Friday, October 22, 2010

Episode Eleven: My Girl

While Lois and Clark are covering an "LL" fashion event, Clark is surprised to learn that the designer (and Lex's newest girlfriend) is in fact his high school sweetheart, Lana Lang.  After an abduction of Miss Lang is foiled by Superman, Lana easily sees through the spandex to recognize her old friend.  Clark warns Lana about Lex, and she subsequently becomes his informant into a lucrative arms deal being arranged through LexCorp.  Lex grows jealous of Lana obvious infatuation with Superman, and is easily able to see through her deception.  After seeing Lana and Superman kiss, Luthor arranges to have her killed at a LexCorp lead factory.  Superman saves the day, but does not share the same feelings she still harbours for him.  They part as friends, and Luthor goes under investigation once again.

Evan:  Can I start by saying just how much I missed the cast?  Even though this episode did not have a big role for Lois, the interaction in act one between her and Clark on some sort of weird co-worker date covering a fashion show made me really excited for this episode.  Especially compared to the Lobo episodes, this felt organic to the series as it felt like this was established early in the pilot when we saw Lana's awareness of Clark's powers. Her appearance wasn't jarring, as it might have been without some set-up.  The other major L.L. in Superman's life is an interesting adidtion ot the cast, as her knowledge of Clark's double identity and obvious attraction to him makes her unique anbd a nice counterpoint to Lois.  While it isn't clear how much more we'll see Lana, I feel fairly certain that she'll turn up at least once more, as there's simply too much there for it not to be interesting.

Reflecting on Lana, I really wasn't sure how I felt about her character as she was introduced.  I don't know anything about Lana Lang in Superman comics, outside of her rivalry with Lois in the silver age when everyone was Lois Lane-style crazy.  Making her a sexpot fashion designer with an appetite for danger wasn't what I was expecting, but does introduce a new element to the series.  I was just happy we didn't have a fourth reporter.  This opens some new doors, and I liked the contrast between Clark and Lana when their starting point was the same.  It helped to drive home Superman's value system, and show that he stayed closer to his roots than most.  Lana, on the other hand, has moved beyond Smallville in a way that Clark isn't interested in, and has found international success.

Lana's relationship with Lex was also very interesting to me.  I remarked to Kristin early that it was a solid bet Lex had a plan to turn her into a radiation spewing monster, or blow her up but in the end he simply did not.  Lex was clearly infatuated with Lana and underestimated her intelligence.  He appeared to be in legitimate distress after deciding that she had to be eliminated for knowing too much, and his exchanges with Mercy (I finally heard her name correctly this time, having heard "Percy" every other time she appeared) were quite revealing.  While Lex is usually many steps ahead, here he seemed quite content to stare at Lana's ass.  Lex was human, rather than playing chess with people's lives.  The show has carefully taken steps to flesh out this side of Luthor, from a past dating Lois, to his sexy cruise a few episodes ago, and now his relationship with Lana. 

That leaves me with one problem.  Was it not Luthor's plan that Lana be robbed early in the episode?  Was that a red herring?  I was sure that the robbery was the first part of a set-up, but we never got the payoff unless I was missing something.  It seems impossible to me that Lex would allow such a thing to happen without his consent, as he certainly would have had security on the ground.  Added to that the exotic nature of her abductors, it seemed like a way for her to meet Superman.  However, the rest of the episode gave no indication this was the case, and his seeming emotional response to his decision to have Lana killed would suggest that he didn't have a plan, or at least didn't put it in action.  It's possible I missed something, but it was a confusing loose end for me.

I could have done without the business at the lead factory, as I was a little confused at the temperature of the lead, it seemed hot occasionally, but other times there didn't seem to be any heat to it at all.  However, it was a suitable action conclusion to the arms dealing plot, and it was a nice change to see Superman fighting a regular guy instead of a lead-based monster.  This plot was fairly grounded overall, which was a relief coming out of the Lobo fiasco.

I was hoping to see a reaction from Lois as to the attention that the beautiful Lana payed Clark and/or Superman, but it wasn't to be.  I thought that was a missed opportunity, but maybe that's being saved for a later show when our protagonists are willing to have a real date, not a strange dinner watching a fashion show as dual reporters to a non-news event.

