Frame By Frame Review Superman Destroy the Defendroids
These reviews will look at a single episode of a show, usually an incredibly silly one, and go through it bit by bit looking at each stupid moment in turn. This time we’re looking at the 1988 Superman cartoon made by Ruby Spears.
A little background: the show came out a year after Superman 4 and there are a lot of references to the movies as well the John Byrne Man of Steel comics which reimagined Superman and his world in 1986. I mention this because the story editor for the series is Marv Wolfman who was part of the reimagining and created the New Teen Titans as well as many other great comics. He was the one who had the idea to make Lex Luthor into a corrupt businessman that we know of today and this series used that version. The show itself did a lot of silly things like Lex Luthor buying the Great Wall of China (and that was step 1 of his plan). But today we’ll be looking at the first episode, Destroy the Defendroids.
Warning this post is long and image heavy.
So before we get into the episode proper lets look at the title sequence. There’s a slightly altered John Williams Superman theme used for the music, which sounds pretty good. We get a narrator telling us all about Superman, how he’s, “Faster than a Speeding bullet. More powerful than a locomotive. Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” while we see him randomly jump over buildings for no reason, stopping a train from plummeting off some destroyed tracks… and flying in front of lightning about to hit a plane. One of these things is not like the other.
Anyway we told his backstory, that he’s Clark Kent, etc, I think it works because it’s Superman and it’s the right about of cheese for a Superman show. They could’ve done it without the narration and the visuals would’ve told us everything just as perfectly, but it’s an 80s show so narration is a must. As things come to a close the narrator tells us how Superman, “fights the never ending battle for truth, Justice, and the American way!” All the while we see him grabbing a giant gorilla that was climbing the Daily Planet.
Yes the most evil of enemies for the American way of life, Giant Gorillas! Those fiends are always trying to stamp out truth and justice!
Enough title talk, lets get on with:
We open with Superman flying with Lois over Metropolis in a scene taken straight from Superman the Movie. Lois is so happy she completely ignores the freezing cold wind chill above the clouds.
Lois was then rushed to the hospital due to hypothermia
But before Supes can answer how he feels about her there’s a flash of light down in the city signalling trouble in Metropolis. A tank is firing lasers at the library from the beginning of Ghostbusters then a robot probe shoots out from the top of the tank.
The ghost librarian was not happy with all the noise that day
The probe enters the building as Superman and Lois land. Supes tells her it’s dangerous and to stay back, while putting her behind a car right in front of the building the tank was firing at. Not exactly out of harm’s way there, Supes. Of course she heads into the building anyway since Lois has no survival instinct. After scanning the tank he sees its remote controlled and just fly’s through the barrel and removes the top of the tank.
Back in the building the probe has blasted its way into a file room and scans a file named “Operation Nugget” marked Top Secret. Lois just walks through the hole in the wall not even trying to sneak in, almost like she forgot there was a dangerous robot in there. She acts all shocked when it turns to attack her and shouts for help. She then tells it to, “scat” like it’s a cat that’s annoying her, not something that’s about to kill her. Lucky for her Superman bursts through a wall stopping the robot from shooting her with a laser. He punches it and destroys it just as easily as that tank he just fought. Oh wait no he just uses his Super-Breath to blow it out the window. Why? Because we wouldn’t have a plot otherwise.
Blow Superman blow
After the usual, “are you alright” bits of dialogue Supes says they’ll talk to the man who built these robots and we cut to the best thing in this series. Lex Luthor, played by Michael Bell.
Lex screams that Supes destroyed his tank and that he should sue him for destruction of private property. But he won’t because that’d implicate him in the robbery, not to mention that Superman has no real legal identity. We are then introduced to Lex’s comedy sidekick. Because of the movies he had to have at least one comedy sidekick and for this show he got her:
Her only real job is to make Lex feel he’s a lot smarter than he is
Miss Morganberry. She’s what would happen if you combined Lex’s sidekicks from Superman the Movie, Ottis and Miss Tessmacher, into one person. She’s clumsy, a bit stupid, utterly clueless, and only there so Lex has someone explain his evil plans to.
