Home > C, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 47 – “Absolute Power”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 47 – “Absolute Power”

January 28, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by Hilary J. Bader, Alan Burnett
Directed by Butch Lukic
Originally Aired: January 16th, 1999
DVD: Superman, TAS, Volume 3

Summary: Superman stumbles upon a planet ruled by the Kryptonian exiles Jax-Ur and Mala, and must decide between letting their reign continue or intervening and potentially threatening the population.

Background:

The first truly great comic movie pull quote was uttered by Terrance Stamp’s General Zod in Superman II, the troubled but ultimately fun sequel to the Richard Donner-directed original. Zod was a great bad guy, and gave Superman the opportunity to get into a fistfight against someone close to his own power level. However, DC Comics never really used the most recognisable version of Zod in comic form after that. Not that there haven’t been characters named Zod – one glance at his Wikipedia entry will confirm that (I’m partial to the sheer insanity of ‘armored Russian genetic experiment that just happened to call himself Zod’-Zod from Jeph Loeb’s time on Adventures of Superman for some reason), but a movie-like character wouldn’t be seen until Donner’s former assistant, Geoff Johns, took over Action Comics and quickly introduced Zod as a new major villain.

Superman: TAS would also go Zod-less, but adapted another character into a close facsimile. The comic book version of Jax-Ur was a silver age character who was instrumental in Zod turning evil, but comic Jax-Ur was a mad scientist rather than a military man. The production team merged the two characters into Jax-Ur for “Blasts from the Past”, the two-part second-season premiere that shared many similarities with Superman II. This episode picks up from there.

(Zod isn’t banned from animation – he apparently appeared on the Ruby-Spears Superman, and of course he’s been all over Smallville. He apparently is going to be one of the villains in the upcoming “Absolute Justice” movie, but… nope, still not enough to get me to watch Smallville. They are trying, though, I’ll give them that….)

Zod also has one heck of a website.

And ‘Little Zod’ is referred to during a fantasy sequence in Unlimited.

Thoughts on the Episode:

This story is a contrast with “Brave New Metropolis”, as it shows how the ‘dark mirror’ type of storyline isn’t always a guaranteed winner, as a pair of weak villains and a failure to run with a potentially interesting ethical conflict results in a really flat episode.

This episode is also another structurally unique one, being told entirely in flashback form with Superman narrating the events. It’s a nice approach to take, as Superman isn’t really a character who is known for a strong internal monologue (in contrast with Spider-Man) and getting a bit more inside his head lends itself well to a storyline that has potential to address a fairly heavy ethical question while trying something different with the character. In this case, Superman has to decide whether to intervene and potentially destroy the relatively peaceful society that the villains have set up, or let it be and know that by doing nothing, he’s sanctioning Jax-Ur’s tyranny.

There’s a lot going on that’s far above a kids’ show in this episode, specifically that Jax-Ur is basically epousing Marxist theories when explaining to Superman how he’s turned the planet into an ideal society, even going so far as to paraphrase Karl Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” dogma (surprisingly, Clark doesn’t call him on the quote, which was a big missed opportunity). It’s very much an analogy of Western intervention into communist dictatorships, with Superman representing the conflict felt by many, especially during the Cold War. Of course, not all of this is said, and the show takes the easy way out by showing that Superman’s intervention is necessary not only save New Krypton but Earth as well.

The scene where Superman discovers the true purpose of the armada is the episode’s major mistake; by granting him external motivation, it ruins the difficulty of his choice between two options which both appear equally bad on the surface. Heroes do best when presented with difficult choices, and by making Clark’s choice easier, the potential of the episode gets flushed down the toilet.

After the brushed-off interpersonal conflict, the story dos at least deliver on a quality final battle, as Superman fights off the rogues amidst their crumbling ship. Bruce Timm has often lamented that a lot of Superman stories were given a bit of a disservice by the lack of scope possible in animation at the time (no CGI assists yet), but this fight delivers on a large scale, with impressive sights such as the Kryptonian cruiser breaking up and Jax-Ur and Mala being sucked into the gravity well. In fact, both the combat scenes in the episode are pretty good, as even the introductory fight between Superman and the military is enjoyable for a mere filler fight.

However, merely having good action scenes aren’t enough to make this episode rise up to the high standards expected of better DCAU episodes. The problem is one of frustration rather than the episode being bad; even with Saturday Morning limitations, this episode could have been so much more.

Grade: C. Not even a token “kneel before me” joke to lighten up an all-too-straightforward episode, and there’s nothing I hate more than wasted potential. Great fight scene at the end, though.

Random Thoughts:

  • The explosion tearing open the Phantom Zone is, of course, a callback to how Zod escaped from the Phantom Zone in Superman II.
  • Mala gets in one of the most blatant sexual references in DCAU history in this episode.

Line of the Episode: “They reminded me of a staying, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” I won’t forget it again.”

Next Side Story: I’m going with the order of the episodes on the DVDs, so it’s going to be “The Eggbaby.”

Next Time: The hands down, no doubt, most important episode in DCAU history – and one of the best – “A Better World.”

January 16th, 1999January 16th, 1999
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  1. January 28, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    I love the Superman animated Series and the Justice League series that immediately followed it. I watch them with my kids all the time and the acting and storylines were very high quality for just cartoons on TV.

  1. April 8, 2010 at 2:26 pm

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