I really enjoyed this episode because we came back to our characters.  I feel refreshed and excited for the (ahem...) rest of season one.  I think that I'm ready to see Luthor at his top form trying to kill Superman again.  He's been in some strange roles lately, from Superman's ally against Brainiac to comedy character to a romantic rival, that I'm ready to see him at his best.  This show is keeping their rivalry very interesting, and I'm excited to see what's next.

Kristin: After our little foible the other night, it feels as though I'm revisiting a season I have already mourned. While I am glad that we didn't have to end on a note as horrible as that 90s monstrosity, it is tricky getting back into the mindset. Let's begin with the fact that I was very pleased with the developmental aspects of this episode.

I feel that this episode, of all the ones so far, had the least to prove and so we were really allowed to move at a pace that made room for focus on the characters and those relationships that I was so harping on. While Lois Lane was limited only to bookmark charming cameos, Superman, Lex and Lana Lang all received a great opportunity to grow as people instead of one-dimensional archetypes.

Superman was definitely more Clark Kent, which was great to see. I think the more personal nature of the plot disarmed him a little and gave us greater insight into his personality. While we were still treated to his "witty" banter, including such gems as:

Weapons Buyer: I think it's deer season!
Superman: Sorry, it's only open season on terrorists.

We got legitimate awkwardness in front of Lois as he explains his past liaisons with Lana Lang (and Lois awesomely proceeds to slam him) and a touching moment when he rejects Lana's advances followed by well wishes for both parties. I feel like we cared more about what Superman was doing in this episode because the fact that he had a relationship established with other characters involved raised those stakes.

Lex Luthor definitely had some time to shine in this one too and I loved every minute of it. My favourite part of the episode was when Mercy, reveling in the destruction of Lana as Lex's love interest, is shut down by a slighted and jealous Luthor. Great. It was exactly what I wanted and at that moment I felt more empathy for him than I have felt for any of the characters so far! It was such a human moment to have this monolith (thanks to the animation, literally as well as metaphorically) get a crack in his defenses. The Lex of this episode was not just a power-hungry executive out to show Superman who's boss. He was a jealous boyfriend who was threatened by another man. That is watchable, exciting, and relatable storytelling.

Lana was a little less annoying this episode. I don't know what the hell was up with her voice acting in the first episode, but it only seemed a little forced this time around. So that was something.

Final Thoughts: It's nice to come home again. Although we disagree on whether Lana should show up sooner rather than later...

Evan's Episode Rating: 8/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 0 incompetent / 0 insane) - This is the show I want to watch.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 9/10 - I need to look up who they're hiring for voices... but overall this is definitely the direction they owed me after that Lobo shit.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Interlude: A Programming Note

Thanks to an unforeseen discovery of the "Episodes 11-14" option on the disc, we've recently learned there are three more season one episodes!  Will the season redeem itself with less horrible episodes?  Will the dodo get a little cape to fight crime in?  Will we learn how to use a DVD player?

...sorry folks.  Let's just say our hopes for season two are valid, but early.


Episode Ten: The Main Man - Part 2

Superman and Lobo escape the Preserver's enclosures and fight off the security droids attempting to keep them there.  Superman uses the dodo enclosure to power up using a yellow-sun lamp, and fights off a trio of bounty hunters attempting to capture Lobo.  Eventually, Lobo and Superman defeat the Preserver by depressurizing  a hanger and sending him into space.  Lobo collects his bounty and Superman relocates the intergalactic zoo to his arctic hideaway.

Evan:  This episode gives us a team-up between Superman and Lobo.  While the writers still didn't seem to really care about this one (spatially, Superman is in about ten different locations in the first few minutes while he's supposed to be in jail and the Preserver gives him his Superman costume for literally no reason) they didn't go about deconstructing and mocking the show's core.  This episode was very boring, because it was built entirely around mindless action and had no characters in it to play off of each other (Superman was alone in this one because Lobo was a cypher and all the other characters were one-note jokes).  However, by saving the day with yellow-sun radiation the writers gave us a recognizable, if bare-bones, Superman story.  They continued to give us the story about 50 / 50 with Lobo, which still makes me think this was supposed to trigger a Lobo series that never happened.

