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‘Superman’ DVD Set Gives Super Treatment To Classic Series

by on January 22, 2005

After years and years filled with innumerable petitions and online ranting and raving, Warner Bros. has finally given us what we’ve been demanding: a nice, big, box set of DVDs collecting episodes of Superman: The Animated Series.

The series, which ran in the late 1990s on Kids WB! before moving into reruns on Cartoon Network, was produced by the same creative team that brought us Batman: The Animated Series; as was to be expected, it was glorious. But the transition from the Dark Knight to the Man of Steel wasn’t an easy one for the producers, as extras on the new set reveal. Originally, they considered going for a look similar to that of Batman: The Animated Series. But after a lot of debate, common sense (or creative ambition) finally prevailed, and they gave Superman a sleek, futuristic look that painted its larger-than-life characters in bright, optimistic colours. It was a wise choice, in my opinion. Superman: The Animated Series is sometimes criticized for having a brighter look than the Batman series, but I simply can’t imagine him in a dark, Gothamesque landscape.

Another difference between the shows: the villains. Joker, Riddler and Catwoman are fine, but against Superman they would have been as flies. Instead, Superman pumped its villains up into major threats while also nicely updating their often old-fashioned comic book look and origins. The main villain, though, wasn’t really a physical threat to Superman. It was Lex Luthor, the ruthless businessman who, from behind a façade of legitimacy, ran Metropolis with a mobster’s ethos. He had the biggest presence in the rogue’s gallery, but the likes of Metallo, Toyman and The Parasite all made great appearances. The current set even includes two great team ups. Iin the two-part “The Main Man” The Preserver hires Lobo to kidnap the Man of Steel and lock him up in a zoo of nearly extinct species, and in “Speed Demons” Superman teams up with the pre-Justice League Flash.

Other top episodes collected in the present set include “Fun And Games,” which was a clever run at making Toyman into a serious adversary for a change, and which is arguably the most beautiful episode in the entire DCAU canon. We also get a nice portrait of Smallville, courtesy of Lana Lang in “My Girl.”

As with any set, there are a few stinkers. Thankfully, there’s none here that will make you wish you hadn’t bought it, but “Blasts from the Past, Part 1” and “The Prometheon” didn’t add anything to the show, and they don’t add anything to this set.

Extras in this collection are a bit light for my liking, but they’re good all the same. The Superman: Learning To Fly featurette has Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini and James Tucker talking about the show’s creation, its visuals, their decision to use Brainiac as a villain created by the Kryptonians, and their debates on how powerful to make Superman. It’s short but interesting. It would’ve been nice to hear from some of the comic creators, as they did on Batman: Volume One, but again, length gets in the way.

A featurette about Superman’s supporting cast is also terrific. It talks about each of the show’s supporting characters, how they relate to Superman, why they were used in the show, and what went into designing them. I learned a lot from it: Dan Turpin’s design is based on the King himself, Jack Kirby, and his partner, Maggie Sawyer, is a lesbian. (The creators admit that they could never outright disclose this fact, but they purposely dropped hints into storylines.) This featurette also, thankfully, replaces those lame bios that always seems to end up on Warner’s DVDs, and I hope that the next set will include a similar feature on the show’s villains. It’s no secret that Superman’s rogue’s gallery is a lot harder to translate than Batman, and I’d love to hear what went into each villain, especially since a lot of them got major revamps.

The commentaries are a real pleasure to listen to, though Dini seems to have a mysterious fixation on Mxyzptlk, constantly talking about everyone’s favourite Superman villain even though none of his episodes are even on this disc. (Hopefully, “Mxyzptlked” will get a commentary on the next disc; it could prove to be the funniest thing ever.) The creators don’t make themselves sound like everything is perfect or that they are God’s gift to animated television, and they’ll charmingly admit to their screw-ups and ridicule the results. There are a few more gaps than I’d like, and Timm himself confesses that he needs to watch the episodes before sitting down to talk about them. It’s obvious this is the first time he’s seen them in a while, and there are places where he and the others simply watch the episode instead of telling you all those tidbits you’re dying to hear. He also has trouble staying on topic, but that’s something some us already knew.

With the number of episodes on the discs, I wasn’t expecting wonders for the presentation. I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from the odd bit of grain here and there, there’s very little wrong with the transfer. It’s no Spider-Man: The New Animated Series, but it does a fine job and is undoubtedly the best-looking version available. As someone who first saw these episodes on a poor, battered VHS with constant tracking problems and a picture that would randomly turn black and white, it’s nice to see it in all its full-colour glory. The sound is more or less as the same quality as the picture. There’s nothing that stands out as great or terrible, which is perfectly sufficient for me. The voices are all clear, the music isn’t too loud or overbearing, and the sound effects are at their best.

The animated menus are some of the best I’ve seen. Using a comic strip mixed with animation, Superman flies through the frames in all his red and blue glory. I’m not usually a fan of animated menus, but these are what all menus should be like: quick, snazzy and a real pleasure to look at. The packaging is similar to that on Batman: The Animated Series – Volume One, but smaller, as there are only two discs included instead of four. Speaking of the discs, the art on the flipper disc is a little disappointing. It’s difficult to tell which side is which, and the writing on it is so damn small I could barely see it. As with most WB releases, there’s some pretty mediocre interior art on the packaging. Most are images captured from the episodes, while others are promotional images. But there some are new drawings that, unfortunately, aren’t much to look at.

There is one major downer: it’s all over so soon. Hopefully, WB will release all the episodes in similar sets and soon. A fantastic set like this leaves you craving more and makes you pray that all your other favourites get the same treatments.

You should buy this set the moment you clap eyes on it. Hopefully, sets like this signal the end of the dreaded single disc treatment.

Images courtesy of The World’s Finest.

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