As part of celebrating the 20th anniversary of Superman: The Animated Series, we finish our countdown of every single episode of the cartoon. From the debuts of terrifying villains to humongous intergalactic clashes to team ups with a certain Dark Knight, these 20 episodes are the best stories ever offered by the DC Comics Books series.
For #45 to 21, read Part 1 of Every S:TAS Episode Ranked.
20. New Kids in Town
There’s not nearly enough time spent in Smallville throughout the course of Superman: The Animated Series, so an entire episode set in Clark’s rural hometown is very welcome. Not only that, but it’s a time travel episode and it introduced the Legion of Super-Heroes! As Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Chameleon Boy chase a Brainiac from the 31st Century into the past, they wind up in Smallville at the time Clark Kent was a teenager. Of course, Brainiac is there to wipe him out of existence. It’s sort of like Back to the Future crossed with Superman, which is a great compliment. And while the Legionnaires themselves are a bit bland, young Clark and the time travel shenanigans make for a fun time.
19. Identity Crisis
As a villain who is a polar opposite to Superman, Bizarro most often functions as either a joke character or a tragic one. Here, the emphasis is much more on the tragic and the result is far better than any follow-up stories featuring the character. In an attempt to replicate the alien physiology of Superman, Lex Luthor creates an imperfect clone whose biology quickly degrades into the monster known as Bizarro. It’s the twisted logic of Bizarro that makes him both hero and villain, as he cannot tell right from wrong. It all leads to a climactic showdown and a heroic sacrifice that caps off the tale in a most fitting manner.
18. Stolen Memories
Brainiac is most definitely one of the best villains in S:TAS. His cold, calculating demeanor makes him an intimidating presence and a great contrast to the warm hearted Superman. His introduction here (outside of his part in the series’ pilot) sees him take on the classic role of seemingly peaceful alien turned terrifying invader. With his role in Krypton’s destruction and his desire to collect and destroy every civilization in the universe (which is seeded with some build up in several prior episodes), there is far more threat and real menace found in Stolen Memories than in most episodes of the series, leading to one of its strongest.
17. Feeding Time
Unlike most villains of S:TAS, the first appearance of Parasite is not his best episode, but it’s still one of the strongest in the series. Add in a genuinely disturbing origin scene for the villain (surprisingly, there are way more unsettling moments in S:TAS than B:TAS), some great Jimmy Olsen moments, and a character who is a true threat for Superman, and you’ve got a very memorable episode. With the power to suck out the life force, memories, and powers of anyone he touches, Parasite has much more possibilities than the typical powered-weapon-carrying goon that so many other episodes revolve around.
16. The Prometheon
Featuring Superman’s battle against a seemingly indestructible space monster who feeds off heat, The Prometheon is one of the most narrowly focused episodes of the series and one of its most offbeat. With lengthy scenes that are nearly silent, a creature that would feel at home in the monster flicks of the ‘50s, and a nighttime aesthetic that feels closer to Batman: The Animated Series, the episode shows off a great change of pace for the series that still keeps its iconic hero front and center. It’s lack of a classic villain may make it lesser known, but The Prometheon is a great entry into S:TAS.
15. Two’s a Crowd
A weird and wild ride, Two’s a Crowd makes the absolute most of the Parasite character. Here, a scientist who has hidden a ticking bomb in Metropolis falls into a coma before he can reveal the location, leading Superman and the police to convince Parasite to drain the information from the man in order to find it. However, the scientist’s mind transfers to Parasite, leading to the two men teaming up inside Parasite’s mind and eventually battling for power, all as the bomb gets closer to detonation. That internal struggle and Superman’s efforts to bring out the best in Parasite add a more human layer to the villain and a very satisfying ending.
14. Where There’s Smoke
Government conspiracies, a deadly woman with a vendetta, and lots of old school sci-fi elements. These elements make Where There’s Smoke stand out from the pack. Here, Superman encounters Volcana, a pyrokinetic woman who is after the man who experimented on her. But what is true justice? Having Volcana propel the story as an anti-hero helps set the episode apart from the typical black and white morality that defines much of S:TAS and gives the episode a far more satisfying conclusion. Volcana works very well as an essentially one-off character for the show who was created specifically for S:TAS, much like Livewire.
