Features

The Top 10 Episodes of Superman: The Animated Series

Written by Chris Davidson

Back in the prime time of the DC Animated Universe, 1996 (now there’s an introduction that makes me feel really old) there was Superman: The Animated Series. Packaged together with a redesigned Batman cartoon, Superman: TAS was a four-season Kryptonian rampage covering everything from Dark Knight team-ups to mob bosses named Splooge. Of course, with an impressive 54 episodes under its belt, it becomes a little daunting to separate the Bizarro wheat from the obligatory robot fight chaff, so here are the ten best episodes.

10. Ghost in The Machine 

ghost in the machine header

Lex Luthor orders two sidewinder missiles to strike a press junket, demonstrating the faulty Lexcorp missile defense system, resulting in Superman having to take out both missiles, in the least clunky “get Superman punching within the first two minutes” routine I’ve seen in the show yet. Coincidentally, these two sidewinders bring about two Luthor libido related innuendo.

“Wouldn’t let you go out there half cocked.”

“Premature product launch?”

That’s two dick jokes in less than five minutes. Back to the main plot: Brainiac kidnaps Lex, forcing him to rebuild a Brainiac body. In order to cover for the man who is essentially Bill Gates but with killer robots, Brainiac is able to pull off this deception by imitating Lex over Skype.

Clark Kent and Marcy Graves, Lex’s driver, personal assistant, bodyguard, former street urchin, and probable on-and-off paramour, both discover that Lex’s office has been abandoned for days.

Lex, meanwhile, is humiliated as he has to eat chocolate bars or die of starvation, which is really hard to feel sorry for as it’s handled with gravitas comparable to putting down Lennie because he accidentally strangled Old Yeller who happened to be possessed by the soul of Dumbledore. Maybe Lex used to be a fat bald kid I guess, which would explain his maniacal ambitions for turning himself into a god.

Trying to tie up loose ends, Brainiac sends a sidewinder missile to Clark Kent’s apartment, calling ahead to double check he’s there before actually launching the warhead. For a self-aware super artificial intelligence whose name is synonymous with being absurdly smart, this seems like an outsourced plan. Could you imagine how many times Brainiac got Clark’s voicemail before he picked up?

Brainiac uses robot crabs on Marcy however, which she is able to smash with ease in driving heels. One blast of Superman brand heat vision turns the most pointless robots ever since the doctor droid from Revenge of the Sith into dust. So we can just move along with the plot.

Here’s the really crazy thing about this episode though: when Lex makes enough of the minimum adjustments to Brainiac’s robot shell, Brainiac reactivates himself, energizes an arm gauntlet, and shoots Lex at point blank range. Though his body and ego were wounded, Lex survives, which at the time you can attribute to plot armor or some nonsense of Brainiac not being at full power.

What’s weird is that these arm blasts can do serious damage to Superman. In fact, these electric armbands are modifications that Brainiac specifically made to combat Superman, so how can a mere mortal like Lex survive an attack like that? Incredulously large amounts of foreshadowing, that’s how.

Allow me to jump ahead to Justice League Unlimited for a second. In the second season finale, the League is about to bust Luthor for becoming fake-President and such when out of nowhere, the plot grinds to a screeching halt straight out of Alien, as Brainiac suddenly bursts out of Lex Luthor’s chest.

Though it was a seemingly innocuous event, Brainiac failing to kill Luthor was intentional. In that one blast, Brainiac encoded his entire conscious in a sort of biological hybrid-tech that would slowly overwrite Lex’s genetic material over time. This is a huge season ending shocker, and it all came from what was once the most illogical scene in the history of the DC Animated Universe right up there with that bridge scene in Batman: Year One where Bruce catches a baby thrown off a bridge by falling faster than it.

Hell, to further prove that this was all intentional foreshadowing, at the end of this episode Lex insists that Brainiac’s remains be gathered and studied extensively. After all, his robotic shell was constructed using Lexcorp materials. This legal technicality only foreshadows an obsession with Brainiac-tech that would help form one of the best story-arcs in Justice League Unlimited to come.

IHAVENOMOUTH

9. Where There’s Smoke 

Where there's smoke HEADER

We open on a seaside club, ultra exclusive, as chic firebrand villain of the week Volcana manages to talk her way into the nautical collection, proving that just because you have a flame-based power-set doesn’t mean you’re suddenly hydrophobic.

