The Matt Signal: Batman/Superman Crossovers

Plot summary: Before we completely close the lid on The New Batman Adventures there’s the small matter of a trilogy of crossover episodes with Superman: The Animated Series!

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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I was originally going to cover this before Gotham Adventures, but then I realised that would mean splitting the two parts of that book across two weekends and my OCD wouldn’t allow that, so it’s instead comics, cartoons, more comics… which I don’t love either but for some reason it’s preferable to me.

Notes

Static Shock is not available in the UK as of this writing, so I’ll only be covering the Superman crossovers.

Superman: The Animated Series launched in September 1996 during the gap between BTAS and TNBA, using mostly the same creative team. It featured a simpler, cheaper art style referred to as Ocean Liner Deco (or Streamline Moderne), and when The New Batman Adventures launched its visuals were brought more in line with Superman’s.

Batman appeared in three episodes of the show, all of which I’ll cover below.

‘World’s Finest’

Original Release Date: October 4th, 1997

Directed: Toshihiko Masuda

Written: Alan Burnett & Paul Dini (story), Rich Fogel (Part I), Steve Gerber (Part II) and Stan Berkowitz (Part III)

Recap

The Joker steals a Jade Dragon statute (which turns out to be made of Kryptonite) and heads to Metropolis where Lex Luthor agrees to pay him a billion dollars to kill Superman. Hot on his heels, Bruce visits under the guise of a business trip, and has an awkward first encounter with the Man of Steel, made worse by him also romancing Lois Lane when off-duty.

Joker kidnaps Lois during a date with Bruce and invites Superman to try and rescue her. Clark ends up as the one who needs rescuing thanks to the kryptonite, with the incident at last causing the two heroes to work together, though Joker gets away.

When Batman breaks into Lex’s home to threaten him, Luthor supplies Joker with advanced weapons to assist his goal. Superman returns the favour and comes to Bruce’s aid and the two go about proving Lex’s involvement through the weapons that he developed in conjunction with Wayne Tech.

Naturally, Luthor tries to kill Joker and pin everything on him, but Mistah J turns the tables and takes him hostage. Batman & Superman take out all the killer robots and rescue everybody, apparently leaving Joker to die in a fiery explosion. Lois breaks it off with Bruce after learning his secret identity, and he and Clark part on good terms.

Review

This three-parter won a Primetime Emmy for a reason.

Part I builds in excellent fashion, introducing the key players one at a time before bringing them together in an unexpected manner, with Harley and Joker hijacking Lex’s limo, Bruce sweeping Lois off her feet, and then of course the first meeting of the two icons. Batman running across the rooftops in silhouette before crashing through the glass ceiling of a busy club is an excellent piece of animation that looks a little more expensive than either show’s normal budget. I also like how they both learn the other’s identity, with Supes looking right through Batman’s mask, and Bruce planting a bug on Clark’s cape, culminating in a juicy slow zoom across the city to reveal Batman watching from afar. Hype level: Maximum.

Parts II & III have some fun little moments here and there, particularly Joker getting the better of Superman, and Batman breaking into Luthor’s penthouse, but by sliding into pure action they simply aren’t as compelling. Superman punching big robots is cool, I guess. The neat idea of Batman being able to romance Lois due to his alter-ego being such an assertive playboy vs affable wallflower Clark Kent is great one in Part I, but the other two parts muddy the water by having them fall in love and plan a move to Gotham in what… a week? They were right to dissolve the coupling and found a smart way to do it, by having her discover the secret of the guest character only to completely disapprove, as a sort of teaser of the worst case scenario for when she eventually learns Clark’s. As Bruce points out, she likes Bruce Wayne and she likes Superman, but not so much Batman and Clark.

‘Knight Time’

Original Release Date: October 10th, 1998

Directed: Curt Geda

Written: Robert Goodman

Recap

Superman captures Roxy Rocket, who claims Batman has gone missing, leaving Gotham helpless against its plethora of criminals (Roxy didn’t like the competition so headed to Metropolis). Clark investigates for himself, learning from Robin that Dick & Barbara have gone looking for Bruce, leaving Tim to protect the city alone.

