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Attack of the Super DVDs
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On the surface, it looks like a continuation of Superman: The Animated Series. It has many of the same behind-the-scenes people that had labored in this cool animated corner of the DC Universe. Even listening to it, at first, sounds the same. (Tim Daly really does make a great Superman.) But Superman: Brainiac Attacks is clearly its own creation.

Stitched together from elements that had made the various series a fan favorite, Brainiac Attacks accomplishes what Warner Brothers (and by extension Cartoon Network) wanted in the first place: a kids' show. So those hooked on the work of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and many others will miss the nuance, complex characterization and often clever plotting that were the hallmarks of the show.

This is much simpler and, quite honestly, brighter. Lex Luthor, voiced by Powers Boothe instead of Clancy Brown, seems a strangely good-natured villain, closer to the way the 80's animated series portrayed him. At times he's almost buffoonish, running a constant monologue to himself and assistant Mercy as he toys with reviving Brainiac.

It also seems that Brainiac no longer has Kryptonian origins, considering the friendly Fortress of Solitude database to be quite a prize. The film quickly disposes of his familiar design, making him something more clearly robotic, thus easier for kids to swallow his being ripped apart. Lance Henriksen takes over the role from Corey Burton, also making Brainiac less disturbing while more overtly fierce and thus a simpler villain.

Have you got the message? Everything is simpler. Superman agonizes over sharing his secret with Lois, convinced that if he wasn't around, she wouldn't ever be in harm's way. Hunh. Perry White whips Clark Kent around from metropolitan reporter to foreign correspondent to restaurant reviewer - to be fair, there's some sort of expose involved there, but naturally, he has to pose on a date with Lois at the height of his agonizing.

Then there's a here to fore unseen Jimmy Olsen crush on bad girl Mercy. The less said the better, because despite it being out of character, we understand.

The Phantom Zone also plays a part here, but it's a far more literal translation than we're used to. It's certainly not in line with the live action films, treated more like the Fantastic Four's Negative Zone than the Kryptonian prison.

Cartoon Network broadcast Brainiac Attacks last Saturday night, and the DVD release does follow hard upon as part of the deluge of Superman product Warner Home Video has for us on the 20th. As a DVD release, it's pretty skimpy, consisting of the movie and …trailers for other DVDs.

It doesn't even have chapter stops, which is kind of a disappointment. The ideal audience, younger kids, are really going to want to easily skip the awkward Clark/Lois relationship stuff and get right to Superman fighting. Unfortunately, like the Kim Basinger scenes in Tim Burton's Batman, they're kind of stuck.

For those who want the original vision that went with these visuals, Warner also has a third volume of Superman: The Animated Series. Actually, it finishes out the collection, featuring early stabs at other DC heroes, too. Supergirl, Green Lantern, Aquaman and even the Legion of Superheroes make appearances in this set, most in different form than they would take in Justice League.

The series ended with a huge confrontation with the forces of Apokolips, which might be too much for little kids. It's hard to explain genocidal maniacs to toddlers who really just want to see Superman. Doing their best, however, are members of the creative team, providing commentary on select episodes.

A roundtable discussion happens on camera, too, hosted by David Kaufman, who voiced Jimmy Olsen. Maybe it's the presence of Kaufman shaking things up, but Paul Dini, at least, seems happier to be there than he was on the Batman Beyond first season DVD. Just to taunt us, Bruce Timm claims he'd love to go back and work with Superman again. Are you holding your breath?

The Season Two set for Justice League also has a roundtable, which the package claims is hosted by Phil LaMarr. In actuality, it's Jason Hillhouse, a producer on these DVD packages who has a pretty good Fanboy job. On both roundtables, the different teams are brutally honest about their successes and failures.

Most would agree that the second season of Justice League fell far more in the success column. The season had a strong through line that even had repercussions in the follow-up series, Justice League Unlimited. Though it stepped to the side for the fun Christmas episode, "Comfort and Joy," Justice League ended with one of the best animated series stories, "Starcrossed," so good, so important that it already had a separate DVD release. Thankfully, it's still included here.

This set also has letterboxing, perhaps a whim of Timm but still nice to see the show the way he intended it to be.

On the whole, the creative team admits this is darker than what Warner wanted, an idea echoed on the Batman Beyond set, where a show intended to sell toys became one more section of a surprisingly finely woven tapestry.

For yourself, pick up these sets, though Superman could have probably used remastering. As a show still shot on film, it's suffered a bit with age. For the young ones, though, Brainiac Attacks will do until their palates become a bit more sophisticated.

(The youngest get a Krypto the Superdog set, too, which thrills exactly its target audience of two to five year olds, but really, what more can you say about that? It combines my son's two favorite things -- puppies and Superman.)

Superman - Brainiac Attacks

Superman - The Animated Series, Volume Three

Justice League - Season Two

Krypto the Superdog, Vol. 1: Cosmic Canine

Also, if you want to get revved up for Superman Returns,
check out Superguy: Behind the Cape!

Derek McCaw


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