Monday, May 19, 2014

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

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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.

Lois doesn't give him the chance to say anything. "Chief! I spent a week on the docks with rats and frizzed hair exposing the biggest gun-smuggling ring to hit this town in ten years and what makes the front page? Some sprouty, New-Age, granola-crunching fluff piece on angels. What's next? Interviews with Bigfoot?" (Delany's delivery here is fantastic.)

If you look closely during her rant, you can see dust or spots on the lens or on the cel for about 3 frames. I went to the trouble of timing it exactly right to screenshot it for some reason, so now you know. Let no one say I was too biased in this show's favor (although I may be).

"Good timing, Lois," Perry replies, unfazed. "I want you to be the first to know I'm hiring a new guy on the city desk."

Lois (interested): "Is he cute?" And I think that's a good little moment, because I think it's important that Lois be allowed to be a little "feminine" or "girly" (there's not really a great word for what I mean here) at times. It's actually more three-dimensional that way. I believe I read an interview where Dana Delany said she really liked that part of Lois too. (A-ha! Before publishing, I thought I should go find the interview. It's this one.)

"Um, you tell me," Perry says, because by this time, of course, Clark has walked up behind her.

I should note that, unfortunately, I don't think there's any character more off-model than Lois in this episode. She's only very very slightly off-model--that's pretty much as off-model as you get with main characters in this show--so it's not much, but her eyes and eyebrows seem to have given the animators a little trouble as they figured her out.

There's a great line between Clark and Lois in the next couple of seconds that I don't want to spoil (it's my favorite moment in this episode), so I'll just say that Perry introduces Lois to Clark and she finds out the name of his hometown, which is important because I think this Lois calls Clark "Smallville" more than any other Lois, and I am perfectly OK with that. In fact it's practically her default name for him. Lois is definitely a City Girl.

Perry says Lois should read some of Clark's stuff--that it's good--and that he was hoping she could show Clark the ropes.

"I'd love to play den mother, Chief, but I got that Lexcorp story in half an hour."

"Oh yeah. The great and benevolent Mr. Luthor is demonstrating a new weapons system today," Perry muses at the window. "Usually Lex is Lois's beat," he says, turning around, "but I'm sure she wouldn't mind having another set of eyes with her. Right, Lois?" (Hint: not really a question.)

Lois and Clark leave Perry's office and walk toward the elevators. "Look, Smallville, nothing against you, but even as a kid I never liked babysitting. You wanna keep up with me, you gotta be quick. I'm no tour guide and I don't hold hands." "You won't have to worry about that," says Clark.

Then Lois sees Jimmy Olsen approaching, carrying a cardboard box full of loose papers. "Jimmy! Jimmy Olsen, say hello to Clark Kent." Jimmy shakes Clark's hand, spilling some of the papers.

"I work as a copy boy, but I'm really a photographer," Jimmy says as he kneels to pick them up. "Good for you," Clark says, sincerely meaning it. Clark kneels down to help, but Jimmy spills the papers again. All the while, Jimmy's talking.

"If you got a minute, I'd like to show you my pictures," Jimmy says. "Well, not right--" Clark begins, politely. "They're hot, Mr. Kent, really," Jimmy says over the ding of the elevator. "I'm, like, fearless. You can ask Ms. Lane, she uses me all the time." Lois says bye to Clark through closing elevator doors.

"So I see," Clark says.

We cut to the outside of a building labeled "Lexcorp Laboratories." People are proceeding single-file through a metal detector. The TV reporter from the "Metropolis Angel" piece is there, prepping for a story, when Lois Lane approaches. And this little bit is great: all of Lois's facial expressions are perfect, and it's another example of the show's dedication to the characters moving like real people, although the TV reporter keeps her eyes closed for an unusual length of time through the conversation. It works with the expression on her face, but the line she's saying is long enough that it starts to look like an animation mistake.

"Angela, don't tell me you're actually covering a real news event," Lois says by way of greeting.

"What happened, run out of alien abductees?" And the satisfied expression she has following that remark is just perfect. It's a little smug but it's also kind of adorable.

"Hey Lois, at least my network doesn't have to send two reporters to cover the same story," Angela returns. Lois is surprised. Another example of the detailed animation is that she actually goes through two expressions: one is a more confused sort of "huh?" and the other one is a "wait, what?"

The "huh" expression lasts for maybe... 6 frames? They easily could have not had it, and in fact I didn't really notice it as its own thing until I started writing up this part of the post, but it's one of those little details that really "sells" the whole thing to your brain, even if you yourself do not notice it.

The other reporter is, of course, Clark, and I'm sorry, but what is up with this scientist guy's hair:

It's not an animation mistake, either, because the show switches angles and the dude's hair is still weird.

Anyway, Lois walks up to Clark. "How'd you get here so fast?"

"Oh, I just flew," replies Clark, and it's one of those lines that's a groaner on the page, but Daly's delivery is great and so it works when you actually hear it.

"Whatdja get?" Lois asks. "A shared byline, if you use it," Clark says. Lois takes a very brief moment to evaluate this. "I apologize. You're not the rube hayseed I took you for." "Thanks," says Clark, confidently adjusting his tie. "I think," he adds, looking a little less confident.

