Friday, November 5, 2010

Episode Nineteen: Identity Crisis

Superman is having an idyllic day on the job, delivering corny lectures to kids and waving to his adoring public.  He spies a car chase with Lois' car in hot pursuit of the police.  His sudden intervention causes Lois to lose control, and her passenger to go flying out the window.  Superman saves the falling man who turns out to be... Clark Kent!?  Clark investigates, and finds a rapidly decaying Superman clone who, when he shows up to his date with Lois, leads both to the factory where he was created - by Lex Luthor!  Calling the experiment a failure, Lex prepares to destroy the evidence of his cloning experiment when Bizarro has a Frankenstein-style freakout, trapping them all inside the self-destructing building.  Superman tries to save them all, but the rapidly collapsing structure looks to have him overwhelmed when he has to pause to save Lois with seconds to spare.  Heroically, Bizarro catches a falling section of the roof and holds it high enough for Superman to escape with Lois.  In the end, Bizarro realized he wasn't the true Superman, but that as the defining rule of the universe, "Superman saves Lois".

Evan:  That was actually really sweet.  I could feel Kristin tensing up at the start of this episode, bracing herself for a big, dumb Superman versus Superman fight.  I hope that she liked this one, because I felt like it was a really nicely built story that takes Bizarro, a character than it both iconic and non-nonsensical, and created a modern Frankenstein story with a good heart.  Bizarro truly believes that he is Superman, saving Metropolis from the dangers of building demolition and opening bridges.  By his own twisted logic, Bizarro believes he is helping.  He has a single, defining point of clarity that informs his actions: Superman saves Lois.  From this golden truth, Bizarro is able to redeem himself in his ultimate sacrifice.  Whether he lived or died, Bizarro was a good soul.

The Bizarro-imagery always strikes me.  The character is an insane concept, the ultimate colour and motif swapped villain that is replayed over-and-over in comics.  The animated series gives us a more serious take on the character, removing the backwards "S" for a more crooked, homemade looking affair and dulling the colour pallet into purples.  The shattered, rocky look of the comics was swapped for a hunched look, maintaining the bright white skin.  It all worked well with Bizarro as a failed clone, degenerating into himself after originally appearing to be a fully functioning copy.  While the changing clothes is a cheat, it works for the character as it forces the viewer into the same mindset as the characters.  Is Bizarro rapidly changing, or are we simply noticing that he isn't Superman?

There was a second reason to love this episode: the return of Lex Luthor, ass-kicking evil genius.  Lex's cloning experiment was born in A Little Piece of Home, when exposure to kryptonite allowed his robotic dinosaur to make Superman bleed.  His scientists collected the blood, and since then Lex has been growing a Superman army.  This is the perfect role for Lex, working tirelessly in the background, one step ahead of everyone in his quest to destroy and / or control Superman.  Even better, this was the first instance we saw Luthor physically square off with Superman, this time in the form of Bizarro.  Lex was hurled across the room, once again reduced in a single moment from God to man.  This indignity, coupled with having to have Superman save his life once again, is a continuing theme in the series.  While this time Luthor was returned to mortal status, I delight in wondering if the same will happen next time.

The plan is solid, and I expect it to be reoccurring.  The villain-creating role we saw born in the Metallo episode blossoms into the creation of Bizarro.  I imagine this is one stop along the villain-creating path, and while it does encourage a fairly simple villain-of-the-week formula, it keeps Luthor at the heart of the conflict where he belongs.  No more six episode absences, please.

On a negative note, we finally brought Lois back into the show only to be at the her most incompetent yet.  She literally drove off a cliff, fell off a building and got trapped under rubble.  At least the ratio is justifying itself.  There was a moment in this episode where Superman and Lois flew into the night reflecting on Bizarro's sacrifice that was romantic, and I thought that it was a nice advancement of the always slow-developing romance between the two.  Maybe soon Lois can have a date with the real Superman, not just his well-meaning clone.

Volume Two opens with a strong episode, so let's hope we can keep this up!

Kristin: Finally! I had almost entirely lost hope for this series! Not only did they manage to somehow bring my t-rex back to the foreground but they also put together a fairly solid episode on top of that. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Superman PSA to the small children climbing power lines. I also liked the insight we got into both Superman and Lois' character in the mirror that was Bizarro.

Plus, the episode was touching. Franken-Super really was a hero after all, giving his life to save Lois and the real Superman. Aw.

I'm not even going to jinx this episode by writing too much about it. It was great and it put a smile on my face for the first time in a long time with this series. I don't think we've had a redeemer like this since Lobo rode in on his cycle-from-the-90s and rained some heavy garbage on us all.

