Out of all of his other animated output from the 90s and early 2000s, Superman: The Animated Series often feels like the forgotten middle child of Bruce Timm‘s Animated DC Universe. Batman: The Animated Series remains (quite rightly) one of the greatest television cartoons of all time, whilst Batman Beyond is fondly remembered for its popular blend of superhero action, teen angst and dark dystopian storytelling. Both series have huge vocal fanbases to this day, but Superman: The Animated Series (which ran from 1996 to 2000) doesn’t always get the love those other shows do. Now though, thanks to a gorgeous HD remaster by Warner Home Entertainment, the show has a new lease on life, and finally has the chance to be reappraised and rediscovered by fans old and new.
It’s immediately apparent that, like with Batman: TAS, Superman: TAS‘s strength comes from the variety in its stories, which range from action-packed super-heroics to more offbeat comedic tales and dark crime drama. There’s something here for everyone and even the more average episodes entertain thanks to the show’s winning combination of mature storytelling, gorgeous animation, excellent voice acting and stirring music. The way the show subtlety introduces elements and characters that have a greater impact in later episodes is effortlessly done and the stories themselves explore both Superman and his supporting cast in ways that are far more involving and emotional then other cartoons of this era ever dared to attempt.
The show carefully cherry picks all the best elements from the Superman comic book mythos, blends it with the heart and soul of the Christopher Reeve movies, and sprinkles in some exciting new ideas in order to create what is undeniably one of the best Superman portrayals in any media produced to date. The moment composer Shirley Walker‘s soaring theme tune starts up, it’s nigh on impossible not to grin and let your inner 8 year old to the fore as that undefinable Superman magic takes flight onscreen.
Now thanks to Warner Bro. Home Entertainment, you can enjoy all 54 episodes of the show in sparkling HD on this new Blu-ray set. The ratio of great to good episodes is very high, but particular highlights worth checking out include the epic Batman/Superman crossover World’s Finest, the cataclysmic game-changer Apokolips…Now!, the superbly plotted The Late Mr. Kent and entertaining comedy classics like Mxyzpixilated and The Main Man. No doubt fans will have their own favourites, but if you have to start with any episodes, then make it one of those. Almost all of the episodes are fab in one way or another though, and whilst there’s the occasional creative misfire (Monkey Fun, Superman’s Pal), the sheer amount of classic must-see adventures peppered across each of the six discs mean the lesser stories don’t upset the balance one iota.
Whilst the show itself and the remaster are superb, the Blu-ray is slightly disappointing in regards to the additional features. Whereas previous boxsets like the Batman Beyond and Batman: TAS Blu-rays came in deluxe limited edition packaging and ported over all the special features from the existing DVD sets, Superman: TAS gets no such special treatment. Only 4 of the 11 DVD commentaries with the series creators have been included, which is a huge shame considering how many classic episodes were previously covered on previous releases, whilst a featurette entitled Superman: Behind The Cape also fails to make an appearance anywhere here. The new retrospective documentary on the show (32 mins) is a lovely new inclusion, but it doesn’t quite make up for the content that’s been left out.
Nevertheless, what is ultimately included is nothing to be sniffed at. The commentaries we do get are informative and fun, whilst there are still a decent number of short featurettes included. Superman: Learning to Fly (10 mins) is an overview of the show’s beginnings, whilst there are additional pieces on the supporting cast (9 mins), the villains (13 mins) and the character of Darkseid (16 mins). There’s also a special feature entitled ‘A Little Piece of Trivia’, which is in actuality a Pop-up trivia text commentary over the episode A Little Piece of Home. It’s annoying that so many existing extras haven’t been transferred across (for no apparent reason), but the set does at least include some of the better DVD extras.
Bonus feature issues aside though, this HD remaster gives the series a brand new lease on life that it rightfully deserves. If you haven’t seen Superman: The Animated Series before or if you’ve never owned the show on any home entertainment formats, then definitely start with this boxset, which has the episodes in stunning quality. If you already own the DVDs, then make sure you hold on to them for the missing bonus features, which really should have been included here. But beyond this issue, there’s no denying that Superman: TAS is just as good (and even occasionally better) then its well-regarded predecessor.