‘Superman: The Animated Series’ Might Not Have Happened If Bruce Timm Committed To A Collaboration On ‘Freakazoid!’ With Steven Spielberg 

Freakazoid Analysis
Freakazoid seeks professional help in the intro of Freakazoid! (1995), Amblin Entertainment

Superman: The Animated Series sits in a weird place within the DC Animated canon. It’s a successor, and a worthy one at that, to Batman: The Animated Series that teed up The New Batman Adventures, Justice League, and Justice League: Unlimited.

And without it, Clancy Brown wouldn’t be Lex Luthor, frankly.

Nice S Superman
Lois Lane (Dana Delaney) zeroes in on the ‘S’ symbol of El in Superman The Animated Series season 1 episode 2 (1997), Warner Bros. TV

RELATED: ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ Creator Bruce Timm Didn’t Care For The Way Morbius Was Handled In Fox’s ‘Spider-Man’ Cartoon – And The Reason Is Personal

But the show is more of an obscure gem nowadays as pivotal as it was  (a blasphemous idea to those of us who grew up with it). A redefining iteration of the Man of Steel as much as BTAS was for The Dark Knight, it turned into this missing link of the DCAU, at least for Zoomers.

Never mind that they owe it a debt for making Jack Kirby and The Fourth World mainstream.

Those impressive credentials aside, there is more to the origins of the series, which probably won’t surprise our dear readers. It almost didn’t happen and only came about when executive producer and animator Bruce Timm’s involvement in another project fell through.

Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) has an uninvited guest in Superman: The Animated Series season 1 episode 3 (1997), Warner Bros. TV

RELATED: ‘Across The Spider-Verse’ Visual Development Artist Reveals Rejected Pitch For Animated ‘Batman Beyond’ Film

Back in the ‘90s, Warner Bros. started its network called The WB which allowed them to produce more of their content in-house with a tailor-made outlet of distribution.

Kids WB! soon followed and so did a reduced need for air time on Fox for groundbreaking animated stalwarts Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, and yes, Batman.

As the Kids WB! line-up was growing during the day and on Saturday mornings, multi-Oscar-winning director and producer Steven Spielberg entered the picture wanting to work with Timm, but sadly not on Superman.

A Tribute to Director Steven Spielberg | From the DGA Archive via Directors Guild of America
A Tribute to Director Steven Spielberg | From the DGA Archive via Directors Guild of America

“At the time there wasn’t [much] interest in Superman. I don’t really know why. It seems like a natural. We weren’t interested in doing it at first. Nothing really happened, and then — It’s a really weird left turn,” Timm explained in an interview with Comicology. 

“Steven Spielberg, of all people, liked the Batman show, and said that he wanted to do something with us, but he didn’t know what; so we had a meeting with him, we talked about a bunch of different ideas for what we could do as an action-adventure show, and the one that he really liked was this one called Freakazoid,” he revealed.

The original pitch for Freakazoid, however, wasn’t quite the zany meta toon viewers that were youths in the 90s might remember airing on Saturdays around 1996. Timm had an entirely different vision for it than Spielberg, who won out after a few meetings.

RELATED: Bruce Timm Explains What Makes Him “Cringe” About ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ 30 Years Later

“I bailed on it really early. It started out as an adventure show, but it ended up turning into more & more of a comedy show; every time we’d have a meeting with Steven, the concept would kinda change, and it kept leaning more & more towards zany comedy,” said Timm. 

“It really started out almost like Spider-Man, on that level of, like, a teenage superhero. And it reached a point where it became a comedy – with the Tiny Toons/Animaniacs kind of humor,” he added.

Timm had been there and done that with no taste for that kind of material, so he “bailed” in his words, and left his staff to do the heavy lifting. “I just hung out here while my staff had to do the show,” he said.

Freakazoid saves the day
Freakazoid is cheered on in the intro to Freakazoid! (1995), Amblin Entertainment

Then the discussions of Superman-related projects started. “At one point there was talk about a Superman movie. That’s probably what started the ball rolling [on the animated series],” Timm recalled.

”So one day I had a meeting with my boss, Jean McCurdy, and she said, ‘Do you want to do Superman cartoons?’ And that time I said ‘Yes!’ [Laughs] After Freakazoid, it was like, ‘Yes! I want to do Superman cartoons!’ I didn’t even have to think about it,” he exclaimed.

Freakazoid, the parody of superheroes starring the adventures of a teen granted powers by a computer virus caused by his pet cat Mr. Chubbikins, ended its run in the summer of ‘97.

Lex Luthor
Lex (Clancy Brown) and Superman (George Newbern) give each other the side eye Justice League Unlimited Season 2 Episode 7 “Clash” (2005), Warner Bros. TV

Superman would roll on for a few more years and almost immediately spin off into Justice League. You can consider that a testament to STAS’s cultural impact and staying power, but fans need not be picky or petty.

Both series for those old and new can be caught up with from beginning to end on streaming platforms from TUBI to MAX.

NEXT: Clancy Brown Looks Back On Playing Lex Luthor In Superman: The Animated Series: “It Was So Much Fun”

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