This week Superman comes face to face with possibly the most destructive force in the DC Animated Universe, the fashion industry. Oh and he also deals with the forces of Darkseid but let’s start with the more devastating foe with this week’s first episode “My Girl”. While attending a fashion show with Lois, Clark find’s out that his former high school sweetheart Lana Lang has not only become a world famous fashion designer, but she’s also Lex Luthor’s newest girlfriend.
After debuting a new clothing line at the show Lana is cornered and kidnapped by two, as Lana puts it, “fashion disabled Amazons”. They aim to steal the expensive jewels adorning Lana’s dress, but are quickly stopped by Superman after they attempt to send Lana to her doom by pushing her out of a glass elevator. Lana proves she has more than just an eye for fashion when she immediately notices that Superman is simply Clark Kent in disguise. It’s surprising, and frankly refreshing, for a character to come in as a sort of interloper and immediately point out the obvious facts that the journalists, megalomaniacs, and super villains of this universe seem oblivious to. Joely Fisher lends her voice to Lana, and gives her a nice balance of svelte and smarts that highlight her keen eye for realizing certain mild-mannered reporters are actually super powered alien beings. Lana still has feelings for Clark from high school, but they prove to be more platonic than anything else. I’m just grateful there is no outright love triangle with Lana, Clark, and Lois this go round. Other adaptations have used that sort of storyline to produce some overly hackneyed attempts at a romantic subplot that thankfully don’t bog down a majority of DCAU episodes.
Clark decides he has to warn Lana that Lex is a dangerous criminal, but she insists that he could never be that evil, and if he is that she would be more than able to handle him. Of course Lex is absolutely that evil, and has been using a secret stockpile of high-tech weapons to sell to various terrorist groups. Clark is nervous when Lana starts to snoop into Lex’s shady dealings to try and help, but she is able to provide him with some helpful clues as to where the weapons stockpile could be. This winds up being a setup by Lex to send Supes on a wild goose chase while he tries to have Lana killed for getting too close. Lex shows a surprisingly amount of humanity when he has to decide to have Lana silenced for good, getting genuinely upset with Mercy as she jokes about the planned assassination.
Thankfully Superman shows up just in time to stop Lana from a nearly very gruesome demise by molten lead. The finale in the molten lead factory sets up some great scenes from animation studio TMS who take full advantage of the situation to show off scenes of Superman trying to save Lana as the entire factory collapses around them. In the end Lana decides that a life with Superman is far too dangerous for her liking, but still lets him know that she’ll be around if he ever needs help.
Next up is “Tools of the Trade”, where we finally get our first glimpse at a conflict that will carry on through the rest of Superman The Animated Series and all the way through Justice League/Justice League Unlimited right up until the finale of the entire DC Animated Universe.
After Superman foils crime lord Bruno Mannheim’s plans to rob the Metropolis Gold Exchange, Detective Daniel Turpin and his boss Maggie Sawyer begin to get fed up with the way the media badgers them about letting Superman do all their dirty work. Also getting fed up is Mannheim, who cannot stand the fact that his massive cache of weapons is rendered useless whenever the Man of Steel shows up. Suddenly a mysterious benefactor calling himself Kanto appears almost out of nowhere, presenting Mannheim with strange weaponry with the power to harm even Superman.
The introduction of Turpin and Sawyer give us an inside look at how the Metropolis Police Department copes with the arrival of Superman along with the superhuman villains that seem to pop up every week. Turpin is modeled after legendary comic book creator Jack Kirby, homage by Timm and crew to one of the most important figures in the history of the medium who had passed away only a few years before the start of production on STAS. Turpin is a hotheaded “shoot first, ask questions later” type of guy, almost the exact opposite of his friend, partner and superior Maggie Sawyer. Sawyer sees the new weapons Mannheim wields as a good enough reason to formally extend an offer to have Superman help them on the case. This upsets Turpin, who feels that he and Sawyer could take on Mannheim themselves, enough to turn in his badge and go after Mannheim himself.
This is of course a stupid idea considering Mannheim now is in possession of some of the most powerful weapons in the universe. Turpin gets taken hostage, and it’s up to Superman to save him and stop Mannheim. Superman winds up getting completely blindsided by the powerful alien weapons and it turns out Turpin is the one to save Superman by knocking Mannheim away just before he delivers a finishing shot to the weakened Supes. Desperate to not get caught by Superman and Turpin, Mannheim follows Kanto and at the last second jumps into the hole created by the boom tube, which opens and closes portals from Earth to Apokolips at any given moment.
Turpin is finally given the recognition he deserves by the media and rejoins the force, finally declaring Mannheim and his gang defeated once and for all. However we see that back on Apokolips Kanto decides to introduce Mannheim to the true benefactor of the weaponry, Darkseid. The most powerful being in Superman TAS, and by extension the entire DCAU, Darkseid casts a shadow of fear from the moment we set eyes on him, aided no doubt by the deep, powerful voice of Michael Ironside. With the threat of Apokolips now constantly looming over everything, the stakes for Superman have just jumped tenfold whether he knows it or not.
-The supposed city where Lex’s arms shipments are being made is Central City, home of The Flash, and another small hint of the massive universe Superman will be a part of in a few years time.
-In terms of comic book debuts Lana Lang has a 15 year head start on Mary Jane Watson in the redheaded girl-next-door department, but her look in this episode is definitely inspired by some of Bruce Timm’s drawings of Mary Jane
-Speaking of mixing superheroes and fashion, Tim Gunn did a fantastic set of interviews where he looked at different superhero costumes and critiqued them
-Maggie Sawyer will be one of the few gay characters introduced in the DCAU, but her lovelife is only hinted at in passing way on down the line.
-“Where in God’s name are we?” “That depends, which God are you talking about?”