Having learned a lot from their time on Batman, the producers were able to bring a careful approach to the show. The biggest challenge: paring down Superman’s powers enough so that stories wouldn’t be over before they began. Similarly, John Byrne had done such a thing in his 1986 mini-series The Man of Steel and his subsequent run on Superman volume 2 after the DC Comics event Crisis on Infinite Earths rebooted the entire DC universe. He could be hurt by large projectiles and beings with comparable strength, and had trouble lifting an entire plane. However, making Superman more grounded wasn’t extended to the stories they could tell as the character allowed them to explore more fantastic elements than they could with Batman; from the depths of space to alternate dimensions and timelines.
|The Daily Planet building amongst the Metropolis skyline.|
Initially, Bruce Timm wanted to have the show be a period piece, set in the 1940s like the acclaimed Fleischer Studios’ Superman theatrical shorts, or even the 1950s like The Adventures of Superman live-action series. However, they decided to set the series in a futuristic present. Superman’s city of Metropolis featured sprawling skyscrapers reaching the sky amongst many elevated roadways. While they used an art deco style similar to Batman, they focused on a more “optimistic” version rather than the harsh, angular version from the prior show. Also differing was the color palette, as the characters and background were rendered in brighter colors and many of the stories were set during the day.
While knowing most people knew the broad strokes of the mythology of Superman and his origins, the producers decided to begin with an origin story anyway to establish their world for the audience. The very first episode was set entirely on the doomed planet Krypton just before its destruction. Character designer James Tucker was tasked with designing the alien planet and its populace with the explicit instruction to avoid using any design that had come before. The result was a Krypton whose advanced technology allowed the populace to live in harmony with nature, accounting for asymmetrical building designs that blended into the scenery.
|Brainiac's original form.|
While Jor-El (Christopher McDonald, who would go on to voice an older Superman in Batman Beyond) and Lara Lor-Van’s (Finola Hughes) sending Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) to Earth in a rocket to escape the planet’s fate is the long-established portion of the story, producer and story editor Alan Burnett suggested a new twist: have Brainiac (Corey Burton, who got the role for his close rendition of the control voice from The Outer Limits intro) be the cause. Brainiac is a classic Superman villain that had appeared in his animated efforts before: once as the creation of a mad scientist in The New Adventures of Superman and later as a Coluan with a computerized brain (as he was in the comics) in the Super Friends franchise. This version was made an artificial intelligence that operated at the center of Krypton’s systems. He denied Jor-El’s claims about Krypton’s imminent end in order to save himself and all of Krytpon’s knowledge rather than waste valuable resources trying to prevent the inevitable.
|Brainiac shows Superman his collected knowledge.|
Brainiac would then proceed to travel from planet to planet, assimilating their knowledge into glowing golden orbs and then destroying them in order to make their knowledge more precious, as opposed to the classic comics where he would shrink entire cities and preserve them under glass. Timm, a comic purist, was initially against this interpretation of Brainiac but realized most of the general audience wouldn’t have a problem with the changes. Eventually, Brainiac would find his way to Earth in a new robotic body trying to make the planet his next acquisition in recurring appearances. Superman would save the Krypton orb after their first encounter and place it in his Fortress of Solitude, which maintained the classic arctic ice-like appearance although its entrance was accessed by his flying through a river, rather than via a giant key as in the comics.
|Superman pays Lex a visit.|
Superman’s other constant foe was ruthless businessman Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown, who actually auditioned for Superman). Luthor was the CEO of LexCorp and the literal architect of Metropolis. He reveled in the citizenry’s worship of him. However, he grew jealous of their love for Superman and sought to either have him under his thumb or dead. Luthor’s personality and appearance was modeled after Telly Savalas’ Ernst Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Faithfully serving Luthor was his chauffer/bodyguard Mercy Graves (Lisa Edelstein). Mercy was created for the show and was the leader of a gang of female thieves who attempted to rob Luthor. Luthor saw potential in her and brought her under his wing. Although she was loyal to Luthor, she wasn’t inherently evil and occasionally did the right thing when his actions didn’t sit well with her.
