Home > B-plus, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 53-54 – “Legacy”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episodes 53-54 – “Legacy”

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Story by Paul Dini
Written by Rich Fogel
Directed by Curt Geda and Dan Riba
Originally Aired February 5th & 12th, 2000
DVD: Superman: TAS, Volume Three

Summary: Earth is overrun by an invasion from Apokolips, whose leader is revealed to be none other than Superman himself.

Arc Notes: This is certainly one of the most important episodes in DCAU history; not only is this the finale of STAS, but these are the seventh and eighth episodes of the Darkseid storyline. Also, the roots of the arc which ran through much of Justice League trace back to this episode.

Debuting Characters: Nope. It’s a finale, what did you expect?

Background:

The issue with any animated series produced in North America – particularly one based on a comic property – is that there’s usually a struggle between making it light enough that it’s appropriate for kids, yet in order to tell quality stories you usually have to go darker. Justice League kind of got around the problem by moving into a prime time cable slot where kids weren’t as important, but the majority of DCAU episodes were intended to be suitable for all audiences. As Bruce Timm explains, while the producers tried to balance Superman a bit better between light and dark than Batman as a result, the episode quality tended to be higher with a specific type of episode:

Ultimately, I think the best episodes of Superman are the ones that are darker [laughter] “Apokolips Now!” and “Legacy” the shows that have some real dramatic heft to them – where you have a sense that the world ins in real jeopardy. To me, those shows are much more satisfying than the run-of-the-mill Superman show. Superman is a more optimistic show, and that’s the reason why, I think, Apokolips Now and Legacy work so well.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 75-76

The obviously notable thing about this episode is that, at least at the time, this was to be the end of the Darkseid / Superman rivalry.  Although cartoons had become increasingly syndicated in nature – both the 90s X-Men and Spider-Man shows had developed comic-like running plotlines – the DCAU, as we’ve noted previously, had few continuing storylines, and it was rare for villains to show up more than once per year. Timm thought it was important that even Darkseid not be a recurring antagonist:

It was the same kind of thing with Darkseid on Superman. We didn’t want to have every episode be about Darkseid tormenting Superman, that would have gotten old real quick, and it really wasn’t what the show was about.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters, p. 76

This story was, as originally plotted out, was supposed to be the kickoff for a new season of Superman, taking it up to the 65-episode region that most animated shows like to wind up at or around for syndication purposes. However, after the plotline for the season was set out – Superman as a hero not trusted by the people he’s protecting and working to earn back their trust – the DCAU crew bent to the WB’s “suggestion” that they instead return to Batman, this time with a totally new take on the franchise.

Thoughts on the Episode:

(Hate mail avoidance mode ON) This is a pair of episodes that I really do appreciate on a technical level, and the last ten minutes are amongst the greatest ever produced by the DCAU (end HMAM), but as I mentioned in one of the last couple of entries I hadn’t seen this one in nearly a decade, certainly not since Justice League started up. And… I’m not really sure about all that praise. For the reputation this story has, you’d think that it would be just as much of a blowaway experience as “Apokolips… Now!” was; however that’s not the case. It’s not a bad episode, but at the same time I think it speaks to both the somewhat rushed plotline and the raised standard of “epic” stories in the Justice League era that what was once a great episode just doesn’t stand out as much as perhaps it did upon original airing.

Of course, the biggest reason that the episode doesn’t really have as much impact as it originally did is that the core concept of the episode – that Superman has been kidnapped, brainwashed, and turned against Earth in an effort by Darkseid to destroy either him or the planet he protects – is one that provides a massive shock upon first viewing, but when you go in expecting that to come happen, it just doesn’t hold up as the type of concept you can hang a two-parter around. Again, this is largely a structural problem; there’s no cold opening as such, which would have been the logical place to do the big reveal. Instead, it occurs once the action has gotten going, and then it’s treated as far too much of a fait accompli that Superman is brainwashed. While the scenes with Kara back on Earth trying to trick everyone into thinking Clark is still around are cute, they really don’t work for as long as they’re expected to. Once Kara’s got robo-Clark fighting an invisible bad guy for his hot dog, it’s time to wrap things up.

Thankfully, between the good sequences explaining both the brainwashing and Superman’s original abduction, things pick up pretty quickly after that although the problem is that no cliffhanger is going to top the big reveal. At least Luthor’s reasoning that killing Superman in this situation would make him a hero to the public fits in well with his character as established during the series. Although ultimately Luthor is moved off-screen, his story gets wrapped up as well as can be expected, although of course things wouldn’t end there.

Aside from the shock value moments, the first part of the episode is a disappointment overall. However, the second half is good enough that it almost rescues the entire thing. We haven’t really been looking at Lois-heavy episodes in these episodes aside from “Monkey Fun,” but I think I’ve gone on record before as saying she’s actually my favourite character on the Superman side of things (aside from Luthor). Having her be the one to get Superman back in the fight works, and even though the kiss at the end is an emotional high point, the scene with her wishing Superman luck is the more powerful scene by far. This ends up being a pretty great Lois-centric storyline until the last ten minutes, at which point everything goes to heck.

The one thing the Darkseid arc got perfect was keeping physical confrontations between Superman and Darkseid to an absolute minimum; for the most part, it’s been taunting from Darkseid and maybe a shot from the omega beams. Here, from the moment Superman essentially vaporizes a squadron of Parademons, things are different. The pacing of the final sequence is superb, with Superman working his way through Darkseid’s minions one at a time and finally getting to the big showdown. And it doesn’t disappoint; not merely because Superman beats Darkseid nearly to death, but also because, in doing so, he gains a measure of revenge for Turpin’s murder. However, the best part of the scene is the conclusion; although Superman has clearly won, the problem of Darkseid is much larger than he can possibly deal with, and in fact I think the realisation that Darkseid is, in some weird way, needed on Apokolips comes across well here.

While the last ten minutes of the episode are certainly a peak, the show takes a bit too long getting to that point to really stand amongst the elite episodes of the run. If there was a bit more scope to the invasion in the early going, or Superman’s traitor status was a true secret, or if the traitor storyline had been the focus of the entire show, maybe things would come off better. But while this episode was certainly darker than usual, a true exploration of Superman’s actions wouldn’t happen until Justice League, which would also provide the emotional climax that just isn’t quite there in “Legacy.”

Grade: B+, almost entirely because the final fight is so good.

Random Thoughts:

  • This is also one of those episodes that I bet the creators wish they could go back and take another pass at with Justice League in the rearview mirror, as while General Hardcastle certainly was a good character and a welcome non-Luthor human antagonist, everything would flow together much better if it was General Eiling. Then again, Hardcastle does show up later in Justice League, as a shell of his former self, so it did work out in the end.
  • Professor Hamilton’s heel turn at the end of the episode is very well-handled, and sets up a lot of stuff down the line. Exactly what he did takes the show into a very, very dark place, especially when you realise just how vulnerable Kara was portrayed as when she was in his care.
  • Although the redemption plotline was never shown on-screen (a line was cut from “Secret Origins” that would have referenced the fact that Superman wasn’t trusted by the military), you can see why things worked out the way they did – characters like Hamilton and Luthor only have Superman’s word that he was under alien influence. Lex is a bad guy that works best when he knows he’s right, whereas Hamilton really was a great look at an everyman’s perspective on such crazy events occuring. His faith is shaken, and he’s going to do something about it as a result.

Next Side Story: We’re talking about robots… so might as well talk about one of the originals in the DCAU, with “Heart of Steel”

Next Time: Superman finally gets a chance to settle things with both Darkseid and Brainiac, and the League gets dragged along for the fight, in “Legacy.’

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