Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Legion of Super Heroes: Message in a Bottle

Welcome back to the Legion of Super Heroes episode reviews. I actually wrapped this review up in a somewhat timely fashion, because I really liked this one.

On watching this again for my review, I'm convinced this is my favorite episode of the season. Chained Lightning comes close, but this one has two factors that push it over the top. One is that we get Superman rather than Superman-X as we did in Lightning. The other is the presence of Streaky the Supercat!

But more on him later.

I actually think I turned it off on my first viewing. I started it up right after finishing Unnatural Alliances, and I was already ambivalent about the season. We open with Lightning Lad, Chameleon Boy, Timber wolf, Superman,  Shrinking Violet and Brainy zipping along the arctic tundra.

Chameleon Boy: It's funny,  Timber Wolf, I always pictured Superman's arctic Fortress of Solitude differently.
Timber Wolf: What, more ice?
Chameleon Boy: Fewer killer robots.

And pan to a vanguard of a million Destructobots. And I was like, "Thanks for the exposition, Cam, but no thanks for the episode," and turned it off.

Now that I'm much more kindly disposed towards the episode, I actually find the exchange pretty funny.  (Plus kudos for saying "fewer", when it's a common mistake to say "less" in these circumstances.)

Also, Shrinking Violet looks cuter every time she shows up.

Superman flies into the Fortress after Imperiex and Validus while the other Legionnaires fight his robots.

He finds the place empty, and then he vanishes like Jeff Bridges in Tron and winds up inside Kandor.

Now, it's the rare person in America who doesn't know the general deal with Superman. My grandmother could probably tell you the basics of his "Doomed planet. Desperate scientists. Last hope. Kindly couple" origin. (And thank you, Grant Morrison, for summing up the character so perfectly in All Star Superman. Link to my favorite panels in the story.)

And then there is the secondary layer of Superman mythology. The Phantom Zone, Supergirl, the different varieties of Kryptonite, and one of my favorites, the Bottle City of Kandor.

It's one of those bits of Silver Age weirdness, but it's an engaging and persistent one, and one that shows up with some regulaity across the different incarnations of Superman. Briefly, if you didn't click through the link and you're not familiar with it already, Kandor is a Kryptonian city that survived the destruction of the planet because it had previously been shrunk down and put in a bottle by the original Brainiac.

While Superman is in the bottle, a robot custodian walks out and fills the Legion in on what's going on. The robot looks more than a little like the Cyborg Superman from the comics. It claims that Superman put it there to keep watch on the Fortress, and the design is an interesting aesthetic choice. I mean, if I were making myself a robot butler, I probably wouldn't build it to look like me with half my face ripped off. 

"Tea and crumpets, sir?"

Vi asks if Superman went into the model, and Brainy says, "That's no model. It's an actual Kryptonian city that's been shrunk." I don't know if it's deliberate or not, but Brainy's use of the passive voice here ("It's been shrunk" rather than "My ancestor shrunk it") seems to be an attempt to distance himself from events, but if so, it's a nice touch.

Anyways, back in the bottle, Imperiex shows up. Superman forgot his protective super suit and is powerless under Kandor's artificial red sun. The robot shrinks them and beams them in, but Vi shrinks in under her own powers and as a result is several feet taller than the rest of the Legionnaires.

I liked that bit a lot. It doesn't add a lot to the main story, but it's a fun bit of flavor.Shrinking Violet doesn't get a lot of screen time over the course of the show, but her appearances are pretty consistently entertaining. They arrive to find a dazed Superman being licked by a dog that seems somehow familiar.


Brainy seems to know more than he's letting on, and Superman calls him out on it. He tells them that "The Messenger" was a device that Jor-El used to stabilize Krypton, which worked until "The Terror" shrunk down Kandor (where it was housed) and thereby removed the only thing preventing Krypton from self-destructing. I really like this take on Krypton and how they tie a number of aspects together neatly into a unified story. I think it works really well in the context of the animated Legion canon.

Superman asks what they know about the Terror, but Brainy evades the question and changes the subject by offering Superman a suit that will protect him from the red sun radiation. Superman is like, "Thanks, Brainy! You're the best."