There is one saving grace to this episode.  Superman puts the intergalactic zoo, including a dodo, in his Fortress of Solitude (the show has no interest calling it that, but I do!)  That makes this whole stupid episode worthwhile, because suddenly Superman has silver-age insanity in his ice fortress while living a modern, grounded retelling of the Superman mythos.  There is a dodo in Superman's arctic retreat.  How can anyone not like that?

I'm looking forward to the next season.  I'm missing not only our cast, but our usual settings.  I'd like to see Superman in his apartment that we've only seen once.  I want to see Luthor somewhere other than his office, maybe at home?  The newsroom is an interesting place where we rarely get to see Lois, Jimmy and Clark (maybe even Perry?) interact.  I really didn't like these episodes that seemed so divorced from the show's reality, but the fact that I legitimately miss a nightly fix of this universe means they really did something right in the other eight episodes of the season.

On to greater things, Superman: The Animated Series!

Kristin: Despite the fact that enduring this episode through illness while knowing what was awaiting me was something that made me want to throw myself off the roof, Evan needed a break from reading and decided that Lobo would be distraction enough to suffice but yet not fun enough to become too long an interruption. At least it's over with and we can all move on to something far better (we hope).

Superman literally saved the episode by being not falling prey to the schtick going on around him. The fact that he adopted all of the now-homeless endangered space species and plunked them down in his arctic Fortress of Solitude is entirely endearing to me. I hope that we get to see more of this side of all the characters next season. It would be nice to be able to develop deeper interpersonal connections between them all, if not at the very least see more attempts by the writers to reach out to the audience in a more personal way. What I would really like to do is care about what happens to Superman. I need my relationship with the cast to build enough for me to feel the stakes rise when a character is threatened. If the stakes never rise, the show never becomes interesting. Interest, for me, is then a direct product of relationships. So far, there is only a vague rapport between Clark and Lois, a superficial acquaintance between her and Superman, and a passing reference to Luthor as an ex-boyfriend of Ms. Lane in addition to his sexy parties on a yacht. He has a kick ass bodyguard... what's her deal? Do we get to know? Jimmy is supposed to be Superman's best friend, so why don't they ever have an actual conversation? This is the kind of stuff I want to see.

I don't want boring episodes filled with fluffy fight scenes that have little to no bearing on the overall arch of the story. That is what today's episode was. It broke the flow of the series and that was a disappointment. I feel like we took steps backwards in terms of learning more about Superman and his world. Episodes like this are bound to happen in any show about superheroes. I just don't want it to become a crutch.

Final Thoughts: Thank God that's over! Season two... don't fuck with us.

Evan's Episode Rating: 2/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: Does Not Appear.) - Can we bring Lois next time we have to go into space?

Kristin's Episode Rating: 1/10 - What a snooze fest. I have higher hopes for next season, so we'll see what direction this goes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Episode Nine: The Main Man - Part 1

The first part of our season finale opens with Superman working with STAR Labs to test retrofits made on the shuttle that brought him to Earth.  Meanwhile, a mysterious collector of alien species hires Lobo to track down Superman so that he can be added to his collection.  Lobo travels to Earth and battles with Superman in an attempt to get his attention.  He leaves the planet, causing Superman to give chase in his kryptonian shuttle, but it turns out to be a trap as the collector alien captures him in his intergalactic zoo.  And also Lobo, as he too is the last of his species.  To be continued...

Evan:  This series gave twenty-two minutes to Brainiac's return last episode...

Lobo arrives for a two-part finale and the show is forced to decline sharply into a slapstick parody of itself.  I hate Lobo.  I hated Lobo in the comics and now I hate him in this cartoon.  Superman: The Animated Series gave us a season of relatively character driven stories that asked us to consider the dynamics between our main cast as they established an animated status quo for the series to build on.  This is a show that has taken itself seriously, and in return I've had no problem treating it with that same level of interest.  I'm willing to care about these characters, and their struggles with and against each other.  In this episode, however, the series decided to jettison all of that.  This was a radically different show than the one that Kristin and I have been watching.

