'Superman: The Animated Series' Ended 20 Years Ago: How the Series Impacted Superman's Legacy

Superman: The Animated Series came to an end 20 years ago this month. The series has stood the test of time and remained relevant to fans of the character and casual '90s kids as well. The impact of the series is wide reaching, with a direct influence on future live-action films and television shows.

Superman: The Animated Series premiered in 1996, jumping off of the success of Batman: The Animated Series. Together they formed the first seeds of the DC Animated Universe. Consisting of multiple animated shows and movies, the DCAU was building a cohesive universe on television before the Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe dominated the box office.

Much like Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series was considered by many to the most definitive version of the character on screen. The series treated the Man of Steel as a timeless character, with an equal serving of classic and modern elements. Despite being a Saturday-morning-cartoon aimed at children, producers Bruce Timm and Paul Dini did not hold back from having mature stories, character arcs and heavy themes being a part of the series.

From the outset, producers of the series did not want to rehash Christopher Reeve and Richard Donner's iconic portrayal of Superman from 1978. The series instead took cues from 1940s Fleischer Superman series, with a modern refresh.

In the Modern Masters book series, Timm decided the final look in the animation designs would be "bright, futuristic, optimistic, ocean liner art deco --more in line with Superman's character."

An issue DC Comics had with Superman was the lack of multiple compelling villains, an issue Batman never had. To fix this issue and other issues in the DC continuity, a full reboot was issued through 1985's Crisis on Infinite Earths. Superman's history was given a grounded reboot the following year in John Byrne's The Man of Steel. Superman: The Animated Series followed this model, with a powered-down version of Superman that made smaller enemies a threat, adding to the overall stakes and drama.

Superman: The Animated Series
'Superman: The Animated Series' came to an end February 2000, here is how the series remains relevant 20 years later. Warner Bros. / DC Comics

Superman: The Animated Series put a larger emphasis on Clark Kent than previous adaptations. Gone was the bumbling reporter from Donner's films in favor of a true journalist. In the series, Clark Kent genuinely wanted to be the best reporter, chasing down bylines and even having a rivalry with Lois Lane. Kent was not a simple mask for Superman, rather Clark was the character's true self. This shift to focus on the 'man' part of Superman later influenced live-action shows and films like Smallville, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel and David Goyer's Krypton.

The producers of the series realized the importance of making Superman relatable, while also speaking to wider themes of his place in the world. Speaking in the DVD special features for the show, Superman Behind the Cape, producer Paul Dini said: "What does the world think of this guy? How does the world relate to him? How does he make life better for people and what's their perception of him? I think when you do stories that are of Superman and the world, you have a chance to really sit and think about what that means and who the character is."