Look... there on your screen!
It's some words... it's a page... it’s...
Another season of the Exnihil custom DCAU order!
Having completed all the episodes of the original Batman: The Animated Series, the natural progression would be, of course, to continue with the follow-on, Superman: The Animated Series. On that front, this order shall not disappoint.
However, given that the initial season of STAS was only 13 episodes, where this order may disappoint is if - realizing that I’d have to dip into season 2 (sometimes called "The New Batman/Superman Adventures," as it combined episodes of The New Batman Adventures) to flesh out it out - you are expecting to see a certain caped crusader pop up.
Nope, doesn’t happen at this time.
Although there are a few oblique references to the goings-on in Gotham City, this season is all Superman, all the time. I feel that taken in the larger context of the entire order being a continuous narrative, it makes more thematic sense that way - almost like entering into a "Part II" of a novel and having that complete shift of perspective. I think it pays off in the narrative long-term, but you be the judge.
Also of note is what I’ve decided to do for production/air-date nomenclature. As this is going to be a complete DCAU run-through, I’m not going to be using the individual shows' order numbers, but rather an ongoing sequential order among the various shows, from both a production and airdate perspective.
So, for example, the original BTAS had two production runs (the first of 65 episodes, and the second of 20), but actually four airdate seasons. So, when we get to the first 13 episode production of STAS - since it continues on from BTAS - those eps would be considered Production Season 3, Airdate Season 5. Where it gets tricky is when we get beyond that point, into "The New Batman/Superman Adventures". Since the two shows have discrete production runs, I will keep those separate, but for airdate ordering I am actually going to consider them part of a single show. So, in other words, the episodes of STAS airing in autumn of 1997, would be Production Season 4, Airdate Season 6, whereas the episodes of TNBA airing at the same time would be Production Season 5… but still Airdate Season 6.
Don't worry about it - if you click the little sort arrows on the table at the bottom, it makes a lot more sense.
But who cares about any of that... that seems more like a job for:
Dada dah... dada DAH... daaaaah dada dah, dadadada DAH!
Awww, yeah, The Last Son of Krypton! Our new season kicks off in grand scale, rolling back the DCAU clock a couple decades and transporting us into the far reaches of space to learn who this new guy is and how he came to be.
First impressions of the new series? Wow, is it bright! After 85 episodes and 2 feature films drawn on the black background of Gotham City, we need some sunglasses to adjust to the sudden daylight. But light is the realm of our new hero, and I think this visual shift is perfect to establish his contrast - both from a character and storytelling perspective - from the Dark Knight. Speaking of which… Jor-El's line to Lara about "five months in this deep freeze"? Eh? Eh? See what they did there?
In any case, awesome three-part intro - establishing soooo much of the world of Superman (and so many plot elements which will be huge to his story) in so short a period of time - without any of it feeling rushed - is nothing short of amazing. In just three episodes, we learn the story of Krypton’s destruction (and the role of multi-series adversary Brainiac), Kal-el’s arrival and adoption by Jonathan and Martha Kent, his boyhood discovery of his power (yay... Lana Lang!), his arrival in Metropolis, friendship/rivalry with Lois Lane, the enmity and menace of Lex Luthor (ooooh... such good voice work by Clancy Brown), the intro of John Corben (say… are you any relation to this guy, Arkady Duvall?), Superman’s public debut (along with Martha’s quip about "that nut in Gotham City"), and even a name drop of Kaznia. For a lover of the DCAU, it just can’t get any better than this. Oh, wait… Bibbo Bibbowski... it just got better.
For the next three episodes, I saw no reason to rejigger the order from that of the original airdate. It seems that the production crew - far more so than they had been on BTAS - was very focused telling an ongoing narrative that built over time, as opposed to a strictly episodic approach. Accordingly, I left well enough alone and proceeded with Fun and Games, an ep which introduced the nearly Batman-villain-level weirdo, Toyman, and slow-burn mobster character, Bruno Mannheim. Then, A Little Piece of Home, which shows that no matter how tough this Superman character is, there is always something that can take him down. Luthor, of course, immediately tries to exploit that vulnerability while newly introduced ally, Emil Hamilton seeks to understand it. That leads directly into the follow-on, Feeding Time with Hamilton working to develop the Anti-Kryptonite suit. Along the way of these three eps, we also meet super villain Parasite; Luthor’s right hand woman, Mercy Graves; and an expansion of the roles of Lois, Bibbo and Jimmy Olsen. All in all, perfectly organic world building. Well played, air-date order.
I did mix it up next, moving the later season episode, My Girl, up a bit to have a return of Lana. I thought it important to take a bit of a breather from the string of super-villains (putting a gap between Parasite and the upcoming Metallo), and additionally wanted to set up Lana’s role as confidant for a payoff later on this season. Cute bit about Lana suggesting she could be Supes' Batgirl (yes, please), and interesting namedrop of Central City.
Following that detour we merge again with the original airdate order with The Way of All Flesh, the second part of the John Corben saga. Apart from intro-ing Coben as Metallo (probably top dog among Superman's second-tier villains, in my opinion) this ep also shows what a different animal we with are dealing with, continuity-wise with STAS. We get an actual time-frame as it makes reference to the earlier appearance of Corben as occurring a few months back.