Was this a failed back-door pilot episode for a Lobo cartoon?  From his first appearance in a space bar, the cartoonish Lobo immediately clashed with the tone of the series.  His fake-swearing, rocket motorcycle and other 90s cliches drained any interest I had in this episode, and I found myself bored watching him brawl his way though a group of aliens.  When he arrived on Earth, character was superseded by easy, unfunny and obnoxious jokes.  Luthor's office was repeatedly damaged, which he found annoying!  Lois and Clark are trying to save each other, and both think they're succeeding!  Lobo forgot he's also the last of his kind! IT'S SO FUNNY!  HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

... I really, really didn't like this episode.  However, I will try and point out the things that I think will be important later on.  Superman is now fully working with STAR Labs, and has given them everything he has about Krypton.  This should open up the possibilities to more space sagas, technology run amok and alien intruder stories, although they will hopefully not feature Lobo.  I liked the frustrated Lois that was finding it difficult to understand how Clark was beating her to the punch and Clark's joking response that it was because he's Superman.  Unfortunately, that interplay simply came off as more broad "typical Superman jokes" that made fun of the conventions of Superman as a story that were in contrast to the reverence the show has generally had for these conventions up to this point.

I also noticed Starro in a jar in the zoo.  I would rather have had him as the villain in this episode.

I am not looking forward to the team-up to escape the space zoo next episode.  I'm looking forward to season two, but I just want this season to end.

Kristin: Let me start by saying that I am still under the heavy influence of a stubborn cold, so please forgive any additional rambling or haziness. Secondly, allow me to express the deep satisfaction I get from seeing how much Evan hated this episode.Where to start, where to start...

Well, why don't I start with the crazy 90s stereotype who looks like he's straight off my childhood bike helmet featuring characters from (I know you remember this!) Biker Mice from Mars.

From the 2006 "what-the-heck-we'll-do-it-again".
Yep, that horrible show that we all want to forget and that they apparently thought it would be fun to try to revamp in 2006. That one. I even recall one of them having an almost identical name to Lobo... perhaps it was Modo? In any case, I'm not sure what made the creative team of this show decide that injecting this bad biker trend into the series would be a good idea. I guess they were high on some pixie stix, because it completely throws off the rhythm of the entire story! We have a (nearly) sane series up until this point that appears to be attempting a serious crack at a fairly comprehensive telling of some Superman mythology. It would have to be the decision of a higher-up trying to ride the bike-craze to increase ratings, surely. From the start of the episode in the space bar called "Steaming Load", I'm not even certain that the writers can believe that they have to use this garbage material. Yet I can't decide if they are trying to do it seriously or completely undermining everything that they've built up until this point by succumbing to a bullshit trend and making a joke out of it. The music that plays every time Lobo is on screen is even worse than that strange jazz anthem from earlier in the season. It sounds like a bad Guitar Hero cover of a 90s rock ballad... but only about 3 bars of it on repeat. His character design even seems out of place with the entire cast. His 90s biker threads jar my already-nostalgic brain into overdrive, removing the essence of timelessness that I think the design of the show had up until this point. This loss is huge considering the longevity it lends to the series and the Superman story itself. Superman is a hero for all time and this ridiculous whoring that the creative team has done to the show cheapens not only their own work, but also the entire Superman canon.

But let's try to forget that it happened. Even just for tonight. I know he'll be back tomorrow, but maybe if we don't speak his name he'll leave our psyche for a brief repose.

There were elements of the show that I enjoyed. I liked the little bit of competition we got between Lois and Clark again. I particularly loved watching Lois try to beat He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named with a lead pipe. Priceless!

Final Thoughts: What the fuck.

Evan's Episode Rating: 0/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: WITHHELD.) - If they don't want to take crazy Lois Lane seriously, neither will I.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 1/10 - For Lois and her pipe.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Interlude: For An Animated Classic

Hey folks! In lieu of Superman tonight (and partly due to cold-induced laziness), I introduced Evan to the filmmaking of Hayao Miyazaki. Starting appropriately with Princess Mononoke, the same film that introduced me to the legend over ten years ago. I apologize for the break in blogging about superheroing and other ass-kickery, but I think everyone out there who has seen Miyazaki's films knows that I would be doing Evan a disservice in not showing him the movie.

Of course, a new post tomorrow is in order provided death does not come for me in the night!



