Featured Screen Shot
Synopsis "The Last Son of Krypton Part One"
The planet Krypton was home to a scientifically advanced, human-like civilisation, but it was threatened a series of increasingly strong tremors which were shaking the entire world. Krypton was governed by a central Planetary Council, but most of its day-to-day administration was left to an intelligent computer network called Brainiac. It attributes the quakes to a polar shift in Krypton’s orbit, but the independent scientist Jor-El thinks otherwise. Jor-El conducts a five month study into Krypton’s geology and seismic activity. The last survey point is a deep shaft cut into the Krypton’s northern ice fields. He is so intent upon studying the data that he doesn’t notice an approaching ice creature, a 30-foot long semi-transparent amoeba like creature that had been awoken by a recent quake, until it snares him from behind. Jor-El manages to wrestle free from the creature and escapes in his personal flier.
Brainiac contacts Jor-El as soon as he returns to his mobile research base. The scientist is not comfortable that Brainiac is monitoring him so closely, but it protests that the Planetary Council has commanded it to analyse his data as soon as possible. It cuts off their conversation the moment the data is transmitted. Jor-El’s mood improves when his infant son, Kal-El, toddles into the laboratory. The sudden movement of the research base signals that their five month research trip is ending, but Jor-El’s wife, Lara, has mixed feelings. They’ll be back in capital city, but she knows that it means Jor-El will probably spend all his time analysing the data that they’ve collected.
Jor-El believes that the tremors are caused by a chain reaction in Krypton’s core that will eventually destroy the planet. His theories, however, are not widely supported. Lara’s father, Sul-van, is a member of the Planetary Council. He warns her that Jor-El’s predictions of “the end of the world” risks his scientific and political career. Their argument is interrupted by a strong tremor that causes extensive damage across the capital city. Later, in a tense and rowdy session, Jor-El delivers his report to the Planetary Council. They refuse to believe his evidence and blindly trust Brainiac’s conclusion. Jor-El argues that Brainiac is wrong and they must act now to place everybody in the Phantom Zone, but his proposals horrify the Council and they refuse to listen further. Even Sul-van agrees with his fellow Council members.
Jor-El is convinced that Brainiac lied to the Council, yet even Lara warns him that “your theories are more destructive than you can imagine.” Later that night, Jor-El goes to Brainiac Operations. He verbally spars with the artificial intelligence, but something isn’t right. Jor-El is locked out of the satellite network and Brainiac shuts down his terminal when he tries over riding it. Jor-El breaks into Brainiac’s central processing core and discovers that it is downloading, transmitting its core memory to a satellite. It finally acknowledges that Jor-El is correct and that Krypton has mere hours left. Diverting its processing power to calculate an evacuation plan would just jeopardise its own survival. Brainiac claims that, as it is the repository of all Kryptonian knowledge, it should be saved above and before all others.
Brainiac cannot allow Jor-El to interfere with its own survival. It alerts the police to his presence and declares him an outlaw. Jor-El evades the security at Brainiac Operations and jumps through a smashed window. He slides down the inclined side of the building and then hobbles away on foot. Back at the El home, Sul-van has finally had chance to study Jor-El’s research and he reluctantly concludes that his son-in-law has made a compelling case. Lara and Sul-van are shocked when Jor-El staggers in and tells them that it’s all too late. He then tells Sul-van that they are going to send Kal-El to another world. Jor-El’s original plan had been to place everybody in the Phantom Zone. He would then travel to Earth in a small one-man space craft and release everybody. Now that small space craft “is only good for a life boat.”
Jor-El and Lara’s desperate preparations are interrupted by the arrival of the police. Jor-El hopes that leading them away will buy Lara enough time to launch Kal-El’s rocket. Sul-van pleads with Lara “to be reasonable”, but her resolve causes him to volunteer to lead the police away. A tearful Lara places the sedated Kal-El into the rocket ship as Jor-El programs in with Earth’s coordinates. He tells that might be able squeeze her into the rocket, but she refuses to further risk Kal-El’s life by altering the course computations.
When the police report that Jor-El has escaped Brainiac tells them “It’s doesn’t matter any more. Farewell Krypton.” He then transmits the last part of his program to his satellite and leaves for deep space. Moments later quakes start to tear through the city and Jor-El pushes the button to launch Kal-El’s rocket ship into space. This time the quakes don’t subside. Vast fissures open in the ground, public statues topple, and explosions rip through the planet’s crust like atom bombs. Within minutes the surface of Krypton it turned into a churning emerald sea of lava. Krypton is torn asunder by a massive explosion as Kal-El’s ship warps to safety. Some of the debris from Krypton falls through Kal-El’s space warp, but he is safe and on his way to Earth.
Superman The Animated Series
Superman and the Fleischer Brothers
Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two young sci-fi geeks from Cleveland. They synthesised the prevailing genre fashions of the day to create the first true superhero. Where Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, had pushed human capacity to its limits, this new character, a Man of Steel, would surpass human limits and have true superpowers. Jerry and Joe’s dreams of prestigious newspaper strip went unrealised and they were eventually forced to sell their Superman to the only people who would buy it, a comic book company (the forerunner of DC Comics) who were desperate to fill space in the first issue of a new comic book called Action Comics.
