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Real Name:  Clark Kent / Kal-El

Voiced by George Newburn

Armed with the knowledge that Krypton would soon be destroyed, the young scientist known as Jor-El labored unsuccessfully to organize a mass evacuation of its citizens but, as time ran out, the elaborate contingency plan dwindled into a desperate attempt to save his infant son.  Thus, with his homeworld in its final death throes, young Kal-El was launched in an experimental rocket ship towards a distant world that Jor-El believed would provide his son with the best chances of survival in a vast and unforgiving cosmos.

Eventually landing in rural Kansas, Kal-El was discovered by Jonathan and Martha Kent, who took the boy in and raised him as their own.  Under their tutelage the boy, named Clark by his adoptive parents, grew to understand and embrace the simple morality that they embodied and, upon the discovery that his extraterrestrial origins afforded him powers beyond those of ordinary humans, he decided to use those abilities in service of his adopted homeworld.  Eventually, after years of traveling the globe and learning how to utilize and control his abilities, Clark Kent settled in Metropolis and took on the identity of Superman to fight for the principles of truth and justice.  His mission immediately endeared himself to those he swore to protect, save for the few who questioned his motives and “too-good-to-be-true” public persona.

Over time, Superman’s legend grew as he fought everything from thieves and terrorists to sentient machines and dark gods—all while sustaining a clandestine contest of wills against Lex Luthor, the Machiavellian architect responsible for Metropolis’ construction and nearly every underhanded activity located therein.  However, the legitimacy of Superman’s humanitarian motives came into question when Darkseid, warlord of Apokolips, brainwashed the Man of Steel and sent him to conquer his adopted homeworld.  Though the attempt proved unsuccessful, the substantial damage to his credibility took many years to repair.  Undaunted, Superman continues his never-ending battle to this day, both alone and as a member of the Justice League, where his phenomenal strength, speed, and invulnerability provide an unlimited source of muscle to the organization.

Having lost one home to disaster, Superman fights to ensure that his adopted home doesn’t suffer a similar fate.  However, having learned from experience that there are some cases that not even a superman can complete alone, he takes comfort in the fact that the Justice League is there to help him guarantee that such a fate will not happen on his watch.

Cartoon Network on Superman:  “Living up to being the legendary Superman would be a burden for most men, but Clark Kent’s shoulders are more than broad enough to carry the load.  While his incredible physical strength comes from his home planet of Krypton, his moral strength comes from his simple Kansas upbringing.  But he’s no longer the farm boy from Smallville.  After seeing more of the universe than any of us can imagine, he maintains a firm sense of right and wrong.  He is more complex than his reputation as a big blue Boy Scout.  When he talks about Truth, Justice, and Freedom, everyone senses his deep commitment to these ideals.  The natural leader of the Justice League, Superman leads by example and steadies this volatile group.  With so many super-egos involved, there are often major clashes in style.  And when clashes inevitably occur, he is often the peacemaker (courtesy of Cartoon Network press materials).

Bruce Timm on the Superman series (circa 2000):  “If I had it to do over again, I'd update the character more—I think that the show would have been more successful if we had reinvented [things] a little bit.  Superman's just not as intrinsically [as] cool as Batman.  Superman makes a lot of sense in 1940; he doesn't really make a whole lot of sense in 1999.  The DC [guys will] tell you the same thing—they have a very hard time making him seem fresh and exciting.  He's just been around for so damn long.  I'm proud of the Superman show.  It's very traditional; we did incorporate all the Kirby stuff, and we gave Jimmy Olsen baggy pants, and we had mecha-style robots instead of 1940s-style robots, but other than that it's very true to the old-fashioned Superman.  The reason why we didn't make it Fleischer-esque is that I didn't want anybody to literally put it side-by-side with the old Fleischer shorts and say, ‘They're just doing a third-rate knockoff of the Fleischers,’ because we can't compare with that.

“Y'know, I think that even the Fleischers recognized way back when that Superman was just an intrinsically dull character, to a degree, so they threw in all that film noir stuff.  It's the same stuff that we were trying to put into our Batman show; it actually seems to be a better fit for Batman than it was for Superman (courtesy of Comicology Magazine).”

Bruce Timm on Superman (circa 2004):  “I knew immediately what to do with Batman, whereas with Superman I wasn’t quite sure what to do with him.  I don’t think he’s as interesting a character on the face of him.  With Batman, you look at him and you get it.  With Superman, you get the concept, but if he’s done badly, it could be bad.  He doesn’t make as much sense in the modern world as he did when he was first created.  Times have changed and he means something different now than he did way back then.  The context of the character is different.  So you had to find ways to keep him true to the spirit of the comic and the spirit of the character but, at the same time, not let him become a cornball anachronism.  That was kind of tricky.