Cut to Imperiex being evil and trying to find the map to the Messenger. He gets it, and caves in some archtiecture to cover his escape. Brainy rescues some of the Kandorians, who are grateful until they note his resemblance to the Terror.

Superman initially dismisses this claim, but a couple minutes later, they're discussing things in the forest, he asks Brainy if there is something he's not telling them. Brainy spills the beans, Superman angrily asks why he didn't tell him that before and Brainy says it's because it could affect his future...and because he was afraid to.

This is just a great scene. Superman is pretty upset, about all the secrets Brainy kept.  "Then all those secrets you kept from me. That wasn't for my benefit. It was for yours!"

I think the argument can be made that it was for both, but Brainy used the excuse of protecting Superman from his future adventures to avoid telling him things that might come in the way of their friendship. It's a great scene. Brainy knows that he kept more than was strictly necessary to protect Superman and he's angry and embarrassed that he's been discovered. It's a believable, human reaction. (Yeah, yeah,  Brainy is a Coluan, but you know what I mean)

They go to separate regions of the forest, Brainy reviews his footage of the fight and sees that he captured an image of the map, so they meet Imperiex at the temple. Brainy and Superman are good people, so they put aside their spat to concentrate on the fight. They get the Messenger, but Imperiex captures their teammates. He sends them the standard bad guy ultimatum, give him the Macguffin, or their friends get it.

Brainy doesn't want to trade, but would rather evacuate as many of the inhabitants of Kandor as they can, and try to rescue their friends. Superman is having none of it, and is still sore over being lied to for so long.

Brainiac 5: I believe our best option to prevent Imperiex from obtaining the Messenger is to destroy it.
Superman: And sacrifice Kandor?
Brainiac 5: For a much greater good? Yes. And we might still rescue our friends and evacuate a percentage of Kandor's population before the city crumbles.
Superman: Your ancestor destroyed most of Krypton and now you're ready to finish the job!

Superman flies off with the Messenger and tells Brainy he can do "Whatever it is that Brainiacs do when they're not shrinking cities."

Superman gives the Messenger to the ruling council of Kandor and tells them that he's going to confront Imperiex and it's up to them to decide what to do with it if he doesn't return. He expresses regret in having failed them, and they tell him that he hasn't, that he visited Kandor in the past and restored order to the place, and they've been striving to live up to his ideals ever since.

Meanwhile, Brainy is in a Kandorian temple, looking at stained glass representations of the Terror, talking to himself/Brainiac 1, when he realizes that he still has the program for the original within himself. He disables the firewalls and accesses the restricted subroutine.

I love Corey Burton's Brainiac voice. Nobody does monotone robots like he does. He states that he's been watching Brainic 5 since the beginning and has the solution to his problem ready. In the virtual world Brainiac 5 inserts the upgrade. In the real world, he smiles.

Cut to Superman and Imperiex. The artificial sun is setting. Superman's suit has been destroyed, so he is once again powerless. Nevertheless, he and a crowd of Kandorians confront Imperiex. They get the bejesus kicked out of them until Brainiac 5 shows up and modifies the wavelength of the artificial sun, changing it to a yellow star. Superman's powers are restored and he slaps Imperiex's grip aside.

Imperiex: Even with your powers restored, you are still outnumbered.
Superman: Better check your math.

Everybody in Kandor gets Superman's powers and they smack the shit out of Imperiex.

When I say everyone, I mean EVERYone.

Imperiex says to Validus that they should teleport back, Validus roars and Imperiex responds that they'll worry about resizing later, and I didn't like that bit at all. When Validus roared, I just figured he was roaring, not speaking some Chewbacca roar-language. But that's a tiny complaint in an otherwise awesome episode.

After that, Brainy and Superman journey to the ruins of Krpyton and use the Messenger to rebuild it and once they place Kandor on the restored planet, they resize it.

Back on the Legion cruiser, Superman and Brainy apologize to each other, then Brainy wipes his memory of the adventure. Superman walks away confused, and Vi says to Brainy that she's happy for him that he faced up to his past, and she bets he's stronger for it. He says, "You know something, I think you're right." She turns away and then Brainy gives a sinister smile to the camera. End credits.

Great episode.

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