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Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 32-34 – “World’s Finest”

October 15, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

World's Finest

Story by: Alan Burnett, Paul Dini
Written by: Stan Berkowitz, Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Rich Fogel, Steve Gerber
Directed by: Toshihiko Masuda
Original Airdate: October 4, 1997
DVD: Superman: The Animated Series, Volume 2

Summary: The Joker comes to Metropolis toting 60 pounds’ of Kryptonite and is employed by Lex Luthor to kill Superman. But where the Joker goes, Batman’s sure to follow… even if it means stomping on the toes of Metropolis’ Man of Steel.

Key Characters: Superman, Batman, Joker, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane. Yes, all of them.

Other characters: Harley Quinn, Mercy Graves, and cameos by Harvey Bullock and Commissioner Gordon

Debuting characters: Technically none, but this is the first appearance of the redesigned Batman characters.

Background:

After putting “The Adventures of Batman and Robin” (the retitled “Batman: The Animated Series”) to bed in 1995, the Timm / Dini / Burnett production team moved on to work on Superman. In the process, they developed a much sleeker style of animation than the Fleischer-inspired Batman episodes. However, they weren’t done with Batman yet, as Bruce Timm explains:

“… what happened was that Warner Bors. had gotten the rights back to show Batman on the WB. The initial run was done for Fox, and they had the exclusive rights… (t)hat had run out, and Warner Bros. got the rights back to show the original episodes on the WB and they thought they would freshen the package with new episodes to give it a kick-start… I don’t know whose brilliant idea it was to combine the two, but it was a really good idea.”

– Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 58

With Batman’s look completely revamped to fit in with Superman’s updated look, the producers finally saw the opportunity to give fans what they’d been asking for since Superman’s debut – namely, Batman and Superman finally meeting with each other.

“More so than the styles of the shows, we really just wanted to contrast the two characters and their personalities – where they’re similar and where they’re different. Obviously, we were taking a hint from what they’d been doing in the comics ever since the John Byrne revamp back in the late 80s The twist that we put on it that made it really interesting to me and that no one had really done before was the Lois Lane / Bryce Wayne thing…  Bruce romances right out from under Clark’s possession.”

– Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, pp. 61-62

What Timm is referring to supra is that, until DC undertook significant revamps of their line in the mid-1980s, Batman and Superman had always been portrayed as incredibly close allies, in spite of Superman occasionally being a dick. The most famous classical team ups occurred in the pages of World’s Finest Comics, which featured regular Superman / Batman team-ups from 1941 through its cancellation in 1986 (its modern incarnation is Superman / Batman, which forms the basis of the recently-released movie).

Interestingly, this episode had a significant effect on the comics, as in its aftermath Batman was pitted against Lex Luthor more often in its aftermath (and Superman wound up battling Joker in a major storyline for the first time in the modern era).

Thoughts on the Episode:

66 minutes of pure, unadulterated animated joy.

What, you want more than that? Just look at this:

CATFIGHT~!
A team-up episode that not only has the sense to contrast the heroes and the villains, but the villains’ female sidekicks? Plus a ton of great action scenes? What more could you possibly want?

Crossovers can often be just as awkward while televised as they are in printed form. There’s seemingly an obligation for the characters to fight, it’s always tough to settle on the key bad guy, and there’s no guarantee that the characters will work well together. But Batman and Superman are just different from the norm in this regard: the modern characterisations are almost perfect foils for each other, with Superman’s honest nature bouncing off Batman’s cynical default state. The first scene shared between the two in their costumed guises is electric – Batman catches Superman off-guard and judo tosses him across the room and through a table. The most important thing to note there is the (great) surprised look on Superman’s face – it puts over that he was more stunned than anything else, so while Batman lands the first blow, it’s apparent that it’s only because Superman would never have thought that Batman would actually do that to him. That happens again, as after Superman x-rays Batman through his mask, he flies off, unaware that Batman has played catchup by bugging his costume and following him home. Superman hasn’t learned yet that Batman always plays to win, but, as Batman notes in the third part, Superman learns quickly.