Vehemently anti-Superman shock jock Leslie Willis turned electricity-powered super villain Livewire is one of the handful of characters who were created for one of the DC Animated Universe shows, so her debut episode carries more weight than the typical villain of the week entry. Livewire comes fully formed from the get go and Livewire the episode is filled with spectacular moment, such as Superman’s harrowing crane disaster rescue that is intercut with Willis’ critiques of the hero and the creation of the villain herself. While Livewire may not be a top tier Superman villain, her debut episode works spectacularly.
12. Little Girl Lost, Parts 1 & 2
Reeling from the events of Apokolips … Now, Superman leaves to visit where his home planet of Krypton used to be, only to happen upon a nearby frozen planet whose sole survivor is the teenage Kryptonian Kara, who is taken to Earth and quickly becomes Supergirl. Once again, the forces of Apokolips rear their heads in an effort to destroy the planet and a team up of Supergirl, Superman, and Jimmy Olsen fight back. Supergirl makes for a strong addition to the cast and the series makes a wise choice by having this two-part episode primarily focus on her in order to better establish the character and give her a strong arc. Lots of new characters like Granny Goodness and fun supporting players make for a worthy entry into the overarching Darkseid plotline.
11. A Little Piece of Home
Voiced by Clancy Brown and true to the essence of the character, Lex Luthor is one of the consistently best parts of Superman: The Animated Series. Here, in the show’s fifth episode, we get to see him begin to fill his villainous potential with a Kryptonite attack on Superman. Having discovered that the irradiated fragments of Superman’s home world are like poison to The Man of Steel, Luthor decides to take out his new rival as soon as he can. Having a weakened Superman battle a dangerous animatronic T-Rex is the kind of action that harkens back to the Fleischer cartoon serials, but it still feels right for this series. The result of one of the most iconic S:TAS scenes.
10. The Late Mr. Kent
Superman: The Animated Series goes full-on noir mystery with a major twist, the seeming death of Clark Kent and what that means for the very much alive Superman. Playing around with the narrative structure, using voice over for the first time in the series, and getting deeper into the head of Superman while he tries to unravel a murder mystery makes this easily one of the most unique and well done episodes in the entire series. As Superman works to free an innocent man, stop more murders, and figure out what must be done with his seemingly dead secret identity, the mystery and stakes of the narrative get better and better. Plus, the ending is one of the most shockingly grim finales in the entire series and probably the entire DC Animated Universe. But it fits the story perfectly.
9. The Way of All Flesh
Metallo is a fantastic villain who generally shined in each of his episodes, but none top The Way of All Flesh. Criminal John Corben had already appeared in the three-part pilot episode, but this entry marks his transition to Metallo – a cyborg with fake skin and a Kryptonite heart who slowly loses his mind due to his inability to feel. This is the darkest and grimmest that Superman: The Animated Series ever got (the flesh tearing scene is insane for a kid’s cartoon), but it is handled far better than the subsequent episodes that tried to be as dark and failed. Metallo’s descent into madness, his clash with Superman, and Luthor’s twisted scheme work really well in The Way of All Flesh.
8. Ghost in the Machine
Picking up on a small cliffhanger from his first appearance, Braniac returns in the computers of LexCorp, this time forcing Luthor to create a new body for him. Here, the S:TAS team wisely chooses to focus on the antagonistic coerced partnership between Luthor and Braniac, resulting in some great character moments for the two. Meanwhile, Superman teams up with Luthor’s bodyguard Mercy Graves, who is giving some major character development, despite being a seemingly one-note supporting character. All in all, it’s some of the strongest Luthor work in the entire series and does a lot for every character involved. Kudos for the team for picking up some plot threads here years later in Justice League Unlimited.
7. Knight Time
The second Batman-related episode of the series, Knight Time sees The Dark Knight missing and his sidekick Robin seeking Superman’s help. In order to curtail rising crime in the wake of Batman’s absence, Superman temporarily takes on the missing hero’s identity. Simply put, it’s a ton of fun to see Superman impersonate Batman and dive deep into the noir world of Gotham. Plus, Superman’s interplay with Robin and the many villains of Batman’s Rogues Gallery give a fresh dynamic to both Superman and Batman’s world. While the villain reveal by the episode’s end feels like somewhat of a rehash of an earlier S:TAS episode, the sheer joy of Knight Time means it doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of the story.