Don't fuck this up, writers!

Final Thoughts: Me like episode.

Evan's Episode Rating: 8/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 3 incompetent / 0 insane) - Hurray. Lois just needs to bring her A-game.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 9/10 - Is it too much to hope for just a little more of this good stuff?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Episode Eighteen: Speed Demons

The Flash and Superman compete in a charity race to determine the fastest man alive.  During their one-hundred laps around the world, they are interrupted by bizarre weather patterns.  Just outside of Metropolis, the Weather Wizard uses his machines to blackmail millions of dollars.  The source of this amazing power: the ionic energy generated by Superman and the Flash in their race, which the Weather Wizard set up!  When his brother (who built the machine) will not participate in his criminal dealings, he informs Superman and the Flash of his brother's whereabouts.  The two heroes save the day, earning each other's respect.  They decide to continue their race, but we're left to wonder who truly is the World's Fastest Man.

Evan:  I know Kristin is going to rip this one apart, but I think this is easily in my top five.  This episode was our first concrete introduction to the fact other heroes exist outside of Metropolis (outside of the occasional Batman crack) and the first hero to visit Superman.  The show decided that the appearance by the Flash would be a good time for an all-out tribute to the Silver Age team-up, and they were exactly right in doing so.  The set-up is classic:  a charity race between the two for no reason.  Not even a cause to raise money for.  Just "charity".  The race is pure fun.  For starters: its a hundred laps around the world.  Not only that, there is basically no route they're following, and they curve around skyscrapers and make mid-ocean turns.  People sit in the crowd at the finish line and place bets amongst themselves on who's the fastest.  It is the epitome of Silver Age comics, where there's literally nothing else going on but a staged charity event featuring two of the world's greatest heroes who have nothing to do.

For the comic reader in me, the appearance of the Flash means that they have to race.  Simply put, racing is the basic element that happens when Superman and any version of the Flash get together.

This is the only way they interact.
I'm not kidding.  Look at everyone.  This is how they unwind on the weekend.
When the other Flashes aren't around, he races the one that's seventy.
I know that the entire concept is lame, but sort of inane time-passing is exactly why I love comics.  This episode hit everything pretty much pitch perfect.  It gave no explanation for how this race was set up or why the two agreed.  We don't know if the two have even ever met before, although there's some animosity.  About three seconds into the episode, the race is on and from that moment forward this episode is based almost entirely on weather and speed puns.

I know I've been hard on this series for a lack of character development, and this had exactly zero.  But if every episode of non-character filler was this much fun, the series would be a thousand times better.  This wasn't Superman and Flash team up to stop a giant monster.  This was Superman and Flash have to briefly interrupt their pointless race to stop a generally harmless villain in ways that allow them to use their powers in zany, less reality grounded ways.  Superman spins around super fast and drills into the villain's ch√Ęteau.  The Flash vibrates through solid ice.   Everyone is having a hell of a good time.

I smiled gleefully throughout the entire episode, and I think that means that the show was working.  I was completely entertained.

To close, here's one last picture of the two racing for no reason.  This time they seem to be literally racing to the end of the universe.  For what I'm sure is little-to-no reason.  Because they aren't good at making small talk.

They don't really have anything in common to chat about.
Kristin: Yep, sooo... we all know where my schtick is going to go. There is still so little character engagement in this show that I can't even tell you whether or not Clark Kent still goes to work. My theory is that he does not. I will say that this episode seems more like what a shallow superhero-based series should be.

Instead of trying to create an interesting plot around uninteresting (and sometimes offensive) new characters, the show introduces one new hero deepening the sense that this is a universe in which people with extraordinary powers are like the town mascot - albeit an underpaid and overworked one. The plot claims to be nothing more than a baseless charity race gone slightly awry. The villain himself is not even worth mentioning because even the show seems to acknowledge that he is such a one-off that Superman and the Flash barely have to stop their cheesy one-liners in order to defeat him. If the series was heading in this direction, meaning that they wanted to create superficial but entertaining shows about the hijinks of Superman and friends, I would have no problem. It is what it is. It's when it becomes overly-convoluted or almost parody-esque that I have a problem. That's when it feels like it needs more relationship depth to justify how seriously (or not) it's taking itself.

My final point on this is simple: Why does the race have to consist of 100 laps around the world? If it's not a stamina-based contest, wouldn't one suffice?

Final Thoughts: We seem to disagree over this one... maybe a quick hundred around the block would settle this once and for all.