Superman was a massive success and was soon appearing in multiple media including cartoons, a radio show, the comics, and even a newspaper strip. By the standards of the day Jerry and Joe were well paid, but their pay paled with comparison to the huge amount of money that DC Comics were making off of their character. Their legal proceedings against DC started a succession of court cases that are still rumbling on seventy years later. Each new adaptation has brought new ideas and innovations into Superman’s world. The radio show introduced the character of Jimmy Olsen and famously the concept of Kryptonite – a radioactive rock that weakened Superman enough for the Superman actor to go on holiday for a week and let his supporting cast carry the show. Flight, however, would have to wait until he got properly animated.
The problem with superheroes is that they’re very expensive to do as live action and it wasn’t really until Superman: The Movie that audiences really “believed a man could fly.” Cartoons don’t quite suffer from that draw back so its logical that the first major screen adaptation of Superman would be as a cartoon. Fleischer Studios had had early success with their Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons. Paramount Pictures approached them with the idea of making a Superman cartoon, however, Max Fleischer wasn’t too interested and named what he thought was a prohibitively large production cost (100,000 dollars for the first short film). Paramount called his bluff and offered 50,0000 dollars. The result was one of the most expensive and highly regarded action/adventure cartoons of all time. A paperwork oversight now means that the cartoons are in the public domain and can be found quite legally on Internet media sites like archive.org and youtube.
The dark, pulpy look of the Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons was an inspiration for the look of Batman: The Animated Series. Launched in the wake of Tim Burton’s Batman: The Movie, BatmanTAS married Burton’s retro-1940s art deco Gotham, with the rich Fleischer look, and Bruce Timm’s signature character designs.
Bruce Timm and the look of Superman
When Jon Peters moved from Sony to Warner Brothers in 1994 he began the epic development cycle for Superman V. That’s the one that took over a decade, burned through Kevin Smith, Tim Burton, Nick Cage, and eventually ended up with Brian Singer making Superman Returns. Someone, somewhere thought that it would be a great idea of get a Superman cartoon going to support the Superman film that everybody thought was about to appear. At the time Bruce Timm was just finishing Freakazoid and was looking for something else to occupy his time.
There was interest in doing an animated Superman, because there was a lot of talk about doing a movie – I think that’s what got the ball rolling. So, just casually, [Executive Producer] Jean MacCurdy mentioned to me one day, “Do you want to do a Superman cartoon?” And I went, “Yes, Let’s do it.”
(ref: Modern Masters Vol 3: Bruce Timm, pg 52)
However, adapting Superman wasn’t as easy a transition as Batman had been.
I knew immediately what to do with Batman, whereas with Superman I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him. I don’t think he’s as interesting a character on the face of him. With Batman, you look at him and you get it. With Superman, you get the concept, but if he’s done badly, it could be bad.
(ref: Modern Masters Vol 3: Bruce Timm, pg 53)
An early idea including a series of rotating guest stars – a forerunner to the Justice League concept – but DC nixed the idea and recommend that they stick with a pure Superman show.
We went back to the drawing board and came up with a visual look that was a little more unique to itself. It was still retro in a way – we still had art deco on the brain – but instead of doing the sharp, angular, moody art deco we had done in Batman, we went with the bright, futuristic, optimistic, ocean liner art deco – which was more in line with Superman’s character.
We knew we were going to use Darkseid and kind of melded the Superman mythos with the Fourth World mythos in the comics [...]. So that gave us a visual for the futuristic elements in the show – all the super sci-fi machinery. We thought rather than make it deco, we’ll make it Kirby. That was another mix in the new and things started gelling at that point.
(ref: Modern Masters Vol 3: Bruce Timm, pg 54)
Jor-El’s confrontation with Brainiac in Brainiac Operations. Watch how the lights go out around Jor-El as Brainiac downloads parts of himself from the Kryptonian databanks.
Sul-Van’s crash bags – no wonder he’s smiling when the police catch up with him.
It is a very bold move to open a new series without the main star or even his usual supporting cast appearing, but that’s how Superman TAS starts. This is because the WB DC movies, except for the direct-to-DVD features, are made as three episodes shown back-to-back. So Episode One is really act one of the movie, just as Marlon Brando’s Jor-El takes up the entire first act of Superman: The Movie. This Jor-El as reimagined by Alan Burnett and Paul Dini is a younger, more passionate man than Brando’s patriarch. It’s really refreshing to see Jor-El do something other than just predict Krypton’s doom and then die. This one is an action hero in his own right. Lara, the other parent, is too often left as a cipher, but this Lara at least has flashes of character through her anger at Jor-El’s obsession and her interactions with Sul-Van. This is a great first episode that really set the bar high for the entire series to follow.
|Character Site||The Captain's Justice League Homepage||Jason Kirk||3.5/5|