Volcana melts through the standard-issue villain of the week molding, as Volcana’s DCAU OMGWTFBBQ incarnation is so well designed, with her black lipstick serving as two hot coals complimenting a sun-kissed flare of hair that dances with each frame. Volcana’s abilities go supernova over the course of the episode, slowly revealing to Superman that she is more nuclear than road flare, with the fingertip flamethrowers and molotov mitts that prove if you just throw enough fire at it you can solve most of life’s problems.

Volcana is just a girl trying to fence her way to a good life, with voice actress Peri Gilpin just purring every line like the throttle of the world’s least annoying motorcycle.

Volcana is essentially Drew Barrymore from Firestarter, as Clark Kent investigates an institute designed to foster the psychokinetic abilities of children with ESP-potential factors. This institute is secretly governmentally funded, training Volcana to be the next line of pyrokinetic super-soldier in the not so creatively named Project Firestorm.

My favorite moment of the episode comes from a fireball that makes Superman wail like a professional soccer player who just scraped his knee, to which Volcana quips: “And that was with my left hand.”

To box in Volcana, the government science-cell actually thought outside the box for once, containing her in an oxygen-less orb with an air-mask feeding her just enough oxygen to live, but not enough to fuel a fire. They also put her into this Tron-bikini thing cause they’re still nerds at the end of the day.

Volcana and Superman team up briefly, as technically this isn’t the government capturing Volcana, but an A.I.M. rip off whose name I forgot to write down.

Superman does Volcana a solid, providing her with her own island out of the government’s eye and with personal Superman supply drops. The girl made of flames flirts with the inflammable man, and for once a villain of the week episode ends on a positive and possible friends with benefits note.

 

8. Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis header

This entire episode is the Requiem for a Dream of Superman episodes.

Saving a little kid from the power lines, Superman gives a group of neighborhood youths a valuable lecture on power lines and personal safety—a valid lecture on power lines sure, but extremely corny at that. The kids are aware of how dorky it is too, as we realize something is off with this episode. It’s something straight out of a G.I. Joe PSA, and not the kind that has pork chop sandwiches.

As it turns out, this isn’t actually Superman, as he saves Clark Kent. It’s a moment that admittedly wrinkled my brain for a second, which I didn’t know a cartoon could do to me. I didn’t know animation could outsmart me.

Just, everything is a bit off with this faux Superman. His skin starts to wipe off, revealing a pallid complexion underneath. Slowly, it pales even further and cracks, as his suit is stained an odd color. Out of this suddenly meth head looking Superman emerges Bizarro!

Mercy flippantly calls the abomination Bizarro, like an adjective, which he mistakes for a proper Noun. Thus spoke Bizarro.

It’s just all kind of sad when you look at it. I mean I love yelling Bizarro! As much as the next Sealab 2021 fan, but this is Of Mice And Men with a hint of Alien Resurrection and the best Vin Diesel movie that isn’t XXX, The Iron Giant, as a chaser.

Bizarro’s not even actively trying to cause disaster, it’s just that Bizarro’s brain can’t process how our world works, like when he welds a bridge shut because the idea of a drawbridge confounds him… That being said, he does have surprisingly accurate laser vision.

Also, even though he is mentally disabled, Bizarro was able to actually out-man Superman and ask Lois out on a date. Clark has never done that and he is literally Superman.

Bizarro comes to Lois for her help, because in a Memento style fashion he just remembers Lois being a friend.

You may be asking why Bizarro’s suit looks that way too. Aesthetics aside, you could argue that the Superman costume is a Kryptonian garment, one that to a degree adjusts to the wearer. So if your brain’s language center is a bit warped– “Me Am Bizarro!”– the S on your suit may get all warped too.

You see, Kal-El once fought a dinosaur robot, in a surprisingly boring episode, and got so weakened he actually bled. Lexcorp surgeons snatched the blood up and got to work on cloning, doing the best they could with what limited knowledge of Kryptonian DNA they had — none, whatsoever before this point in time actually.

Bizarro and Lois discover the Lexcorp laboratory, and Bizarro freaks out upon seeing his clone brethren, and commences to smash things in proper Frankensteinian ambominoid fashion.

Lex says screw it, this is wrong even for Luthor, and decides to run the self-destruct/mass-abortion program and just blow up the whole lab.

Bizarro, in action movie fashion, destroys the console that triggered the auto-destruct; figuring that would stop the bomb, but nope, he’s just doomed them all. Fortunately, Superman shows up and starts wailing on Bizarro like he just kidnapped his girlfriend. I used a simile there because again, Superman has never manned up and asked Lois out.