Evan's Episode Rating: 10/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 0 incompetent / 0 insane) - I'm still smiling. So I think that means I've been thoroughly entertained.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 7/10 - This show has multiple personality problems.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Episode Seventeen: Livewire

Shock jock Leslie Willis hates Superman and uses her radio program "Livewire" to rant against the Man of Tomorrow to popular acclaim.  In just her third year, she is a media sensation in Metropolis.  However, during an outdoor event, Leslie refuses to yield to both the police and Superman's advice to shut down the party due to a dangerous thunderstorm.  She's struck by lightning despite Superman's efforts and transforms into Livewire, a being of pure energy (maybe?).  She drains power from the city and sets herself up as the Queen of Media, but Superman defeats her using a burst of water from a hydroelectric dam.  Leslie is jailed, but under the funding and eye of Lex Luthor.  So that's clearly the end of that.

Evan:  I foolishly had high hopes for this episode early on due to its roots in the 90s shock rock boom and the rise of women comediennes and social commentators.  Leslie was interesting, because she was the first media figure we've met that hated Superman.  Also, this was the first time that public opinion seemed to be divided on Superman, or at least some dissent was heard.  I thought this was important because this is the same basic constituency that Luthor plays to, although in a much more intelligent way.  There was probably a good episode about the media, the fickle nature of the public and Superman's attempt to deal with not being universally loved.  Instead we got an extremely annoying woman who shot lightning out of her hands.

This was only the seventeenth episode of this series, and already this felt by the books.  The ending was a direct lift from the Parasite episode, although with the fun bonus that Lex was footing the bill and thus has co-opted Livewire for a future gambit.  The story itself, a fight throughout multiple acts, was done better in the previous episode.  We got the now standard "brief look at the newsroom coping with the new rule of a villain" shot in the final act.  Basically, this was a flat episode.

There was a small win in this one, which was that every main cast member actually bothered to put in an appearance.  Granted, Jimmy never spoke and Lex only smirked approvingly at the anti-Superman ranting while being driven to work.  The point is that the characters that were completely gone for a stretch of what felt like ten episodes in the middle of this season are at least occupying the series instead of Dan Turpin.  (As a side note, would Luthor really be listening to a shock jock in the car that repeats what he likes to hear about Superman?  Isn't he busy?  Or is this simply a sign of how much he's let things slide since Superman stole his girlfriend?)  Also, Mercy managed to justify her uniform by actually driving a car!

Overall, I liked the interaction between Clark and Lois, as well as Lois defending Superman to Leslie.  I just wish there was more of it.  I also wanted more out of Lex, but if he's just going to be in the periphery of these new weekly villains, scheming in the shadows, that's fine too.  For now I can accept Lex Luthor as staying out of the limelight.  I just need to see him actually do something soon or I don't honestly see how his character can be seen as a puppet master in Metropolis.

Ok, I was lying.  I want to see more of Dan Turpin and less of the old sailor that seems to show up now and then.  Fuck that guy.

Kristin: I realize that this episode was trying its hardest to present a rebellious female media personality, but I think it failed in making her someone anyone would actually like. Granted, I am told that people like Glenn Beck, so an abrasive and ignorant media personality is certainly not unheard of. However, Leslie came across as a man-hating, me-versus-the-world, puppeteer who used the public to feed her oral masturbation fixation. To top it off, all of her advertising consisted of her posing in her punk-grunge cutoffs. Because in Metropolis, a woman can't be successful unless she's shocking and half-naked. Did I mention that she was a complete attention whore? All women are. Fuck women.

I think that's what unintentionally came through in this episode. I don't believe that it is what the writers had in mind but from the interview with Lois onward, it was all I could think about. I wish there were more smart, self-actualized women in the show. If Lois were ever fully in the show, I could maybe count one.

Also, nice vocal choice again creators. She sounded like a whinier Joan Rivers.

My last point that stands out in this episode for me is that while we see Luthor looking rather like a smug pug when tuning in to Livewire's anti-Superman radio show, we see none of his ugly mug when she proceeds to drain the entire city of power. I mean, obviously LexCorp would have a backup generator or be linked directly to the Earth's core or something like that, but can't we at least see him look... less smug? Irked? Peeved? Inconvenienced? Amused? Maybe all that Superman hate-rallying put him in the mood for a sexy yacht party!

Final Thoughts: If she was pure energy... why did she have bones?