Thus, Clark dons the Bat-Suit and does his best to pass for the Caped Crusader, teaming with Robin to follow clues to Penguin, Mad Hatter, Riddler and Bane. Supes kicks Bane’s ass despite a more potent Venom formula and captures all the villains.

The ‘Dynamic Duo’ find a mind-controlled Bruce at Wayne Aerospace, where Brainiac reveals himself as the mastermind behind the whole affair, forcing Bruce to build him a rocket for… reasons.

Superman reveals himself, fights Brainiac a bit and destroys the rocket (and Brainiac’s latest body in the process). Clark compliments Robin as Bruce completes treatment to remove Brainiac’s nanites from his body.

Review

Clark’s imperfect impersonation is delightful, with Robin having to whisper Bane’s name because Supes doesn’t recognise a picture of him out of costume, as well as telling him which pockets the various gadgets are kept in. More than that, Clark slowly overcoming his discomfort with Batman’s methods is good character work for both heroes. Explaining away his ability to disguise his voice as “muscle control” felt a little corny, especially when he does a Robin voice too.

However, beyond the character work it’s a little dull and the investigation is pretty tenuous. I guess Mad Hatter is a reasonable person to interrogate about mind control technology, but that he would know Brainiac’s nanites are definitely alien seems a stretch, and Superman hearing a rocket ignition in the background of Bruce’s message made me roll my eyes. But I guess that’s Superman! The entire closing stretch felt very forced with them having to rush what should have been another electric meeting between Batman and Superman in favour of the dull Braniac fight.

‘The Demon Reborn’

Original Release Date: September 18th, 1999

Directed: Dan Riba

Written: Rich Fogel

Recap

The Society of Shadows attack a train carrying priceless artefacts for an exhibit in Metropolis. Superman attempts to stop them, but Talia al Ghul reveals she already cut the brakes, forcing Clark to let her go and halt the runaway locomotive.

Batman arrives, having been on the trail of Ra’s al Ghul for some time, warning Superman how dangerous ‘The Demon’ is. Clark doesn’t listen of course, and walks right into a trap where Talia impersonates Lois to capture him.

Ra’s reveals the Lazarus Pits have had diminishing effects on him, but using Native American mysticism (yikes), he plans to steal Superman’s all-powerful life force.

Thus, a hulked-up Ra’s beats the snot out of Batman, but causes a cave-in in the process, forcing him to save Talia rather than finish off either hero. Superman gets Batman to safety and they speculate Ra’s and Talia likely escaped via an underground river.

Review

My biggest takeaway from this one was that when the two characters cross over it should probably be a multi-part affair, as they simply struggled to tell a compelling story involving them both in twenty minutes. The shaky premise is established, they unite, split up, Superman gets captured, Batman plays detective, Ra’s gets superpowers, kicks Batman’s ass, but then a cave collapses and everybody runs. And that’s… it? Does Ra’s still have superhuman strength? Did Bruce hear Lois’ confession???

Speaking of which, Batman’s investigation is the real highlight, with his awkward reunion with Lois providing both comic relief and nice continuity, and his decimation of the Society of Shadows goons is an all-time badass Batman moment, strutting out of the flames towards a groggy guard to yell at him some more. Chef kiss.

But yeah, none of the rest of it is anything to write home about at all.

Best Performance

Dana Delaney is as magnetic as Lois Lane as she was as Andrea Beaumont in Mask of the Phantasm, and I’m jealous the ‘other show’ got her on a regular basis. Her awkward attempts to ask Superman out, followed by chastising herself are charming as heck. Likewise how flustered Bruce makes her when they first meet and how furious she is to eventually learn Batman’s secret identity knowing she can’t report it. She also got to break up with Batman, which is just badass. She caps all of that off with her dry comments in their reunion, culminating in her embarrassing confession to nobody that she had considered calling him to get back together. That she is able to make the character so confident and sassy but also a vulnerable human being who makes a fool of herself sometimes is wonderful.