|Lois and Clark talk to Perry.|
As Clark Kent, Superman worked as a reporter for the Daily Planet along with his traditional supporting cast. Rival reporter Lois Lane (Dana Delany, given the role based on her performance in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm) was depicted as Clark’s equal and competitor, rather than just someone plotting to get Superman interested in her. She didn’t think much of Clark, but still respected him as a colleague. Photographer Jimmy Olsen (David Kaufman) was a balancing act to make him hipper while still keeping a bit of the dorkiness he was created with. While this Jimmy was still a bit of a spaz, he wasn’t afraid to get into the thick of things to get the photograph to sell the story. Editor Perry White (George Dzundza) was determined to remain the last honest newspaper man in the business. While he was a bit loud and gruff, he was more of a father-figure to his staff than a tyrant.
|Maggie Sawyer and "Terrible" Turpin.|
Outside the Planet, Superman had Lt. Daniel “Terrible” Turpin (Joseph Bologna) and his partner, Inspector Maggie Sawyer (Joanna Cassidy). Turpin was the typical hard-nosed street cop who worked his way up the ranks to the Special Crimes Unit and felt that Superman wasn’t really necessary. Turpin’s design was based on and meant to be a tribute to Jack Kirby, who had created the character as first Brooklyn of the Boy Commandos in Detective Comics #64 (1942), and later as the adult Turpin in New Gods #5 (1971). Sawyer was a tough no-nonsense cop who had a bit more favorable opinion of Superman and would sometimes actively seek his help. This was in direct contrast to her comic counterpart that debuted in Superman vol. 2 #4 (1987), who initially had a closer view of Superman to Turpin’s on the show. Sawyer’s sexual orientation was also acknowledged on the show when her comics girlfriend, Daily Star reporter Toby Raynes (Laraine Newman), appeared by her bedside in the hospital and with her at a funeral.
Professor Emil Hamilton (Victor Brandt) was introduced as a way to explain all the science that appeared on the show. As a scientist for S.T.A.R. Labs, he was in a position to provide Superman with special suits for his adventures or help him understand Kryptonian technology. Unlike his comic counterpart, Hamilton never turned to villainous efforts, but he did come to view Superman as a potential threat as the series progressed.
|Jonathan and Martha find baby Kal-El.|
Like The Man of Steel comic, Clark’s parents Jonathan (Mike Farrell) and Martha Kent (Farrell’s real-life wife Shelley Fabares) were kept alive and on their farm in Smallville. Superman could always return to the farm to seek solace and advice from the people who helped raise him into the man he became. Upon first finding baby Kal-El, Martha suggested naming him “Christopher” or “Kirk”, references to Superman actors Christopher Reeve and Kirk Alyn. Clark’s high school sweetheart Lana Lang (Joely Fisher, the younger version played by Kelly Schmidt) also appeared a few times, having known Clark’s secret since seeing him perform impossible feats in school. This version of Lana had left Smallville to become a famous fashion designer.
|Parasite feeds on Superman.|
As with Batman, the show adapted many classic Superman stories and foes while adding new twists to them. Amongst Superman’s established rogues were John Corbin (Malcolm McDowell), a criminal-for-hire enhanced into the Kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo; Winslow Schott, Jr., aka Toyman (who resembled a human-sized doll with a child-like persona, voiced by Bud Cort) who used lethal toys for revenge against Intergang leader Bruno Mannheim (Bruce Weitz); Rudy Jones, a S.T.A.R. janitor who gets doused with chemicals turning him into the energy/memory/power-absorbing Parasite (Brion James); Kryptonian criminals Jax-Ur (Ron Perlman) and Mala (initially a male Kryptonian’s name, voiced by Sarah Douglas), who shared characteristics with General Zod and Ursa (which was played by Douglas) from Superman II; Bizarro (Daly), a degenerated imperfect clone of Superman created by Luthor; 5th dimension magical imp Mr. Mxyzptlk (modeled after the Golden Age version, voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) and his girlfriend Ms. Gsptlsnz (Sandra Bernhard and Jennifer Hale); and Maxima (Sharon Lawrence), an alien warrior queen who wanted Superman to be her mate.
