"Prototype" is the 21st episode of the second season of Superman: The Animated Series, and the 34th of the overall series. It depicts the invention of a suit of powered armor that makes its test pilot, police sergeant Corey Mills, as powerful as Superman. At first, things go well and Superman is happy to finally have help. However, as time goes on, Mills becomes drunk with power and starts to become unstable. Now, Superman has to stop Mills before he goes completely insane.
Lex Luthor proudly presents his company's newest invention: The LexCorp Police Battlesuit. This suit of powered armor comes equipped with black light lasers, an impact grenade launcher, jet packs, infrared scopes, and increases one's strength twenty-fold—in effect, abilities nearly identical to Superman's. The suit's test pilot, police Sergeant Corey Mills, demonstrates the suit's capabilities to an awed crowd, even as its inventor, John Henry Irons, warns Luthor that the suit is being offered too soon. During the demonstration, a major fire is reported. Both Superman and Mills head out to deal with it.
Things are not going well for the fire fighters as an explosion knocks a truck off an overpass. Superman manages to catch the fire fighters, but can't catch the truck—but Mills can. Mills and Superman then fly to the roof, but don't have time to fly the people down one at a time, since the roof will collapse before then. The two form a plan: Mills cuts off a section of roof with his lasers and Superman flies the people away on it. Mills then dives into the building and fires grenades, blowing the fire out like a candle. For his crowning touch, he lands and reveals that he's rescued a cat that Superman missed. Superman shakes hands with Mills, who deliberately squeezes too tight. Superman leaves, feeling rather worried.
Back at LexCorp, Irons insists that it's too soon to use the suit: because Mills' entire nervous system is linked to it, they haven't prepared for the potential psychological effects of using it. Luthor refuses to listen, insisting they'll deal with problems only as they arise. John won't accept that, but Lex argues by reminding John that he works for him and do whatever he demands. Realizing his mistake, Irons quits his job, but it's too late to prevent the suit's continued use.
Later, news reports indicate that Mills is becoming far too violent in fighting crime, brutally beating criminals who have already given up. His wife Trish becomes worried that he's getting to be obsessed with the suit, treating it like it was a second person. He has shaved his head to improve his interface with it, and shows no interest in the vacation they had been planning for some time. Mills assures her that he's okay, but that night, Trish wakes up to find her husband gone.
While Mills flies over the city he comes across a chop shop and brutally attacks the criminals. Superman shows up and rescues the criminals but is attacked by Mills. Fortunately, Maggie Sawyer shows up and orders Mills to stand down. Mills tells her that Superman is interfering with police business to which Sawyer, after surveying the damage he caused, demands Mills explain this "police business" at once. Afterwards, she puts Mills on medical leave and puts the suit off limits. This news drives Mills insane, and he steals the suit.
Meanwhile, Superman pays a visit to Irons, who told him that Mills is under the influence of the suit's power and that he will never give it up. Irons also tells Superman about a device that, when plugged into the suit, will shut it down, and also incapacitate Mills in the process. The only problem is that the jamming device is in Luthor's pocket.
Mills heads off to see Luthor, who he believes can help him. Luthor acts like he's Mills' friend, but inserts the jamming device. It works at first, but Mills falls on the device, crushing it. He attempts to kill Luthor by releasing Luthor's pet shark on him. Superman shows up and saves Luthor, but Mills attacks him again. The two of them seem to be evenly matched until Mills shoots Superman point-blank in the eyes with his lasers, temporarily blinding him. Superman refuses to give up. Mills continues his assault, but Superman's sight returns as Mills is strangling him, and he sees that he's next to an electric generator. Superman grabs a cable from the generator and jams it into the input plug on Mills's suit, defeating him.
Mills is taken to the hospital in a nearly catatonic state, though he manages to respond to Trish's touch, and Irons says he should recover in time. Irons shakes his head, saying that the suit seemed like a good idea. Superman says it still is if Irons ever manages to smooth out its flaws, and he actually wouldn't mind a little help. Realizing that perhaps he can do some good with the suit, Irons starts brainstorming.
- Superman's talk with Irons at the end foreshadows the improved version of the armor that would become the battle gear of Steel in "Heavy Metal".
Home video releases
- The bomb that blows up close to Superman's face features reused footage from the gas canisters that Superman ignites in "The Way of All Flesh".
- The Police Battle Suit is similar to the ones worn by Team Luthor in the comics.
- Animated debut of John Henry Irons.
- This marks the second time in the series that Superman saves Luthor from a shark.
|Tim Daly||Superman/Clark Kent|
|Dana Delany||Lois Lane|
|Clancy Brown||Lex Luthor|
|Xander Berkeley||Corey Mills|
|Cynthia Gibb||Trish Mills|
|Cam Clarke||Older Thug|
|Joanna Cassidy||Maggie Sawyer|
|Robert David Hall||News Anchor|
|Michael Dorn||John Henry Irons|
John Henry Irons: Lex, this is a mistake. It's too soon.
Lois: Hey, Smallville, how far's your car? (turns to see Clark is gone)
Mills: Guess we're working together on this one, huh.
Lois: Looks like he's got them in the palm of his hand.
John Henry Irons: He's still in withdrawal from the suit. The doctors said it'll take a while, but he should recover completely. (sighs) The suit seemed like such a good idea.