Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Superman: The Animated Series, Season 1 Ep. 3: The Last Son of Krypton, Part III (B)


Previous Installment  |  S:TAS Index  |  Introduction


If you're just now joining us, I'm currently examining every episode of the criminally under-discussed and under-appreciated Superman: The Animated Series, because I think it's the best moving-pictures version of the collective Superman mythos that has ever been done. Here is a link listing all of the posts so far.

Also, because I'm discussing certain animation touches in this post more than normal, I've added some .GIFs! There were some technical difficulties in doing this that delayed the post more than my being sick did. You'll notice that there are little black bars around the .gifs and that they look to be in a slightly squashed aspect ratio, which I promise bothers me more than it does you, but if I spent any more time trying to fix it I'd never get it done. Also, I set the .gifs to output at the frame rate of the source material so that they'd be as smooth and accurate as possible, and then I remembered that some browsers will slow .gifs down if they exceed a certain amount of frames per second, so they may look a little weird in, say, Internet Explorer.

So.

We left off with Superman flying away after saving a plane, and there's a nice transition involving a man recording Superman. We're shown the footage as his camcorder is displaying it, complete with blinking red "REC." Then the show zooms in on the footage until you can't see the "REC" anymore, we hear Perry saying "freeze it!", and the show pulls back out and we're at the Daily Planet, where Perry, Clark, Lois, and Jimmy are watching the video. And the "pause" effect is done really well--and, again, like many details in this show, was not, strictly speaking, "necessary," but it really helps sell it.


"What is that?" Perry asks, gesturing to the screen.


Friday, May 30, 2014

Progress Report

I know I said I'd have the next blog post sooner, but stuff came up, and also I took my time making sure I liked it. Also I've been considering a couple design changes to the blog. Anyway, the next blog post is done. It will be posted on Monday, guaranteed unless it's posted on Tuesday. Until then, here is this video of Tim Conway going off-script on The Carol Burnett Show, which he usually did during every second taping:



Still waiting for it to be on Netflix.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sick Day: Enjoy This Thing

Still under the weather, and busy as well. There's no Superman post today, but there absolutely will be a nice one tomorrow.

In the meantime, enjoy this hilarious video of Groucho Marx on What's My Line?:


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

All the Superman: The Animated Series Posts (Index)

This post will be updated each time there is a new post related to S:TAS. I might add brief descriptions of the topics of conversation later.


S1 E1: The Last Son of Krypton, Part I (A)

S1 E1: The Last Son of Krypton, Part I (B)

S1 E2: The Last Son of Krypton, Part II (A)

S1 E2: The Last Son of Krypton, Part II (B)

S1 E3: The Last Son of Krypton, Part III (A)

S1 E3: The Last Son of Krypton, Part III (B)


Superman: The Animated Series, Season 1 Ep. 3: The Last Son of Krypton, Part III (A)

Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini
Directed by Dan Riba, Bruce Timm

Prev. Installment  |  S:TAS Index  |  Introduction  |  Next Installment

The good news first: I have storyboards for the opening sequence!

Okay, now for the bad news: I have been feeling really sick recently and I think I'm coming down with something. I didn't want to go without an update for the next day, so I'm going to write up as much of this episode as I can before I need to start crawling into bed to try to head whatever-this-is off at the pass, and I'll schedule this post for publishing just in case I end up oversleeping.


Anyway, when last we left our hero, he had dodged a missile so successfully that it flew off in another direction and ended up hitting a plane's wing. Superman was... not thrilled about this turn of events.

The plane rescue sequence in Superman Returns was justly praised, and is one of the few universally-admired things in that movie. That being said, there's one aspect of the animated plane-rescue that I prefer. It took me a while to put my finger on it, but I think it's that the plane is closer to the ground and so Superman has to worry not just about saving the plane and the people on board, but about keeping everyone in the city safe as well. Don't get me wrong, the plane scene in Superman Returns has a different goal in mind, and it's still probably one of the best "Superman rescues people" scenes in live-action. I just like that the animated plane sequence has that added dimension.

In case you're wondering what the best "Superman rescue" is in the comics, I actually wouldn't pick any sort of big action set-piece (though again I am far from the foremost expert on comic-Superman). I think this one is the clear choice to lay odds on (from All-Star Superman by Morrison and Quitely). I'm not going to lie to any of you: I tear up or cry every time I read that. It's even better in context.