After our brief separation during the Lana episode, here is where the airdate order and I decide to finally go our separate ways. Given how central a role the SCU is going to play going forward, I decided that, before introducing our recurring police characters, I should first dispense with the briefly occurring Detective Bowman. To that end, here is where I began merging in season 2 episodes, choosing to go with Target at this point. It brings in Bowman for a small arc, but doesn’t stray too far afield from the LexCorp elements with Lytener (who will become more important later on). Additionally, the ep ends on Lois' slightly flirtatious note about wanting to see Supes outside of a life-threatening situation, a perfect transition to...
Identity Crisis, the introduction of Bizarro, who - initially thinking he is Superman - actually does ask Lois out on a date. Sad episode (for me, at least). I always feel so bad for Bizarro's pain and confusion, both in the comics and the cartoon. Fair bit of continuity though, as Luthor references sampling Superman’s blood during the events of "A Little Piece of Home" - yet another piece of the DCAU-wide saga of cloning/splicing/what-have-you that started with Kirk Langstrom and Milo and will carry all the way to the end with Project Cadmus.
We wrap on this mini-arc with the other part of the Detective Bowman sandwich, The Late Mr. Kent. A much later episode, originally, I know - but I think it plays perfectly here. Number one: it allows for not dallying too long with Bowman before getting to the SCU; two: it really explores the dichotomy that Clark feels regarding his dual identity; and three: it allows for a much tighter payoff to Lana knowing Clark’s secret (and too much Lana is never enough, in my book.)
All right, enough terrestrial nonsense - let’s launch this mother into space with The Main Man. I’ll be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with Lobo. I really, really want to dislike him... but the kid in me does find him pretty funny (especially when voiced by Brad Garrett). As long as he's in small doses, he’s OK, which is actually why - although it does have nice world building with the intro of the spaceship and the fortress - I think there is no way this should have been a two-parter. Placing "The Late Mr. Kent" right before this, however, did provide a great resonance to the "I’m actually Superman" gag.
And since Supes just had his outer space adventure, what better time for Luthor to explore the same in Stolen Memories. Truthfully, I’m of a mixed opinion on this one. On the one hand, yeah, sure, it's the payoff to the Brainiac threads established in the season opener. On the other, though... it's not really enough, is it? I mean, I know we're just beginning and there will be a lot more to this story going forward, but you just gave two episodes to freaking Lobo, and then half as much to Brainiac? I don’t know... the bits about the ship, and the orb, and the alien code in Luthor’s computer... they’re all good but, somehow, the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. It'll get there, I suppose.
Ok, home stretch. We spent the first seven eps exploring Superman's character along with his immediate, close to home threats. We then expanded that world in the next seven to an extraterrestrial level. The final seven combine the two, wrapping up a few threads, but laying groundwork for a plot that will, in many ways, inform the story of the rest of the DCAU.
We begin that journey with the two-part Blasts From the Past, which, on the surface, is a fairly boring punch-'em-up with a couple Kryptonians freed from the Phantom Zone. But the "real" story - for my money - is Emil Hamilton getting an invite up to the Fortress of Solitude. Hamilton’s rabid curiosity about all things Kryptonian (and Superman’s odd nonchalance about constantly indulging that), acting as a counterpoint to Lex’s xenophobia, set up an intellectual debate about mankind’s role in this rapidly changing world that come to a head far down the line in Justice League Unlimited.
Next up is the ostensibly comedic episode, Bizarro's World, featuring the return of that tragic (as I stated before, maybe just to me) character. It does follow super-well from the previous episode as Bizarro's actions in this ep are all precipitated off of overhearing Hamilton’s account of his trip to the fortress. Given the custom order, this ep also serves as the introduction to SCU cops Dan Turpin and Maggie Sawyer. Turpin's conversation with Lois about "all the wackos" coming after her actually makes it a fairly perfect debut, I think.
We then get an actually funny episode with Mxyzpixilated. Good lord, this is the role Gilbert Gottfried was born to play. I especially enjoy how the ep spans a full year. It really gives a feel as to how much time has been passing (and helps to bring this side of the story to a more contemporary flow with where we left off with Batman).
That passage of time is further emphasized in Action Figures as - apart from the idea that it has taken Metallo a full year to reach shore after the events of "The Way of All Flesh" - we also get a visual reminder of all of our baddies thus far during Angela Chen's "Where Are they Now?" piece featuring Lobo, the Toyman, Parasite, and Brainiac. Man, I wouldn’t want to live in Metropolis if the news actually has to ask, "Say... yeah... what did happen to all those super villains?"
Well, at least one of them gets an answer in Two's a Crowd, as sad-sack Rudy Jones gets a return go round as the Parasite, and trades it all for a big screen TV. Not the best ep but, by no means the worst. Sort of how I feel about the Parasite, in general.
And we wrap up the whole thing with Tools of the Trade. At first blush, this doesn't seem like the ep one would want in a finale, given its sort of mob-boss looking for revenge storyline with Bruno Mannheim... BUT... that final reveal! Yes, yes, yes! Even a glimpse of old Darkseid lording it over the Lowlies of Apokolips gives this an epic feel and an idea that you are no longer seeing the story of a hero or two, but a whole universe that is about to open up. I think that ending redeems this as the perfect finale, basically saying, "Yeah... you thought that season was a pretty wild ride? You ain’t seen nothing yet."
So, what did we see? Well... if I recall it was something like:
See… I told you those little sorting arrows would help make sense of it!
Up next: Custom Season 7 - When Worlds Collide!!!