This is simply one of the most fun episodes in all of S:TAS, and its sense of sheer wacky fun is what puts this episode so high up on the list. Bedeviled by Mr. Mxyzptlk, a mischief-maker from the 5th Dimension who has come to annoy Superman for fun, our hero must contend with a being who has power over reality and no sense of responsibility. Having Mxyzptlk (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried) and all his insanity play off the serious yet smart Superman results in tons of comedy that works well from beginning to end. Plus, the visual gags and general Looney Tunes nature of Mxy’s actions keeps the weird laughs coming. One of the best, most unconventional episodes in all of the DC Animated Universe.
5. Speed Demons
By far the best S:TAS episode that centers on the debut of a major DC Comics hero, Speed Demons works because of its central iconic conflict that goes back decades in the history of comic books. The idea of a race between Superman and The Flash has its roots in the Golden Age of Comic Books and still works great in a modern interpretation. Rather than setting up an origin for The Flash, they simply introduce him as an active hero and briefly explain his powers, wasting no time to get to the charity race that pits the heroes against one another. Of course, having the villainous Weather Wizard interfere adds bigger stakes and greater complications to the race. All in all, Speed Demons is great fun because of the high speed action and the interplay between its very different rival heroes.
4. The Last Son of Krypton Parts 1 – 3
The origin of Superman is iconic and strong on its own in any medium, which is why its three-part inclusion in S:TAS in the form of the series’ multi-part pilot ranks so high here. It was an ingenious decision to split the series’ pilot into three parts, each with their own focus on a piece of the Superman origin story. Much like Richard Donner’s Superman, this three part episode is split into the destruction of Krypton, Clark Kent’s childhood in Smallville, and his debut as Superman in Metropolis. Each has their own unique feel and strengths, giving the series the kickoff it needed in order to succeed as a follow-up to B:TAS. While the rest of the series would rarely live up to the epic sweep of “The Last Son of Krypton,” this origin story elevates the series as a whole.
3. Legacy, Parts 1 and 2
Noticing a trend here? Superman: The Animated Series was always able to supply the greatest amount of narrative heft in multi-part episodes, which is likely why the Justice League follow-up series committed to all two-parters, all the time. Here, Timm and company close out the series with an insane two-parter that sees Superman brainwashed as a commander of Darkseid’s army in an invasion of Earth, followed by his escape from Luthor’s lethal plans and a massive battle with Darkseid and his forces on Apokolips. The series truly pulled out all the stops for an insane, no holds barred story filled with twists and huge narrative stakes. It’s great to see the long-developing Darkseid story come to a satisfying end that refrains from being predictable for a far more interesting conclusion. The choices made here result in S:TAS being a much more nuanced series as a whole and sets up great stories to come in the following Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series.
2. Apokolips … Now, Parts 1 & 2
The long-simmering Darkseid plotline erupts into a massive battle as the armies of Apokolips invade the Earth, Superman learns of Orion and the world of New Genesis, and the stakes of Superman: The Animated Series are raised to a higher level than ever. Moments like the nuclear explosion death of Bruno Mannheim, Superman beaten into submission, and the general apocalyptic nature of the episode make this into one of the most epic episodes of the entire show and the DCAU as a whole. But it’s the tragic death of Detective Dan Turpin and the melancholic elegy for the character that truly gives this episode massive emotional weight in a way that S:TAS rarely had. It’s a shocking turn of events, but the emotions that result make Apokolips … Now easily one of the show’s greatest entries.
1. World’s Finest, Parts 1 – 3
Superman: The Animated Series may be remembered the most for being the show that brought Batman and Superman together for one of the best animated stories either has ever been featured in. Here in World’s Finest, we find Batman (appearing for the first time in years since the end of Batman: The Animated Series) confronted and eventually partnering with Superman to fight the deadly team of The Joker and Lex Luthor. Full of great character dynamics, amazing action, and strong narrative beats, this episode generally feels like it is a step above almost all of the rest of S:TAS. World’s Finest is both the best story in all of S:TAS and the cornerstone of the larger DC Animated Universe, as it gave birth to the B:TAS revival in The New Batman Adventures and allowed the follow-up Justice League series to happen. Nothing else in the show quite matches the strength of the story here or the sheer joy that comes from pairing these two iconic heroes together in some of their best interpretations.
For an in-depth look at what makes this three-part story so great, read “Batman/Superman: World’s Finest – The Greatest Dark Knight & Man of Steel Team Up.”
What are your favorite episodes? Let us know in the comments section below!