Tag Archives: Superman

‘Justice League Unlimited: The Return’

JLU the return amazo GLs

I’ve had so many favorite TV series over the years, from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to “Star Trek” to “Justified.” But as surprising as it may sound, it just might be “Justice League Unlimited” – right up there with another animated series, “Jonny Quest” – that ranks at the top of the list.

“JLU,” as I’m going to refer to it here, ran for 39 episodes over two or three seasons – who could tell, really, the way “Cartoon Network” abused the show with its scheduling? – from 2004 to 2006. The animated series, featuring the work of true artists like Bruce Timm and Dwayne McDuffie, was a continuation of the two-season “Justice League” series, which ran from 2001 to 2004, which itself was a continuation of “Batman” and “Superman” animated series that dated back as far as 1992.

“Justice League” was a fun series, giving us our first “real” look at characters beloved for decades, in personas and performances that defined them for a generation. When I see DC/Warners trying to bring those characters to the screen now in the inadequate “Man of Steel” and unpromising “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice,” I just wish they had given the reins to the people – including voice director Andrea Romano – who brought the characters to life in animation.

I’m rewatching “Justice League Unlimited” now and I might share some thoughts on other episodes with you here. But after watching it today, I have to talk about “The Return.”

JLU cast

If you’ve seen the series – or even if you haven’t – you don’t need me to go into the plot in great detail. But a little context: In “JLU,” Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the other core members of the Justice League decide to expand the roster of the league as seen in the first two seasons. They do so for practical reasons – Superman explains a greater number of heroes can put out more fires, literally and figuratively – but for storytelling purposes, this opens up a wealth of possibilities.

Even though “Justice League” episodes had brought in characters like Dr. Fate and Aquaman, “JLU” not only brought DC A-listers into the fold but B, C and D-listers. Ever want to see Bwana Beast in action? The Creeper? Maybe best of all, The Question? Here’s your first, and probably only, chance. I can’t imagine The Elongated Man is going to show up in one of the big-screen movies.

The first few episodes of “JLU” were intent on showcasing characters other than the core, founding members of the League. The opener, which included Batman and Superman, focused on an emergency response team consisting of Green Lantern, Supergirl, Captain Atom and a reluctant Green Arrow responding to a rampage of a nuclear monster in an Asian country that is less than welcoming to the heroes. Other early episodes featured Wonder Woman teamed with Hawk and Dove, for example.

But it wasn’t until “The Return, an episode that aired in September 2004, that “JLU” hit its stride.

Amazo, an advanced robot that had figured into a “Justice League” episode, is returning to Earth, ostensibly on a mission to kill Lex Luthor, who had betrayed the robot and his creator, Professor Ivo.

JLU the return green lanterns

This meant the League has to protect Luthor from the unstoppable creature, which decimates first the Green Lantern Corps at their home planet Oa, then blasts through a defensive line in space that includes Superman and Green Lantern, then wipes out an airborne troupe that includes Supergirl and Red Tornado – who meets a startling fate – and finally trounces a ground-level line of defenders that include Wonder Woman and Flash.

Finally, it’s down to the Atom – voiced in great fashion by John McGinley – who is locked in an underground lab with Luthor – to come up with a solution.

And he fails.

JLU the return fate amazo

But just as the regrouped Green Lantern Corps arrives to blast Amazo … Dr. Fate shows up with a better solution.

It’s an ending as satisfying as it is unexpected and shows the depth of this series. A little-known DC hero could show up for a cameo, a funny in-joke – or a feat that saves the world.

“Justice League Unlimited” had many great episodes and I might touch on some of those here as I rewatch. But “The Return” showed what the series was capable of.

The faces of Supergirl

supergirl meets jimmy

Supergirl is a character with a history in comics that’s too confusing, too often retconned, to go into here. Suffice it to say that there’s been a surprising number of versions of Superman’s cousin in both comics, movies and TV.

Melissa-Benoist-Supergirl

So it’s kind of fun to look at the live-action treatments of the character, especially with the new CBS series featuring Melissa Benoist coming this fall.

Supergirl-Helen-Slater-

Of course, Helen Slater was the physical embodiment of the character in the 1984 movie. Awful movie, but Slater looked perfect. Cute and wholesome.

supergirl-smallville-laura vandervoort

Then there’s the “Smallville” version, with Lara Vandervoort playing Clark’s cousin in a few 2010 episodes.

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Benoist looks like she’ll be modeled after the cute and wholesome Supergirl rather than the bare-midriff Kryptonian sex bomb that’s been seen in the comics at times. And that’s okay.

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Classic TV: ‘Superman on Earth’

the adventures of superman

It’s hard to overstate just what an impact “The Adventures of Superman” had on America in the 1950s.

Kids were comic-book crazy back then and comics had sold millions of copies a year for more than a decade. Superman was one of the most popular and when the DC Comics superhero hit TV, a generations-long love affair with the Man of Steel became as solid as steel bars, breakable only by Superman himself.

