GET OFF MY LAWN: Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (1996)

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Welcome fellow internet users! Each installment of “Get Off My Lawn” will examine a super-hero movie of the pre-2008 MCU era and this time we are going to look at the animated origin story of fiction’s greatest boy scout, Superman, in Superman: The Last Son of Krypton (TLSOK) the three-part pilot/mini-movie that launched WB’s Superman: The Animated Series.

Wait a minute, this is a seldom read column about superhero movies, not TV shows?! However, Superman: The Last Son of Krypton is both. The hour-long television movie that was subsequently divided into three individual episodes for rerun purposes premiered on September 6, 1996, followed by a new episode the following morning at its regularly scheduled morning cartoon block time. Superman: The Animated Series premiered right smack dab in the middle of the superhero hero animated Golden Age, four years after the X-men: The Animated Series (XTAS) and Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS) established their positions on the comics cartoon Mount Rushmore; but also three years before Batman Beyond and five before the groundbreaking animated Justice League.

Animated super hero shows occupied a rarified space in the 1990’s. The CGI that would make the MCU such a phenomenon was at least a decade away but the comics industry was booming in the animated sphere. Animation was the perfect platform to both serve the lifelong fan as well as indoctrinate a whole new generation of Saturday morning cartoon fiends. Although most people instantly recall the pedigree and excellence of BTAS or the way too much fun XTAS, Superman: The Animated Series also deserves a place of honor as well. It was definitely closer in quality to the latter two then shudder Spider-Man: The Animated Series, what was…gross to say the least.

This three-part origin story tells three interconnected stand-alone tales that combine to create a well-paced starter kit for any DC or comic book enthusiast. Part one focuses on Superman’s father, Jor-El and his futile quest to convince his fellow Kryptonians that imminent environmental disaster is real. Part two is the story of Ma and Pa Kent raising their wondrous son from the stars, as well as a brief intro to Metropolis and the Man of Steel himself. Part three is a full-on Superman adventure as Superman must fight off corporate raiders bent on stealing a battle suit from Lex Luthor, but is Lex involved?

Reception at the time and since has been very warm with fans. Currently, TLSOK audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes is a very fresh 76% as well as a 4 -tar average rating for the DVD movie bundle on Amazon. Superman: The Animated Series ran for three very successful seasons and brought to life, through animation, such icons and fan favorites such as: Bibbo, Krypto, Lobo, the version of Darkseid that we all like, and many more. The series was an excellent entry point for any old-school Superman fans and a wonderful experiences for the newer and younger ones.

Wow, is this the best Superman movie and is it because of the distinct lack of Superman? Well maybe not because of the lack, but this is definitely a strong contender for best paced Superman movie. As noted before this movie did air as an hour long introduction to the animated series that was later cut into three distinct episodes. The long build to the first onscreen appearance of Superman is tempered and well worth the wait. The directors and producers of STLSK are a who’s who of DC animated talent, everyone from Dini and Burnett to the directors Scott Jeralds, Dan Riba and Curt Geda all go on to be instrumental and influential figures in such future projects as Static Shock, Batman Beyond, Mask of the Phantasm, Freakazoid, and many many more. As a result, the movie has a distinctly DCAU feel but the music cues, as well as the bright color palette, also lend themselves to a distinctly optimistic and joyful Superman.

The impressive production standards don’t stop there however. This movie contains the A-list of the B-list and even a few before they were stars entries as well. We can start at the top with Tim Daly of “Wings” fame as Clark and Superman but we shouldn’t forget that a young James Marsden also voices a young Clark Kent. From there we start to roll out the red carpet for the amazing voice actors who contributed including Lauren Tom and Tress McNeille. Finally, we include stars who made it big or were pretty big already, Malcom McDowell and Brad Garrett. This voice cast was amazingly impressive. Oh, and you might be wondering who played Kal-El’s father? Well, that would be Shooter McGavin himself, Christopher McDonald.

The mythos and mythology of Krypton are as much an integral part of Superman as the cape or the undies. Filmmakers, writers, animators, and artists spend amazing amounts of time and energy to put their own touch or spin on what they envision Superman’s home world to be. Perhaps the most iconic iterations can be drawn from Superman II’s crystalline Fortress of Solitude-esque Krypton or perhaps the more modern and slightly darker Man of Steel take. Heck the SyFy channel has their own Krypton show, Krypton, but why is it so hard? My firm belief is that the biggest hurdle that Krypton must overcome is how does a planet that has the technology to facilitate interstellar travel fall victim to a planet wide calamity? Some artists choose to paint it as an unavoidable cataclysm but I have always been a fan of the skeptical scientist Jor-El figuring out something that the others don’t see.

This movie leans way into that idea and even weaves Superman mega-baddie, the Braniac, into the Kryptonian mix, when the villain was introduced in 1958 they were originally written as being created by the computer tyrants of Colu, and creates a great and dynamic arc that gives gravitas and pathos to the story of the El family. The Krypton created in this film isn’t the most visually exciting, it’s actually a pretty by the numbers “advanced civilization” by sci-fi standards. Instead the feat of this film is that this is perhaps the most believable Krypton, a Krypton who’s ultimate sin is not a freak accident but instead a sin of hubris, which gives the entire story a mythic and tragic quality that feels appropriately epic for Superman’s origin and stature.

Check out Amazon Prime for a bunch of very cool animated series including the Superman: The Animated Series. Also if you’re a glutton for punishment sign up for the DC Universe App which has tons of awesome DC shows and movies but disgustingly few comics online. C’mon DC, Marvel Unlimited is murdering you out here.