DVD Review: Superman: The Complete Animated Series

Let me tell you a little story…

In 1992, at a science fiction convention in Denver, Colorado, I had my first glimpse of Batman: The Animated Series. That night we watched footage from “On Leathery Wings,” which focused on a battle between Batman and the Man-Bat in Gotham City. From that point on, I was addicted to the DC Animated Universe as produced by Warner Brothers Animation. Over the next few years, I watched Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Static Shock, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited.

Each of these series proved not only that a cartoon could be more adult in nature and still appeal to kids, but that it could deal with more serious themes of love and loss, dedication, sacrifice, and justice. No longer were these kiddie cartoons, but something deeper.

So when Superman: The Complete Animated Series was released in November 2009, I was very excited to see it – spread across a 7-disc collection, all 54 episodes plus commentaries, making-of features, trivia, and more. Not only could I see these episodes again, but I could show them to my daughters and share these great stories with a new generation of animation lovers.

Starting with the destruction of Krypton and Kal-El’s parents sending their only child to an unknown life on a distant planet, the series begins with a bang. I hadn’t seen the original three episodes (“The Last Son of Krypton” parts 1-3) in many years and was happy to find that they were still emotionally relevant and packed a punch to start the series right.

Some of my favorite villains of all time are in these episodes – Lex Luthor, Braniac, Lobo, Darkseid, Bizarro, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and many many more. You even encounter many of the heroes like the Flash, Batman, Supergirl, Green Arrow, etc.

It’s also interesting after all these years to go back and listen to the many different voice talents involved in production. Tim Daly (Wings, Private Practice) as Superman, Clark Kent, and Bizarro… Clancy Brown (Highlander, The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers) as Lex Luthor… Dana Delany (China Beach, Desperate Housewives) as Lois Lane… Michael Ironside, Gilbert Gottfried, Lisa Edelstein, Joely Fisher, Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell, Michael Dorn, Lori Petty, Brad Garrett, William H. Macy… the list goes on forever. It reads a virtual “Who’s Who” of actors and actresses from then and now.

Since all of these series stopped airing new episodes, I have to say that the number of animated shows I still catch regularly has dropped dramatically. The style of Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series and all the rest hearkens back to the Max Fleischer Superman series from the 1940s mixed with modern techniques for the time. There’s something about the style that WB Animation used for all of them that can’t be matched by more modern, CGI or mixed media animation these days.

Fifty four episodes aired over the course of a bit more than three years between September 1996 and February 2000. And though they may have run out of stories from the original comic books, I probably would have continued to watch!

In addition to the episodes themselves, which I really enjoyed watching again, there are a number of extras scattered through the seven discs that really make the collection worthwhile. Creator commentaries, making-of featurettes, trivia tracks, and more are distributed across the main six discs.

For me, the feature on Disc 7 – “The Despot Darkseid: A Villain Worthy of Superman” – really shows the difficulties faced by writers trying to come up with viable villains for the hero. Darkseid is definitely a worthy villain from outside the normal Superman universe. The writers and directors involved in the animated series talk at length about Jack Kirby and the contributions he made to comic books. Darkseid brings a true evil, fascist dictator – almost an Anti-Superman – with great strength and intellect to the DC Universe. Suddenly Superman could be hurt and the whole world is in peril.

If you were a fan of Superman: The Animated Series when it originally aired in the late 1990s or have been catching it on Toon Disney, I think Superman: The Complete Animated Series is an amazing collection. Having all of these episodes in one place makes it entirely too easy to fall back into the habit of watching them after schoolwork!

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Green Lantern: First Flight

Hi there…

When I first saw the trailer for Green Lantern: First Flight a few months ago, the geek in me had a field day. Even though I came late to the party as far as comic books went, I always thought Green Lantern from the DC Universe was one of the cooler heroes. Not only could he fly and control this weird green energy from his ring, but he was an intergalactic cop trying to keep the Earth (and the rest of his sector) from aliens and other baddies.

DC and Warner Brothers have put together another great animated film in their series that has included the recent Wonder Woman and Justice league: The New Frontier movies as well as Superman | Doomsday and Batman: Gotham Knight. Green Lantern: First Flight focuses on a slightly revamped origin story for Hal Jordan becoming the Green Lantern.

Hal Jordan is a test pilot, flying in a simulator when the film opens. Abin Sur, the Green Lantern who was keeping our sector safe, had been badly hurt and crashed on Earth, sending his ring to find someone worthy. The ring finds Jordan and takes him, simulator and all, to land near Sur’s downed spacecraft. Sur lives just long enough to tell him that someone would come to find him and see that Jordan puts on the ring.

Later, a group of Lanterns, including Sinestro, Boodikka, and Kilowog, come to find Abin Sur and whomever the ring had gone to. They take Jordan to Oa to meet the Guardians of the Universe, who guard the main power source (or Lantern) of the Green Lantern Corps. Representatives of the Corps, as Green Lanterns, patrol the universe in an attempt to keep order against the chaos. When Jordan is found to be your typical impetuous, undisciplined Earthling, he’s put under the supervision of senior Lantern, Sinestro.

