REVIEW: SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 2

Starring

Tim Daly (Madam Secretary)
Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives)
David Kaufman (Stargate SG.1)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Lisa Edelstein (House)
Robert Ito (Midway)
Robert Hays (Airplane!)
Jonathan Harris (Lost In Space)
Gilbert Gottfried (Critters: A New Binge)
Mike Farrell (Patch Adams)
Shelley Fabares (Coach)
Sandra Bernhard (Hudson Hawk)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange)
George Dzundza (The Deer Hunter)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters)
Joseph Bologna (Big Daddy)
Brion James (Blade Runner)
Lori Petty (Tank Girl)
Jim Meskimen (The Punisher)
Victor Brandt (Neon Maniacs)
Joanna Cassidy (Six Feet Under)
Brad Garrett (Tangled)
Dean Jones (Beethoven)
Mae Whitman (Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Aria Noelle Curzon (The Muppets)
Michael Horse (Roswell)
Corey Burton (Critters)
Michael Ironside (Total Recall)
Bruce Weitz (Half Past Dead)
Michael Dorn (Star Trek: TNG)
Robert Morse (Mad Men)
Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Arleen Sorkin (Days of Our Lives)
Bob Hastings (The Poseidon Adventure)
Robert Costanzo (Die Hard 2)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)
Ted Levine (The Silence of The Lambs)
Jennifer Lien (Star Trek: Voyager)
George DelHoyo (Rango)
Cree Summer (Voltron)
Dorian Harewood (Full Metal Jacket)
Cam Clarke (Akira)
Joely Fisher (The Mask)
Gregg Berger (Transformers)

MV5BMTQ5Mzg4MDE4N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjUzNzU2MjE@._V1_Having written about virtually every Superman TV show released on DVD, I can say with more than a little certainty that the episodes found on The Animated Series – Volume 2 are some of the best Superman stories ever committed to film. Ever. You get it all – the whizzes, the bangs, the imaginative storytelling. After all, any show that has as much fun with Mr. Mxypltk as this one does deserves, in the parlance, “mad props;” seeing that fifth-dimensional imp cry “McGurk!” is both hilarious and classic at the same time.MV5BOTViZjU0MDAtYzJkYy00ZGVmLTg0ZGYtZjc1N2FjMzlhMDZiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_I went into this set expecting to like it, but not this much. Sure, I’ve always enjoyed the show – the first boxed set was good fun – but I don’t ever recall it being this entertaining. I mean, everyone knows that this series pales in comparison to its predecessor, Batman: The Animated Series, but I think these eighteen episodes prove that Superman: TAS can be just as excellent.MV5BMTQ2MzA4NzQyM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjgyNzU2MjE@._V1_What’s perfect about these episodes is the balance the writers and animators strike between ol’ Supes being perfectly impervious to physical harm and yet imminently vulnerable to real and very human emotional frailty. Superman always suffers complaints that he’s plain too invulnerable – there’s nothing interesting to do with a character who can shrug off meteors like they were dandelions. But rather than offering yet another series of action set pieces or a collection of purely existential crises, this show gets it right, balancing the man with the super in a serendipitous combination that reminds audiences why he’s such an enduring and beloved character.MV5BMTkzNWJhNzMtMDdiNC00Y2NlLTk2MzEtMDQ3NWZmMmY1MjY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_Take for example the Metallo episode “Action Figures,” in which the partly-human T-1000 finally emerges from his long walk across the bottom of the Ocean (where Superman sank him last season), having lost his memory. He arrives on an island that is being used as a volcanic research station where he makes friends with two little kids who are at first frightened of him, but quickly come to adopt him as a pet, or perhaps their own personal superhero.MV5BMTgwNjMxOTgxMl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTQzNzU2MjE@._V1_Of course, the villain slowly regains his memory and reveals himself to be anything but a hero. Hearing reports of a robotic creature on the island, Clark Kent comes to investigate and quickly learns that his suspicions are confirmed: Metallo has returned. Naturally, the two duke it out, but not just in any old way; during the course of their fight the volcano on the island erupts, forcing Superman to save the civilians and battle the villain simultaneously. I’m sure that having one’s head dunked in flowing lava is painful, even for Superman. This episode is a great example of the balance between action, meaningful storytelling, and plain old cartoon fun.mxyzpixilatedMxyzpixilated is probably my favorite episode out of the bunch. It features the introduction of one of Superman’s goofiest (and funniest) villains, a fifth-dimension sorcerer imp named Mr. Mxyzptlk (Mix-Yez-Spit-Lick) who can only come to our dimension every ninety days. He makes a deal with Superman: if Supes can get him to say his own name, he’ll return to where he came from until the next inter-dimensional window is open, three months later. Of course, Superman finds creative ways to foil the little gnome every time.superman-animated-bannerOne of the episode’s gags had me laughing out loud. Frustrated with his failure, Mxyzptlk is seen in his home, over the three month period, constructing a massive robot battle-suit. A good three minutes is devoted to an amusing montage of him putting the thing together. Finally the moment of truth arrives: he jumps in the suit and teleports to Metropolis, ready to destroy Superman. However, we don’t follow him – the camera stays in his room. Five seconds later he teleports back, stomping around in the suit, obviously foiled again, “NUTS NUTS NUTS!” You’re led to believe the whole thing will lead to a massive Superman/Giant Robot showdown, and the episode (written by the excellent Paul Dini) has a great time undercutting the situation for humorous effect.maxresdefaultBrave New Metropolis gives us an alternate world where Lois dies and Superman becomes a fascist. Monkey Fun is essentially Superman versus King Kong. Ghost in the Machine sees the return of Brainiac. And World’s Finest is the excellent three-episode “movie” that sees Batman team up with Supes to take down the villainous duo of Lex Luthor and the Joker. These are all great Superman stories, making good use of the character’s strengths and smoothing over his weaknesses. The ratio of killer-to-filler episodes in this box is very high (in the good sense) and is easily equal to Batman’s best run. I went into this set expecting to have a good time, and I’m delighted to report that my expectations were off. I had a great time.

