Welcome to Adventure(s) Time's forty-eighth installment, a look at beloved animated series and their tie-in comic books. This week, we're going back to the times Superman exploited his massive powers to become a fascist dictator. Just typical Superman material, of course. Have a suggestion for future installments? Great! Just leave a comment with your ideas.
We'll start with "Brave New Metropolis" from Superman: The Animated Series. Airing on September 27, 1997 with a story by Stan Berkowitz and direction by Curt Geda, the episode is possibly the oddest of the show's run. Opening with Jimmy and Lois covering a story at S.T.A.R. Labs, the episode doesn't take long to travel to unusual places. The device Professor Hamilton has constructed from Kryptonian technology opens a window to another world, trapping Lois on the other side.
While there, she encounters an eerie reflection of Metropolis. Evening curfews. Terrified citizens. An abrasive, authoritarian police force. And, the greatest shock, a statue proclaiming allies Superman and Lex Luthor as "the men who saved Metropolis".
Lois explores the dystopian universe and meets alternate versions of her friends, including Jimmy Olsen as the leader of an anti-Superman rebellion. (The stress of this horrific world inspiring him to grow an even more ridiculous mullet.) As Jimmy helpfully points out, Lois shouldn't even be here. She's dead, after all.
Eventually, as the second act closes, Lois finally encounters this world's Superman. And if you think the producers were intentionally attempting to evoke SS imagery with this new emblem, you're apparently right. It's hard not to see it that way after that's been pointed out.
Stunned by Lois' arrival, this world's Superman begins to reflect on his actions. We learn how a devastated Superman turned his grief into anger, lashing out at the world. Determined to make the city obey his will, to circumvent any more tragedies, Superman transformed Metropolis into a police state. And to maintain the order he desired, he was forced to turn to the only other man powerful enough to help. Thus, the Lex/Superman alliance was born.
Most of the beats following are fairly predictable. Lois informs Superman of Luthor's excesses. Superman is humbled in the face of the rebels' resistance. Superman confronts Luthor. Luthor turns on Superman. Ultimately, the villain is defeated and Superman is inspired to return to his true self.
What is significant here is Superman's farewell to Lois, as the portal home is opened in the alternate version of S.T.A.R. Labs. They kiss goodbye, and it isn't a friendly peck on the cheek, either. The Superman/Lois romance just wasn't a major aspect of this series. Going back to early press interviews, the producers outright stated their unwillingness to replay the Clark/Lois/Superman love triangle. Sometimes we had hints of crushes amongst the cast, but no romance.
Here, the subtext is made plain. Superman deeply loves Lois, and the pain of losing her is enough to twist him into a different man entirely. Her embrace at the end, the sympathy she shows this broken man, indicates she shares these feelings. It could've been a significant moment for the series, and Lois' final line about them catching dinner hints at this direction. Recognizing what they mean to one another, and having witnessed the cost of Superman repressing his feelings, she has every reason to pursue the romance now.
Yet, the remaining episodes rarely touch on their true feelings. It would take several years, and a new series, for a return to these ideas. The Justice League two-parter "A Better World" shows another alternate world with a fascistic Superman, one with a strained relationship with Lois. The story shares many themes with this episode, which perhaps isn't a surprise. Both were written by Stan Berkowitz.