Superman: The Animated Series is an animated series that ran from 1996 to 2000. Warner Bros. applied the same "more modern, more serious" animated treatment to DC Comics' flagship character in the same way they had successfully produced Batman: The Animated Series.
Airing ten years after the 1986 reboot of the Superman comic book character, the animated series paid tribute to both the classic Superman of old and the newer "modern" Superman. Perhaps most significantly, Clark Kent displays the more aggressive personality used by John Byrne in his reboot of the comic book continuity. Elements of Superman from all eras of his history were included in the series, especially in a portrayal of the planet Krypton, the planet that Superman was born on, that fans praised as a "modernization" of Superman's origin that contrasted John Byrne's reboot, and some fans felt was superior to the "newer" comic book version. Notably, the evil computer Brainiac was not only now from Krypton, but was portrayed as responsible for preventing the knowledge of Krypton's imminent destruction from reaching its people. In a lesser innovation, the ship that carried the infant Kal-El to Earth was designed to land smoothly upon reaching its destination, rendering it in perfect working condition during Superman's adulthood and is used as his mode of long range transportation in space.
While the series featured fresh recreations of much of Superman's rogues gallery, the series' writers supplemented the limited supply of enemies by paying tribute to Jack Kirby's Fourth World creations which also introduced the villain Darkseid to the series as one of Superman's greatest enemies. Darkseid had been portrayed as a villain in Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians in the 1980s, but in the new Superman series, he was closer to the enormously powerful, evil cosmic emperor originally envisioned by Kirby. The tribute event extends to the supporting character, Dan "Terrible" Turpin, who is visually modelled on Jack Kirby himself.
Midway through the series' run, it was combined with episodes of The New Batman Adventures to become The New Batman/Superman Adventures. The characters of Superman and Batman were then spun off into a new animated series, Justice League, which also featured other popular DC characters, such as Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Flash.
Notable regular guests
- Michael Ironside - Darkseid (7 episodes)
- Ron Perlman - Jax-Ur (3 episodes)
- Leslie Easterbrook - Mala (from the episodes, "Blast from the Past Parts 1 and 2")
- Sarah Douglas - Mala (from the episode "Absolute Power")
- Malcolm McDowell - John Corben / Metallo (6 episodes)
- Michael Dorn - Kalibak & John Henry Irons / Steel (6 episodes)
- Bruce Weitz - Bruno Mannheim (5 episodes)
- Gilbert Gottfried - Mr. Mxyzptlk
- Brad Garrett - Lobo & Bibbo Bibbowski
- Jason Marsden - Teenage Clark Kent
- Nicholle Tom - Kara In-Ze / Kara Kent / Supergirl
- Corey Burton - Brainiac
- Kevin Conroy - Bruce Wayne / Batman
- Mark Hamill - The Joker
- Bob Hastings - Commissioner James Gordon
- Charity James - Roxanne Sutton / Roxy Rocket
- Mathew Valencia - Tim Drake / Robin
- In the episode "The Last Son of Krypton: Part 2", when Jonathan and Martha found the little Kal-El, at first Martha wanted to name him Christopher which could possibly be a nodd to the man who played Superman in the movies, Christopher Reeve
- Some of the character designs are clearly patterned on real actors. The more obvious likenesses are Shirley Jones to Martha Kent and Telly Savalas to Lex Luthor. The character Dan "Terrible" Turpin was visually modeled after the character's creator, Jack Kirby. His first appearance in the episode "Tools of the Trade" also marks the first series appearance of "The Fourth World" characters and concepts that were Jack Kirby's major modern DC Comics creations.
- Due to Lex Luthor's pronounced lips and tanned skin, several fans mistakingly thought he was African-American. This is due to the Telly Savalas inspiration for his look - the reason for which is that producer Bruce Timm thought of Clancy Brown's take on Luthor as a "cultured thug", the same way he saw Savalas' Blofeld in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (Timm's favorite Bond film). Sometimes, the animated Luthor is portrayed as being distinctly darker than the people around him, and sometimes (like the shot in "A Little Piece of Home" where Luthor literally puts his face right into Superman's) his skin color is exactly the same as everybody else. Timm is rumored to quip that his Lex Luthor must "tan easily."
- Series producer Bruce Timm personally story-boarded Superman's climatic, final fight with Darkseid in the series finale, "Legacy", to ensure it would be done right and have as much impact as possible.
- The Prometheon rock creature, from the episode of the same name, actually made his first appearance in a Green Lantern comic as a servant of Gaia.
- Real-life married couple Mike Farrell and Shelley Fabares voice Jonathan and Martha Kent.
