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When Superman: The Animated Series Tried to Make Clark Kent Cool

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
When Superman: The Animated Series Tried to Make Clark Kent Cool

Lois & Lana Take the Spotlight

Clark’s stated motivation for this, wanting to personally receive the glory for once, is another unique aspect of the episode. The idea of Clark having a bit of an ego, of perhaps resenting just a tad the attention that’s paid to Superman while he lives in anonymity — that’s not really what Superman has been about. The show was conceived as a more straightforward action series when compared to Batman: The Animated Series; an outlet for longer fight scenes, more fantastical settings, and undoubtedly, more Jack Kirby. The more human portrayal of Clark, seeing him as an actual person and not just a means for Superman to gather information on the latest supervillain, is unusual. I would also argue that it’s a welcome change of direction.

If TMS was bored by now, animating numerous conversation scenes, this is the moment the episode picks up the pace. A mystery figure doesn’t want Clark to deliver that disc to the governor, and soon Clark’s car explodes…while Clark is driving it. Naturally, Clark survives, even if his car, and the disc, are destroyed. Complicating matters further is the nearby fisherman who witnessed the incident, who could easily surmise that Clark is Superman if he saw the reporter emerge from the wreckage.

The story now cuts back to the opening, with Clark believed dead and Walker hours away from the gas chamber. Clark tries to figure out his next move at his parents’ home (who have a hilariously blasé reaction to news of their son’s “death”), before heading back to this apartment. Assuming his assassin might be searching his apartment for evidence, Superman arrives at Clark’s home and discovers a despondent Lois Lane is also there. There’s another quiet moment, as Lois reveals that she not only admired Clark but also genuinely liked him, tearfully expressing regret for picking on the small town boy. This brief scene might be the nicest Clark-Lois moment from the show’s run, since the producers were more concerned with making the characters professional rivals instead of a couple, or even close friends. In hindsight, this episode is a glimpse of what Superman could’ve been, had the producers given the characters more nuanced relationships.

There’s no more time for talk, however, as Lois discovers not only a listening device on Clark’s phone, but a bomb that’s seconds away from detonating. Superman rescues her from the apartment, and within moments, they’ve deduced that Detective Bowman is the likely culprit behind the attacks, and the initial murder. Lois confronts Bowman at the Metropolis Police Station, and receives more of a confirmation than she would’ve liked when Bowman throws her down a flight of stairs.

Superman arrives to rescue her, and in the course of pursuing Bowman, finds himself under assault from a heavily armed police helicopter. So…grimy, crime-infested Gotham City gets wimpy police blimps, but clean, friendly Metropolis receives high-grade military vehicles?

Even though Superman is able to subdue Bowman, he reaches the governor’s mansion after the governor has left to witness the execution in person. Superman’s also too late to stop the release of gas within the chamber, but he is able to swoop in and safely expel the gas before Walker can be harmed (assuming he doesn’t have a heart condition.) With Walker’s name clear and Bowman arrested, all that remains is for Superman to resume the identity of Clark Kent. He accomplishes this with the help of his childhood friend Lana Lang, who we’ve discovered in a previous episode already knows of his secret identity. Clark explains that he’s been recovering at Lang’s apartment for the past few days, too weak to contact any of his Metropolis friends. And that witness to his “death,” the fisherman, turns out to be nearly blind, so his eyewitness statement is pretty worthless anyway.

While that explanation might be the weakest part of the episode, the final coda of the story is unforgettable. Months pass, and Bowman is still stewing over the reporter who exposed him. Reading the story of his scheduled execution, also covered by Kent, Bowman fumes for one last time as he’s escorted to the gas chamber. Just as the lever is pulled, a realization hits Bowman — how did Clark Kent survive that bomb? It’s because Clark Kent is Superman…knowledge Bowman will take to his grave.

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