Lex just real talks, interrupts both the fight and the dramatic soundtrack to say Superman, I know you suck, but wrap it up because we are standing on a half-kiloton of explosives that I brought here and I need you to save me.

This sudden break is actually really appreciated, because Superman: The Animated Series does have a habit of just throwing in a fight scene every five minutes if they can. Huh, I never thought I could complain about that before.

Bizarro holds the crumbling building up for Superman and Lois, stating that he is aware that he isn’t Superman, because “Superman saves Lois.”

Lois tells Bizarro, “You are a hero,” as the bomb detonates, triggering some pretty heavy emotions to boot as, ironically in his sacrifice, Bizarro saved Lois, technically making him Superman by his own standards. It’s a shame, because Bizarro probably doesn’t even have the part of the brain that receives irony.

I mean, I’m not saying it’s the ending of The Iron Giant here, but despite being the superhero equivalent of one of those bootleg Mexican Superman figures with a picture of Spider-man on the package, I felt a bit sad to see Bizarro crack a shattered mirror of a smile as he is kissed by the fire of a thousands suns.

 

7. Little Girl Lost Part II 

Little girl lost header

In “Little Girl Lost Part II”, Supergirl steals the yellow-sunlight powered spotlight as she faces off against Granny Goodness’ Female Furies, whose ranks include a girl wearing a Leeloo costume over a cat-suit, a green haired Wolverine-lady, and a large woman who is purportedly super-dense, which is the superhero world’s equivalent of “super big bones.”

The Furies’ goal is to bring back Superman as a trophy for Darkseid, although Granny contemplates training Kara to be a fury, an idea that would later blossom into the plotline for Superman/Batman: Apokolips.

Kara discovers a motherbox left behind in the brawl, opening up a boomtube to Apokolips to try and save her cousin who has just been kidnapped by three women, a reminder that not all hostages want to be saved.

Back on boring old not on fire Earth, Jimmy and one of Granny’s gang-bangers find a Jack Kirby-designed death ray in a back room, because people would rather see sleuthing than a chase scene with literal flying demons.

Granny demands that Superman kneel before Darkseid, as we witness the first step of his indoctrination into servitude for the man carved out of the most dramatic things to say during a break up:

“I never settle. What I cannot have, I destroy.”

Darkseid is aware that any contact with Earth would violate his treaty with New Genesis. However, if Earth happened to be destroyed by accident, it wouldn’t violate the treaty. No, the concept of second-degree murder doesn’t exist on Apokolips, where everything is murder.

So, Granny’s device on Earth is in actuality not a death ray, but an extremely powerful electromagnet, one designed to pull in a nearby asteroid. To review: an electromagnet that emits magnetism in form of a ray, a ray which will pull in an asteroid that will bring about death. So, by the transitive property of equality, it still qualifies as a death ray. Needless to say, if Darkseid’s plan works, I’m 80% sure New Genesis lawyers will still deem it a war crime.

Before we can begin speculation on Fourth World litigation, Kara interrupts Darkseid’s plan and single-handedly takes on all three Furies by her lonesome in a particularly well-animated sequence.

Kara destroys the electromagnet, however Superman points out that he could have used it to repel the asteroid. Superman fails to deflect the asteroid by pushing into it like Atlas, which is ridiculous because he’s in mid-air and therefore not even pushing back against anything. Kara manages to destroy it by flying into it really fast, which causes the asteroid to explode into flaming bits for some reason.

It is episodes like these that make me we wonder if Smallville would have worked better as a coming-of-age teenage girl drama with some Kryptonite sprinkled in for garnish? Like Gossip Girl but with laser vision? Cause I would watch the hell out of that. Next episode.

 

6. Speed Demons

Speed demons header

In “Speed Demons” we are granted the first ever appearance of the DCAU Flash, who is sadly not voiced by Flash regular and live-action Lex Luthor, Michael Rosenbaum. Regardless, it remains one of the most fun episodes of the series.

The guy who would later voice Jonn Johns serves as the official race mediator between Superman and The Flash: First person around the globe 100 times is declared the fastest man alive, a classic comic plot that really can only be properly done in animation.

While the two run around the world, the Weather Wizard, whose name is self-explanatory, plans to hatch his master plan to hold the world hostage, tracking Superman and the Flash through ionic field generators, and voiced by Bender himself, John DiMaggio.

