Home > A-minus, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 21 – “Mxyzpixilated”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 21 – “Mxyzpixilated”

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

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Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Dan Riba
Originally Aired: September 20, 1997
DVD: Superman TAS: Volume 2

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Summary: An all-powerful being from the fifth dimension takes an interest in annoying Superman. Hilarity ensues.

Debuting Characters: First appearance of Mxy (and you’d better believe I’m going to only refer to him by that name for the rest of the episode to preserve my own sanity and typing speed), first appearance of Streaky.

Background:

It’s often said that Superman only has one main villain and a bunch of C-listers, but thanks to a goofy design and gimmick that forces Superman to beat a villain by using his brain rather than just punching him, Mxy has stuck around as probably the second-most famous of Superman’s rogues gallery.

Created by Superman co-creators Joel Siegel and Jerry Schuster in 1944, Mister Mxyztplk was introduced in the Golden Age as an imp from the “fifth dimension”, with a wide-ranging set of seemingly magical powers. He was originally portrayed as something more of a prankster, with a story similar to the opening sequence of this episode. While he actually had a world-conquering goal at first, he quickly evolved into the DC Universe’s version of Bugs Bunny, using Superman as his own personal Elmer Fudd, tormenting him whenever possible. Eventually, his most famous gimmick was added to the character mix, where if he said his own name backwards – Kltpzyxm – he would be banished back to the 5th dimension for 90 days. As Superman entered the Silver Age, Mxy was re-designed into an orange-suited, more science-fiction-y version, but the core gimmick remained.

Mxy’s first post-Crisis usage was a bit more malevolent than his classic depiction, but the best Mxyztplk stories happened when Greg Rucka moved over from his acclaimed Detective Comics run to take over on Adventures of Superman. Rucka moderated many of the more chaotic aspects of Mxy and turned him into more of a riffer on pop culture (think of Bugs Bunny with chaos magic and you’re halfway there). But he also picked up a healthy dose of abilities related to breaking the fourth wall – at one point, he dragged Paul Dini into the book to tell him how much he loved “Green Loontern” (Dini, apparently at a strip club, complained about being interrupted on his lunch break). Then he raided the DC offices to tell former Superman editor Mike Carlin how much he missed him (while attempting to steal the script to Identity Crisis #7, which at the time was the biggest mystery in comicdom) and complain to then-Superman editor Eddie Breganza about not getting his own logo.

That was followed up by Adventures 638, which featured Mxy answering Lois’ yearnings for a baby by creating one for her, then showing Lois and Clark her future… in his own unique way. So her birth is a Frank Miller riff, the toddler years are pure Calvin and Hobbes, and then her teen years look like something out of the DCAU. It’s an incredible issue even with the conventional action sequence at the end. Hell, Mxy’s joke about where Clark thinks babies come from is worth the price of admission by itself (he also makes a reference to how Lois is… more experienced… than Clark, which is one of my favourite running gags in the DCU),

Sadly, the run of every-four-issues Mxy appearances was derailed by the “Sacrifice” storyline, but Mxy returned for something completely different in Adventures 646, where in a very quiet issue he talks over things with Clark before finally helping him unmask the big bad of Rucka’s run, Ruin. It’s an excellent character piece for Clark, emphasizing how he manages to retain hope when most people wouldn’t, as well as making Mxy into a very sympathetic character. These “Interruptus” issues are well worth tracking down, both for being some of Rucka’s best work as well as hilarious Mxy stories to boot. Although, really, just buy the entire freaking run (even if Rucka’s excellent layered plotting was somewhat undermined by a weak payoff in Infinite Crisis).

Thoughts on the Episode:

I was very tempted to cop out on this one by saying that explaining the joke ruins it, but if people can do in-depth reviews of 30 Rock I figure it shouldn’t be too hard. *cracks knuckles* Let’s begin.

To get the easy part out of the way first – this episode may contain the highest number of jokes per minute of any DCAU production (and perhaps even including the all-joke episodes of related-but-not-connected shows like Teen Titans). It’s more remarkable for the fact that the first act, a tribute to Mxy’s first appearance, isn’t all that funny; it serves to ratchet up the level of weirdness from the usual (you know, the fact that the series stars a guy who can fly) to the heightened level that both this and the subsequent Mxy episode share. While this introduction is taken care of quickly enough, even then it feels a bit too much. The bit with the Kents on their farm is better, as it’s just creepy enough to make Mxy seem like something of a threat, without the all-humour second act being too much of a whiplash.

Of course, once the whole McGuirk angle has been taken care of, the episode ramps up in a big way. Mxy walks a very fine line between annoyance and humour, but in this episode every joke works, and some work spectacularly. It’s a combination of just sheer wit and, later, a classic Warner Brothers cartoon sequence, where Superman manages to dispose of Mxy in increasingly creative ways from month to month. The topper is the bit shown above, where Mxy, after avoiding being distracted by Gspy, gets in his robot and dashes off, only to return seconds later. On the commentary track, Bruce Timm says that he thinks they played the montage out for too long; if anything, I think it wasn’t long enough to highlight the ridiculousness of the joke.

After that’s taken care of, the final segment has a bit less humour to it, as it looks as though Mxy actually wants to cause harm to Superman for the first time in the episode by using Kryptonite against him. Of course, that backfires, and Superman’s smug dismissal of him at the end of the story is a great use of deadpan humour.

As noted earlier, the animation in this episode is very good – Gspy’s fashion show is a great tribute to classic good girl art (her transformation into Jessica Rabbit from her original design that… well, kinda looked like a female Mxy… was an inspired choice by the designers). Mxy’s robot is half a dozen jokes all by itself, and the various pets are a pile of inside jokes for comic fans. It’s great fun to pause on the Daily Planet comics page just to see all the neat newspaper strip jokes that were tossed in for what’s such a minor scene. I also like the direction they went with for Mxy – the more cosmic version that dominated the comics before this episode just isn’t wacky enough for the DCAU.

Lastly, I’m so glad that the crew on the video commentary thinks both the “PANTS” gag and the bit with the robot are as funny as I do. It’s probably my favourite type of joke.

Grade: A-. The first act is a write-off, but when any pretense at a plot is thrown out the window, the jokes don’t let up.

Random Thoughts:

  • Does it make more sense if the headline says “Superman is Clark Kent” or “Clark Kent is Superman”? I lean more towards the latter, but I suspect an entire article could be devoted to that question.

Line of the Episode: “NERTZ!”

Next Side Story: Doctor Fate makes his debut in “The Hand of Fate”

Next Time: An episode that I like watching far more than I like reviewing, “Eclipsed.”

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