Superman shows up, tank in hand, and says, “I believe this is yours Luthor. Lexcorp’s name is on every part.” and throws the tank into Lex’s pool.
Pool tank was the worst game Superman has made
OK so Superman just removed evidence from a crime scene, the only physical evidence that could lead back to Lex, and to do what? Throw it in his pool like a kid with a temper tantrum. Lex just smugly states he’ll send him the bill for removing the tank from the pool, probably thinking, “That dumbass just saved me having to explain away the tank to the cops.” Superman tries to take Luthor in but as he gets closer Lex get Supes where he’s always wanted him:
Supes at BJ height
Lex shows off his Kryptonite pinkie ring and gives some exposition on the only thing that can hurt Superman. Luthor backs off showing how in control he is and says he’s a legitimate businessman and doesn’t know why Supes would want to arrest him. Now Superman could counter that in many ways to prove how much a criminal Lex is but instead we get this, “No one else possesses the evil genius needed to build that tank.” Really? It’s a tank with a remote control attached! You don’t exactly need to be a genius, evil or otherwise, to do that. The Mythbusters could hook one up simple enough. Sure it shoots lasers but this is the 80s, EVERYTHING shoots lasers.
Lex laughs this off saying he’s not responsible for what happens to parts after they left the factory. Supes swears he’ll be back as Lex shuts the door on him. Our hero ladies and gentlemen, he gets shoved away like an annoying neighbourhood kid. Lex goes back to his giant computer screen saying it’s just beginning and Miss Morganberry asks what he’s going to do. He points to a door and out comes:
Stick robot, the rejected Transformer
The spindliest robot ever seen in a cartoon. It barely looks like it’ll support its own weight. But that’s our threatening enemy for the first episode of a Superman cartoon. How will Superman be able to stop this thing before a small breeze gets there first? Well if you guessed punching, heat vision, or even blowing it out a window, then you guessed wrong. The answer is instead very stupid.
We cut to the next day as Lois and Clark are strolling in a park. Lois is bitching that she’s got better things to do, same old usual ‘Lois doesn’t like small stories’ Lois dialogue Thankfully Lois’ whining is cut short as a stereotypical 80s biker gang shows up.
Even Bikers have lasers
They’re shooting lasers and asking everyone to empty their pockets. Yup everything is lasers in the 80s. Even biker gangs who can’t afford shirts can get laser guns. Clark tries to hold Lois back saying it’s dangerous and Lois just says she doesn’t want to miss a front page headline. Hey Lois you don’t need to get closer, you’re right in the middle of it! Before Lois can get herself run over some robots fly over head that look like scrunched up version of the one Lex had. They tell the bikers to ‘stop right there criminal scum’ and one biker tries shooting it, but it just bounces off, so he yells for the gang to flee. Wow this biker gang is a load of pussies if that’s all it takes to get rid of them. The ED209s starts shooting nets and rounding up the gang.
ED209 made with less fail
Then Luthor comes along in his limo standing in the sunroof as the crowd cheers. He says the robots are the Defendroids and they are the city’s new protectors. He claims that crime is up and Superman does nothing but arrest a few jaywalkers and the crowd buys it. Civilians are really fickle in a comic book universe, aren’t they?
Lex’s latest fishing catch
Lex donates them to the city and says that Superman is old news while his Defendroids are around. We then cut to a burning building at night and as Superman shows up a Defendroid shoves him away going, “Move aside citizen. I am needed!” I like to think Lex programmed them to be extra grouchy towards Superman.
The Defendroid saves some kids while Superman gets an elderly couple out of the blaze. All the news reports crowd around the Defendroid and ignore Supes saying how great the robot is while the kids kiss it. That’s such a media stunt those kids have to be actors paid by Luthor. A reporter then walks up to Supes right next to a roaring fire that could burn her face off!
Dumbass reports are Metropolis’ biggest export
Seriously are the firemen just taking a break? No one has cordoned off the building so no one can go near it? We know the firemen are there because we can see a goddamn fire truck in the shot. Apparently no one has heard of fire safety in Metropolis.