“You can tell even in the Christopher Reeve movies, they kind of struggled with the same thing.  Sometimes they would get it right, sometimes they wouldn’t.  They kind of got him right, but they lost it with the villains—they were still lost in that old-school, Adam West Batman, hokey camp.  But they pretty much got Superman right, and they were able to play him as, ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way,’ with a straight face.  You kind of giggled but, at the same time, you thought, ‘Wow, this guy really believes it.’  It’s somehow strangely not corny.  We had to find our own way of doing that.  In retrospect, I think we did a really good job on the Superman show.  It was a little bit more of a struggle than the Batman show but, ultimately, I think it was a pretty darn good show (courtesy of Modern Masters:  Bruce Timm).”

Bruce Timm on Superman’s power level:  “Superman’s a hard character to do, period, because he’s so strong.  You don’t want to de-power him to the point where he’s not Superman anymore but, at the same time, if he’s too strong then the stories don’t make sense.  If he can turn back time and undo anything horrible that’s happened, then there’s no drama.  If he’s so fast that no one can sneak up on him, or so powerful that nobody can knock him down then, again, there’s no drama, there’s no conflict.  It’s always a struggle to find that right balance, to put him at just the right peak of power (courtesy of Modern Masters:  Bruce Timm).”

Grant Morrison on Superman #1 (circa 1998):  “The world loves Superman; whenever he shows up, they say, ‘Thank God, we’re saved!’  For Earth, the fact that Superman [headlines] the world’s greatest superhero team is always going to bring a sigh of relief because the population has absolute trust and faith in him (courtesy of Wizard Magazine).”

Grant Morrison on Superman #2 (circa 1999):  “I have my own version of Superman in my head—I see him as much more intelligent than I generally see him portrayed, for instance.  I grew up when he was also a super-genius, so I tend to write him as some combination of Jesus, Einstein, and the American flag (courtesy of the Superman Homepage).”

Excerpts from the Justice League Panel at the 2001 San Diego Comic Con:

Bruce Timm:  Nothing really terribly original or new with Superman in this series, [just] a few modifications to his character design.  Glen [Murakami] and James [Tucker] twisted my arm behind my back and said, “We need a new Superman design.”  I said, “I like my Superman design,” but they thought he should be a little more mature, a little more rugged.  And so we just tinkered with his design a little bit in that respect.  And he does now have red shorts instead of the black shorts with the red stripe, because we realized that that didn’t work [anymore].

Personality-wise—if anything—he’s probably a little bit more of a boy scout than he was in the old show.  When he was in his own show—a stand-alone kind of show—we felt that that worked against him—people would be like, “Oh, Superman’s just a boy scout.”  But within the new group dynamic of the Justice League, we thought, “That’s kind of neat to have one guy who’s kind of like Dudley Do-Right.”

Courtesy of Revolution Science Fiction and Comics2Film.

Bruce Timm on post-"Legacy" Superman (circa 2002):  “We can’t pre-suppose that everyone who watches Justice League has seen every episode of our previous series; more likely, most of them haven’t.  Originally, in part one of 'Secret Origins,' General Wells’ line, ‘We can’t entrust the world’s security to one man,’ ended with ‘…especially him!’  We felt that anyone who hadn’t seen 'Legacy' would be confused, wondering, ‘Well, why not him?  Why does this guy hate Superman so much?’  As it is now, it works both ways:  either Wells is just being a practical military tactician, or he doesn’t trust the guy who almost conquered the world for Darkseid.  Similarly, Superman’s line, ‘I’ve worked long and hard to earn your trust,’ has different meanings to long-time fans and [the] ‘newbie’ audience.  We’re planning on bringing Darkseid back for ['Twilight'], so we’ll more than likely deal with some of those 'Legacy' issues at that time (courtesy of The World's Finest).”

Bruce Timm on Superman’s design #1:  “When [Artist / Co-Producer] Glen Murakami, [Artist / Co-Producer] James Tucker, and I started talking about the show, I pushed to just use the old Superman model from our Superman show.  I thought it was fine and would blend in with the other characters.  James felt Superman looked too ‘baby-faced’ in that, and argued we should make Superman more mature.  I went along; it’s not a bad way to go with him.

“We chiseled his features off a bit more and toned down his pompadour.  Ultimately, the effect may make him look like the Curt Swan version, but that wasn’t our intent.  The gray is a highlight—we wanted to jazz up his design, so we put that comic book highlight in his hair.  That doesn’t indicate he has gray hair, it’s just to give him visual oomph.  We decided to change Superman and Batman for this show because we wanted their designs to be a little different from what had been seen previously (courtesy of Starlog Magazine).”

