Home > A, Superman: The Animated Series > Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 36 – “The Late Mr. Kent”

Superman: The Animated Series, Episode 36 – “The Late Mr. Kent”

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Written by Stan Berkowitz
Directed by Kenji Hachizaki
Originally Aired: November 1st, 1997
DVD: Superman TAS, Volume Two

Site Notes: As usual, don’t forget to use Twitter to be informed of updates. And a belated RIP to Dick Giordano, one of the men most responsible for shaping the DC Universe as we know it and a damned fine inker in his own right. Thank you, sir, and good afternoon.

And I think I’ve been screwing up the title formatting recently, so you may want to check your bookmarks since some pages might have moved since they were originally published.

Summary: Clark Kent is killed while attempting to clear an accused murderer’s name. This is a problem for Superman.

Debuting Characters: None.

Background:

This is going to be a bit of an unusual background piece, as it’s going to be split amongst a couple of episodes. But since we’re talking about the biggest comic storyline ever, it merits it.

As we talked about on the weekend, DC ran a story in 1992 that they expected to be controversial and provide a small boost to the Superman family of titles, “Doomsday.” Rumours initially swirled that the story was going to feature the long-awaited marriage of Superman and Lois Lane (I’ve seen various accounts that place the wedding in either  Superman #75 or Adventures of Superman #500, both of which became key plot issues in the arc; common consensus seems to be that ABC, about to air “Lois and Clark“, objected), but the word soon leaked out that DC was, in fact, planning on killing off Superman in the upcoming Superman #75.

Now, this was supposed to create a stir, aided by DC’s corporate ties with entities such as Time Magazine and CNN. They probably figured on a decent sales jump, as they took the time to put together a collector’s edition of the issue complete with Daily Planet story (not written by Lois Lane, as was the case in the story itself), funeral armband (that was eventually sported by just about every other DC hero) and various trading cards. However, they didn’t count on one important thing: a slow news week. When Superman #75 (sporting quite the iconic cover) hit stands late in November 1992, it happened to hit on one of the slowest news days in history, and for lack of anything better, CNN ran with their corporate sibling’s daring stunt, and the mania was on.

For a couple of weeks, this was literally the hottest topic in entertainment, and one of the hottest news stories out there. Every comics fan of a certain age probably remembers their parents asking them about it; my personal memory is of watching an NFL game and seeing CBS reference the story in relation to Lawrence Taylor’s career-ending injury the prior week, superimposing an S-shield on LT and showing the silver card that came with the issue. Comics were suddenly the next big investment opportunity for the people who had been hawking baseball cards (which caused tons of problems later on), and the industry got swept up in the storm.

Of course, DC, after tastefully laying their hero to rest in a funeral storyline took up the first half of 1993, had another problem: they had to bring him back. The key was how to do it in a smart way; their writing team had an idea in that regard….

Thoughts on the Episode:

As many insults as I occasionally toss at TVTropes.org, it is useful for checking to see if a narrative device is overused to the point where it’s noticeable by the general public. In this case, it’s the “whoops, the secret identity was killed” plotline, which has probably turned up in just about every incarnation of Superman, and was in fact one of the subplots spinning out of The Death of Superman (Clark having been presumed dead in the aftermath of Doomsday’s
destruction of Metropolis since he didn’t turn up for work). “The Late Mr. Kent” takes the idea and adds a bit of a hard boiled-style detective story slant to it – there’s an investigator trying to clear the name of a murder suspect, corrupt cops, narration by the lead character, and a couple of hot women floating around. The result is one of the best Superman: TAS episodes.

Although Clark narrated “Absolute Power“, it wasn’t a strong element, as it quickly dropped out as the action picked up. Here, the story is much slower-paced, allowing for Clark to explain his investigation that takes up the first act, as well as provide a couple of neat quips about his side life as Superman (“I still hadn’t eaten anything… not that I needed to” is one of my favourite line reads from Tim Daly all series). Besides being a change of pace from the usual STAS format, it’s a good way of explaining what would take an incredible amount of expositionary dialogue otherwise, and this isn’t an episode where you want Clark hauling Jimmy along.