The somehow still not burnt reporter asks Sups, “How does it feel knowing with them around you’re no longer needed?” What? Do the people he just saved that the Defendroid missed not count? We then see the crowd looking all surly and angry and saying they don’t need him anymore.
How dare you save elderly people and not kids
We then cut to Lex watching this while relaxing in his pool and his pool chair even has a built in TV. Only an evil genius like Luthor could make such a thing! Apparently the crowd were just actors Lex hired. Not sure if the kids were meant to be actors or just the crowd but I’m saying I called it anyway. Lex thinks Supes will quit by the end of the week and Miss Morganberry, showing her IQ is only in single digits, hopes he’ll be able to find another job. She must be amazing in bed because with a line like that, I can’t think of any other reason Lex keeps her around. A sock puppet would be more intelligent than her.
We cut to Perry White going over the front page of other newspapers and this headline had me burst out laughing:
Timmy, why are you always in that well?
Please tell me his name was Timmy. That would be hilarious. I’m also surprised Metropolis still has wells for kids to fall down. Then again the fire department is useless so I can’t imagine the city being any better. It also must be a slow news day as we see this:
I want Pictures! Pictures of Superman!
J. Johan Jameson must have no Spider-Man rants to put on the front page. Maybe the Defendroids ran him out of town as well?
Then there’s a Daily Planet headline about Superman saying he quit. Lois bitches that he shouldn’t quit, Clark says maybe the Defendroids are just better since they get to the crimes first. Lois then wonders if Lex is the one who set those crimes to make Superman look bad. So Lex found or made a well just to throw Timmy down it? You know that’d be perfectly in character for this Luthor.
We cut to Luthor in a helicopter over some train tracks. He says Superman quit right on schedule and now Operation Nugget can commence. He used the plans he copied at the beginning to get two possible train routes and then blows one up. This is something we’ll come back to later:
OK those seem like small explosions…
… maybe not then
Back at the Daily Planet Jimmy Olsen is skateboarding through the offices because… young people skateboard I guess. He tells them that a massive earthquake has been happened right outside the city. Now how Lex’s bombs can be mistaken for an earthquake is anyone’s guess, maybe he faked the report to explain how the train tracks got damaged.
Perry tells Lois, Clark, and Jimmy to go out there and get the earthquake story. We then see them going along in the Daily Planet RV next to… HOLY CRAP!
I’m sure no one would be stupid enough to fall into that
That was just from those bombs? What was in them? I think Lex’s plan to sink California in the movie with Nukes made a smaller canyon. Now I’ll let this slide because what happens next is gloriously stupid it’s the whole reason I’m doing this.
So Lois is driving along and somehow missing a giant crack in the road that they fall into. As they’re trying to get out Clark looks out the window and sees… LAVA!
“Oh my gosh Lava, it’s going to bury us!”
Yes lava from out of nowhere. No this is never explained, not even a token line. So somehow Metropolis is right above a volcano and it never has earthquakes? Science is weeping right now.
Lois and Jimmy climb out the window while Clark stays there to change into Superman. Then the Daily Planet RV get’s literally buried in Lava:
Well there goes that secret identity
Superman then flies in and saves Lois and Jimmy and then dives into the lava to save… well himself. We then see the Daily Planet makes their RVs out of sterner stuff as it’s not even slightly melted by the lava.
Because you never know when you need to drive into an active volcano
That doesn’t surprise me given Lois works there. They probably armour all their stuff to survive anything Lois could do to them. So then Superman starts wrapping his, perfectly fine and unburnt, clothes in the seat cushions.
I see no way this could go wrong.
He flies out with his cape wrapped around them saying Clarks alright he just fainted, so he’s taking him home. Not even a manly, ‘he passed out’ to save Clark’s fleeting masculinity? The fact that Lois buys this tells us why she hasn’t figured out his secret identity yet. No one tells Superman to go to the hospital since Clark must have third or fourth degree burns having spent that much time IN LAVA!