Bruce Timm on Superman’s design #2:  “James Tucker took a pass over the old Superman design and he felt that the old design was fine, but he thought that Superman could look a little more rugged, a little bit more grown-up-looking, so we gave him strong cheekbones and little tiny dashes under his eyes, which are supposed to give him a little bit more of a comic book ‘squinty’ look; makes him look a little bit older than he did in the Superman animated series (courtesy of Justice League:  Justice on Trial DVD).”

Bruce Timm on George Newburn #1:  “When we started Justice League, Tim Daly [the Superman / Clark Kent voice actor on Superman] was in the middle of doing The Fugitive.  In fact, even toward the end of Superman, Tim was so busy doing on-camera gigs that it was a challenge getting him into the recording studio.  It was easier recasting the part, and George Newbern does a great job as Superman (courtesy of Starlog Magazine).”

Bruce Timm on George Newburn #2 (post-Season One):  “I think a lot of the heat he’s taken from the fans is really our fault, not his.  We just didn’t give him anything to sink his teeth into in Season One.  I think he gives his best performance to date in 'Twilight,' especially at the end, when he…well, you’ll see [...] [He] found it very helpful [to watch 'Apokolips…Now!' and 'Legacy,' and they helped him to better understand Superman’s motivation in 'Twilight' (courtesy of Toon Zone).”

James Tucker on Season One Superman:  “In the Superman show, he was getting his butt kicked as much as he does on Justice League, but there weren't any other heroes to come in and take up the slack.  In Justice League, he gets knocked down the exact same way he gets knocked down in Superman.  But, in the Superman show, he was the guy who had to get up and finish the job.

There are six other heroes here—it's not to say Superman's going off and doing something else while Hawkgirl's hitting somebody with her mace.  I personally don't think we've portrayed him weaker.  We just haven't shown him do everything he can do on the Justice League show (courtesy of [website name removed]).”

Rich Fogel on Season One Superman:  “In making these shows and approaching them, we have to put together a good chemistry for the group and make the powers so they're not overlapping each other a lot.  So, for example, we powered down Martian Manhunter a little bit, so that he was not stepping on Superman's toes.  We didn't want two people who were doing exactly the same thing.

“And, quite frankly, there are situations where Superman, if he was really on top of his game, could take care of everything by himself and he wouldn't need the Justice League.  So we'd be left with a Superman show, which we've had already.  So sometimes we'd engineer things a little bit to see weaken him a little bit (courtesy of [website name removed]).”

Bruce Timm on Superman #1 (post-Season One):  “By the time the first couple of episodes started airing we were almost done with the pre-production on the First Season.  So, by the time we realized there were some problems we had, it was too late to fix them.  There was almost nothing we could do.  One of the things we had gotten the most critical hits for on the First Season was that supposedly we de-powered Superman and made him a big wimp.

“It wasn't a conscious decision on our part—it was literally because we had already done his own series and we had all these new characters to introduce and focus on—we felt [that] Superman could take care of himself.  We didn't feel like we needed to give him any special attention, but what happened was [that] we fell into a rut of Superman getting knocked down and then not getting back up.  It wasn't something [that] we realized was happening until we started getting the episodes back and the fans on the Internet started saying, 'Hey, wait a minute, Superman can't take a punch anymore!?'  And we were saying, 'Oh my God, they're right!'  But by that time we only had two or three episodes left on the First Season, so we tried to fix it as quickly as we could.

“He's a tough character—you don't want him to be too powerful, but you don't want to make him too wimpy.  The trap we fell into on Justice League was, again, we have seven of these guys and whatever villains they go up against have to be big, powerful villains.  So we used the easy trick of saying, ‘Okay:  the villain walks into the scene and takes Superman down with one punch.’  [That way], we automatically know that he's a bad guy and it's going to take the entire Justice League to take him down.  We didn't handle that with enough finesse.

“[So, for Season Two], we just really made sure that anytime [Superman] got knocked down that he got back up and eventually clean the clock [of whoever it was that knocked him down] and not have somebody else come in and clean his clock for him.  We made sure we kept him at full strength—believable full strength—but made sure that it left room for the other Justice League guys to have something to do.  It made our jobs harder, but ultimately it works better (courtesy of The Pulse).”