Keep in mind this is the Season One finale. It’s sort of kind of like the weather dominator episode of GI Joe where Cobra Commander holds the world ransom as he bends its weather to his will. Actually I guess it’s exactly like that.

Both heroes are running across water, having an entire exchange as they help out a nearby sinking ship.

Why Weather Wizard chose to do some damage directly in the Flash and Superman’s way is beyond me — maybe he just wanted to send a message, not actually kill anyone? Just seems like if you can track the two fastest superheroes around the globe, maybe you should focus your criminality in areas that are literally a globe away from anyone who can stop it.

The Wizard demands one billion dollars, revealing himself as a former Flash villain and, which, all things considered, would actually make for a solid television show. Wizard freezes both heroes in place before the commercial break, and this has always bothered me, wouldn’t freezing you in a block of ice just kill you via hypothermia?

Before you can begin to think too much about it, the Flash vibrates out of the ice block, and the two use their own deductive reasoning skills to realize that they’re being tracked, and both belay the race to fight a guy who can hurl lightening.

A winner is never chosen between the two, but if you ask me, the ability to vibrate every inch of your body as if it were an industrial sized Hitachi wand, as well as literally outrun lighting, puts the Flash as the fastest man alive in my book.

 

5. Metallo

Metallo Header

John Corbin, incarcerated former Lexcorp employee has a virus. John didn’t implicate Luthor while piloting his Lexcorp Mecha in the series premiere, so Luthor does Corbin a favor and cures him of his ailment — by transferring his consciousness to an android body.

Lex is nice enough to put a false skin on Metallo, which I have to imagine smells like a Party City costume department in July with a splash of peach schnapps. Dude’s skin has got to feel like a Halloween mask.

Immediately, and without much thought put into it, Corbin just lets a train hit him, derailing it, allowing police to shoot him up. It’s like guy, you literally just broke out of jail. Baby steps, although you and I both know that we all try getting that sixth star in Grand Theft Auto at one point or another.

If you ask me, Metallo is so mad about his current form because they didn’t build him a robot penis. Case in point, Corbin forces himself on Lois Lane, doesn’t even feel the kiss he steals, and that’s ultimately what really bums him out. Mind you Malcolm McDowell voices this sexually frustrated man-droid. This is not a coincidence.

“I want those adjustments now!” Corbin pleads, the one Luthor told him about when he said he couldn’t feel his hands, the sort of adjustment that is done in inches.

There’s something to be said about subtext: Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” is totally about staying in on a Friday with a beaux and taking advantage of substances legal in Colorado and California, Miley Cyrus‘ “Wrecking Ball” is about Thor’s little brother’s sledgehammer genitals, and “Metallo” is about a man who misses his junk.

“You’ll never feel pain again!”

“But what about pleasure?”

“Pleasure was never part of the equation.”

You’re telling me that they designed a robot body from the ground up and nobody thought to make a robot penis? Luthor truly is a villain. Maybe someone could just duct-tape a Bop-It to his crotch plate? I don’t know, just trying to be productive here.

Lois and Clark do some journalistic sleuthing/breaking and entering to track down Metallo, building evidence to my theorem like a sledgehammer being gingerly licked with a plethora of innuendo: “It’s so large Mr. Luthor…I’ve never seen a yacht this big before!”

And then, “Can’t taste anymore, can’t smell, can’t…can’t…” he can’t even say it out loud — I can’t touch myself. But don’t forget about, “You have no idea how it feels, it’s driving me crazy!”

In a way Metallo is sorta like Alex Delarge, a Brit forced to go under an experimental procedure, comes out unable to satisfy his urges and so sexually frustrated he goes on a rampage only to get chucked from a high ledge.

4. Legacy Part One 

Legacy Header

In the grim-dark and Kirby-crackly depths of space, an Apokoliptan invasion party lets loose the robotic and laser powered hounds of war upon a backwards-speaking planet of insect people.

A horribly horned champion rises from the throng of scrambling and baying Parademons to accept the terms of insect surrender, as they bow thoraxes to Darkseid’s exquisitely hateful will. The crimson steward, the self-proclaimed son of Darkseid, removes his helmet, revealing his visage to be Superman.

Through some intensive brainwashing and psychological conditioning from Granny Goodness, Superman believes himself to be Darkseid’s son, and unlike the backne (that’s back-acne) suffering Kalibak or the dog-faced Orion, Kal-El is received as essentially the Brad Pitt and Peyton Manning hybrid-magic-baby of Apokolips.