A great deal of the credit for the impact of the series goes to “Superman on Earth,” a lean and sturdy telling of Superman’s origin directed by veteran helmer Tommy Carr. The series – which started in black and white, as befits a show that revolved around gangsters, hoods and other film noir staples more than science fiction – sparked millions of Superman toys, Halloween costumes and, eventually, more movies and TV shows over the course of six seasons beginning in the fall of 1952.

The debut episode hews surprisingly closely to the Superman mythos as they’d been created and fleshed out in the comics and radio show.

superman on earth jor-el rocket

The story opens on Krypton, as scientist Jor-El tries to tell the Kryptonian ruling council about the eminent destruction of the planet. They scoff at his forecast as well as his plan to build rocketships to transport the population to the planet Earth.

Before Jor-El can complete a rocket to take him, Lara and baby Kal-El to Earth, Krypton begins to tear itself apart. Jor-El and Lara wrap little Kal in a blanket and place him in the rocket.

in these first 10 minutes or so, the show plays like a “Flash Gordon”-style space opera – complete with, legend says, “Flash Gordon” leftover costumes.

After the rocket gets to Earth, it’s the heartfelt but hokey Smallville portion of the story, with Eben and Sarah Kent finding the rocket from Krypton and deciding to keep the baby. Flash forward to Clark at age 12, asking Ma why he’s different from the other boys. Then flash forward to Clark’s 25th “birthday” and Pa’s heart attack. As is familiar from so many iterations of the story, Clark decides to leave Smallville and go to Metropolis.

There’s a funny shot of George Reeves as Clark, “walking” down the sidewalks of Metropolis, putting on glasses as a disguise and deciding to become a reporter because newspapers were where the action is and Superman would know immediately when trouble broke out.

One of the strengths of the series was that Clark was a sharp guy who leveraged his powers as Superman in his everyday life. After gruff Daily Planet editor Perry White brushes him off – even after Clark shows initiative by entering his office through the window, 28 floors up – Clark hears Lois tell Perry about a man hanging from a dirigible out at the airport. Clark bargains with Perry: If he can get the man’s exclusive story, he’ll get a reporter job.

Superman shows up, rescues the man – played by Dabbs Greer, later memorable as the minister in “Little House on the Prairie,” and gets his story – frustrating Lois and winning the job.

The show wraps up with a customary joke by Clark – “Maybe I’m Superman” he taunts Lois – and bang, in less than a half hour, the show has introduced America to the the world’s greatest superhero.

Classic comic: ‘Superman: Red Son’

superman red son

It’s hard to imagine it’s been 11 years since “Superman: Red Son,” the Elseworlds comic book series-turned-graphic novel that imagined a world where baby Kal-El’s rocket from Krypton crashed in the Soviet Union, was published.

It seems more like 40. And that’s a compliment.

The comic, written by Mark Millar and drawn and inked by a creative team of artists, came out in 2003 but read like something published as a Cold War fever dream. Millar’s storyline – which recasts Superman as a symbol of – and later, leader of – the Soviet Union and all his supporting players in re-imagined roles – is so clever it feels like a product of those uneasy decades of stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Of course, the comic probably couldn’t have been produced during that time. There’s too much subversive material here for most Cold War tastes.

Beyond the premise – that rocket from doomed Krypton lands in the USSR rather than Heartland USA – young Clark’s powers quickly draw the attention of the Soviet authorities and he is adopted by Stalin himself.

Meanwhile, in America, Lex Luthor is an aloof scientific genius who works for long-tenured President Kennedy and Lois Lane is his neglected wife.

After Superman becomes a global figure – curiously, a threat to the American way of life who also swoops in to rescue people at disaster scenes around the world – Luthor ramps up his efforts to destroy him via Brainiac, Bizarro and other means.

Millar has Jimmy Olsen as a CIA agent, Pete Ross as a KGB agent and, most effecting, Diana – aka Wonder Woman – in a familiar role for her, trying to bridge the gap between worlds.

There’s even Batman as a Russian saboteur, a role that pits him against Superman, the thoughtful tool of the Soviet Union.

The art is perfect – so many deep blues and reds that it was startling to see one version of the Superman costume that looked like that in “Man of Steel” – and the story is clever not just because it holds up a mirror to the familiar Superman story but because the characters and circumstances ring as true as they seem alien to us.

 

Comic book odd: Superman is a …

superman jimmy olsen

Oh, Superman.

We’ve said it before – and another blog, Superdickery, specialized in this – but Superman is a dick.

Here’s the cover of “Jimmy Olsen” 30, which came out in August 1958. Cover art by the great Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.

In this issue, Superman adopts the cub reporter but is inexplicably mean to him, culminating in the cover scene.

Jimmy sad.

But it all works out.