Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Episode Four: Fun and Games

A series of toy-related crimes focused on the criminal organization of Mannheim, a leading crime boss, leads Lois to search for the link between the two.  However, after publishing an unflattering psychiatric profile of Toyman, the mysterious dummy-like man at the heart of the dispute, she is kidnapped by Toyman to set the record straight.  Toyman tries to execute his other captive, Mannheim, in front of Lois but she manages to stop the firing squad of toys before Superman bursts in to save the day.  Toyman escapes after Superman's strength easily overwhelms his tricks by exploding his hideout.  The police find only his shattered toy face.

Evan:  Ah, Toyman.  I've always had a soft spot for the crappier ends of pretty much every character's rouges gallery, after all someone has to be the bottom rung, but there are a few glaring omissions.  I hate the Toyman.  I don't really even know why.  I love some of the other Superman villains no one cares about: see the Prankster.  But Toyman, even with all the stupid robot toys, has really never seemed like the sort of thing the police shouldn't be able to handle.  I thought this episode went about as far as they could in every direction to make Toyman work.  They introduced us to a creepy, otherworldly figure with dangerous, physics defying toys in the first act.  So far so good.  In the third act, they showed us the broken life behind the visage, a hurt child seeking revenge at the wrong done to his father by an uncaring mobster.  Also fine.  The problem I have is what happens between these acts.  Little planes with machine guns attack Clark, Lois, Jimmy and Mannheim in a park.  A giant rubber duck with missile launchers sinks Mannheim's boat and distracts Superman.  Everything that seems like a harmless toy is actually a cloud of poison gas.  The whole thing starts to drag pretty fast for me.  I thought the ball was pretty interesting as a death trap-like trick, but that the rest were increasingly broad and decreasingly intimidating.  By the end Lois is just pushing over stuff and its shattering.

This was the first self-contained episode, and I was interested as to the form it would take.  First, I was surprised to see Superman's overwhelming power so clearly on display.  Too often Superman has to be knocked out at the first sign of danger to show how big the threat is, but here Superman never has a physical problem.  Instead, Superman's limitations are very human.  He has to pause on a rooftop to listen to a conversation between police officers to learn what's happening.  He can't stop Mannheim's abduction because he was looking in the wrong direction, for Mannheim, when the giant duck decided to shoot missiles at him.  The missiles only slowed him briefly, but that was the time the Toyman needed.  He arrived to save the day, but was a little late.  I really liked this, and I hope they can keep it up.  Superman is limited by his own humanity, and that should always be at the heart of the dramatic tension.

There were several little moments I enjoyed.  Jimmy trying to show Clark how to search the database to find a link between Mannheim and Toyman, only to have Clark upstage him is a nice touch.  I enjoyed the interplay between Clark and Lois.  I also really liked how Lois was the one to save Mannheim.  I told Kristin as we were watching that this was a big moment for Lois, and it was.  For her to be a character willing to take action in that situation is a big plus to the series, rather than having Superman burst in to save the day.  It was an important step towards developing a more equal dynamic between our romantic leads.

All in all, I didn't enjoy the Toyman, but I liked the cast's interactions with each other.  That's probably a good sign.  I'm wondering how long into the season proper it takes to bring us to the first Luthor storyline.  I'm also wondering if the show will ever make Metropolis feel densely populated.  I'm not even sure if I remember anyone being in the entire city but the leads, Mannheim, Toyman and a few assorted goons.  The park, especially, felt very empty.  That's something I'll be watching for.

Kristin: Superman... Oh ye of little words. I do appreciate your arched eyebrows though!

This episode I was introduced to a villain I have very scant knowledge of, which is an interesting experiment for our little blog. Unlike Lex Luthor (who everyone and their mom knows and loves... or hates), I have never encountered an episode of a Superman program or feature film containing the Toyman. Which is a scarcity noted in another blog I saw Evan reading in the last couple of days, pointing out that no Superman movie is ever made that is plagued by anyone other than Luthor or Zod. While I am thinking to myself, "Who the shit is Zod?!", I am also distinctly aware that I cannot name another Superman villain, let alone come into this episode knowing that Fun and Games would be leading me into some romping with Toyman.

Toyman, in my opinion, worked effectively for me as a threatening presence but probably not for the right reasons. His voice and, to a certain extent, his character design (again, citing ignorance on his usual appearance) reminded me of the Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps installments with eerily similar toy character creations:
Slappy from Goosebumps
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
It might be my own psyche dragging up latent horror from growing up in the 90s and staying up late to watch these terrifying monstrosities, but Toyman evoked this same sense of unease. His voice must be reminiscent of this as well and I dredged through a couple of the YouTube clips in an attempt to confirm this with limited success. It is interesting that the show was able to tap into this part of my mind even as a young adult and for that I have to attribute Toyman his credit as a bad guy. His lame toy inventions aside, I found his presence quite menacing if only in a subtly unsettling and creepy sort of way.

Lois Lane kicked ass.

Mannheim did nothing for me. Being a fan of the costumed and theatrical means that crime bosses and other such institutions of nefarious misdeeds are simply not as exciting as one-man empires of evil and be-latexed bad guys with only shaky personal grudges bearing little relevance to the city or world at large. Maybe it's because they are too close to the truth, but if I want to hear about organized crime leaders I'll just go listen to Rocco Rossi talk about his mayoral platform. When I watch a Superman TV series, I want larger-than-life! (Except for you, linebacker Lex, I expect you to drop to a svelte 200 and call it even! Being both super-smart and an NFL draft candidate is too much.)

On an only vaguely related note, Evan has proved to me that the opening credit t-rex is merely a robot. It is true, as there is about a half-second clip near the end of the opening when I am nearly dying of happiness from the sight of the personalized space suit in which Superman rends the t-rex's robotic jaw in twain. 'Tis a shame, but I'll accept it.

Final Thoughts:  We differed on our opinions of the Toyman, but that's probably because Evan didn't watch Are You Afraid of the Dark? as much as Kristin.  We agree that Lois stole the show, although Evan still has to put a tic in the incompetent box for accepting a creepy toy as a gift while the Toyman is terrorizing her.  Not her best choice.

Evan's Episode Rating: 6/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 1 incompetent / 0 insane) - Hated Toyman, loved everyone else.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 7/10 - Toyman was a flash back to the 90s dummy trend, but not sure if the nostalgia makes up for the stagnant character development.

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