The mental conditioning isn’t perfect however, as some consistencies in Superman’s mentality must be maintained. In addition to keeping his Kryptonian name, Kal believes that what he is doing must still be in the name of peace and order, and he is still the orphaned son of the dying planet Krypton.

Prophetic nightmares of his true identity plague Kal’s mind, so he visits Granny Goodness’ Snake Pit— mind you I’m not making an innuendo here. God no. Anything but that, as in addition to many obvious reasons Granny Goodness is perfectly voiced by Ed Asner—wherein we are privy to witness one of my favorite sequences from the series.

Because Granny has to jog Kal’s memory, she tells us a modified story of Superman’s origin, cleverly re-using and rebranding the opening credits of Superman: The Animated Series to reflect his Apokoliptian lineage. When a Granny Goodness standing in for Martha Kent hands over the baby Clark to would be Jonathan Kent, Darkseid, I couldn’t help but let out a glorious chortle and demand to no one in particular that this scene be mentioned somewhere, somehow in this article.

Kal’s origins refreshed and brain still crispy from some ECT, Granny tells Kal to savor the fruits of his victory, likely referring to his frequent four-ways with the Female Furies. I’m not even reading into this here; that is totally how things go down on Apokolips. Hell, the little Wolverine/Nell girl even calls him “lover” in “Legacy: Part Two.”

Meanwhile, to compensate for the lack of Superman, Kara is running several Man of Steel robots in Clark’s stead for a month. Using a virtual boy as a controller, it’s a hilarious sequence that seems like it could just be covered by Supergirl in person in the first place. One of the Superman robots is hijacked by Lex Luthor’s remote tech, as he is obsessed enough with Big Blue to know when it’s him or not.

Question: Why didn’t Kara just protect Metropolis as Supergirl? She would have to maintain Clark appearances sure, but a Superman robot just seems so round-about. “Superman is in space.” Done, just spared you from using a million dollar robot that doesn’t even have the same strength as Superman in the first place.

For his conquering skills, Darkseid rewards Kal-El with a planet of his own—Earth. Now, I understand that Darkseid, much like all mastermind-type super-villains, is a huge fan of poetic irony, so having Earth’s champion become its conqueror is certainly hilarious, but it just risks Kal-El remembering who he used to be.

Maybe you should bide your time, and let Granny’s conditioning set in? Maybe amass some forces and resources by conquering more planets with Kal-El to foster your cause?

Even though it is the penultimate episode of the series, “Legacy” also features the introduction of the Achilles Project, forerunner to Project Cadmus, a secret government cell designed to counter any potential Superman uprisings. Achilles works in partnership with Lex Luthor, making Lex a vague hero of sorts for this episode, as Superman’s destruction would technically save the Earth for the most part.

Then the invasion starts, and it is basically a textbook example of hubris. When the Parademons are getting ready to have Clark lead the invasion wave, they tell him to bring about a newly-customized battle-standard, big and blue and bearing the Superman shield. Again, I can see how it is designed to psychologically cripple the morale of your enemy, but Kal remarks that the standard is uncanny to him. No one stops to give him another round of mental condition, offer a Furious four-way, or even realize that they are jogging his memory. It’s just snap open the boomtubes and hope he dies fast enough.

Supergirl contronts Clark to see what the hell he is doing, prompting an immediate fight. Superman doesn’t understand how Kara will wear his shield but stand against him; a shield that he didn’t know existed until a few hours ago, on an alien planet he has never visited before.

As alluded to in “Brave New Metropolis,” it is only once Lois tells Superman to knock off his Darkseid shenanigans when he starts to remember who he really is. So yeah, once again, the complete and utter fate of Earth rests in Lois Lane’s heartbeat. “Brave New Metropolis” didn’t make this list, but in a nutshell: Lois Lane dies, Superman becomes a Nazi, Jimmy Olsen grows a mullet and a whispy mustache.

Kind of messed up when you think about it, but before you can get into the power that Lois Lane ultimately holds, Lex hits the two Kryptonians with a Kryptonite warhead and nobody does the pose from Crisis on Infinite Earths — they were saving that one for JLU.

3. World’s Finest: Part III 

World's finest header

In this final part of the Batman meets Superman, but I’m perpetually unsure whether I’m technically watching The New Adventures of Batman and Robin or Superman: The Animated Series trilogy beginning in media res, Batman has to evade a LexCorp customized Waynetech spider droid as Superman plugs a hole in a ship.