Bruce Timm on Superman #2:  “People who want him to be more of a bad-ass are missing the point.  He was raised in the heartland of America by two wonderful, loving parents who instilled in him a powerful sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’  So, for all that everyone complains about Superman’s ‘boy scout’ qualities, that’s exactly what he is:  he’s not just super-strong, super-fast, etc…he’s super-good, too.  He’s the ultimate man.  [As a result, his morality forces him to] live his entire life under strict self-control; otherwise the results could be catastrophic (courtesy of Toon Zone).”

Bruce Timm on Superman #3:  “It astonishes me somewhat that anyone could actually think that I could ‘hate Superman outright.’  I mean, no offense, but…sorry, I’m kind of at a loss for words.  I couldn’t possibly produce fifty-two episodes of a series starring a character [that] I flat-out hated, or had distain or contempt for…life’s too short!  Sure, I’ve worked on shows in the past whose lead characters I had no love or respect for, but to put in the kind of man-hours that I did as producer / designer / what-have-you on STAS, my commitment to the character was absolute.  My comments (from Comicology, right?) were, I thought, pretty clear on the matter:  I’ve loved, respected, and admired Superman since I was a kid—I even dressed up as him for Halloween and brought my lunch to school in my beloved Superman lunch-box.  It’s just that, by modern standards, he can come off as quaint or corny or out-dated, if not handled properly.  Batman, by contrast, is much easier to ‘get right’ with that outfit, the attitude, the whole mystique…he’s automatically ‘cooler.’  If I had to choose one over the other, sure, I’d pick Batman in a heartbeat, [but] that doesn’t mean [that] I don’t like Superman too.  I just like Batman better.

“I’ve admitted elsewhere that we dropped the ball with Superman’s portrayal in Season One of Justice League, not out of malice, but merely inattention; thus we did end up temporarily with the slightly daft, bland, cornball boy scout, [but] when we all realized what was happening, we took steps to re-vitalize him in Season Two.  I, personally, may have gone a little overboard in that area, as I wrote the entire Superman / Darkseid verbal thrown-down scene in 'Twilight' myself—including the notoriously over-the-top ‘greasy smear on my fist’ line—I even wrote his, ‘Y’know, Bruce, you’re not always right,’ line, allowing him to one-up Batman (my ‘favorite’ character, remember), in one of the rarest instances in the entire DCAU canon.  I wouldn’t have gone to the trouble for a character I hated.  Anyhow, I hope this clears that up (courtesy of Toon Zone).”

Dwayne McDuffie on Superman:  “Superman constantly learns from his mistakes and, when it comes down to it, takes appropriate actions (even when they make him look bad, as in many of the situations that Luthor has engineered to that purpose).  He does what’s right, not what’s easiest.  Consider:  Superman is powerful enough to end Cadmus right now.  Why doesn’t he?  He tells Huntress why in ‘Question Authority.’  Later, in ‘Panic in the Sky,’ despite his understandable anger and frustration, rather than going after Cadmus he talks about it with the rest of the Justice League, who he knows will disagree with attacking.  As J’onn points out, Superman came there to be talked down.

“Our version of Superman is far from perfect.  He makes mistakes but, eventually, gets the right answer.  He might walk right up to the precipice, but he’ll never fall in.  […] I like for my heroes to be tempted, and I tend to forgive them for their mistakes, just like I do my real-life friends.  Some people see Superman as absolutely incorruptible and incapable of human foibles.  That’s a reasonable way to go with him, there have been lots of terrific stories over the years that treat him that way, but we’re more interested in showing him struggle to overcome his weaknesses, as opposed to not having any other than kryptonite (courtesy of Television Without Pity).”

 

Images

Superman Model Design Sheet #1 (Pre-STAS Designs) | Superman Model Design Sheet #2 | Superman Model Design Sheet #3

Superman Model Design Sheet #4 | Superman Model Design Sheet #5

Superman Image #1 (Pre-STAS Design) | Superman Image #2 (STAS Design) | Superman Image #3 (JL Design)

Superman Image #4 | Superman Image #5 | Superman Image #6 | Superman Image #7

Superman Image #8 | Superman Image #9 | Superman Image #10 | Superman Image #11 | Superman Image #12

Superman Image #13 | Superman Image #14 | Superman Image #15 | Superman Image #16

Superman Image #17 | Superman Image #18

Superman Image #19 | Superman Image #20 | Superman Image #21 | Superman Image #22

 

Commentary

"They're right:  I did lose control, and it scares me.  If I can't trust myself, how can I win back the trust of an entire planet?"

"One person at a time."

