Home > B-plus, Episode Grades, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 25 – “Brave New Metropolis”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 25 – “Brave New Metropolis”

January 26, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

[tweetmeme source="jlurevisited"]

Story by Stan Berkowitz and Alan Burnett
Teleplay by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Curt Geda
Originally Aired: September 27, 1997
DVD: Superman TAS Volume Two

Summary: A lab accident catapults Lois into a parallel world where she’s been dead for years and Superman rules over Metropolis with an iron fist, with Lex Luthor at his side.

Background:

This is probably the first episode I’ve ever done that has absolutely no extraneous characters beyond the regular cast of a show, so the background would ordinarily be a bit trickier to talk about. Except this episode is a classic superhero – hell, science fiction – tale, namely the ol’ Well=Meaning Hero Takes Over the World standby, albeit used here in combination with an alternate universe. There’s been a bunch of these throughout comic and comic-based media history, so we might as well talk about some here.

First up is the seminal work  in this particular subgenre (well, not counting Mirror, Mirror), Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme. The Squadron were Marvel’s just-removed-enough-to-avoid-lawsuits version of the Justice League, where Hyperion = Superman, Nighthawk = Batman and so on. This story relates how the Squadron find themselves on a world where Nighthawk has been elected president, but subsequently manipulated into causing a global war that leaves much of the planet devestated. So the Squadron decides to embark on the ‘Utopia Project’, an attempt to bring an end to all the world’s ills at the expense of individual freedoms, but if you need me to tell you which analogue stands up for the defence of individual rights by the end you obviously haven’t been reading comics long enough. This is widely regarded at Gruenwald’s best work, and he loved the book so much that when he tragically passed away he requested that his ashes be mixed into the ink the next time the series was re-printed. I think it’s the most expensive TPB in existence as a result, but you can just buy one of the more recent reprints. It’s a book that must be in every comic fan’s collection.

Mark Millar offered his take on the idea in the Eleseworlds story Superman: Red Son. It’s a not-uncommon take on a story that I first read in a fiction anthology collection entitled Superheroes over ten years before its release, namely asking what would have happened had the baby Kal-El dropped onto a communist farm near Stalingrad in 1938 rather than into the middle of Kansas. The tide of the Cold War is turned, naturally, but the interesting relationship is the relatively benign socialist Superman being constantly hounded by Lex Luthor, who is portrayed as something of the ultimate expression of the capitalist ideal. Superman’s influence gradually leads to the Soviets’ domination of the world, only for things to fall apart. Millar’s best work is when he’s writing Superman (maybe more on that this weekend), and this is no exception.

Just to prove that this story formula doesn’t guarantee a classic, Jeph Loeb’s third arc on his Superman / Batman series, with art by Carlos Pacheco,wasn’t all that great. But it certainly starts off well enough, even borrowing a bit from this episode with the back-to-back statuary image (and the title of the arc is “Absolute Power”, which is the next episode in my review order). However, the story itself is surprisingly shallow, which was kind of par for the course for the series but a waste of truly striking imagery like the one above.

There’s plenty more, of course – the writer of this episode, Stan Berkowitz, penned a similar episode for the 1980s Superboy live-action series, and one of the best episodes of the short-lived Flash show travelled walked the same line –  but those were the first three that came to my mind. Berkowitz describes the genesis of this episode:

Alan (Burnett) wanted to do an alternate world romance, and I eagerly volunteered. I’ve loved alternate world stories ever since “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and when I read an account in Spy Magazine in the late eighties that considered the scientific possibility of alternate worlds, I decided to do one for Superboy. In that two-parter, Superboy goes to not one, but two alternate worlds, and in one, he sees what the world would be like if he broke his rule about killing people, and in the other, he sees a world where an egotistical Superboy had become dictator. Not a pretty picture.

Later, we did two more, one of which featured a very young Superboy, and the other, an older, retired Superman. Many years later, we took on the Justice Lords. I think people like these stories because they’re always wondering how their lives would have turned out if they made different decisions. Either that or they just like to see their heroes in cool new costumes.