Anyway, at this point in his life Superman, it becomes clear, has never really had to stop a plane before. We know this because he goes right for the tail and tries to hold the plane back by pulling on it, which, as anyone can tell you, is the classic mistake of a first-timer.


Of course, the tail of the plane breaks off instead.


Superman berates himself with a biting "Nice one, Clark." Then he heads to catch up with the plane.


It's just three words, but it accomplishes a lot and I love it so much. Tim Daly's delivery is spot-on (I'll be talking more about Daly's voice-acting soon--I've got a whole series to cover here, I don't want to say everything at the beginning), and it's just a great little character moment. It really humanizes the super-human. I don't think I'd ever heard Superman talk to himself in the middle of a rescue before (I certainly can't think of anywhere else).

In the storyboards for this sequence (done by Butch Lukic), the tail of the plane doesn't break off: it's going too fast for Superman's fingers to do anything but dig grooves into it.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Superman: The Animated Series, Season 1 Ep. 2: The Last Son of Krypton, Part II (B)


Previous Installment  |  Index to All S:TAS Posts  |  Introduction  |  Next Installment

EDIT: Dana Delany retweeted my link to this blog post, which, uh... I didn't see coming. She has a lot more Twitter followers than I do, so I'd imagine there will be some people reading who are new to what I'm doing here. For those who are: this is actually a series of posts, and I try to do a new post about this show every day. Every two days at most. I hope you'll stick around! If you want, you can subscribe via email (top right column) or follow me on Twitter so that you don't miss any updates, because this won't be the last time I talk about Superman or Lois or Lex. Feel free to comment as well; I like to know people actually read what I wrote.


We cut to Metropolis. Appropriately, the very first thing we see in Metropolis is a Daily Planet delivery truck. On a nearby TV, there's a news story about the mysterious "angel" of Metropolis, and an interview with a little girl who fell from such a high story of a building that it makes me unsure of how great I feel about Metropolis's building codes. At any rate, according to the girl, she was saved by a blue angel with red wings.


We pull out from the television, now in the offices of The Daily Planet. Some of the staff are watching the news on a huge screen. "If it wasn't an angel that saved her, what was it?" the TV reporter asks, closing the piece.

A woman in a purple blazer and a skirt points at the TV with a ruler. "Friendly pigeons," she says.



Ladies and gentlemen, meet LOIS LANE.

Let me make one thing very, very clear: I absolutely love Lois Lane, and it's mainly because of this show. I LOVE this show's Lois. She's essentially been dropped in from a Howard Hawks movie (specifically, this Howard Hawks movie, except Lois, unlike Hildy, would never want to quit being a reporter), and it's just fantastic. (When I looked up the Delany interview I mention in a moment, it turns out she thought the exact same thing, so it's good that her performance really managed to convey that.) It is by far the best take I have ever seen. She's got that tough, competitive element to her that I think a lot of the portrayals of Lois either forget about or don't get quite right, although I'll admit I don't really remember much about Lois in the Christopher Reeve movies.

The tough, competitive element is definitely in the original conception of Lois. In Superman #3 (in a story which was reprinted in Action Comics #6), she tricks Clark into following a false lead so that she can cover a story that her editor thinks is... well, you'll see:


Which only serves to immediately make Lois scheme out loud:


At the same time, the show's portrayal of Lois also has her feminine side, if you want to call it that, which we'll see in a moment.

"Whatsamatter, Lois? Don'tcha believe in angels?" one of the men asks.

"It's TV, boys," she says. "Just a trumped-up story to boost ratings."

"And maybe sell some papers?" asks a man whose eyes look like inverted commas, showing her the Daily Planet's front page.


Cut to: Perry White's office. Lois barges right the heck in.


Perry looks mildly startled, but not very surprised, which is excellent.


Sunday, May 18, 2014

Superman: The Animated Series, Season 1 Ep. 2: The Last Son of Krypton, Part II (A)

Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini
Directed by Scott Jeralds, Curt Geda

Previous Installment  |  Index to All S:TAS Posts  |  Introduction  |  Next Installment


This episode opens with a very brief recap of events from the previous episode, and then launches right into the next part of the Superman origin: being found by the Kents.

In this version of the story, the rocket leaves hyperspace or whatever at some point just outside our solar system, and heads straight for Earth, getting a bit of yellow sunlight on Kal-El's face. Meanwhile, on Earth, the Kents are driving along in a pick-up truck at night. The rocket flies overhead.

