Welcome to the thirty-fourth edition of Adventure(s) Time, where we examine a beloved animated series and an issue of its tie-in comic with a similar theme. This week's entry comes from a suggestion by Gravity Falls Poland, who contacted me on Twitter to suggest two stories of Superman's enemies taking on his powers and acting as heroes.
Originally airing on September 15, 1997, "Identity Crisis" is the nineteenth episode of Superman: The Animated Series, featuring a script by Robert Goodman and novelist Joe R. Lansdale, and direction from Curt Geda. This is the episode that introduces a figure prominently associated with Superman's Silver Age, so perhaps it's fitting that the story opens with a montage of the most Silver Age of all Superman story beats. Within the first three minutes, we witness Superman saving a frightened boy who's climbed to the top of an electrical tower, aiding the police in a chase, saving Lois and Clark when they drive off a cliff, and finally asking Miss Lane out on a date.
It's a lovely intro, presenting the classic version of Superman, doing all of the things you'd expect to see him do on a Saturday morning cartoon of the character. (His opening lecture to the boys making a game out of climbing the electrical tower seems cribbed from the G. I. Joe PSAs, years before the Internet made a game of mocking them. For readers too young to remember these days, those G. I. Joe PSAs are how we learned the dangers of petting strange dogs and eating paint chips.)
The closing line of a kid in the crowd is telling -- "What a dork." The series tended to avoid such an ultra-traditional take on Superman, precisely to escape the stigma of the character being an uptight authority figure. The animated series' Superman is still Superman, but he doesn't spend a lot of time lecturing kids or saving cats from trees. There's usually some Kirby monster he needs to be punching.
As for Superman and Lois going on a date? It's another element from the Silver Age the producers chose to ignore, instead only hinting that maybe Lois and Superman have crushes on each other, but avoiding the old Clark-Lois-Superman love triangle, and even treating Clark and Lois as friendly rivals/bickering brother and sister. This, arguably, removed a lot of personality from the series and circumvented some dramatic possibilities, but that's a discussion for another time.
So, why is Superman acting so off? And how did he end up saving his alter ego from falling off a cliff? That's what the real Superman wants to know, and soon enough, we discover the truth. This second Superman is actually a clone, created in a lab by Lex Luthor and his scientist Dr. Teng. The alien DNA used in his development is unstable, however, causing the clone's intelligence to fade and his physical appearance to deteriorate. (Why his costume also degenerates into a parody of Superman's when there's nothing organic about is...a question best left unasked.) Lex's bodyguard sarcastically gives the clone the name "Bizarro," the last piece of the puzzle required in this revamped origin.
The confused Bizarro continues to cause some havoc around Metropolis, and actually goes through with that date with Lois, before Superman tracks him to Lex Luthor's lab. Convinced the clones are utter failures, Lex arranges for his entire lab to be destroyed. When Lois is caught under debris and left for dead by Lex, Bizarro realizes Superman is not his enemy when he witnesses the hero save her life. Bizarro makes his own sacrifice in order to help Superman and Lois escape the lab, and the cloned hero's final fate is left ambiguous in the midst of the ensuing explosion.