 

REVIEW: BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 4

Starring

Kevin Conroy (Justice League Doom)
Mathew Valencia (Lawnmower Man 2)
Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke)
Loren Lester (Red Eye)
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Hot Shots)
Bob Hastings (McHale’s Navy)
Robert Costanzo (Total Recall)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Arleen Sorkin (Days of Our Lives)
Diane Pershing (Gotham Girls)
Marilu Henner (Taxi)
Liane Schirmer (Dark Wolf Gang)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Corey Burton (Transformers: The Movie)
Peter Jason (Mortal Kombat)
Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
Lloyd Bochner (Point Blank)
Jeff Bennett (Johnny Bravo)
Michael Ansara (The Message)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Cree Summer (Voltron)
Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners)
Pamela Adlon (Better Things)
Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing)
Townsend Coleman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Billy Barty (Masters of The Universe)
Earl Boen (The Terminator)
George Dzundza (Basic Instinct)
Mel Winkler (Coach Carter)
Paul Williams (Battle for TPOTA)
Allan Rich (Serpico)
Sam McMurray (Raising Arizona)
Tippi Hedren (The Birds)
Barry Bostwick (Spy Hard)
Sela Ward (Gone Girl)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Dennis Haysbert (Heat)
Billy Zane (Titanic)
Roddy McDowall (Planet of The Apes)
Henry Silva (Aove The Law)
Mark Rolston (Aliens)
Thomas F. Wilson (Legends of Tomorrow)
Brooks Gardner (Raw Deal)
Buster Jones (Transformers)
Laraine Newman (Coneheads)
Dorian Harewood (Terminator: TSCC)
Jim Piddock (Mascots)
Ian Buchanan (Stargate SG.1)
Pamela Hayden (The Simpsons)
Neil Ross (Transformers: Ther Movie)
Gary Owens (That 70s Show)
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Michael Ironside (Highlander 2)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Nicholle Tom (Gotham)
Lori Petty (Tank Girl)
Linda Hamilton (The Terminator)
Tim Matheson (Animal House)
Malachi Throne (Star Trek)
John Glover (Smallville)
Steven Weber (2 Broke Girls)
Billy West (Futurama)