Newly created for the series were Leslie Willis, aka Livewire (Lori Petty), a Metropolis shock-jock who held an anti-Superman rally and gained electrical powers when both were struck by lightning; and Edward Lytener, aka Luminus (Robert Hays), an ex-LexCorp employee and informant for Lois that developed an unhealthy crush on her and created a suit with various light powers. A minor new foe was Claire Selton, aka Volcana (Peri Gilpin), a pyrokinetic who was turned into a living weapon by the government.
|Space truckin' with Lobo.|
The producers found that Superman lent himself better to have guest-stars from across the DC Universe than Batman did. As a result, several episodes featured team-up with other characters outside of Superman’s franchise, including the Flash (Charlie Schlatter) and his foe Weather Wizard (Miguel Ferrer, who played a similar character in the failed Justice League of America pilot) in a recreation of the classic race story from Superman #199 (1967); the Atlantean king Aquaman (Ferrer); the Czarnian bounty hunter Lobo (Brad Garrett, who also voiced Superman’s street-wise friend Bibbo Bibbowski); the mystic Dr. Fate (George DelHoyo) and his assistant, Inza Cramer (Jennifer Lien), against his foe Lord Karkull (Ted Levine); and the first representation outside of comics of Kyle Rayner’s Green Lantern (Michael P. Greco), who was made a Daily Planet cartoonist, given some of Hal Jordan’s origin, and faced off against former Green Lantern Sinestro (also Levine).
|The REAL man of Steel.|
An interesting introduction was of the character John Henry Irons (Michael Dorn). Irons was a designer for LexCorp who was working on a super powered armor for the police. He perfected the suit with the help of his niece, Natasha (Cree Summer) and donned the new armor to aid Superman against Metallo as Steel. Steel was created by Louise Simonson and Jon Bogdanove for The Adventures of Superman #500 (1993). He debuted during the fallout from “The Death of Superman” storyline in 1993 as one of the four new Supermen that would be seen around Metropolis until the original’s resurrection. Steel was inspired to become a hero by Superman in order to get weapons he designed off of the streets and took up his cape and shield to honor him. Steel would go on to become his own hero in his own self-titled series, as well as receive his own movie in 1997 starring Shaquille O’Neil. Although the producers couldn’t adapt “The Death of Superman” for a Saturday morning program, it was eventually done as the direct-to-video movie Superman: Doomsday in 2007. It used similar character designs and starred Adam Baldwin as Superman (who was the original choice for The Animated Series but ended up becoming unavailable).
The biggest team-up, however, was a recurring one with Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Robin (Mathew Valencia). The success of Superman: The Animated Series and the continued success of Batman reruns prompted Warner Bros. to revive Batman. However, due to a reduced budget, the series was completely redesigned to be more in line with Superman. The two would meet in the three-part “World’s Finest”, which pitted them against Luthor who had teamed-up himself with Joker (Mark Hamill) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) to destroy Superman. They would meet again in “Knight Time,” where Brainiac had abducted Bruce Wayne and Superman aided Robin in searching for him while disguised as Batman to keep Gotham City’s criminals in check. The final time came in “The Demon Reborn” where Ra’s al Ghul (David Warner) sought to steal Superman’s powers as a solution to the Lazarus Pits no longer maintaining his youth.
