Home > B, C-plus, Episode Reviews, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 12, 28 – “Tools of the Trade” and “Father’s Day”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 12, 28 – “Tools of the Trade” and “Father’s Day”

October 20, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Tools of the Trade

Written by Mark Evanier / Evanier and Steve Gerber
Directed by Curt Geda / Dan Riba
Originally Aired February 1, 1997 / October 5, 1997

Summary: Faced with obsolescene due to Superman’s presence, Intergang turns to a mysterious weapons supplier to try to take the Man of Steel down. After Mannheim fails, he is exiled to the hellish world of Apokolips, where he meets his mysterious benefactor in person: Darkseid. Upset with Darkseid’s lack of movement against Superman, his son Kalibak then attacks Superman himself.

Featured Characters: Bruno Mannheim, Dan Turpin, Kalibak

Debuting Characters: Darkseid, Kanto, Desaad

First Timers: First chance we’ve had to see Johnathan and Martha Kent in these recaps.

Background:

A case can easily be made that Jack Kirby is the most significant figure in comics history. For most people, creating an iconic character with a near-70-year history like Captain America would be a career defining moment. But Kirby later co-created the Challengers of the Unknown at DC before embarking on perhaps the most prolific stretch in comic history, teaming with Stan Lee to create first the Fantastic Four and pretty much every Marvel hero that traces back to the early 1960s (with the notable exception of Spider-Man).

However, as Kirby’s relationship with Marvel soured, he made a stunning return to DC at the end of the 1960s. Initially taking control of Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen (a book Kirby chose because there was no set creative team, as he didn’t want to put anyone out of work), Kirby quickly began what would be his most ambitious work. Theorising that, as comics newsstand sales slowed following the 60s boom, a more bookstore-friendly format was needed, Kirby created a new group of series which would work equally well in a collected format. The result was the New Gods line, which not only featured the greatest opening hook in comics history (“There came a time when the old gods… died!“) but also introduced the world to Darkseid. Although the New Gods experiment did not go as well as both Kirby and DC originally hoped – the books were all short-lived and did not feature a real conclusion until Kirby returned to DC again in the 1980s – they are cited as amongst Kirby’s greatest works, and certainly amongst the most representative of his own creative style without the influence of Lee or any other writer.

Another product of that 1980s return to DC was Kirby re-designing his New Gods for the Super Powers action figure line, as well as working on the tie-in comic. That line strengthened the Darkseid / Superman relationship (well, Darkseid was also oddly obsessed with Wonder Woman), and all of this led the creative team to go back to the Fourth World when looking for additional content.

“We knew we were going to use Darkseid as one of our main villains, because we had so few good villains. We figured Kirby had used Darkseid and kind of melded the Superman mythos with the Fourth World mythos in the comics… that was another mix in the brew and things started gelling at that point.”

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 54

After leaning heavily on Luthor and Mannheim during the first season of STAS, Darkseid shows up at the end of the first season, in the first of the two episodes here. However, the New Gods characters are not the sole Kirby reference in these episodes – Dan Turpin, a detective in the Metropolis PD, is actually based visually on Kirby (he’s another Kirby creation, of course).

Thoughts on the Episodes:

Aside from the ending, “Tools of the Trade” doesn’t have much to it. The plot of Turpin being frustrated by Superman making the SCU look bad is a good one, but the episode is all about setting up the fact that the escalation of Intergang’s armaments has brought Earth into the direct path of Darkseid’s ambitions. As a stand-alone episode, it may not be a good one, but as a means of making the viewer really want to see what happens next season, it’s a roaring success. The final scenes showing theĀ  nightmarish world of Apokolips, with Darkseid towering over his minons, give the entire thing a dramatic punch that the main body of the episode was missing (c’mon, I can buy that Superman might die at the hands of Metallo or the Parasite, but not a bunch of idiot gangsters).

The Mannheim character is an interesting one – he certainly seems like someone more suited to hanging around Gotham City than Metropolis, for one thing. This plays on one of the themes of the first season, where the villains are at first totally unused to dealing with Superman and are playing catch-up. That flips around later, as Superman is usually reacting to being put up against a god and his army when he faces his toughest tests. This episode plays out like an inversion of a James Bond setup, where Kanto is providing a series of weapons to Mannheim. He’s less successful than Q.

“Father’s Day”, while lacking the punchy ending of “Tools of the Trade”, is a much better episode overall. It has a very modern Superman feel to it, with Superman’s parents playing a significant role (Johnathan Kent died when Clark was a child in the pre-Byrne version, as seen in the first movie), a bit of Lois & Clark interplay reminiscent of the TV series of the same name, and some nice backstabbing by Desaad. For an episode that’s basically built around a 10-minute fight scene, there’s a lot going on even before the final scene where Superman comes face-to-face with Darkseid for the first time. I especially like the stuff with Johnathan Kent – his country boy status is played up a little too much, but it’s a nice contrasting voice to everyone else.

If anything, this one could’ve been longer – Lois’ interactions with the Kents merited a few more scenes, although, again, that type of thing was more the specialty of Lois & Clark (which rapidly approaching cancellation at the time this aired) than this series.

While Kalibak isn’t the most rounded opponent, he’s brought to life by a very clever casting choice, namely Michael Dorn, who is most famous for playing Worf in Star Trek. Kalibak is a corrputed version of Worf, more or less – his actions are beacause of his father’s lack of faith in him rather than a grand evil design. The fight scene is well-coreographed, to the point that even Kalibak’s somewhat ridiculous appearance (he’s a Kirby character through and through) stops mattering after a short while. Of course, Superman’s relatively easy demolition of Kalibak is largely a setup; it tricks the viewer into thinking that Darkseid also isn’t that tough. Darkseid quickly puts an end to that, Omega Beaming Superman into submission without much effort.

Again, another episode just to build up to a later confrontation, which is what made the Darkseid arc have such an emotional payoff by the time it ended nearly a decade later.

And. yes, Father’s Day is co-written by THE Steve Gerber, most famous for creating Howard the Duck at Marvel, and also worked on several Kirby characters at DC. Gerber was a showrunner on several of the most significant North American animated series of the 80s and 90s, and continued to work in comics until his death in early 2008.

Overall Grades: C+ (Tools of the Trade), B (Father’s Day)

Other Thoughts:

  • The red core of the machine at the start of “Father’s Day” is a classic example of Kirby Dots, the visual signature he used to indicate energy discharges.
  • See? Darkseid’s Omega Beams (the eye lasers he shoots Mannheim with) don’t always kill.
  • The bit with Martha almost giving away the secret identity seems like it was ripe for a followup, but interestingly Lois would never catch on to the secret ID in the DCAU (she’s known for nearly 20 years in the comics, and figures things out in Superman / Doomsday)
  • The bit with Clark ducking into the open elevator shaft to change is a really cool sequence.

Line of the Episode: “As far as destiny and I are concerned… I have no son.”

Next Side Story: The introduction of my favourite superhero in “Speed Demons.”

Next time: Superman fights in an arena against an evil ruler in “Gladiator” “War World.”

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  1. Nicola Nomali
    October 21, 2009 at 3:16 am

    Kalibak and Darkseid via STAS were my first exposure to Kirby’s eccentric approach to character design. It was a shock when I finally saw more of his background and realized he gave these weird hoods, gawky faces, and rectangular fingers to pretty much everyone.

  2. kyle747
    June 18, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Kalibak looks like a giant hairy wart!

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