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

p.s. Pick up Superman: The Complete Animated Series and other awesome animated titles from Amazon below:

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DVD Review: Max Fleischer’s Superman

Hi all…

Wow. I presume that when you tour historical sites tens, hundreds, or thousands of years old you feel like you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. After watching Max Fleischer’s Superman, I have the same feeling. This two-disc DVD set includes 17 vintage cartoons created by Fleischer Studios for Paramount Pictures (now in the care of Warner Brothers) that were seen in theaters in 1941 and 1942. And after watching the “First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series” feature I have even more respect for these groundbreaking cartoons.

Superman is of course one of those iconic characters that we take for granted. Heroes have been around for ages and are there to provide not only inspiration, but the hope that we can live up to be heroes in our own lives. Superman is the last son of the planet Krypton, granted extraordinary abilities from the yellow sun of Earth, and is both a hero as well as an everyman as his alter ego Clark Kent.

Fun fact… Did you know that when Superman appeared in Action Comics in 1938, he couldn’t fly? He could only “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” He gained the ability to fly because when the Fleischers animated Superman jumping from building top to building top, he looked silly. They asked Action Comics if they could make him fly and they agreed – from then on, Superman was flying on his radio program, in the comic books, in Max Fleischer’s cartoons, and beyond.

When you watch the Fleischer Superman series, if you’re familiar with the reborn Batman and Superman cartoons from the 1990s, you can see the homage. Even today, these are beautifully done animated masterpieces. From the animation and backgrounds to the music, every part of the cartoon was created with love and care.

The 17 cartoons from Fleischer Studios and later Famous Studios (a restructured Fleischer Studios) were created between 1941 and 1943 and released by Paramount Studios. The first 9 were from Fleischer Studios and the remaining 8 from Famous Studios. The very first Superman cartoon, simply entitled “Superman” was even nominated for an Academy Award (Short Film – Animated) in 1942. Each panel and background of every episode was hand-drawn and colored and definitely serve as examples of the Golden Age of animation.

The first disc includes 8 of the cartoons, including “Superman,” “The Mechanical Monsters,” and “Volcano.” And the second disc contains the remaining 9 cartoons, including “Showdown,” “The Mummy Strikes,” and “Jungle Drums.”

In addition to these animated shorts, there are a number of features on the DVDs:

  • “The Man, The Myth, Superman” delves into the hero’s journey throughout history, comparing Superman to many of the myths to precede him, such as Beowulf, Achilles, Hercules, and so on.
  • “First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series” is easily my favorite feature in the set. Here we get to learn some of the Superman history and how Fleischer Studios got the call to do this groundbreaking animated series in an era when cartoons were more escapist, slapstick-oriented. Not only does Richard Fleischer, the son of Max Fleischer, talk about his father and the history of how this series came to be. It was also interesting to hear Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Dan Riba (creators of the 1990s Superman and Batman series) speak of their reverence for this source material and how even now.
  • “A First Look at the Green Lantern Animated Feature” provides a preview of the upcoming Green Lantern: First Flight animated movie due out in Summer 2009. This gives you a bit of a history lesson into the Green Lantern’s history and a bit of a sneak peek into this upcoming movie from Warner Brothers and DC Comics.

Before seeing this two-disc set I had only seen a couple of these animated classics, so it was an honor to sit and get a chance to not only enjoy them for the first time, but to share this bit of cartoon and comic book history with my family.

If you are a fan of animated comic book heroes, this is a must for your collection. Be sure to find Max Fleischer’s Superman at Amazon or wherever DVDs are sold near you.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to pick up your copy of Max Fleischer’s Superman at Amazon!

p.p.s. Pre-order Green Lantern: First Flight while you’re at it!

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Book Review: The Last Days of Krypton by Kevin J. Anderson

Hi all…

Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve been drawn into a story where I already knew the ending, let alone a science fiction story straight from the comic book universe. Kevin J Anderson has written a compelling tale of the end of days on Krypton and the birth of a comic book legend… Kal-El, also known as Superman.

The Last Days of Krypton, Paperback CoverIt’s strange reading or watching a story where you know what’s going to happen. We’ve seen the end of the planet Krypton on the big screen and in comic books over the years, but never to this kind of detail. I now feel like I know Superman’s parents — Jor-El and Lara — and some of his extended family, and how bits and pieces from Superman lore fit into his past. And I was sad when it all ended.

Like watching the Titanic sink in the movie, you knew it was coming. It wasn’t a secret. In this case, we knew Krypton was going to explode into a bazillion pieces killing nearly everyone. Kal-El was the sole survivor (well, sort of), sent in a small spaceship to earth to survive his destroyed world.

We knew of General Zod, Aethyr, and Namek, the three Kryptonian super-villains who tormented the Earth in Superman II. Clark gave up a normal, happy life to stop these foes from doing to Earth what they did to Krypton. But we never knew why they were really locked in the Phantom Zone all those years. They were criminals of the highest order, but how did they become those criminals?

All of these questions are answered in spectacular fashion by Anderson’s prose.

This should be required reading for all Superman fans. How else can you come to understand the underpinnings of all Kal-El stands for? Truth and justice? Yes, but why? Because he was raised by John and Martha Kent? Well, yes, but it goes back much farther than that to his biological father.

I am still amazed at how much of the DC Superman lore was worked into this book, and how seamlessly it all flows together. How did Krypton die? Read the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Learn amazing things like…

  • Kal-El had an Aunt and Uncle! And a Grandmother and Grandfather!
  • Lara (Kal-El’s Mother) was much more than just a pretty face in Superman The Movie!
  • Aethyr and Namek actually had back stories!
  • Jonn J’onzz (the Martian Manhunter) sent a signal from Mars actually received by Jor-El on Krypton!
  • And much much more!

The paperback version of the book that I read has a beautifully rendered lenticular cover with the Superman logo. It’s now on sale in bookstores everywhere and retails for $7.99.

Kevin J. Anderson, the author, has written and published more than 90 novels, and been nominated for several awards including the Nebula Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and teh SFX Reader’s Choice Award. He’s not only written several novels himself, but collaborated on a number of novel series, including Star Wars, the X-Files, and Dune. And he also writes comic books in his spare time.

Plus, it’s always nice to find a Colorado connection… He lives in Monument, Colorado, which is just north of Colorado Springs, Colorado where I live.

Check out his website at http://www.wordfire.com.

This is a great book and a “must read” for any true Superman fan!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this book at Amazon here:

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