Superman: The Animated Series debuted on Kids’ WB on September 6, 1996 to become the second entry of the shared DC Animated Universe. All three parts of “The Last Son of Krypton” aired on Friday night before moving to its Saturday timeslot. The show proved a success, and Kids’ WB decided to double-up on their offerings of the program. For the second season, they combined reruns of the show with reruns and new episodes of Batman: The Animated Series in an hour-long programming block called The New Batman/Superman Adventures. New episodes would air just before the block. For the third season, the new episodes aired as part of the block. Along with Burnett and Dini, the series was written by comic book writers Mark Evanier, Evan Dorkin, Joe R. Lansdale, Steve Gerber, Hilary J. Bader, and Sarah Dyer, as well as Robert N. Skir, Marty Isenberg, Robert Goodman, Stan Berkowitz and Rich Fogel.
|Timm's end credit image.|
Unlike Batman, Superman featured an introduction comprised of clips from various episodes due to their falling behind schedule, leaving them unable to create an original intro. Two shots were new, however: Superman flying at night, and ripping his shirt open for the close-up final shot of his “S”. Shirley Walker composed the main theme and the character themes, as well as the score for six episodes. The rest of the series was scored by Kristopher Carter, Harvey R. Cohen, Michael McCuisiton and Lolita Ritmanis with almost every episode having a completely original score. The image of Superman seen behind the end credits was designed by Timm to bookend the image seen in the credits of Batman. He figured it would be a nice iconic image that marketing could use on the various products. However, marketing felt it didn’t look identifiable enough as Superman and went with their design.
|Superman and Supergirl.|
The second season was extended by two episodes to allow the producers to have the animated debut of Supergirl (Nicholle Tom). The original Kara Zor-El first debuted in Action Comics #252 (1959) by Otto Binder and Al Plastino after positive reaction to a story where Jimmy Olsen wished a Super-Girl into existence to be a companion and aid to Superman (Superman #123, 1958). She was born and raised in Argo City, which somehow survived the explosion of Krypton, and was sent to Earth to be raised by Superman after its destruction was assured by a meteor shower. Supergirl remained popular, and eventually in 1984 gained her own movie starring Helen Slater. However, over the years, other Kryptonian characters had come in and out of the various Superman titles, prompting DC to want to restore Superman’s status as the LAST Kryptonian. As a result, despite her popularity, Supergirl was killed off in Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (1985) at the behest of DC’s Vice President/Executive Editor Dick Giordano, who felt she made no real contribution to the Superman mythos.
|Supergirl model sheet.|
In the interim, Supergirl was revived but was no longer Kryptonian. Lex Luthor, posing as his own son, created Supergirl, also known as Matrix, in Superman vol. 2 #16 (1988) out of synthetic protoplasm that allowed her to shape-shift amongst other different powers, and gave her Lana Lang’s memories. In 1996, Matrix was merged with the human Linda Danvers to create a new Supergirl as written by Peter David. Timm and producer/writer Paul Dini were intent on using the classic Supergirl, but because of DC’s decade-old edict they gave the show the stipulation that she couldn’t be from Krypton and should possess somewhat different powers under the yellow sun. They relented and instead of being from Argo City on Krypton, she was from the planet Argo that was colonized by Kryptonians some time ago and was named Kara In-Ze (the last name of the original’s mother). The producers ignored the other stipulations, however, and left her powers alone. Her costume was based on the Danvers version currently being published.
Kara was found by Superman in suspended animation as the only survivor after her planet was thrown out of orbit from Krypton’s explosion and brought her back to Earth to be cared for by his parents. She was determined to become Superman’s partner, but he continually sidelined her feeling she was too young and inexperienced. That didn’t stop her from trying her hand at heroing whenever she could, however.
|Darkseid doesn't tolerate DeSaad and Mannheim's failure.|
As everyone involved was a big fan of Jack Kirby, they decided to supplement Superman’s foes with some of Kirby’s greatest creations from his Fourth World series. Chief amongst them was the evil despot Darkseid (Michael Ironside), ruler of the planet Apokolips. Darkseid was selected as the perfect ultimate threat to Superman, the producers having a hard time continually coming up with foes to match Superman’s powers. Darkseid showed up briefly during the first season, supplying Intergang with Apokoliptic weaponry through his envoy Kanto (Michael York), but gradually worked his way up to the big bad in the series finale. Along with him came his son Kalibak (Dorn); his recruiter and trainer Granny Goodness (Ed Asner) and her Female Furies Lashina (Diane Michelle), Stompa (Diane Delano) and Mad Harriet (Andrea Martin); and his head torturer DeSaad (Robert Morse). Opposing Darkseid was the New Gods of Apokolips’ sister planet New Genesis, including Orion (Steve Sandor) the son of New Genesis’ ruler Highfather.
