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For the Adaptation That Had Everything: an Emmy Would be Nice.
When I said last week in my review of "Initiation" that a perfect score made future challenges more difficult, I had no idea that the person for whom things would be most difficult would be me. "For the Man who Has Everything" was so good, my head almost exploded. The speeding bullets scale, on which I grade each week's episode, is officially broken because this episode was more powerful than a fleet of locomotives. "FTMWHE" had everything and then some that one could hope for in a comic book adaptation, with one exception - this episode deserves Emmy consideration for successfully retelling one of the greatest Superman stories ever told in a way that took whole advantage of the distinctions between television and comic books.
Writer J.M. DeMatteis and Director Dan Riba deserve special commendation for their effective adaptation of the original story from the pre-Crisis Superman Annual #11, which is credited in the episode to writer Alan Moore and penciller Dave Gibbons. While the story's essence remains the same, the plot and dialogue are condensed and logically altered to reflect differences in continuity between pre-Crisis 1985 and animated 2004.
On arriving at the Fortress of Solitude to bring the Man of Steel his birthday gifts, Batman and Wonder Woman practically stumble into a Superman in stasis. A parasitic plant, known as a "Black Mercy", has placed Supey into a deep slumber and, in exchange for feeding off his energies, the plant feeds its host a virtual reality fantasy of their heart's truest desire forever. The gift's donor, the yellow-skinned alien Mongul, remains at the Fortress, leaving the Bat and the Amazon with the dual tasks of rescuing Supey and taking out Mongul. What worked about this story in 1985 and what works about it today is its simplicity. Moore's work on Superman, including the classic last Superman story that closed out Supes' pre-Crisis career, isn't unnecessarily deep and convoluted. If anything, what works about the way Moore tells Superman stories is how he incorporates a sense of realism into straight-forward fantasy. DeMatteis and Riba follow suit and, in fact, this is what the animated universe does best. Rather than stretch this tale out among two episodes, which would have been too much time to fill, there are some logical cuts made. In addition, the story now fits into both animated continuity as well as post-Crisis continuity. One critique I've heard is how the modern Superman isn't someone who'd be receiving gifts from all over the galaxy for his birthday and that the "Warworld" story arc itself demonstrated that Superman wasn't necessarily a familiar figure to aliens everywhere. This is nit-picking. "Warworld" only dealt with one part of outer space anyway and subsequent JL adventures, especially season two's "Twilight" and "Hereafter" have made it clear that Superman has a super reputation off Earth as well. It's not a huge stretch to imagine that the JLU's teleportation technology and/or Kryptonian technology would make instantaneous teleportation delivery of presents possible. What may be a slightly bigger stretch is the reality of what took place - how exactly did Mongul find Superman's supposedly secret Fortress of Solitude? But again this is the type of boring back story one doesn't necessarily need the answers to as it's conceivable in any number of ways to fan boys and girls how Mongul could have tracked Supey to his Arctic home.
Rather than focus on all the ways that the dialogue and plot both mirrors and differs from the original comic book story - other than to say bravo for including my favorite line from the original, "Burn!" (ironic given that it was a Mr. Byrne who retconned this great story out of Superman's continuity) - it's a testament to the animation team that they used audio so subtly for dramatic effect. It was certainly exciting to have Christopher McDonald return to voice Jor-El for the first time since STAS but to subtly replace Jor- El's last line of dialogue with Mike Farrell, the voice of Pa Kent, was inspired genius. I had to play it over and over on my TIVO to be sure that I was unmistakably hearing Pa Kent's voice come out of Jor-El's mouth.
Plus, to make Superman's Kryptonian wife have the qualities of Lana Lang (including red hair and the name Lona) and the voice of Lois Lane (with Dana Delaney returning) was a beautiful nod to Kal-El's subconscious. There truly are aspects of both women that would make them Kal's ideal only in the aggregate.
And, since Superman will be guest-starring on his dog's cartoon when it debuts in 2005, turnabout is certainly fair play and we got to see Krypto as Superman & Son's fantasy canine.
While this is the Superman Homepage, it's noteworthy that, when the Black Mercy plunged its roots into Bruce Wayne, it was not Tim Burton's movie continuity that Bruce recalled in his fantasy, but very clearly the gangster Joe Chill who pulled a gun on the Wayne family. Shades of both 2005's "Batman Begins" film and the upcoming new Batman animated series perhaps... "FTMWHE" truly had everything that a comic book fan and a JLU fan could hope for. Certainly, for those fans fearful that the new expansive JLU lineup would push the original heroes out of the limelight, this episode couldn't have come at a better time. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are the "Big Three" for good reason. On the Superman Fan Must Watch or Not Scale, "FTMWHE" is invulnerable to infinite speeding bullets. This episode leaps tall buildings in a single bound and is a must-see for anyone who ever - if even for a millisecond - believed a man could fly.
Bravo JLU - you even managed to redeem Mongul, no mean feat given "Warworld"
Until next week, think clean thoughts, chums, and peace out.