight