Monday, January 16, 2017

Superman The Animated Series S03 E03: New Kids in Town

"New Kids in Town" was written by Stan Berkowitz and Rich Fogel, and directed by Butch Lukic.
Original airdate: October 31, 1998
Review by Glenn 'Continuity Kid' Walker.

Mission Monitor Board: Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Chameleon Boy, and Clark (Superman) Kent.

Opponents: Brainiac.

Guest-stars and cameos: Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Dream Girl, Lightning Lad, Light Lass, Brainiac 5, Triad, Bouncing Boy, Kid Quantum, Andromeda, Jonathan and Martha Kent, Lana Lang, and Kenny Braverman.

Taking a short break in-between reviewing the first and second seasons of the animated "Legion of Super Heroes" television series, I thought I'd take a peek at the Legion's previous cartoon incarnations. They first appeared officially as a part of DC's Animated Universe in the third season of "Superman The Animated Series" in episode three, "New Kids in Town." The Superman series in general seemed to be concerned with two things as I remember. One was showing poor Superman get the snot beaten out of him, usually by a Jack Kirby character or characters. And two was an endless revolving door of potential DC Comics animated pilots. There seemed to be a lot of episodes featuring new characters to this universe that just felt like backdoor pilots. There was the Flash, the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern, Aquaman, all those Kirby characters, Lobo, and now the Legion.

I remember the night this episode aired, leaving work early to insure I'd be able to see the Legion of Super-Heroes for the first time in animated form. It was a big deal. It might not seem like much now with over a dozen comic book superhero TV shows on the air, but back in the day, it did not happen often. I was psyched to finally see my favorite heroes. In an age when we even watched the "Legends of the Superheroes" specials (which featured Legion foe Mordru the Merciless) because that's all there was, this was huge. That's not to say the episode was any good, it was just the first, and I had to see it.

We open in the future, 2979 AD, and Brainiac is on the loose. This is the animated Brainiac of the turn of the century DCAU, all purple and grey, with that three-dots-in-a-V symbol that will become the character's signature trademark hereafter. I'm a traditionalist, give me the pink-shirted, green-skinned android with his skull wired up any time, you know the Silver Age comics/Filmation/Legion of Doom dude - that's Brainiac. Still, this version was pretty tough, eventually evolving into a Darkseid-level threat. Here, he's on a sky sled resembling a cross between the Mobius Chair and a Flash Gordon Hawkcycle, breaking into the Antimatter Accelerator. His goal is to create a temporal anomaly (almost resembling a Boom Tube effect) and escape to the past.

Who you gonna call? The Legion of Super-Heroes of course! Summoned by a guy in charge who looks like Rond Vidor gained a few pounds and aged a few decades, the Legion - comprised of Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Chameleon Boy – jump right into the temporal anomaly and chase Brainiac whenever it is he went. No fear, no hesitation, just after the bad guy, 'cause, dammit, that's what heroes do.

The three Legionnaires are given star voice talent, at least for the time – Chad Lowe as Cos, Melissa Joan Hart as Imra, and Jason Priestly voicing Cham. Their costumes are close to those from the comics, although from different eras. I like these DCAU visuals far better than those of the eventual "Legion" animated series. I am curious as to why we get Cham over Lightning Lad, as this tale does mirror the original contact story between Superboy and the Legion in Adventure Comics #247.

Yes, it's a similar story, but rather than the three Legionnaires going back in time to haze the boy of steel, they are there to save him, and according to the then-current continuity, there was no Superboy, he's just young Clark Kent. And there's a sinister undercurrent as well when we learn Brainiac's mission – he's playing Terminator. Having survived somehow into the 30th century, Brainiac goes back in time to Superman's youth to murder him before he becomes Superman. At points the villain even displays the Terminator's POV. Tidbits from Back to the Future and even War of the Worlds are also thrown in for good measure.

The Legionnaires find themselves in the Smallville of Superman's youth. As we're in the John Byrne post-Crisis reset continuity, there's not only no Superboy, but the maturing and just-getting-his-powers Clark is a bit of a jerk. He's treating Lana Lang worse than usual, and showing off against the soon-to-be super-villain Conduit, Kenny Braverman. And then Brainiac attacks.

Actually, if we're being honest, when Brainiac attacks out of the blue with high-powered weaponry, we're kinda rooting for the bad guy, and when I say bad guy, I mean Brainiac. This Clark not only deserves to be hazed, he deserves to be shot at. Most of this attack is done from his sky-sled. Has Brainiac aged so much in a thousand years that he's like one of those old folks with a scooter at the Shop-Rite? When the Legion comes to the rescue, at least they knock him off that sled.

The one thing this episode does so well is storytelling with economy. Young Clark is just a bystander when the Legion takes on Brainiac in round one. We don't have to be told anything, as we're shown what these heroes can do, how their powers work, and what is really going on. Even when we are told things, like when Saturn Girl shows Clark who Superman is, and he affected the 30th century, and inspired the Legion, it's done flawlessly with an economy of words. Still love the spread when we see the future Legion, even if the character designs are from different eras.

When they give Clark a pair of glasses as a disguise however, the gimmick does fall flat, having none of the humor or elegance it should have had. I did like his reaction, and his disbelief at the red underwear. Sigh. I guess in the further future, our present, this jerk Clark gets his way. I hate the no-underwear look. I did kinda love the Legion sneaking around the streets of Smallville as it reminded me of when they were hiding out there from Mordru the Merciless.

As Brainiac rampages through Smallville, and the Legionnaires follow in distant second, Clark is confronted by Lana over his behavior. There's that economy of storytelling I was talking about again: I think that here in twenty-odd minutes of animation, we got more of Clark adolescent power problems sorted than we did in nearly ten seasons of the "Smallville" television series.

I loved Clark's fight with the living tractor and thresher, and even more both Ma and Pa Kent attacking Brainiac with shotguns. How did this get past the censors? I really have to wonder, with so much carnage, and I didn't even mention Cosmic Boy impaling Brainiac – this one is rough, folks. And Brainiac's end is grisly, be warned.

I really liked this episode a lot, not just for the Legion, but it was a superior Superman story, and one he didn't really show up in. The thing that gets me, no, disturbs me, is that Saturn Girl erases everyone's memory, including Clark's. Anything Clark may have learned, is lost, so he's still a jerk, right? Shame. Maybe the Legion comes back and fixes that later… the jerk does need to be hazed, right?

Next: Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes on "Justice League Unlimited!"


  1. This should have been the pilot episode of the cartoon " Legion of Super-Heroes" and the look of the members.

    1. Either this or the Justice League Unlimited episode, it would have been intriguing to see a true DCAU Legion series.