Naturally, the episode focuses on the more interesting of these two plots, as Batman tries to evade the droid for as long as possible, luring it to the Daily Planet to outsource destroying a robot. I mean Batman can totally hinder it himself with literally something in his back pocket, but for a story about the Batman running away from a robot, it is surprisingly engaging.

Batman finally engages the spider-legged trashcan in the printing press, revealing the only design flaw of the Batsuit—the cape and cowl. Batman’s cape gets caught in the press, ripping off the mask with it and revealing his secret identity to Lois Lane, literally the most investigative reporter on the planet.

So yeah, as Superman episodes go, this one has been pretty damn compelling for the Batman. If you couldn’t guess, Superman plugs the hole, because you need him to stay busy so we can focus on the only interesting robot fight in the entirety of Superman: The Animated Series.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor and The Joker’s short-lived partnership reaches a climax as a raid on a Lexcorp hangar finally grants The Joker a means to compensate for being outfoxed by a man not dressed like a fox for years –“A flying wing twenty times bigger than Batman’s!” See? It’s all about size.

Marcy and Luthor set up Joker and Harley to take the fall for their two-episode long crime spree spree, with little to no theatricality, just an MP-40.

Of course because this is the Joker, the guy who invented the quadruple cross, he anticipated this trap, and in proper Bill and Ted fashion, traps Lex’s trap.

Speaking of absurd anticipation, Superman reveals how Lex manages to still come up with weekly schemes while living in a city with a guy with X-ray vision– “Luthor’s been lining his buildings with lead.”

Pressing a button on his repurposed grinning-wing battle-station, Joker is able to unleash a cavalcade of more turret-looking spider droids, which Batman is able to trick into performing some friendly fire while doing some dodge rolls, while Superman just takes lasers to the chest.

I mean c’mon. Superman fights a robot in literally every episode, or if not a robot some form of mindless automaton, and Batman is just putting him to shame—in Superman The Animated Series. I suppose faster than a speeding bullet isn’t as fast as a laser, but then again Superman beats up robots on like a daily basis… and can make lasers from his eyes.

Speaking of which, Joker mixes up the atypical Superman robot fight scene by strapping Marcy Graves to the robot’s rotating chassis as an extra line of body armor.

In addition, Joker duct tapes a big chunk of Kryptonite to another robot chassis, but Kal-El is able to beat it to death with a lead-lined door. The irony present in this episode is as thick as well, a lead-lined door.

Joker accidentally drops his bag of marble plastic explosives, prompting Batman and Superman to abandon ship with Luthor and Quinn in tow.

Joker tries to strap on two parachutes, but with no clear access to an escape hatch and a cavalcade of incendiary marbles rolling towards him, he gives an eerily proud and tragic laugh as we witness his battleship go down in a blaze of smoking glory, his smile smoking as if he had hellfire broccoli stuck in his teeth.

Although it may appear that Batman failed to save someone, failing the promise he made to his dead parents, he can’t help but take delight in Joker’s habitual apparent death. As Harley Quinn exclaims, watching her abusive psychopathic paramour goes down with the ship: “puddin’!” “At this point he probably is.”

Joker’s Battleship crashes into Metropolis bay in a big Dark Knight Rises-esque explosion. Of course, a body is not recovered, but Metropolis police state that it is extremely unlikely that he survived. This just further strengthens my thesis that Metropolis has the worst investigative reporters known to man.

2. Double Dose

Double Dose Header

Stoner janitor decides to break the rules of prison and sneak in a Walkman—remember, it’s 1996. The janitor seduced by former Tank Girl and girl whose mouth I imagine tastes like pennies, Livewire, who convinces the janitor to let her listen to his Walkman, so as to get her in the mood. The janitor Danny complies asking, “What’s the worst that can happen?”

Whenever a character says that in anything, just assume they’re dead men walking already, as Livewire gets enough of a charge to overload the electronic locks on her cell. Electronic locks, on a cell of an inmate who has total and complete control over electricity. You know what would have kept Livewire locked up? Literally any other kind of lock ever made. A board nailed to the wall and the door of her cell would have worked.

So she tangles with Superman, who essentially throws her into an impromptu wet t-shirt contest for the good of mankind, by which I mean he shorts out her powers. Livewire retreats to lick her static wounds, enlisting the help of my favorite Superman villain, The Parasite, breaking him out of jail by manipulating the television the Parasite gained for his cooperation with the police in an earlier episode.