He needs some chicken soup. Best thing to recover from lava
Lois and Jimmy go investigating the train tracks and make the entire lava escapades a transparent and completely idiotic way to get Clark out of the story. They do that quite a bit in this series and this isn’t even the stupidest way either. So how do we make the entire lava scene even more pointless? With this:
An earthquake totally did that
Did the storyboard artists just dick around when making this episode? Did they forget about the large canyons the explosions apparently made? Lois says it’s strange how the earthquake only destroyed the train tracks. What? We saw that it destroyed a lot more than the train tracks. It messed up the road pretty bad too since YOU DROVE INTO IT!
Superman shows up, says it was planned and shows them part of a bomb he found in the lava. How he can tell that I have no idea since it’s just a piece of metal. The answer of course is, ‘shut up! PLOT!’ He also mentions how he didn’t quit; he just did so to fake Luthor out. Lois tells Supes about hearing the robot probe say Operation Nugget then Supes flies them back to the city. And we get another shot of the COMPLETELY DESTROYED train tracks:
Yes only those train tracks were destroyed… oh wait
Supes flies them back to the Daily Planet and tells them to follow Luthor’s Defendroids in the news chopper. As they do they get ambushed by the Defendroids and get captured. When Superman gets to the downed chopper he sees Lois and Jimmy imprisoned in this:
Constructicons combine to form Devastator!
Which looks like all the Defendroids combined to form an even stupider looking giant robot. Oh and notice how Lois and Jimmy are only imprisoned by some bars, that they can easily fit through too, that’ll be important later. Supes fights it, gets knocked down and shot with Kryptonite lasers, and the giant robot flies off with Superman in pursuit.
We then see Lex’s campest wave ever:
The second gayest Luthor moment in animation
And now we get to see what Operation Nugget is. They’re loading a heavily armoured train with gold for Fort Knox. Gold nugget, get it? Oh the military and their blatantly obvious code words.
I’m sure there are easier and faster ways of doing that
So after we’re told how tough this train is and how, “nobody can break into it” we then cut to Luthor about to do just that. Miss Morganberry comments why Lex would need to steal a billion dollars when he’s already a, “zillionaire” and Lex responds, “My daddy used to tell me you can never have enough chocolate ice cream, real-estate, or money.” Yes I remember Lionel Luthor giving that speech to Lex on Smallville, it was so moving.
So the giant combined Defendroid flies off into space. Yes really
I’m sure Lois and Jimmy are still alive after this
And now science has just stormed out the door so we are now operating on Superman 4 logic. Lois and Jimmy are still breathing and there is no explanation for why. We saw there was no glass or anything on the outside, just bars.
Anyway Superman throws a disused satellite at it, destroying its head. Superman then pushes it back to earth and it surprisingly begins to burn up on re-entry.
Shoulda made it out of that stuff the Daily Planet RVs use.
He gets them out before the robot crashes into a lake. The Defendroids attack the train and it turns into G.I.Joe with the military and the Defendroids shooting red and blue lasers at each other. We don’t get Michael Bell shooting, “YO JOE!” sadly. Instead we get Lex saying how happy he is that Lexcorp got the contract to the build that train as he presses a button that unbuckles the car with the gold in from the rest of them.
Shouldn’t a car carrying that much gold weight a lot more?
Yes it takes only two of them to lift a car carrying that much gold. Why? Because science gives not a crap anymore. So Superman swoops in and Lex delivers the line of the episode, “I’ve seen cats with less lives than that man.” It’s Bell’s delivery that makes it work. He sets the Defendroids on him and, “in the unlikely event he survives” Lex makes a phone call to the Mayor’s office and we see Lex can’t spell telephone:
‘I’m the smartest man on Earth, I can spell however I want to!’
So Superman’s got to fight these Defendroids, what does he do? He must use heat vision to melt them all cleanly and quickly. Or maybe just fly through them all punching them like he did to that tank at the start? No instead he just rips of top off of one and with a few button pushes reprograms it to drop the car.