An exchange between Superman and Lois Lane from "Legacy"

Those words, spoken at the end of "Legacy," perfectly encapsulated the situation Superman found himself in as his animated series came to a close.  No longer the trusted and loved protector he was once regarded as, Kal-El found himself feared and hated, a pariah on his adopted homeworld, thanks to the machinations of Darkseid.  Now, we have no way of knowing what actually occurred during the lapse between the end of Superman and the premiere of Justice League, but we can surely imagine what Superman went through during that time:  isolation from former friends and allies, uncertainty over the control of his abilities, and desperation over trying to reestablish a connection with the people who once trusted him.  He must have worked overtime trying to win back their favor and, if his appearance in "Secret Origins" is any indication, it took quite a toll on him personally.

The Superman of Season One was a new Superman on many levels.  In addition to the ambiguity over his post-"Legacy" fate, this Superman received a new design—complete with added age lines and pronounced cheek bones—and a new voice, with George Newburn replacing the departing Tim Daly.  The initial result was a weary, more restrained Superman—one that was not in top form.  The lines on his face (often over-emphasized by the different animation studios) made him appear to be ancient, while the sunken cheeks made him look sickly.  He also spoke in a tired monotone, and was often the first to fall in battle, leaving his teammates to pick up the slack.  Overall, this version was presented as weakened considerably from his prior incarnation, and the fans knew it.

However, despite his shortcomings, Superman was still an essential member of the Justice League.  Out of all of them—with the possible exception of the Flash—Superman is the most visible and most trusted member on the roster.  Whatever damage control he performed between series’ appears to have worked, and repelling the Imperium’s invasion force firmly reestablished himself in the eyes of the public.  In addition, it could be argued that, while he provided the League with credibility, Superman was, in turn, provided with a support system capable of sustaining him.  Now he had a team of allies that could watch his back in battle and, if necessary, take him down should he lose control again.  The revelation that Batman now regularly carries Kryptonite in his utility belt says something to the audience:  a "Legacy"-like scenario, whether the result of mind-control or otherwise, will not be allowed to happen again (in fact, as it appears to be an open secret in "Tabula Rasa," one can speculate that Superman encourages him to do so as a fail-safe).

As a result of a backlash against the “weaker” Superman, the creative team redesigned Superman yet again for Season Two by removing the age lines and pronounced cheek bones.  The visual difference is immediately apparent—no longer sickly and weathered; Superman once again looks rested, youthful, and back in the prime condition he maintained on Superman.  His hairstyle remains changed from his original Superman look, however, but it adds a hint of maturity to his appearance that the age lines couldn’t subtly express.  In addition, George Newburn’s vocal talents have improved, providing more nuance and flavor to his delivery (allowing him to capture the dry humor of Daly’s Superman, as well as the subtle differences between Kal-El and Clark Kent).  Overall, it could be argued that, thanks to the web of support provided by the Justice League, the Man of Steel has made peace with himself and is able to put his fears of losing control behind him (though they do linger a little, as his nightmare sequence in "Only a Dream" shows).

Interestingly enough, as Superman’s characterization began to solidify, the series benefited from an influx of former members of his supporting cast, from Brainiac and the Parasite (featured prominently in "Twilight" and "Secret Society," respectively) to Maggie Sawyer and Jimmy Olsen (who provided cameos here and there throughout the season).  While some would question the supposed overuse of established Superman villains and supporting characters, it does makes sense when one remembers that Justice League primarily takes place in Metropolis (in fact, their absence takes away much of the city’s verisimilitude, making it more a generic city and less the Metropolis that we’ve come to know over fifty-four episodes of the former series).  In addition, their presence provided a bridge of sorts, as seeing the “Justice League” Superman interact with the cast of Superman further legitimized Newburn’s Superman as genuine and not a fraudulent stand-in for Daly’s incarnation.

Largely overlooked during Season One in favor of establishing the newer League members, Season Two offered an opportunity to continue the development of Superman’s character.  Some have quibbled with the notion of giving Superman, who had his own show, the spotlight over newer, less-developed characters such as the Flash or Hawkgirl; but, while their argument is valid, it also ignores the fact that Justice League is a team show, meaning that it is only fair that he and Batman be given equal time to continue their development as characters.  Besides, Superman was a series cancelled in its prime, leaving many potential storylines unfinished; it’s only natural that the creative team would want to tie up or even continue some of them.

Among the members of the Justice League, Superman is unique:  an icon amongst a team of icons.  And while it took time for this new Superman to find his footing, it is good to have our Man of Steel back.

 

Images courtesy of DC Cartoon Archives, The World's Finest, Nickel Animation Art eBay Store, Cartoon Network, the New Batman/Superman Adventures Homepage, bat313, Animated Art at Choice Collectables, Golden Apple Online, Wizard Magazine, Mike Manley, Toon Zone, John Delaney, and The Bruce Timm Gallery.

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