The television was an innocuous little line in an earlier, honestly somewhat disappointing Parasite episode, but its presence here just reflects an impressive level of planning from the writers.

Once out of his cell, Parasite totally just contemplates sapping Livewire’s powers the entire time, mind you, but there’s this weird quasi-sexual vibe to it.

Livewire is just flirting with literally everyone during the episode. She marks her return to the criminal world by making out with the chief of police on his desk in a building full of cops, during a press conference. She promises Parasite a taste (“of my power, of course.”) when the two are done with Superman, but we all know what they’re really talking about, if you catch my drift.

Speaking of drift, Parasite jacks a boat which Supes promptly turns into a plane, setting into motion the dominoes of fate that lead to the best exchange of dialogue in Superman: The Animated Series.

Parasite jumps out of the airborne boat, tackles a goddamn great white shark, saps its energy and swimming abilities, and then fights Superman in a submerged pirate ship—and we are only halfway through the episode. The shark powers however, will last for a bit. Remember this for later.

Back in their subbasement hideout, Livewire is still trying to build a charge while Parasite is still running on shark adrenaline. Sitting on a bunk, he asks her if she’s in the mood to be touched…so he can sap some of her power, of course.

Only problem is, Parasite is still full of shark mojo, producing this banter that I didn’t know could exist outside of a Coachella porta-John.

“Ugh you smell like fish!” “So? Ignore it.”

It’s an episode about a walking battery girl and a guy that can steal unlimited amounts of energy. It’s a negative feedback loop waiting to happen and a thinly veiled metaphor for sex.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of their dialogue and tell me if it doesn’t take place in a bedroom.

“Dont be afraid, I know how to control my power”

“That’s what they all say.”

“I’m walking electricity. When I say No, I mean No.”

Like the entire episode, Parasite is just trying to cop a feel and I don’t mean he wants to siphon her power. Livewire rebukes his advances, and while I’m not saying she should just let him sap her of all her energy, or take advantage, let’s pause for a moment and consider the damage the two could do if they actually “touched” one another. Livewire can absorb an unlimited amount of electricity, and Parasite can absorb an unlimited about of biological energy — which coincidentally is also electricity. As long as Livewire has access to a generator of some sort, she could pass along the energy she absorbs from that to buff the Parasite, effectively creating a food chain that would make the two of them substantially stronger than Superman.

What plan does Livewire go with? Let the Parasite, who without sapping, is just a purple guy, drain Superman to such a point that Livewire can finish him off. So, it’s essentially the same as any Parasite plan, but with electricity thrown in for good measure. It’s like she doesn’t even know that she has the logic of a Saturday morning cartoon villain.

I know that I’m being hard on her and easy on the Parasite, but I just can’t hate the purple dude in a one-piece. He’s a janitor who has gone toe to toe with Superman, has outsmarted the Hannibal Lector of Superman: The Animated Series, and earned himself free cable in this cell. When Livewire first pops up on Rudy’s TV, he totally knows they’re going to fail, but at least he can have some fun while doing so.

Lois shows off her plastic raincoat to Clark, slowly turning the gears in his head, as he deduces that plastic doesn’t conduct electricity. This scientific breakthrough ultimately leads to Superman putting on a gigantic body sized condom in order to fight the two. No really.

Parasite, or an STD, can’t get a grip on Superman because he’s all slippery, and Livewire’s glob of white-hot energy just glaze off of his latex shell, producing even more awkward dialogue during a fight that I’m not sure if I’m old enough to watch:

“Hey he’s covered!”

“Well what do ya know, the Boy Scout brought protection.”

“Do not use if plastic seal is broken”

With the body-sized condom torn, Parasite grinds up against Superman, draining him just enough to keep him standing, so that Livewire can deliver the money shot.

Parasite however, does what he said he would be doing this entire episode, and forces himself onto Livewire, absorbing her energy. Rudy intends to feed off of her and Superman, for as long as he can.

I suppose one could argue that this is an analogy for the avarice of polyamory, but I still can’t get over the fact that Superman had someone make him a body-sized condom in a short frame a time, likely saying that he had no time to explain, just do it because I need it now. Anyway, when Parasite finally saps Livewire he says this ultra creepy line that there’s no way to properly introduce, so:

“You said no to me for the last time.”

This episode is just. Yeah.

Superman tries to huff it on foot, but a purple guy in a swimsuit with electric powers and a Kryptonian physiology pursues him. Electric powers, even though he can shoot lasers from his eyes. Oh, and he also knows that Clark Kent is Superman, so basically this is Parasite’s shining moment as a character, but much like Icarus in a one-piece bikini, his hubris is but an hors d’oeuvre for the main course of humiliating downfall.