A nice touch here is that the rocket has little auto-boosters on it that guide it gently to the ground, and that it lands in the shallow part of a pond/lake. This explains why no one started wondering what was up with a huge, unexplainable crater, and it also makes sense that Jor-El wouldn't design a rocket that couldn't land on its own. His kid's inside there, after all.



Either boosters on the rocket heat up the water in the lake and create a ton of steam, or the rockets turning off create a lot of smoke (the latter idea is supported by Jonathan coughing when he's looking around), or some combination of both, which lends a nice sense of atmosphere to the proceedings. Jonathan gets out of the truck, flashlight in hand, and says, "Holy Christmas! What was that?"

Martha Kent spots something in the pond and makes her way towards it.


As she gets closer she discovers that it's a rocket, and then walks up to it, which seems a little foolish on her part, since this is the Cold War and everything, but we'll give her a pass on that one. Perhaps it was just her motherly instinct. (I would have preferred that the rocket popped open to reveal Kal-El earlier or that the cockpit was transparent and she could see him from the edge of the lake).


Interestingly, in the first issue of Superman her name is Mary, not Martha (she's also called "Mary" in 1948's Superman #53, in a story I've seen credited to the unfortunate Bill Finger). Jonathan isn't given a name at all, and the Kents are described as "an elderly couple."

Man, this Comixology edition looks a little washed-out. I'm going to scan the panels in myself for the next post.

She's not called anything in the newspaper comics because I don't think the Kents are mentioned there even a single time. It's some random guy on a road who finds Kal-El (well, it would be "Kal-L" in the newspaper strip) and turns him in to a nearby orphanage, and then suddenly a panel or two later Kal-El's being called Clark Kent. In the novel, the 1940s serials, and the black-and-white TV show, the Kents were called Eban and Sarah. "Jonathan and Martha" were, thankfully, established in Action Comics #158 (1951). Interestingly, Batman's mother is named Martha as well.


The cockpit window pops open automatically. Martha gently lifts Kal-El out of the rocket and brings him up to where Jonathan is standing. Jonathan says a couple things to the effect of "You don't know where that thing has been," and they wonder if this is part of a Soviet or NASA experiment. "Do you think NASA's missing a kid?" Jonathan asks. And that's funny and silly, but honestly, that's probably the only thing he could think of. I mean the baby looks human enough, so your mind is obviously going to try to work with as sane an explanation as possible. And if you ask me, it seems more speculative than it does 100% serious.

I should point out that the Kents do a lot of moving in this simple scene. In cheaper shows, or anime, usually characters don't change positions or use as much body language as the characters in the DCAU shows, and this will be a level of detail kept throughout the series: characters move around when they don't, strictly speaking, need to, in the same way that flesh-and-blood people do. It's quite well-done. Each little movement is reflective of the things the characters are saying or talking about and the way they feel.

Anyway, Martha says that it's a child and it needs their help. Jonathan is slow to come around until she hands him the child. Jonathan comments on how strong the baby's grip is, and then we hear a sound like knuckles popping.


Friday, May 16, 2014

Superman: The Animated Series, Season 1 Ep. 1: The Last Son of Krypton, Part I (B)

==*==
Previous Installment  |  All S:TAS Posts  |  Introduction & Disclaimer  |  Next Installment

So Jor-El blows up the door into the room.

 BOOM.

Notice how, even though Brainiac is now smaller, the room is still this great vertical chamber, making both Jor-El and the monitor look tiny. This is because they want at least some part of you to pay attention to the room itself. You'll see why.

 
"This is a breach of security, Jor-El," Brainiac intones. "A violation of statute..." and then he names the exact statute and subsection of the offense as Jor-El looks at the terminal inside to figure out what is going on, because of course he does. From a writing perspective, you need to give him something to do while is Jor-El is taking a few moments to figure it out, but you also don't want it to just be "you shouldn't be here" / "I know" repeated back and forth. And this is a good thing to give him.

Jor-El looks up from whatever he was examining. "You're downloading! You're transmitting your memory to a satellite!"

Remember how I told you it would be important to know that there were satellites orbiting Krypton? And you know how Jor-El mentioned the satellites when he was first talking to Brainiac, and how Eyepatch Council Member talked about Brainiac surveying the planet? Well, here's the payoff for that.

"You're saving yourself!" Jor-El continues.

"I must." Brainiac replies. "After all, am I not the repository of all Kryptonian knowledge? Should I not be saved above all?"