Then an announcement from the woman who must have the hardest job in the world--Lexcorp PR--says that she's glad the members of the press are here and if they'd follow her inside, they'll get to look at the Lexosuit battle armor. The show cuts to test footage (it's clearly test footage because it's outdoors, but it might be a confusing cut on first viewing) of the Lexosuit, which is made from a "patented alloy," shooting a lot of bullets.

Because of the alloy, it is able to stand up to damage from "automated tanks" and "returns it in kind."

And if you haven't already figured out that Superman is going to have to deal with this thing sooner or later, you need to watch more episodes of this show.

"And now, here's to the future, and the man who's created it: Lex Luthor."

Luthor walks out onstage to applause, but Superman hears the whirring of motors in the distance. He uses his x-ray vision to look through the window, and sees three odd little flying machines which look to be headed right toward the building.

We cut to them for a moment. The pilot of the most normal-looking aircraft, who possesses a very distinctive voice (this will be important later), says, "Time to crash the party, gentlemen." Two missiles come down from the front of his craft and detach.

Clark ducks out of the proceedings. Meanwhile, Luthor is onstage, saying: "I view the Lexosuit not as an instrument of war, but as an instrument to end war."

Then the planes blow a hole in the wall.

The crowd reacts about as you'd expect. Luthor makes a brisk, collected exit from the stage. Behind the curtain, Clark takes off his glasses and we get the first shirt-pull shot of the series (outside of the theme song).

Meanwhile, the lead pilot's plane heads for the Lexosuit. Metal tendrils snake out from the plane and attach themselves to the suit, pulling it up and underneath the aircraft. If you're asking where Superman is by this point, the answer is that this is just a bit of dramatic telescoping of time and shut up.

The aircraft exit, oddly, not through the hole in the wall that they already created, but by means of the lead plane smashing a new exit in the ceiling. It's a little strange and I'm not sure why they didn't do it another way, like by using another missile. I mean, it's hilarious to me, but I don't think it was supposed to be. If they had shown them smashing into the building too then I don't think I ever would have thought anything of it.

Ah well. Anyway, in all of the confusion and running about, Lois trips over someone's dropped purse just as the ceiling supports start to weaken. One crashes down and heads right for her.

She covers her eyes with her arm and--

Gasp! She's saved by Superman! Lois's reaction?

"No way."

It's excellent, and I know it was a line that Delany loved because I read an interview where she said she thought it was a great bit of scripting. (It turns out it's the same interview I already linked to, above.) It's even better when she delivers it. Don't worry, next post I'll talk about how great Clancy Brown and Tim Daly are, too.

Superman throws the support aside. There's an excellent bit of animation where it sort of looks like (to me) Superman is acting like someone who has met Lois before--he hangs around for just a bit longer than some random do-gooder would, giving her a look as if to double-check on her or say, "You're okay, Lois." It's hard to describe, but if you watch the episode you'll see what I mean. It's fantastic, because you are seeing the start of the relationship from both Superman's emotional perspective and Lois's emotional perspective, all without the camera doing a dang thing. It's all in the body language.

Then Superman flies off, because the bad guys are getting away!

Superman pursues the trio of aircraft, but he's picked up on their radar. And I will say that this is the one part of this episode that really rings a little false to me--moreso than, say, the ladder that I talked about in the previous installment. There it was a matter of cutting a line, but here it's a matter of needing to add a line: none of the three guys seems at all surprised that they are being pursued by a flying man, especially not the two lackeys. When the main pilot tells them about his radar picking up someone pursuing them, they just kind of look over their shoulders and have no other reaction.

I'm not looking for them to take time out to discuss it, but something like "Is that guy flying at us?!" or "How is this happening?" would be nice. Even a "what in the--" would satisfy me. Maybe it got cut for time. There is a moment where the two pilots look at each other, but I took that as less a look of bemusement and more of an "Okay, how do we attack him?" type thing.

So the two lackeys give Superman a tiny bit of trouble, but he dispatches them pretty handily. I will say that the aerial fight choreography for this part is really weird. They try attacking him and their bullets don't have any effect, so they just... turn back around so they can't see him. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. To be fair, it's clear their bullets aren't having much of an effect. But still, you expect them to shoot more.

Luckily, the two have parachutes, or he'd have to spend time rescuing them after he wrecks their craft. Now we finally do we get a line where someone acknowledges the weirdness: "I don't know who he is or what he is, but he's all yours," one of the lackeys says into his microphone.

"I've got him," says the lead pilot. His craft launches a missile from the back. Superman manages to outmaneuver it gracefully. I have one final issue with this sequence, though. The show cuts back to the radar twice for variation's sake so that you see how the missile is trying to lock on to Superman, but because the shot is framed so that the aircraft's joystick is visible, it looks like suddenly the joystick is controlling the missile movement, especially because the joystick moves in the same direction the missile does on the radar screen. I don't know what the deal with that is; it might have been miscommunication with the overseas animation studios. It's not a big issue, but it really stands out in a show that's as careful as this one. Superman manages to shake the missile, but it heads off towards a plane, blowing off one of the wings.

Fade to credits.

See you next time for "The Last Son of Krypton, Part III," which is co-directed by Bruce Timm! I'll try to do it in one post. (I probably won't, though.) Also, I'm thinking of doing a separate post just talking about Lois.

Also, if you've read this far, please let me know what you think!

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