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The  this fourth boxed set Batman: The Animated Series is finally available on DVD in its entirety. For anyone that grew up loving this ’90s legend, that’s a very good thing indeed. Technically the show “ended” with the third volume, but when the producers moved on to Superman: The Animated Series, they were asked to bring back a Batman cartoon, and they did – making a few changes in the process.MV5BMzIwOTM3ZDYtMWVhMi00NDhlLWI1ZmItM2JlODc1NTgyYmE4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1342,1000_AL_Any fan can tell you that the new series, dubbed Gotham Knights and airing as the part of the double-feature The New Batman/Superman Adventures, wasn’t as good as what had come before. Even so, if you’re a fan then it’s certainly worth checking out as it serves as a nice precursor to what we’d get with the Justice League series. Plus, there are some great episodes here that any Bat-fan shouldn’t miss. An animated segment from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns? Yes, please! While the show is essentially the same as the previous version, there are some differences. For one, the episodes here take place two years after the events in the original show. The Bat family has been expanded to include Batgirl and Nightwing, and the first thing you will notice is the abundance of new character designs.MV5BZTA4ZjYzNzAtM2FkYS00Y2E2LTgxYTYtNjA3ODkwOWMzM2QwXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_When coming up with a fresh take on the aging series, producer Bruce Timm decided that sprucing up the characters would give the show more punch. For the most part, he was right. Some of the characters got slight touch-ups while others were totally redesigned. For example, the new Joker looks more menacing, but the lack of red lips to surround his wicked grin takes away from the impact of the character. On the other hand you’ve got the new Scarecrow, with demented eyes staring out at Batman through a terrifying burlap mask, which is far creepier than the old design.MV5BZjg2OGFkMmUtYmQwNC00ZjIyLWFkMGEtNjJkNzA3YWY2YjY4XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1340,1000_AL_Batman himself suffered some changes too; the costume loses the yellow around the Bat-insignia and the chin is longer, giving Bats’ head a more rectangular shape. Overall, the changes are welcome and they add more than they take away. While the cosmetic upgrades are easy to spot, they are not the most important change; after a few episodes you’ll see exactly what it is. The show just isn’t as good as it used to be. That isn’t to say that it’s bad – it’s still one of the better animated series out there, but the atmosphere and maturity of the earlier episodes is missing. The greater reliance on secondary characters (Robin, Batgirl) and gadgets (glider jetpack) injects the show with a more playful tone than it had in the past. You’ve got less character, but more characters. At first I saw this as a shortcoming, but I quickly came to see it as something different – an opportunity.MV5BYTI0Nzg2MmQtNTBiNC00NzBjLWE5NDItZTFmODRjYzZiN2EzXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_You’ve already got three boxes worth of classic, wonderfully moody Batman material. If the showrunners want to take the show to hipper, more action-oriented place, I say let them. After all, as far as experimentation goes, there’s some great stuff here. There are a number of gimmicky episodes, but don’t count that out as a bad thing. There’s still a lot of fun to be had. Meanwhile, other DC Universe characters are brought in, making the show feel more connected to what would follow (Superman, Justice League). The Demon Within brings in the mystic characters of Etrigan/Jason Blood and Klarion the Witch Boy (talk about timely). Girl’s Nite Out sees Batgirl and guest Supergirl team up to take down Live Wire (from the Superman show), Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn.MV5BMTUwMzU0OTUzMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODE4OTQ1MjE@._V1_But, hand’s down, the standout episode of the box, and one of the coolest of the series, is Legends of the Dark Knight. A group of kids get together and swap stories of what they think Batman is “really” like. One kid tells the story of a campy, golden age interpretation of Batman… and we get to see it animated! It’s a classic story where Batman and Robin battle the Joker in a giant musical instrument museum (?!). The voices and music are hilarious and lovingly done in the ’50s Dick Sprang style; there is no sarcasm here. Seeing the Joker tie our heroes to giant piano strings and then jump on piano keys (in an attempt to squash them) is very amusing for its innocence and simplicity. Next, we have the second kid’s story: she thinks Batman is an old, stoic avenger. In other words, the interpretation that Frank Miller used to catapult Batman into the serious mainstream. We are then treated to a great segment from Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns book as it is brought to life.MV5BMjU3OWFhMWYtYzdlZS00NzRmLWFkMWMtZWZmMjYxMTk3YTg1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQ0NjQzNTE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1333,1000_AL_Watching Batman take down the mutant leader in a mud-pit, set against grungy ’80s music, is a real treat. What you get with these two segments over the comics is the great voice acting and an additional storytelling layer by way of background music. The voices and music add a wonderful texture to these classic tales and the idea of juxtaposing bright and goofy with dark and serious makes for a very satisfying episode. While these action-focused and gimmicky episodes are not the show at its best, they are a great diversion and a fun reinterpretation of an aging show. It’s not as good as it used to be, but it’s still Batman: The Animated Series. And that makes it worth your time.

 

REVIEW: SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES – VOLUME 1

Starring

Tim Daly (Madam Secretary)
Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives)
David Kaufman (Stargate SG.1)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)