|Storyboard for Turpin's funeral.|
The episode “Apokolips…Now! Part II” delivers the death of Turpin at the hands of Darkseid as his parting shot after defeat. In its original airing, the following funeral scene featured a number of Kirby creations, friends and fans including Big Barda, Scott Free and Orion, Marvel Comics’ Nick Fury and Fantastic Four, Evanier, Alex Ross, Ross’ father Norman, Stan Lee, Dini and Timm. Subsequent airings and home video releases would show an altered version of the scene removing all those characters and substituting them with generic background characters. The entire episode was dedicated to the memory of Kirby, who died in 1994.
|Superman of Apokolips.|
The two-part “Legacy” saw Darkseid capture and brainwash Superman into leading an attack on Metropolis, losing the trust of the populace. Initially, a fourth season was planned which would deal with the theme of Superman re-earning their faith, but the season was ultimately nixed in favor of the team working on Batman Beyond. The theme of distrust in metahumans would carry over into the next DC Animated Universe series, Justice League. The show ultimately ended with Lois and Superman’s first kiss; a development that would have been explored had the series continued. The series was nominated for a 1997 Annie Award and for four Daytime Emmy Awards, and is regarded as one of the best Superman cartoons produced on par with the earlier Batman.
|Livewire on Supergirl.|
Like the original characters created for Batman, Livewire was integrated into the main DC Comics universe. She joined in Action Comics #835 (2006) by Gail Simone and John Byrne where her origin remained largely intact until the New 52 reboot. Batgirl vol. 4 #42 (2015) by Cameron Stewart and Brenden Fletcher reimagined her as a vlogger who was electrocuted trying to reroute all the power in the city in order to spell out a dirty message visible from space. Livewire was adapted into live-action for an episode of Smallville, played by Anna Mae Routledge, in a team of “meteor freaks” (people empowered by Kryptonite chunks) and on Supergirl, played by Britt Morgan, as a shock jock who was fired by Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) for insulting Supergirl (Melissa Benoist).
|Mercy Graves: Amazon.|
Mercy also made the leap to comics in Detective Comics #735 (1999). This version of Mercy was blonde and an Amazon, and served in the same capacity as Luthor’s bodyguard. After leaving Luthor’s employ, she briefly tried her hand at being a superhero as a member of Infinity, Inc. After the New 52 reboot, Mercy was introduced in Justice League vol. 2 #31 (2014) as an Asian-American who managed LexCorp in Luthor’s absence. A Japanese Mercy made her live-action debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice played by Tao Okamoto, although she was killed as a pawn in Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) plot against Superman (Henry Cavill).
|The comic series.|
As with Batman, DC published a comic set within the animated universe of the show. Superman Adventures ran from 1996-2002 for 66 issues. Along with Dini and Evanier, the series was written by Devin Grayson, Scott McCloud, Mark Millar and Ty Templeton. It largely relied on the same cast as the series, although it did incorporate some originals such as General Zod, Bizarro Lois Lane, Krypto and Sandman. Batman and Superman Adventures: World’s Finest adapted the three-part Batman crossover with writing by Dini and art by Joe Staton. David Michelinie and John Delaney composed Superman Adventures Special: Superman vs. Lobo – Misery in Space, which had Superman once again teaming-up with Lobo.
|Superman 64 box art.|
In 1997, Titus Software made the first video game based on the show for the Nintendo Game Boy called Superman. It was a side-scrolling action game that tried to emulate the series’ animation style with its limited technology. In 1999, Titus produced the video game Superman: The New Adventures (also known as Superman 64) for the Nintendo 64. The game was based on the show, using similar character designs and audio bytes of the dialogue from the various featured characters. Titus had reported that development of the game was heavily hampered by DC and Warner Bros. who imposed numerous restrictions on them, resulting in a game largely regarded as one of the worst of all time. BlueSky Software wanted to redo the game for the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, but Titus’ license had expired resulting in its cancellation.