Evan's Episode Rating: 5/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 0 incompetent / 0 insane) - I feel like Luthor would be a "partition up" kind of guy.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 4/10 - This episode definitely made me feel anger... but not in the way that it wanted.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Episode Sixteen: Blasts from the Past - Part 2

Superman takes Dr. Hamilton to his arctic fortress to learn how to build a replacement Phantom Zone projector from Brainiac.  Meanwhile, Lois is kidnapped by Mala and Jax-Ur to lure Superman out of hiding.  Superman arrives in his lead suit with kryptonite in tow, but Jax-Ur surprises him and sends him to the Phantom Zone.  Just like that, the Earth is powerless against the two renegade aliens as they perform acts of intimidation in an attempt to get the U.N. to surrender.  Unfortunately for them, Dr. Hamilton has completed his projector and saves Superman.  The Man of Steel lures Mala and Jax-Ur into a trap, where Lois is able to send them back to their shadowy prison.

Evan:  This is the big fight promised by the first part, and it was pretty much as you would expect.  I liked that Lois was left to tell the story of Superman's defeat to the world, but was less happy with the complete lack of resistance the world put up afterwards.  Also, the impact on Lois of Superman's essential death was completely lost... I expected to see more than just her steely resolve for revenge.

One thing that really, really bothered me was the absence of Lex, but I'm going to default to Kristin because I know she hated that too.  What I am going to mention is that this was a terrible waste of an opportunity to develop his character.  He got everything he wanted.  Superman was gone.  Now faced with Superman's defeaters, he had to either fulfill his destiny or admit he was wrong about Superman's place in his world.  We got none of that.  I was very disappointed.

Dr. Hamilton basically just sent science ahead a billion years, so hopefully he can buy some new locks for his doors.

Lois was in this episode, so that's a start.  She had to be rescued twice, but wasn't ridiculously incompetent to have either seem too contrived.  When kidnapped, she mostly seemed annoyed and that was fun.  She also got to fire the finishing blow, which was a nice touch.  As I said, I was hoping to see some feelings be crystallized under extreme circumstances, but we didn't get that.  A reasonable second place, however, is the ass-kicky Lois.

And Perry White even showed up to get thrown across the room!  People... Perry is not the type who can take that kind of abuse.  Think of how much physio he's going to need.

Overall, one of the more fun pure beat-em-ups in the series so far, but a serious miss as far as characterization goes.  Also, Superman is basically resolving his moral dilemma in being a jailer by being a total badass about it, which is pretty solid as far as I'm concerned.

Kristin: So the world is about to be signed smoothly over to the two power-hungry Kryptonians who have presumably defeated Superman... and Lex Luthor is nowhere to be found?! I guess he was too busy having another one of his sexy yacht parties to realize that a very opportune series of events was taking place right underneath his not-so-watchful eye:

1. Two more alien beings arrive with the same super human abilities as Superman. They, however, are apparently not worth Luthor making a tasty offer for their help in dominating Metropolis (nay, the world!) as he did Superman in episode three. Maybe it's their silly outfits. They just haven't branded themselves as effectively as Superman has and that matters to Lex. I guess.

2. They betray and defeat Superman. I repeat, they defeat Superman. And it's not like this is a huge secret harboured only by Jax-Ur, Mala and Lois. No, the entire world knows Superman is "dead" (or at least gone forever) and Lex Luthor has his shiny bald head shoved up his linebacker ass?! We do not hear so much as a press release about this, let alone see a scene in which Lex realizes how much more useful these two newcomers could be to his evil enterprise.

3. So useful, in fact, that the U.N. is going to sign over the entire world to the pair. The Earth. The whole planet including Mr. Luthor himself. To the two vagrants from Krypton. I would expect to at least see one of two things from our buffed-up brain in the suit: a) He goes on a public tirade about the mess Superman and his alien friends have sunk the globe into or b) He joins forces with the two Kryptonians and becomes part of the Earth's ruling triumvirate! He could even...

4. Show up and try to defeat them using his many Superman-killing technologies to claim the worldwide public glory for himself!

... Nothing?

At least Lois was back, that hardened bitch. Not even a tear was shed as Superman was forever banished to the Phantom Zone. Although, it does lead her to threaten the duo with legions of armed forces lead by herself... Not that we ever saw any of that because I guess the surrender of the planet is as simple as causing some news-worthy disturbances in various countries. But at least we saw her at all.

Final Thoughts: Is Les not a part of the main cast? Because he seems kind of important. He either runs Metropolis or he doesn't.

Evan's Episode Rating: 6/10 (Lois Lane Ratio: 1 incompetent / 2 insane) - Maybe Lex was digging tunnels to lead the resistance.

Kristin's Episode Rating: 7/10 - Far more interesting than past episodes... but still craving a little bit more attention to detail from those writers.