- Lex Luthor's henchwoman, Mercy Graves, is a character created for the show. She was eventually added as a member of the cast in the comics.
- Also created for the series and eventually added into comics continuity is the supervillainess Livewire, who can control and turn into electrical energy.
- A game was produced for the Nintendo 64 based upon the series which is considered one of the worst games ever. A later game produced for the Playstation 2 and GameCube, is considered far superior, but still in need of improvement.
- The series was originally meant to have an opening montage similar to the one Batman had in his previous animated series, showcasing what Superman could do in an awe inspiring manner, but the animators were unable to finish it by the deadline, so a montage featuring clips of Superman in action alongside his supporting cast from the episodes was utilized instead. Part of the abandoned montage, which featured Superman flying in the night sky of Metropolis, made it into the opening. Another such shot was the final one in the opening; The classic visual of Clark Kent ripping open his shirt to reveal the big red "S."
- Clancy Brown, who provided the voice of Lex Luthor, originally auditioned for the lead role of Superman / Clark Kent, but when Bruce Timm heard his audition, he immediately offered Brown the part of Luthor.
- The episode "Monkey Fun" was actually a modernized remake of an episode from the 1960s animated Superman series. It was based on the 1930s film King Kong.
- In the comics, Maggie Sawyer is a lesbian and is in a longterm relationship with another woman, a subject that Lex Luthor once tried to blackmail her for. While it is never stated in the animated series, there is an episode where a wounded Sawyer is visited by a woman in the hospital; the same woman later is seen consoling Sawyer at Turpin's funeral. Commentary on the DVD version of the episode (as well as the episode's voice credits) acknowledges the woman as being Toby Raines, Sawyer's long-time girlfriend from the comics, whose—albeit tamed—inclusion in the series was a nod to fans of the comics.
- Four years prior to this series, Superman made a cameo appearance in the direct-to-video movie Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation. Somewhat annoyed at the imprompt appearance, Buster and Babs tell him to "get his own video" (perhaps as a bit of foreshadowing). Incidentally, immediately before the unexpected cameo, Buster and Babs have the dialogue exchange, "I gotcha!"/"But who's got you?", which is a direct reference to the first Superman movie. Later on in the movie, when Buster and Babs are trapped on a cruise boat filled with hungry creatures, Babs asks, "So where's Superman when you need him?" Byron Basset overhears her and inexplictably saves her and Buster by flying like Superman.
- In the episode "Heavy Metal", "Cousin Spunky" from the Batman animated series episode "Baby Doll" can be seen in the background along with the other men right after Steel's niece stops the car after running out of gas as well as when the crowd begins to gather around Metallo after he has been defeated. "Cousin Spunky" is also seen in the Justice League series.
- In the episode "Father's Day", G. Carl Francis, from the Batman: The Animated Series episode "The Laughing Fish" (he was harrassed by the Joker for not copywriting his fish), apppears as a restaurant employee.
- The episode "Obsession" opens with Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen covering a fashion show. Also clearly seen amongst the press is Billy Batson, who works for WHIZ-TV in the comics and is the alter ego of Captain Marvel.
- In the episode "In Brightest Day...", Sinestro and Kyle Rayner briefly battle on an airstrip. One plane has the words "Col. Hal Jordan" on the side. Hal Jordan is the Silver Age Green Lantern. The thug who tries to mug Jimmy Olsen and Kyle Rayner at the beginning of the episode is not named, but he bears a resemblence to Guy Gardner, another Green Lantern.
- In the episode New Kids in Town, which features a teenage Clark Kent in Smallville, Martha Kent recognizes that Clark and Lana Lang need some time to talk alone. She tells Jonathan to come into the next room to watch The Dukes of Hazzard. Years later, in the show Smallville, which also features a teenage Clark Kent in Smallville, the role of Jonathan is portrayed by John Schneider, one of the stars of the Dukes of Hazzard.
- Following the events of the two part episode "Legacy", the story arc of the fourth season was meant to focus on Superman trying to regain the trust of the human race, but the series was discontinued after "Legacy". When Superman is seen again at the beginning of Justice League, the human race appears to have forgiven him, but the events of Legacy would come back to haunt him in the second season.
- Incidentally, one of the creatures Superman brings back to the Fortress of Solitude after his battle with the Collector, is Starro. In the Batman Beyond 2-parter episode entitled, "The Call", the creature escaped and was controlling Superman for some time, until Terry McGuiness (The future Batman)helped him overcome it.
- The semi-truck in season 1 episode 8 "Stolen Memories" was directly patterened after the Batmobile from the Batman Series.
- the show was largley infulenced by the Superman (animated short)