The thing I like most is that Clark actually plays like an investigative journalist, rather than the 40s style crusading reporter that you normally get. He hits a break, but that doesn’t lead to the truth of who’s behind the murder; that merely leads him to more information, which doesn’t solve anything other than potentially giving Clark justification to get to the governor and have the execution overturned. That leads into yet another nice plotline, as Clark shows he’s got a bit of an ego, wanting to break the story himself for once and not have Superman swoop in with the exonerating evidence. It’s a nice reminder that Clark’s the real personality, not Superman. Of course, that all goes wrong as his car is blown to pieces on the trip, giving the episode it’s real hook (not that the murder / execution deadline subplot isn’t a bad one to begin with).

The funeral in this episode is of course subdued compared to the one seen later in Justice League, simply because the subject is merely a reporter and not the world’s most famous hero. Putting it at the front of the episode isn’t a bad narrative choice, although since there’s never an attempt made to pretend that Clark is dead, the scene is there more to leave the viewer wondering what circumstance Clark could have “died” in that he couldn’t finangle his way out of. Smartly, when shown in real time the episode cuts to Clark talking things over with his parents, who are amusingly just as stumped as he is. This is basically a succession of nice scenes, continuing as Superman meets up with Lois and we get a sign that her feelings for him have softened a bit since the early episodes, which is a good quiet moment between the two of them. But the underlying sense is exactly what Clark tells Ma and Pa – he needs his human side, his connections, because that’s who he really is, and he’d go insane if he had to be Superman all the time.

(Once again: TARANTINO IS A MORON.)

The villain of this episode isn’t hard to guess – it’s a classic case of the law of the conservation of characters coming to the forefront – but at the same time, I did like that they used someone who’d been set up as a somewhat corrupt figure earlier in the series (“Target”, a decent episode that we might hit later on since it sets up not only this episode, but a second). He winds up being played more in the background, which is a fun enough approach to take with a mystery. The final confrontation is one of those problematic Superman fights where you know there’s nothing threatening to him going on – a helicopter isn’t much of a threat – and without Lois involved that much, it’s the only down note of the episode. Superman saving the innocent man from the gas chamber is appropriately heroic, especially as the episode takes the time to throw in a bit of doubt that he’ll make it on time.

If this was the payoff and the credits rolled, I’d probably give this one a B-.

But it’s not, because the actual villain isn’t all that important in the end. First, we have to see how Clark resurrects himself, and it’s done in a very clever way, using a supporting character that makes perfect sense but whose participation wasn’t telegraphed at all in Lana Lang. I really like the STAS Lana, who’s a lot more interesting than the rather dull comic version or the oh please go away “charm” of Kristen Kreuk on Smallville, with a combination of the best friend appeal she normally has with something more sultry; it’s as if the girl next door grew up to be a supermodel. While it’s a somewhat transparent way of resetting Lois’ feelings for Clark, her bitterly sarcastic reaction to the fact that the “only thing Clark could remember” was Lana’s phone number is hilarious.

And then it’s topped by something straight out of The Outer Limits, as the execution scene is one full of great irony, especially the final bit that’s my line of the episode. Great stuff, and the blackout is perfectly timed.

One of my only real complaints about Justice League is that the show failed to utilise secret identities to their full advantage; this episode shows exactly why, as cliche as they may seem, they’re still a very useful narrative tool.

Grade: A. Very good episode plus outstanding ending = must-see.

Random Thoughts:

  • I’m sure Superman turning the water tank into a fiew extinguisher was probably a tribute to some crazy Superfriends episode.
  • Sadly, there’s no callback to the fact that Lois damaged Bowman’s career.
  • Clark’s ‘escape’ is neatly telegraphed by Lois’ line in the apartment, to the point that I missed it when I originally watched the episode.
  • Looks as though the gravesite is different than the one used for Turpin’s funeral.
  • Ron Troupe was the Planet’s sports reporter who eventually got bumped into the news department in the DCU.

Line of the Episode: “HE’S SUPERMAN!” (*zap*)

Next Justice League: Vandal Savage teaches gardening techniques in “Hereafter.”

Next Time: A small-time hood hits the big time in “The Man Who Killed Batman.”

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  1. Nicholai
    April 8, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    Gotta agree that this is easily one of the best Superman: TAS episodes. I’m also a big fan of showing Clark to be the real personality.

  1. April 8, 2010 at 9:57 pm
  2. April 16, 2010 at 3:06 am
  3. April 22, 2010 at 10:08 am

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