Home > B, B-minus, Episode Reviews, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 8 & 27 – “Stolen Memories” and “Ghost in the Machine”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 8 & 27 – “Stolen Memories” and “Ghost in the Machine”

October 18, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Stolen Memories

Written by Rich Fogel
Directed by Curt Geda
Originally Aired: November 2, 1996 / September 29, 1997
DVD: Superman: TAS

Summary: Lex Luthor makes contact with a malevolent alien AI who has connections to Krypton – but Superman’s first defeat of Brainiac leads to more trouble later on, as it attempts to utilise LexCorp’s resources to spread its influence across the globe.

Debuting Characters: Brainiac (in this form, at least)

Other Featured Characters: Mercy Graves gets her most significant screen time of Superman: TAS in “Ghost…”

You should know: Superman, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane

Background:

The Superman origin seen in Superman: The Animated Series is very similar to John Byrne’s re-imagined Superman origin from The Man of Steel, but with one important addition: Brainiac became a Kryptonian supercomputer complicit in the destruction of Krypton. This change in the origin not only adds a personal connection between Superman and one of his key bad guys (a common criticism of Byrne’s story was that he eliminated the childhood friendship between Clark and Lex), but since the modern Superman origin also removed a lot of Superman’s knowledge of Krypton, Brainiac provides a nice way for Clark to learn about his homeworld while on his adopted planet. Brainiac’s comic origin is too convoluted for me to go into here, as he never really had as good a “hook” as his TAS counterpart did. He’s much like Mr. Freeze in that way.

The second episode of the two showcased here is notable for being a character piece for Luthor’s bodyguard and confidante, Mercy Graves. The simple way to describe Mercy is that she was created as Lex Luthor’s answer to Harley Quinn, but in truth she filled a gap that was present from day one with the post-Crisis businessman Luthor, namely that his reluctance to get physical with his opponents necessitated someone to pick up the slack for him. Mercy’s inclusion as an ultra-capable bodyguard (her comics counterpart has suggested that she’s somehow related to the Amazons) allows for a familiar character doing mundane physical tasks for Luthor, allowing him to remain in his best role, detached from the action and scheming. Mercy’s choice of a chauffeur’s outfit during her Superman days is quite appropriate, as she’s subservient to Luthor, not a companion or equal.

Thoughts on the Episodes:

“Stolen Memories” is a pretty straightforward story, riffing on Close Encounters (which is pointed out on the commentary track). Although Luthor wasn’t exactly subtle with his ambition in the early episodes – having outright tried to kill Superman using Kryptonite previously – this was the first hint in the animated series of the scale of his ambitions. Rather than limiting his side dealings to creating robots or dealing arms, Luthor is shown here conversing with a powerful alien AI as a representative of Earth without informing the government. Even a viewer unfamiliar with Luthor would begin to see that he’s not merely a corrupt businessman, but rather someone who desires to basically gain control over the entire planet.

Brainiac is introduced in his humanoid form in this episode, and while it’s not a bad design, it’s not the most threatening in the world (it’s ripe for “he looks like a (adult object)!” jokes). But the plot of this episode is a strong one, as Superman is tempted by Brainiac’s offer of increased knowledge of not just his home planet but of other worlds; Superman in this series is constantly portrayed as someone who, due to his “Last Son” status, is very much interested in exploration and other planets, which gives him a good sci-fi edge. The way Superman figures out what’s really going on with Brainiac is also nicely staged, as there’s several shots of planets being destroyed and even a few aliens killed off (as Timm notes on the commentary track, killing aliens and robots is just fine with BS&P).  Ultimately, while Superman weakens Brainiac, Luthor is the one that gets to finish him off, which is good for future plotting as it gives Brainiac a grudge against both of them and establishes a relationship that will play out in the long term.

Although Superman wasn’t serialised in the same manner as Justice League, the story plays out a bit more slowly than the very self-contained Batman:TAS, with information on the various characters being discovered over time (it’s different than, say, the Joker episodes in Batman, where you can pretty much watch them in any order and you won’t get anything more out of it). “Ghost in the Machine” is a direct sequel to “Stolen Memories”, kicking off as it does with Brainiac’s remnants emerging within the LexCorp computers. It’s a very Superman-light episode, focusing on Clark being a muckraking reporter, and Lex and Mercy, and their relationship.

The Joker / Harley relationship is obviously abusive, with Harley representing a damaged individual who hooks up with Mr. J as a result of being more than slightly unhinged (as well as boasting a healthy dose of daddy issues). Mercy is, as shown here, something else entirely – she’s a very loyal individual who chooses to be with Luthor because she rationally believes that without him, she’s just a “stray” with nothing else in the world to devote herself to. Whether the relationship developed into anything more is open to question – later dialogue in Justice League would seem to certainly indicate so – but at this point, Mercy’s loyal employee status is unshakable. She never really gets her own version of “Mad Love“, so this will have to do.

On the whole, both episodes are solid, but the character work in “Ghost…” as well as the improved fight scenes, make it the winner of these two, even with the nice alien landscape / Krypton scenes  in “Stolen Memories.”

Overall Grades: B- (Stolen Memories), B (Ghost in the Machine)

Random Thoughts:

  • The commentaries have gotten me into the habit of pausing and freeze-framing every cut to white, as most of the time you’ll see some very weird things (in Stolen Memories, Krypton’s explosion is hidden in the early white flash during the Brainiac / Luthor scene).
  • The scene in “Ghost…” with Superman struggling to save a train from a fallen bridge is a tremendous sequence, and shows that this type of stuff isn’t easy for the animated Superman. He still succeeds, of course, but he has to work at it – which makes his later struggles against the robots, machinery, and Brainiac himself a little more reasonable.
  • The Superman / Brainiac fight in “Ghost…” is also well-coreographed, one of the better fistfights in the DCAU. There’s a nice sense of two very powerful beings going at each other, with Superman winning via smarts and a timely application of something he has on hand rather than brute force as he had in the first episode. It’s a more complex Superman than one who simply punches things to solve problems… but that’s a side of Superman that we’ll be dealing with shortly.
  • For continuity purposes, this is likely the incident that Brainiac later refers to in Justice League when he explains how he corrupted LexCorp systems, as the next time he shows up in Superman, he’s attacking WayneTech.

Next Episode: Back to Justice League for “Paradise Lost,” as after the heavy sci-fi focus of the early episodes, we now deal with more mystical threats.

Next Side Story: Time to start the other big arc in Superman, with “Tools of the Trade” and “Father’s Day”, leading into the terror that is War World (in more ways than one).

(Hey, only 1200 words or so this time!)

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  1. October 19, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    I just wanted to say that this is a great idea – going through the Justice League episodes and connecting them with the appropriate Batman/Superman/Batman Beyond episodes is awesome. When watching Justice League with my friends, I would drive them crazy by telling them about every reference and connection to the older shows that I had watched but they hadn’t.

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