Robots may have souls but reprogramming one is still A-OK
Why this instead of a fight scene well I’ll let Marv Wolfman explain:
“… [BS&P] were pretty strict. For example, I ended my pilot episode story with a big fight between Superman and the robots which they forced me to change. Superman couldn’t crash through the robots because, and I quote – “Even robots have souls.” I had to come up with something non-violent,”
So this, “non-violent” way was to have the reprogrammed robot shoot the other one and they both shoot each other till they burned out and fell down. That’s so much better since they have souls and all, its ok if they kill themselves just because someone else told them to.
Why was I programmed to feel pain?!
After that Lex whines that Superman beat him again. Supes shows up and Lex says the Defendroids went runaway and he called to warn the Mayor about them. He blames it on faulty programming; Superman doesn’t buy it and says he’s going to prove what Lex is up. And with him saying, “Up, up, and away” the episode ends.
But wait what’s that? There’s more?
Superman Family Album Smallville Edition
Yes there was a second segment to this series called Superman Family Album. They were four minute stories about what happened before he became Superman. The entire thirteen episode series covered him landing on Earth to him going to Metropolis and becoming Superman. It’s basically Smallville without the padding.
So we are starting with The Adoption. We see an elderly Jonathon and Martha Kent at the Smallville Orphanage giving the baby Clark to them.
Don’t leave me with he nasty man!
By the way in all these Family Album segments the Kent’s never age or change their clothes. The final one is Clark going to Metropolis and they look no different than they do now even though it’s been 25-30 years.
Anyway they hand the baby off but he doesn’t want to go. The orphanage doesn’t like giving babies to elderly couples. So that’s why they’re old here, so we can have this stupid plot. The man in charge says to put the baby in a crib while a couple has already come to see him. Despite the fact that the Kent’s hadn’t left before that couple showed up we’re going to ignore that because the stupid is about to hit the fan. The guy shows the couple the baby and when he opens the door they see this:
A FLYING BABY? I’M GOING TO BE RICH!
Despite seeing a baby that could fly and wreck an entire room, not to mention injure a member of staff like that, no one questions this. The couple just declines to take him. We cut to later when another couple comes to see him, he then flies out of the window to the zoo and brings back this:
That day the Smallville Orphanage was shut down due to child endangerment
They open the door to see that and then the couple run screaming from the orphanage. Despite these two instances no one questions how this is happening. No one even calls the police about what this terrible orphanage is doing to this baby. They should be shut down because of the lion alone.
At night the only two staff members we see are in the baby’s room questioning if he’s purposefully driving couples away. They even ask if maybe he wants someone else to be his parents. The hell? They think the baby managed to get a lion into his room on his own? Maybe they are dumb enough to overlook all the miraculous things this baby can do if they think a baby is smart enough to plan that out despite not being a year old.
He flies off in the middle of the night, somehow knowing where the Kent farm is, and snuggles up between them in bed.
The Kent’s were soon arrested for child abduction the next day
So this is actually telling us that the baby, a goddamn BABY, is intelligent enough to know what’s going on around him, to know exactly where everything is in Smallville, all these human concepts even though he’s been on Earth for a day at most? You know I think he’s smarter as a baby than he is as an adult.
The segment closes out with the Kent’s deciding to bring him back to the orphanage and convince the dumbass in charge to let them take him. Given he is a dumbass he doesn’t think to call the police since they obviously kidnapped the baby and staged all those weird incidents because the orphanage wouldn’t let them have him.
This was a very silly episode that had a lot of stupid moments in them. The animation was exceptionally good for an 80s cartoon, it looked like something out of the mid 90s at times. The voice cast was great, all of them did fantastic jobs and there wasn’t a bad apple in the bunch. Bell does a great job with Lex’s smug superiority over everyone. The plot was so Silver Age, so very Silver Age, but I found it fun to watch. Then again I like watching this sort of stuff and making fun of it.
The Family Album story was stupid. I know it was meant to be a comedy segment but I find it funnier if you take it seriously.
If there’s one thing we can take away from this episode is that you shouldn’t fall into cracks in the ground or else you might get engulfed by lava.
So any thoughts on this type of review? Too long? Not funny? Is it worth me doing more of these?