Joker massively outshines Lex Luthor thanks in no small part to Mark Hamill doing what he always does: stealing the show. I’m not saying he ever isn’t trying, but you get the sense he took a guest spot on another show as a challenge and brought his A+-Game.

Kevin Conroy should not go unacknowledged though, absolutely revelling in getting to talk shit to Superman. And boy does he, dismissing him as stupid and unskilled, as well as getting in some little jabs about Lois. The scenes where Clark is impersonating Batman are fun, too, with Conroy changing his voice up just enough for it to sound SLIGHTLY off.

Ranking

It’s been years since I’ve seen any Superman: The Animated Series (I may give it another look when I’m finally done with this crusade), and obviously it would be unfair to judge the whole show by these five episodes, but it seems to me that while it’s capable of achieving a similar level of quality as BTAS, its average episodes fall far short.

Lois was a treat throughout, the animation style suits the brighter colour palette and I got a kick out of Batman’s contempt for Superman in a way that I never did from the Snyderverse.

World’s Finest is the obvious choice for the top spot for me, with the more character-focused sections ranking high, while the all-action finale was much weaker. I give the nod to ‘Knight Time’ over ‘The Demon Reborn’ because its premise is infinitely more engaging, even if the stuff around the edges was wobbly.

  1. World’s Finest Part I
  2. World’s Finest Part II
  3. Knight Time
  4. World’s Finest Part III
  5. The Demon Reborn

Villain Watch

The Joker (Mark Hamill)

The general premise of Joker trying to solve his cash flow problem by attempting to kill an invincible alien on behalf of Lex Luthor is fantastic, and is both in keeping with Joker’s unpredictable nature and continuity, per the events of ‘Joker’s Millions’.

His anticipation of Superman wearing a protective suit against Kryptonite that he can easily melt away with his trick lapel is great, making the Man of Steel weak enough for Joker to give a good kicking.

Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown)

While Doctor Doom reigns supreme as comic books’ premiere villain, Luthor is Joker’s main competition for second place in my opinion. His disdain for basically everyone who he isn’t actively schmoosing for political reasons is great, with his need to maintain a public image proving as much of a nemesis as Superman.

But that being said, this is one of the worse showings for Luthor in the DCAU. As I said, I haven’t watched STAS in years, but I have seen lots of Justice League/JLU, and he’s much better there, so I’ll chalk it up to the writers favouring Joker and not knowing how to keep both strong at once.

Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin)

Knocking out Mercy Graves and taking her place as Luthor’s chauffeur was a fun beat, as was her wrecking shop on some Metropolis gangsters armed with nothing more than a pogo stick. Less of a fan of her and Mercy Graves constantly cat-fighting because ‘Girls, AMIRITE?!’, though.

Brainiac (Corey Burton)

Talk about a rough showing for a major villain. I’m not sure which is less satisfying, their attempt to link his actions back to ‘World’s Finest’ (has he been lying dormant in Bruce while he’s been doing Batman Things for months???), or his convoluted plan to have Bats build him a rocket for reasons that go unexplained. His overconfidence when he believes he is only fighting Batman is a cute touch.

Ra’s al Ghul (David Warner)

Bruce calling Ra’s more dangerous than the Joker and Lex Luthor combined feels a little generous. It makes some degree of sense in that his agenda is often far more genocidal than the humble Murder Clown or nefarious billionaire, but still. Decent idea to have him use Superman for a super-charge, but we have seen roided-up Ra’s before, and this wasn’t as good.

Talia al Ghul (Olivia Hussey)

Getting one over on Superman three times is pretty huge, and I only wish BTAS had consistently treated her with that much respect. However Olivia Hussey simply isn’t as good in the role as Helen Slater, and it’s the latest in a long line of instances of Ra’s purporting to care deeply for her, but then slapping her in the face. I guess he abandons his mission to save her, but it’s still irksome.

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, continues its coverage of What If…?

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week we say goodbye to dinosaurs and hello to Hong Kong with Chungking Express.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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