The relationship is pretty much note-perfect, but of course the most interesting part of the episode is Bruce Wayne’s flirtation and eventual relationship with Lois Lane (the episode seems to take place over the course of a couple of weeks, giving Bruce and Lois plenty of time to get to know each other). Having Lois get serious with Bruce gives the episode an emotional centre that most crossovers lack – this isn’t just teaming them up for no good reason, this is an episode that at least threatens to change the status quo (and does get followed up on a couple of times later, although sadly Lois and Bruce never were on-screen together during Justice League).

With all the drama on the hero side of things, Joker and Luthor don’t get as much to do as one may have hoped (Luthor does fade into the background as the story progresses, eventually taking on a mere hostage role at the climax, but then this Lex is more of a manipulator anyway), but the things they do at least allow them to look clever. Again, it’s one character learning about the other and reacting appropriately; Luthor is stunned by Joker’s crazy approach early on, but later compensates by simply having Mercy hose down Joker’s hideout with a machine gun prior to stepping into the room. And, of course, the scene that produced the screenshot above – namely, the Mercy / Harley catfight. Sure, having hot women beating the hell out of each other is a worthy goal in and of itself, but the fight manages to be both hard hitting and hilarious at the same time, and Joker and Lex’s deadpan reactions to the chaos raging around them makes it even funnier. Mercy even gets the last laugh in at the end of the episode, showing just how dedicated this script was to making sure it wrapped up all the storylines in a viewer-friendly manner.

While I normally am not the type to gush over the look of the shows, the animation in this story, by veteran studio TMS, is absolutely stunning. Each of the characters, even the stripped-down Joker, have an incredible range of emotion, and the action, especially in part three, looks like this was done on a feature budget as opposed to merely three TV episodes stuck together.

Of course, the oft-reviled new look Joker does drag things down a bit – he’s simply too cartoony for the remainder of the cast, if such a criticism can be valid at all within a cartoon. The other versions of the Joker always looked somewhat human; this one looked like the missing Warner Sibling. But that’s a very, very minor complaint considering how great the rest of the animation is – Lex yelling at Joker is a remarkable bit of animation, and all of the killer robots, while somewhat generic in design, carry a menacing air with them whenever they show up on screen. It’s probably for the best that they didn’t waste actual members of either character’s core bad guys in active roles in this episode – we know that Batman and Superman will win in the end, and the fun is watching them interact on the way there.

The entire thing is perfectly paced, with the conflict escalating from a mild nightclub skirmish in part one to Superman’s first encounter with the Joker in part two to pretty much non-stop fight scenes in part three against an increasingly diversifying cast of killer robots.

Overall Grade: A.

Random Thoughts:

  • If you ever saw Lois Lane get on your plane, wouldn’t you immediately run for the door?
  • Joker’s method of contacting Superman is a neat twist on Luthor’s way of doing so from the first movie – using a twist in a broadcast that only Superman is capable of detecting.
  • Say what you want about the redesigned characters, but Bruce Wayne actually looking like a businessman instead of a fat guy wearing a brown suit from 1930 was a massive improvement. Good thing it happened when it did, as Lex in the same shot as the old Bruce would’ve been pretty embarrassing.
  • Bruce apparently took getting dumped by Lois pretty hard… in the Batman Beyond episode “Out of the Past” when looking through pictures of his past loves, he sees images of Zatanna, Selina, Barbara, and later Talia. Amongst this group is Lois’ picture. Must have been a heck of a couple of weeks.
  • Speaking of which, whatever treatments were floating around Hollywood for the proposed Batman vs Superman movie couldn’t have topped this episode. Add another 30 minutes and it would make a great theatrical release.
  • Keeping up with a trend, the Bat-jetpack seen here was turned into a toy. Superman:TAS was notable for its figures usually appearing on the show in some form or another, something Batman:TAS certainly couldn’t claim.

Line of the Episode: “… puddin’!” “At this point, he probably is.”

Next time: Joker and Luthor, together again, only they’re bringing guests and causing me to pull my hair out at the background piece for all the debuting characters. “Injustice for All” it is.

Next non-JL entry: It probably should be “Fire From Olympus” (BTAS) to tie in with the mythological stuff, but I need to get going on the Brainiac / Darkseid arcs, so expect a double-shot of “Stolen Memories” and “Ghost in the Machine.” I’m sure this will cause Wonder Woman fans to yell at me.

Reminder: Want to know when a new review is posted? Follow JLR on Twitter.

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