A freak accident gives us one of the best original villains to come out of Superman The Animated Series with our first episode this week, “Livewire”. Metropolis shock jock Leslie Willis has gained a steady following over the past few years thanks to her coarse style and hatred for all things Superman. She sees him as a good-for-nothing boy scout who is only after supporting his own image rather than actually helping people (an opinion debunked as we see Superman risk everything to save a crane operator while Willis’ rant plays in the background). Willis’s background as a successful radio DJ gives her a different spin than most villains who are usually coming from a seedier and more criminal background. She states explicitly that she’s had to work extra hard to make it this far as a woman in talk radio, and she fully enjoys the fact that she’s conquered this male dominated profession.
During a concert for her third anniversary on the airwaves, a storm rages on as Willis refuses to break up the concert. Superman arrives to implore her to call off the concert, but as she refuses a bolt of lightning strikes her and Superman simultaneously. Superman is fine of course, but Willis has gone through a radical transformation. Her skin a sickly pale and her hair a frizzled electric blue, the DJ finds out she’s been turned into a living embodiment of electrical energy. She can now manipulate electronic equipment, fire off lightning bolts, and become a being of pure energy and travel through power lines.
Calling herself Livewire she sets out to have some fun with her new powers, causing a ruckus in downtown Metropolis. Superman shows up to stop her, but she decides to plunge the city into complete darkness just to screw around with the Big Blue Boy Scout. Livewire is voiced by Lori Petty of A League of Their Own and Tank Girl fame. She’s clearly having a lot of fun with this role, completely eating up the part of the headstrong shock jock. She balances the rough and tumble style of Leslie Willis with the limitless excitement of someone just discovering their new powers as Livewire.
With the city in total darkness, Superman is able to track Livewire to a nearby hydro-electric dam. Donning a simple pair of rubber gloves, Supes is able to battle Livewire until she accidentally breaks a hole in the damn with her powers, causing her to short out in the water. Livewire is barely alive after the ordeal and has to be kept on life support of constant electricity. In jail, she is shown to be receiving treatment thanks to the donations of a huge fan of her show, Lex Luthor. “Livewire” does a great job of introducing one of the most successful original characters from the Animated Universe next to Harley Quinn, giving her a unique background and memorable personality that has successfully made the jump from screen to comic book.
The next episode for this week is “Identity Crisis”, and for the first time in a few weeks we have the debut of a classic Superman villain. This is a surprisingly touching episode that manages to be equally funny and sad. Following cops on a high speed chase, Lois and Clark get in an accident that throws Clark out the windshield. Falling seemingly to his death off a nearby cliff, he is luckily saved by…Superman. Disturbed by the fact he came face to face with what is seemingly his own self, Superman decides to find out who the impostor could be.
The impostor does good deeds around the city acting exactly as Superman would, albeit with a few more lines of corny dialogue than normal. Eventually he and the actual Superman come face to face just as the impostor’s skin begins to turn an odd shade of milky white. Soon the impostor has completely changed from the spitting image of the Man of Steel into a pasty, disjointed, hulking version of Superman with rapidly diminish intelligence. The impostor flies off to a mountain lab where we find he is actually a clone of Superman created by Lex Luthor. Dubbed Bizarro by Lex’s chauffer Mercy, the once perfect clone has completely deteriorated thanks to the instability of Superman’s alien DNA.
Much of the humor this episode is derived from the well-meaning attempts at proving he is the real Superman by Bizarro, such as “fixing” a drawbridge or “saving” a building from demolition. Tim Daly pulls double duty this episode as both Superman and Bizarro and provides a wonderful performance for the broken, disorganized vocal style of Bizarro. Bizarro really, truly believes that he is Superman and struggles to comprehend why people aren’t as accepting of his help as they are of the actual Superman. Bizarro also feels a connection with Lois, attempting to contact her and even saving her after falling off a building (only because she was backing away from him in the first place).
Escaping with Lois to the mountain lab where he was created, Bizarro sees there are several other clones of Superman in suspended animation and grows extremely angry. Luthor decides to scrap the entire project and has the laboratory set for self-destruct. Superman arrives to rescue Lois and winds up fighting Bizarro, who refuses to let anyone leave the soon to explode lab. Eventually everyone escapes except Lois, who gets trapped under some falling rubble. As Superman rushes to her aid, Bizarro finally realizes that this is the real hero, the real Superman, and he is just a bastardized copy.
In his final moments, he saves Superman and Lois from being crushed by a falling ceiling, sacrificing himself so that the real Superman can continue to do good. It’s an incredibly effective moment that cements Bizarro as one of the more sympathetic characters in the DCAU, an imperfect being that winds up being the perfect hero at the right moment. Of course, this being the world of comic books, Bizarro’s death from the self-destruct sequence is ambiguous (he’ll show up at least two more times), but for the moment to imagine his great sacrifice makes the moment all the more moving.
-The music in “Livewire” has added electric guitars to give the score a more hard rock vibe. Just like the last time this was done in the DCAU, it fails to impress at all.
-In a nice bit on continuity Lex reveals he was able to get Superman’s blood when he was attacked by the robotic T-Rex while weakened from kryptonite.