– Stan Berkowitz, interview with toonzone.net

Thoughts on the Episode:

This story is unique amongst Superman TAS episodes because the point-of-view character is Lois, not Superman. In fact, Superman doesn’t even make a speaking appearance until the end of the second act, but he’s not even lurking in the background that much; this is Lois’ story, and since she’s probably my favourite character in the Superman mythos to begin with, that’s a good thing in my book.

Although the alternate world concept is always rife with potential, it still has to be executed well, and it is here. By placing Lois in the lead role, the episode unbalances the viewer from the opening scenes, and that’s what you want. While not much happens in the first act, once Lois starts to be on the run from Luthor’s goons in a very neat chase up the Superman / Luthor monument the episode really starts cooking. Even if it is pretty unrealistic for Lois to free-climb a giant rock statue in a skirt and heels, it’s a nicely tense sequence that sets up the real important scene of the episode, the conversation between Superman and Lois.

The idea that Superman being too late to save someone important to him would set Superman off into a darker place isn’t very difficult to absorb; although the animated Superman isn’t ever really portrayed as someone who has the potential to descend into ‘I have to save everyone’ levels of obsession, Superman’s sense of responsibility is his greatest character trait. The script in the key conversation scene presents a great contrast of Superman thinking that he’s made all the right decisions possible in order to prevent more tragedies against Lois’ more detached perspective that Luthor can’t be trusted and by being blind to that fact, Superman has compromised everything he stands for. It’s a powerful scene with good voice work, and overshadows everything remaining in the episode, even Luthor’s ‘death’ and the first on-screen kiss between Superman and Lois.

My only real complaint – and I’m not sure that this is a complaint – is that Luthor is pretty much the exact same character as he is in the normal universe. While that’s partially due to Luthor’s nature, in that no matter what he’s always trying to gain an advantage, even if he’s co-opted Superman and rules Metropolis with an iron fist, or that in an episode this large a departure from business as usual the writers wanted to have a touchstone to the regular series, a Luthor that was a bit more ambiguous in his motivations wouldn’t have been a bad thing; after all, he did date Lois at one point. But that’s more a problem with getting Luthor more than two scenes in a short episode like this; although I’m not one to scream for two-parters when the story could be told in one, this is one case where that could have been justified.

So this episode’s plot line is in no way unique, but that doesn’t make it a  negative. In spite of there being minimal visual changes from the regular Metropolis aside from the Superman / Luthor statue, setting the entire episode at night (which was rare at that point for Superman) and turning Metropolis into more of a Gotham City makes every frame – even those featuring the regular-attired Lois – distinct from a normal episode. The standout element is Superman himself, with the combination of a new emblem and the all-black costume making him look about as sinister as Superman can without covering up his face (as was the case with the outfit from “Legacy”).  Superman wearing all black has become something of an iconic look in spite of its contradiction with the normal outfit, but the most striking part of the uniform is the tweaked logo, which is more reminiscent of the SS logo than the usual look. Even though Superman doesn’t really convey a sense of menace through his actions in this episode – beating up on Jimmy and pals isn’t much – the outfit does most of the work.

Grade: B+. The worst thing you can say about the episode is that you want more.

Random Thoughts:

  • Mercy dressed up as an Imperial Naval Officer is pretty… well, there’s kids potentially reading this. So much so that LucasArts basically did the same thing years later with Juno Eclipse from The Force Unleashed.
  • Lucky that the alternate Superman didn’t let it slip that he was really Clark Kent. Or, for that matter, lucky that he’d moved out of Clark’s apartment.
  • As is pointed out in the commentary track, Lois has an unfortunate habit of breathlessly identifying everyone she meets in this one. “Jimmy!?!” “Turpin!?!”
  • The scene where Lois meets Superman atop the statue is one of the VERY rare times that Superman had white eyes.

Line of the Episode: “The insolence. The outright rudeness. She’s definitely the genuine article.”

Next Justice League: This story with the volume turned up to 11 – “A Better World”

Next Time: Kryptonians ruling the world… just not Earth… in “Absolute Power.”

Advertisements
  1. May 3, 2010 at 2:47 am

    send me vioed

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s