Superman on Television
Superman: The Animated Series - Episode Reviews
Season 2 - Episode 20: "The Late Mr. Kent"Original Air Date: November 1, 1997
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Taylor
"He's dead, Jim."
Rating - 5 (out of 5): I mentioned before that my all-time favorite episode of this show was Mxyzpixilated, but that doesn't mean that it's the best of the series when I try to look at it empirically. My top three are all over the place and oddly enough my third-favorite is what I would call the second best, but I haven't gotten to that one yet. This is my third favorite. And if you were able to follow all that, keep reading.
What made this episode the best is simple: good writing. There were no flashy guest stars from the lesser Superman Universe or DC Comics. It just stood on its own merits and didn't need to fit into a larger arc because you can watch it from beginning to end and enjoy a complete story.
I've often felt that starting a tale with the ending, or in this case the middle, then revealing the bulk of the plot in flashback is an overused method of storytelling that should only be employed in specific circumstances when a certain plotline calls for it. This one pulled it off nicely by revealing that Clark Kent was dead while Superman hid off to the side and witnessed the Daily Planet staff mourning the death of his alter ego.
We got a treat seeing Clark Kent as a serious investigative reporter. Batman may be a better detective, but that's one of his "super powers." There's no good reason Clark Kent shouldn't be able to hold his own in an investigation. After all, it's his job. He's far more than a naïve farm boy and it was nice to see that in action.
This series usually stayed away from the love triangle method between Lois, Clark and Superman, so although there was that specific chemistry between the two that maintained Lois's status as a love interest instead of a generic damsel in distress, we rarely saw moments of feeling that go beyond shared respect. The scene between Lois and Superman in Clark's apartment after his apparent death was excellent. She revealed to Superman that even though she never showed it, that she actually liked Clark a lot.
After the climax, there was another beautiful scene with Clark in the hospital having been found by Lana, the one person Clark could think to call in his perceived delirium. Lois's reaction was priceless. She was actually jealous of Lana, even though we know that Clark needed her for this situation because she was one of the few who shared his secret. It would have been just as easy for him to call his parents, but that would have foregone the tension. Plus, it's always nice to see Lana used well in a story, even if it was just a cameo.
Superman saved Lois from a bomb in Clark's apartment, then put out the fire by lifting and punching a spout in the side of a water tower he borrowed from a neighboring rooftop. Then the carnage fell to the populated streets below. Again, sometimes simplicity is the best. It was a simple scene of Superman saving lives, and outside of the ending with Detective Bowman, it contained most of the action in this story. Plus the music was perfect.
Speaking of which, the climax when Detective Bowman tried to escape in the helicopter was exciting, if futile. His gatling guns and missile were effective for slowing Superman down, but certainly not stopping him. The truth is that Bowman never stood a chance and there was zero possibility of him escaping. But it played out well and the animation when Superman downed the chopper was perfect.
The use of Bowman as the villain succeeded because he wasn't a character we should have suspected. He appeared in "Target" earlier in the season, but until his reveal as the villain, there was no reason to legitimately suspect him as the mastermind behind the murder that Earnest Walker has been falsely sentenced to death for committing.
In spite of all the good things about this episode, there were a couple of questionable minor plot points. First, Clark was able to return to the land of the living because the boat captain had poor eyesight and wasn't wearing his glasses to see if anyone bobbed to the surface. So the explanation was that Clark was washed to shore without the signed eyewitness statement that he had seen it all. It's a weak explanation. If I saw a car explode, go off a cliff and splash into the ocean, I would put my glasses on at some point and keep an eye out for survivors.
When Clark visited his parents to discuss how he was seen dying, Jonathan stated that he was still alive after all, but that he just couldn't be Clark Kent any more. After all those years protecting his secret, I don't buy that he wouldn't at least consider potential ways to fix the situation. I would have preferred the scene cut out, since it wasn't necessary anyway, instead of having that one thing to complain about in an otherwise awesome episode.
Now that I've lauded the episode for its originality, I have to point out that the main crux of the story, which is about saving an innocent man from the death penalty, is actually a throwback to Action Comics #1, although the details are different. My guess is that this was the primary plot point that the rest of the episode grew out of. The final shot of the episode where Bowman himself was sentenced to death may have been the reason the villain wasn't a woman, as it was in the original story. Death penalty stories are already skirting a line when put into a children's cartoon, and putting a woman to death may have been too unsafe for the censors. Detective Bowman was used effectively enough anyway, so that's a non-issue.
That moment just before death when Bowman realized that Clark Kent must be Superman was gut-wrenching. At the same time, it was darkly funny and a beautiful endcap to the story. After all that effort to escape, he finally had something to hold over Superman (or so I believe he would think), but it was too late.
Ron Troupe got a quick mention when Clark was up late working at the Daily Planet and wondered if Ron would mind him stealing his leftover pizza. I only mention it because I like Ron Troupe and he only speaks twice in this entire series, but I believe he had a cameo in the opening funeral scene.
One last thing. Clark was seen dying when his car exploded and went off a cliff. He lives in a city and he's Superman. Why does he suddenly own a car? It's nitpicky, but it still amused me to think about.
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