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Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Tony Jay (Beauty and The Best)
Brian George (The Big Bang Theory)
Christopher McDonald (Stargate Universe)
Vernee Watson (The Big Bang Theory)
Finola Hughes (Staying Alive)
Corey Burton (Transformers: The Movie)
Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange)
Lauren Tom (Bad Santa)
Mike Farrell (Patch Adams)
Shelley Fabares (Coach)
George Dzundza (The Deer Hunter)
Tress MacNeille (Futurama)
Jason Marsden (Young Justice)
Dorian Harewood (Terminator: TSCC)
Brad Garrett (Christopher Robin)
Bruce Weitz (Half Past Dead)
John Rubinstein (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina)
Thomas F. Wilson (Legends of Tomorrow)
Lisa Edelstein (House)
Brion James (Blade Runner)
Robert Patrick (Terminator 2)
Jeff Bennett (Enchanted)
Neil Ross (An American Tail)
Townsend Coleman (Teenage Mutnat Ninja Turtles)
Sherman Howard (Superboy)
Richard Moll (Scary Movie 2)
Frank Welker (Transformers)
Joely Fisher (The Mask)
Joanna Cassidy (Blade Runner)
Joseph Bologna (Big Daddy)
Michael Ironside (Total Recall)
Brian Cox (Rise of TPOTA)
Ron Perlman (Hellboy)
Ron Glass (Serenity)
Leslie Easterbrook (Police Academy)
Charles Napier (The Silence of The Lambs)
Miguel Ferrer (Robocop)
Carl Lumbly (Alias)
Marion Ross (Happy Days)
Charlie Schlatter (18 Again)
Cam Clarke (Akira)
Lori Petty (Tank Girl)

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Superman is not Batman. Luckily this show understands that. He doesn’t hide in the shadows or do most of his work at night or spend a lot of time “planning.” Instead of deflecting a laser beam, he’ll just punch it into submission. Think, for a second, of what it takes to punch a laser beam into submission. He’s not, and never has been, a complicated hero. Any fan can tell you this: just because Superman lives in a bright world and just because he is a “pure” character, it does not make him any less cool. I feel the need to get that out of the way right off. It just seems that too many people aren’t as fond of ol’ Big Blue as they are of Batman. The number one complaint is that Superman is just too perfect; there isn’t anything interesting that can be done with him.MV5BYjNmYjc0MGQtNWVlYS00MWEzLWE1NjQtMjcyYjc3OTBmOGQ0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTM5MTQyNDg@._V1_In many ways, that is very true. Yes, it is difficult coming up with interesting ways to test a guy who can whack ballistic missiles into orbit, but that is not an inherent character weakness. Rather, it is a challenge of taking on the character. Under the right creator, or creators as the case may be, Superman is more than ready to soar… and then punch some laser beams. And what better creative team can you get than Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, and Bruce Timm? The same superstar team that made Batman: The Animated Series one of the best and most defining shows in the history of American cartoon television. With such a fantastic group, and such a well-known character, expectations are bound to be high, and you can’t help but feel a bit let down when the show isn’t as good as Batman: TAS. However, while Superman: The Animated Series isn’t as excellent as its predecessor show, it’s still one very enjoyable and very fun cartoon.MV5BMTcxMDExMTI5MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTkyNzU2MjE@._V1_Whereas for the Batman cartoon the producers were going for a gritty feel, here things are big, colorful, and imaginative. Superman fights robots, aliens and sci-fi monsters. And just as you’d expect, that dastardly Lex Luthor is usually at the root of the problem. Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Superman isn’t supposed to be conflicted and his villains aren’t supposed to be psychopaths. With the Man of Steel, it’s all about fighting for what’s right. And then punching the occasional laser beam, when it gets out of line. One of the best things about the show is its use of the Superman lore. Over the course of the series you’ll see many of the characters from character’s comic book history. If you’re meeting them for the first time, you’ll probably find them interesting, but if you’re already familiar with them then you’ve got a lot of opportunities to geek out.MV5BNTVlYWUzOTctZTNiYy00NjI0LTkzZjktMzE0NmRkMWM1NDcyXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTM3MDMyMDQ@._V1_The creative team did take some liberties with the origins of certain characters, but none of the changes are overly intrusive or unwelcome. Furthermore when they get a character right, they really nail it. For example their take on Metallo, who realizes he traded immortality for the ability to feel, is great stuff. Perhaps their most difficult task was getting Lex Luthor right. Luckily for us, they pulled it off. This Lex is a perfect mix of ambitious businessman and cunning strategist. He isn’t flat out evil, but he is bad and watching the character get what he deserves is fun. The Lois Lane character is also great, a perfect mix of sexy, competitive, and charming. Much like the Batman collections, Superman: TAS isn’t grouped by season since they were all so unevenly produced. That being said, I do hope that we get the rest of the boxed sets in installments of more than eighteen episodes.MV5BMTQ5Mjk0NjQyNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTUyNzU2MjE@._V1_While it’s not as serious or as artistic as its predecessor, Superman: TAS is still full of high-flying fun, adventure, and excitement. Whether you’re a fan of animation or just a fan of the character, this show comes recommended. It holds a proud position in the wonderful Warner superhero animated era that we’re currently enjoying.