Superman pulls out all the stops to fight back, even resorting to beating Parasite with a mop. Rudy ignites the mop, which Clark then uses to set off the sprinkler system. As Parasite absorbs both the strengths and weaknesses of everyone he touches, this is not in his best interests.

By the episode’s end, Parasite conveniently has amnesia again, resetting the status quo for the show, but personally I find myself unable to shake the image of Superman wearing a giant condom to send two Supervillains to pound town, by which I hope he means jail.

 

1. Knight Time

Knight Time Header

 

“Knight Time” is that episode of Superman: The Animated Series where Superman has to impersonate Batman. YES.

We start with Superman dealing with Gotham city run off, and D-List Bat-villain right behind Calendar Man but above Film Freak, Roxxi Rocket.

Superman, not exactly friends with Batman, discovers that the Bat has been missing from Gotham lately, causing the other, more A-lister rogues to pick the city clean.

Robin tries to hold his own in the meanwhile, as every little bit of vigilantism counts in the never-ending war on crime. Why does the fate of the comic book analogue of New York City rest in the hands of a kid whose voice hasn’t even dropped? Because Nightwing and Batgirl are in Romania, probably fighting a vampire cult or something stupid-cool that we will never see. Or they are hooking up? Possibly and probably both. Superman therefore provides some backup for this child soldier as a substitute Batman.

Though the differences are subtle, you can tell that this Batman understudy is slightly taller and buffer than normal, his chin still square, but square in a different way, as insane as that sounds.

Superman can perfectly imitate Batman’s voice incidentally, due to super vocal cord control and acute super hearing. Of course, Superman isn’t nearly as good a detective as Bruce, unsure of what Bat-pocket holds what Bat-gadget, and how to do a proper Batman posture.

Fittingly enough, one Bat-rogue isn’t enough for a Superman episode, as Robin gives Superman the ropes of how to properly interrogate the Penguin, leading to a smorgasbord of villainy that hasn’t been seen since Loki tried to throw a Glee viewing party.

As it turns out, Bane leads a new cabal of questionably useful Bat-villains, the Riddler to entrap, the Mad Hatter to hypnotize, which is in essence just mental trapping, and Bane to punch anything that what hasn’t been punched yet… anyway Bane gets some crazy sinister lines here: “I would never get to feel your spine crumble in my hands.”

Really, on a Batman episode of Superman: The Animated Series there’s no way you can’t go Bane, and this incarnation best embodies the luchadorian tactician whose brawn is only eclipsed by his brain.

There’s a great moment where Bane believes he has finally broken the Bat, a task he languishes to admit was much too easy, as after all, Superman is nowhere near the combatant as Batman—Supes would rather take a hit than dodge it, it seems, which kind of just wants to make me watch Batman: The Animated Series.

Some impromptu detective work later and Super-Bat and Robin discover nanites hidden on Bruce Wayne’s cellphone; nanites that turn out to be Brainiac-designed, as Brainiac was using Bruce Wayne as a means of creating a spaceship.

Despite the fact that he is now fighting against his own villains again, Clark refuses to give up the Batman disguise, entwining Brainiac in a Bat-grapple that he honestly fully expects to work. Brainiac underestimates the Batman, burning the cape and cowl off to reveal the Superman suit underneath. Thankfully someone remembered to take off the Superman cape, but it also means that Superman was wearing his own belt under the utility belt.

Or, this reveal could mean that Kal-El is a never-nude. Either way it’s an interesting sequence.

Speaking of interesting — Superman sabotages Brainiac’s rocket, and while Brainiac is trying to make it not explode, he does all of these grunts in frustration. A robot, grunting. Just doesn’t make sense.

With Brainiac’s shell destroyed, his nanites self-destruct to dovetail the plot, and Superman returns to being boring, by which I define as not being the Batman. Despite playing second fiddle to the Dark Knight, this is one of the best episodes of the series.

 

Without too much Bat-based prejudices — I didn’t even include the League of Shadows episode — keep in mind that this is but the tip of an iceberg that is in actuality part of the facade of the Fortress of Solitude. Should I have included the episode where the Jack Kirby cop died? When Superman beat up Darkseid? The Green Lantern episode? What about the lamest villain ever, Lumines? Hit us up in the comments or on Twitter!

About the author

Chris Davidson