Sunday, October 17, 2010

Episode Eight: Stolen Memories

Luthor lures Brainiac to Earth in an attempt to profit from his advanced technology.  Not surprisingly, Brainiac is very interested in meeting Superman.  Sensing his great power, Brainiac gives Clark a taste of the collective knowledge of Krypton, and offers him the rest if he joins him on his mission of gathering knowledge.  The orb of knowledge causes Clark to have nightmares of Krypton's demise, cluing him in to genocidal nature of the AI.  When the transmission with Luthor is taken over by Brainiac, it appears that Earth will be the next planet to fall to Brainiac's mission.  However, Superman is able to fight off Brainiac enough for Lex to destroy his spaceship and all of those gathered orbs.  Superman manages to save the knowledge of Krypton and stores it in a familiar looking mountainous rock formation in the arctic.

Evan:  Brainiac arrives on Earth, bringing Superman another of his major villains.  I think this episode did quite a bit to differentiate Brainiac from Luthor, which is important as they both represent genius villains.  Brainiac's complete lack of emotion (although the imminent loss of the orbs produced some solid fear - like all comics androids he has all of the emotions, but claims to have none) contrasted to Luthor's prideful humanity.  Luthor's greed and ego were on display fully, driving the plot of the episode.  

Interestingly, Luthor was solidly on the side of Superman in this episode.  Early on in the episode I suspected some sort of trap, or a temporary alliance between the two villains, but instead we were presented with Brainiac completely overwhelming Luthor's plans, reducing him to being small and human.  This was emphasized by Luthor and Superman walking together through LexCorp's control room.  Seeing them interact was interesting, and hopefully with the growing number of characters that hate both of them we'll see it again.

There was one moment I absolutely loved.  After Luthor realizes Brainiac has taken control of his systems, and is moments from accessing all nation's defense grids, he simply sits in his chair and stares straight ahead.  This episode gave us the Luthor of hubris.  Luthor's belief in his own superiority was on display, and his eventual destruction of Brainiac's ship (with the assist of Superman) was the validation of those beliefs.  But still, in that moment of doomsday, Luthor could only blankly, silently watch.  A gripping moment.  Luthor was reduced to a man in a game between gods.

I thought this episode had a simple but effective plot that quickly brought Brainiac to Earth, and assuming they didn't kill off a major villain in a half-hour without build-up, gave him a reason to stay.  I thought the story balanced the tone of the later genocidal aspects of the story with some humour, surprisingly falling mainly to Luthor and his demands for technicians to complete their work in fractions of the time they request.

Lois helped set this episode up and delivered the news to the world about Brainiac while at the same time doing some world class felony trespassing, so I'd say she got in a good workout despite not being a focus in this episode.  Still, it's been a while since we saw a reasonable amount of Lois in an episode.

Kristin: Alright team, I'm feeling a little bit on the ill side today so I'm going to keep this relatively brief. My first question is this: Why does Krypton look like it's straight out of an episode of The Jetsons? Do we automatically assume all space-societies have those previously-remarked-upon spindle buildings and ride around in completely impractical one-man hover cars? Does nobody carpool in space? I'm just not seeing how the Kryptonians got it right by building vertically, but then sprawling their homes fifty feet in the air instead. It's not saving them any space anymore. And it doesn't appear that the ground is being used for anything. So why does everything need to rest on tip-toe?

Secondly, Brainiac reminded me a bit of Hexadecimal from Reboot. I mean, even if we get past the fact that I relate everything to things I watched in the 90s, the removable face mask techno tricks made me think back to a very particular moment in the show when Hexadecimal changed her face or something. So that was something.

I found Superman's emoting after he realized that Brainiac was committing ritual genocide on every society he encountered very endearing. Besides smugness and mean face, I think that's the only real emotion we've seen from him. It was nice to see, but perhaps in a more inspiring episode. This one felt a little bit rushed to introduce as huge a concept as Brainiac. Although I thought the writers handled it as well as they could given the time constraints.

Enough! I'm off to rest my pounding sinuses...

Final Thoughts: Really hated how slowly those robots fought Superman in the first act, but overall it was a nice way to reintroduce Brainiac.

Evan's Episode Rating: 8/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 0 incompetent / 0 insane) - I loved the dynamic between Superman, Brainiac and Luthor.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 5/10 - Besides the crippling emotional pain of a thousand dead worlds, we've completely regressed on the character aspects in this episode. All plot, no people makes Kristin need more meds.