|Shadow of Apokolips box art.|
In 2002, Infogrames Sheffield House produced a game released through Atari for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo GameCube called Superman: Shadow of Apokolips. The game featured the return of Intergang who were actually robots created by Lex Luthor in league with Darkseid. All of the original voice cast from the show returned to voice their respective characters of Superman, Lois, Livewire, Metallo, Volcana, Kanto and Lex Luthor. However, Mercy was voiced by Lauren Tom, Darkseid was voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson and Parasite by Brian George, who succeeded Brion James in the role after his death. The reception of the game was met with some trepidation considering the previous effort, but ended up being regarded as a better, if not average, game. A poorly-received prequel, Countdown to Apokolips, was released the following year for Game Boy Advance developed by Mistic Software.
|Superman Burger King toys.|
From 1996-99, Kenner produced four series of action figures based on The Animated Series. The line mostly consisted of Superman variants, as only Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Bizarro, Darkseid and Metallo were represented, as well as Supergirl. An exclusive Wal-Mart two-pack featured a Batman and Superman figure, which was re-released by Hasbro in 2001. From 1999-2000 three four-packs were released collecting previously released figures with a theme; one of which included a new Lois Lane action figure. In 1997, Burger King featured Superman as one of its Burger King Kids Club meal themes which included five toys, and then Jack in the Box had Superman, Supergirl and Steel as part of their DC Super Heroes Kids’ Meals in 2001. In 1998, Kenner released a 12” Superman doll with a cloth costume, while Hasbro released a similar Supergirl the following year.
In 1997, Bowen Designs released a limited edition Superman maquettes on an “S” shield base. In 2003, DC Direct began producing a series of maquettes as part of its DC Comics Classic Animation line which reproduced the Superman with a new base, Bizarro, Kyle Rayner and Supergirl. In 2015, Diamond Select released limited edition resin busts of Superman, Supergirl and Lex Luthor, while Diamond Select Toys released a PVC statue of Supergirl. In 2003, DK Children published The Animated Series Guide and The Ultimate Sticker Book. Beginning in 2009, Stone Arch Books began publishing a series of easy reader storybooks utilizing the same art style and character designs from Superman (only Supergirl was altered to remove her bare midriff).
|The complete series.|
In 2004, Superman first came to DVD from Warner Home Video in the collection A Little Piece of Home, which featured four episodes, including the episode that gave the DVD its title. The collection was re-released in 2014 as Superman and Friends. In 2005, the first three episodes were released as The Last Son of Krypton, along with the complete first and second seasons. The third season was released in 2006 and the complete series in 2009. The first three Batman crossover episodes were released as The Batman/Superman Movie in 2007. In 2013, a series of budget DVDs were released collecting episodes with a shared theme. DC Super-Villains: Superman – Worlds at War collected 13 episodes from both Superman and Justice League with a space theme. Superman Super-Villains collected three episodes for each volume featuring either Brainiac, Metallo or Bizarro. In 2014, La-La Land Records released a limited edition 4-disc compilation of music from the series. In 2015, Mondo released a limited-edition record cut into the shape of the “S” shield that contained the themes from both Superman and The New Batman/Superman Adventures. It came in both a Superman and Bizarro edition.
For most of their further appearances in the DC Animated Universe, many of the characters from Superman retained their original voice actors. However, George Newbern would succeed Daly as the voice of Superman and Delaney would assume the additional role of Maggie Sawyer in Justice League and Phil LaMarr would assume Steel in Justice League Unlimited. Most of the cast would be reunited for the critically panned 2006 direct-to-video movie Brainiac Attacks, which also used similar character models. Daly would also voice Superman in the movies Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, and Justice League: Doom. Delany would reprise her role in two episodes of The Batman and in the movie Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. Kaufman would return to Jimmy in Justice League: Doom and Superman vs. The Elite. Brown portrayed Luthor in an episode of The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, The Batman, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes and its related movie, and Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (which also featured Gottfried as Mxyzptlk).