From there we discover that Sinestro has plans of his own for a new order of the universe – one more able to use the power he’d been given and not be as restrained as the Guardians had been. Hal Jordan finds himself squarely in the middle of this battle between Sinestro and the Green Lantern Corps and must choose sides. It really mirrored the movie Training Day with Sinestro as Denzel Washington’s Alonzo and Hal Jordan as Ethan Hawke’s Jake. Corrupt cop takes new cop under his wing to try and corrupt the new kid to his way of thinking to ensure that the trainer’s ideals and way of life aren’t threatened.

Start to finish, I thought this was a great movie from WB & the DC Universe.

The animation style is similar to what we saw in the Wonder Woman movie – a traditional 2D style intermixed with some computer-generated bits. I thought it worked great for the Green Lantern universe, as the Guardians of Oa and the Corps deals with many types of beings and places. As such, the aliens were alien and alien worlds had an appropriate other-worldly feel with the mix of animation styles. Oa was gorgeous, with waterfalls and flying cities to match the Guardians’ seemingly endless power.

The voice cast was equally impressive, with Chrisopher Meloni as the voice of Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Victor Garber as Sinestro, Tricia Helfer as Boodikka, Michael Madsen as Kilowog, John Larroquette as Tomar Re, Olivia d’Abo, Juliet Landau, and so on. My only quibble with the voices was with Garber as Sinestro. Though I think Garber is an amazing actor (I was a big fan of his on Alias), I never thought he achieved a truly Training Day-level as mean as Denzel Washington did in that movie. He just never sounded sinister enough for Sinestro. But beyond that, I thought the voice cast and direction from Andrea Romano was top notch just as Romano has done throughout her career doing Warner Brothers & DC Comics animated features and series.

Beyond the movie, there were a number of extras. Most interesting to me were “A First Look at Superman/Batman: Public Enemies” and “Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event.” In addition to those two, you have “From Graphic Novel to Original Animated Movie – Justice League: The New Frontier”, “Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess,” and “Batman: Gotham Knight – An Anime Evolution” focusing on three of the other WB/DC animated properties.

“A First Look at Superman/Batman: Public Enemies” provides a glimpse into the next WB/DC animated film where Superman and Batman are wanted fugitives after Lex Luthor becomes the President of the United States. Very much a buddy cop-type of flick, I look forward to seeing this powerful duo deal with their differences to try and clear their names and stop Luthor’s foul schemes. I’m excited to see how it turns out in September 2009.

And “Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event” did something that hasn’t happened in a very long time. It made me excited about a series of comic books. The Blackest Night series focuses on millions of black rings flying across the universe, some of which land on Earth. The black rings cause the bodies of dead heroes to rise, from the Martian Manhunter and Aquaman to Bruce Wayne and many, many others. Zombies, but not zombies, these dead heroes seek to cause trouble for living heroes to feed on their fear. I am going to have to go order this series now, as I’m curious to see what zombie heroes do vs. their living counterparts.

Overall, I think Green Lantern: First Flight is a great entry into the continuing series of WB/DC animated movies being produced. I look forward to each new movie to see what’s next!

Check out more about Green Lantern: First Flight at the Green Lantern DVD website and their Green Lantern Power Ring Sweepstakes. And be sure to pick it up at your favorite online or brick-and-mortar retailer!

–Fitz

p.s. Click below to pick up Green Lantern: First Flight and other DC animated features at Amazon!

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Superman Reboot a la Batman Begins?

SupermanImage via Wikipedia

Hey all…

The web is abuzz this weekend about a Warner Brothers plot to reboot Superman (again) even in the wake of the failed Superman Returns. WB wants to mimic with DC heroes what Marvel has done with its properties.

So over the next few years, we’re looking at another Batman movie (with or without Christopher Nolan, preferably with), a Superman reboot, and two other DC heroes plucked from the pages. Once they’ve got their individual movies wrapped, a Justice League movie won’t be too far out on the horizon.

Does this make sense? Sure. I can see a Superman movie with a darker tinge of blue, but it would be a tough sell. Superman is a larger than life Boy Scout (no offense to the Boy Scouts). How will they make his character darker?

Now… I can see taking a new Clark Kent/Superman character in the classic vein of superheroes and rebooting the villains. If you take Smallville (shudder), they rebooted classic Superman villains such as Lex Luthor and Brainiac. But there are so many others to choose from (take this list on Wikipedia for starters), I don’t know where they’d start.

If it’s a true reboot, I think they’d have to start with Lex Luthor. He’s THE epitome of Superman villains, much like the Joker is the pinnacle of all Batman villains (at least in my book). A Lex luthor in the time of terrorists, Russian plots to retake old states, and a nuclear Iran would be scary. Capitalism with flexible morality. Why the heck not?

So if they go that route, who would they choose to go along with Batman & Superman in the League? Aquaman, ruler of the deep, might provide an environmental angle, as might Wonder Woman. Green Arrow was always one of my faves, but he’s a bit too similar to the Batman mold. Maybe the Flash would be an interesting character to update.

Marvel has Iron Man 2 on the horizon for 2010, with Ant-Man, Thor, Nick Fury, and Captain America being bandied about. So an Avengers project is out there for all to see… Wolverine is coming next year, with rumors of a Magneto movie.

With this resurgence of interest in comic book heroes, I think that geeks may be the ultimate winners. And as a geek, I have to say “huzzah!”

It’s good to be a geek. :)

–Fitz

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