Season One, Episode Four — “Fun and Games”
By Jarrod Jones. “Toyman”. Toy. Man. I spend a good amount of my time defending Superman to people that can’t help but oversimplify the character — it’s a Neverending Battle unto itself, I don’t mind saying — but when they throw the “villains are way too lame” argument my way, my brain (putz that it is) flashes at me the laughably inert image of Winslow Schott, and my posture hunches just a little bit.
Of course, what makes matters worse for my argument is that Toyman is not only ineffective as a proper foil for Superman, he’s a problematic character overall. I learned that early on, with my first experience with the Toyman being the painfully unnecessary Superman #84 (published by DC Comics in 1993). It’s a surreal and incredibly offensive tale where Schott had become an unhinged misanthrope brought so low that he abducted children to play with him in an abandoned warehouse. (Take a minute to let the shivers leave you. I’ll wait.) By the end of the issue, Toyman had cracked completely, having stabbed a young boy to death (’90s-era DC Comics were never shy about shock value. I suppose that’s still the case). Needless to say, I had nothing to work with as far as the damn Toyman was concerned.
And that’s how it went with the dubious legend of Winslow Schott: as far as being a fit enemy for Superman, the murderous toymaker could never be interesting or engaging enough as a villain unless he resorted to the type of violence that would make Todd McFarlane blush. Even John Byrne realized that Toyman was a failure as a villain, a shrill D-Grade miscreant that shouldn’t be trusted with a set of keys, let alone a master plot against the Man of Tomorrow, and thus wrote him into the unenviable position of “Lex Luthor’s stooge”.
So it came with no surprise that the creators of Superman: The Animated Series would distance their show from the vile Winslow Schott of DC’s past by innovating a new character for their future. Instead of Schott, the decrepit, tainted creep, Superman would contend with his nameless, faceless offspring. And from that unnerving innovation, when the Toyman appeared in the animated series for the first time, he would prove his true worth in providing the series one of the most eerie episodes it ever aired. Considering where he came from, that’s no small miracle.
WHAT WORKED: The animation in this episode is kinetic and slick, making even the smallest display of Superman’s powers look downright elegant. (Here, Clark discreetly dispatches a batch of killer toys with precision heat vision, and then pushes his glasses to his brow, eyes closed, ninja-style. So cool.)
For an episode about lethal rubber duckies and gun-toting Nutcrackers, director Kazuhide Tomonaga makes Superman’s defensive counters to Toyman’s schemes feel exciting and incredibly engaging. It’s also to the episode’s benefit that writers Marty Isenberg and Robert N. Skir have enough respect for our hero that Superman has the mental wherewithal to get himself and everyone around him out of jams in spectacular, clever fashion. (A bouncy-ball vs. armored truck sequence is especially killer.)
Toyman’s story has always been (*sighs*) one of vengeance, so the reveal that Toyman is the son of Winslow Schott and not Schott himself is a refreshing play on the character, giving a one-note badguy far more depth than he ever deserved. The cleanup is serviceable enough — I mean, it’s Superman vs. Dude in a Doll’s Head, for crying out loud — but the toymaker’s son does finagle a rather ghostly escape that leaves Bruno Mannheim to ponder the evil he has wrought. When you put some thought into the character dynamics at play here, “Fun and Games” is a downright spooky episode, one among the finest you’d find in Batman: The Animated Series.
WHAT DIDN’T: It’s not a negative, but having Jimmy Olsen show Clark Kent how to use a damn computer saps a whole bunch of agency from our purportedly great journalist. (Having Clark putz around the bullpen of The Daily Planet all, “if only I knew what the link was between Mannheim and Toyman” certainly takes some wind out of my sails.) All
Archie Jimmy has to do is squeeze in and show Kent how to interface with a computer, and all of a sudden a whole bunch of exposition gets dropped in our laps. That’s lazy even by Saturday morning standards. Get out and do some legwork, Kent! Perry White ain’t paying you by the hour!
“What a smash-up!” – Jimmy. “Odd thing. I hear it was parked at the time.” – Lois.
“What are you waiting for? SHOOT IT!” – Mannheim. “But it’s a big ducky.” – Thug. Priceless.
“WAUGH!” – Giant Duck.
BEST MOMENT: A big ducky. I have an affinity for ducks, sure, but the best action scene found within “Fun and Games” — where a giant roboticized duck attacks Bruno Mannheim’s yacht, only to then take on the Man of Steel — is a gorgeous, frightening sequence that can also make you laugh with its pure inanity. Yeah, I said “frightening”: did you see this episode? That duck ripped a cruiser apart in a mere two swipes of its bill. If that isn’t frightening to you, then you need to recalibrate “scary” in your internal lexicon.
EPISODE’S MVP: The Toyman. Bud Cort (Harold & Maude, The Life Aquatic) delivers a creepy sing-song to Schott’s voice, providing real menace in such an effective way that the show had no other avenue than to wisely avoid the character for years afterwards. (He does eventually return much later in the series… but we’ll get to that in due time.) Where else could you go with the character? As it stands — in comics, cartoons, or anywhere else — Toyman remains the hardest nut to crack in the Superman mythos. This episode was nothing short of a damn miracle, but it would have imploded without Cort’s sinister magic.
– “Nice try, Smallville, but this one’s mine.” – Lois. Friggin’ Tracy and Hepburn over here.
– Clark sure does tackle Mannheim like a solid linebacker. What’s more likely: this being a subtle nod to Superman’s Byrne days as a star football player, or me reading wayyy too deeply into this show?
– Love how Lois yanks Clark to safety during the “killer plane” sequence. The image of her shielding Clark makes for a striking visual, and it’s just cool as hell to see Lois provided some agency.
– This is the first episode where Superman’s heat vision is provided beams.
– “Like the shrink says, ‘An emotionally stunted, amoral narcissist with paranoid delusions, desperately seeking external validation through antisocial behavior.” – Lois. And a legion of children ran to their dictionaries to figure out what all of that meant.
– The “ta-daaa!” that sounds from the show’s score at the giant ducky’s first appearance is incredible. Simply incredible. Duck!
– Bruno Mannheim was always a stooge in the comics, but in this episode, for a second anyway, he displays real menace when faced with the Toyman for the first time. Pulling a gun, he sneers: “I don’t know how you came back from the dead, but it’s gonna be a short visit.” Bruce Weitz makes for a slick scumbag.
– Anyone else notice that Lois’ apartment is ridiculously gigantic?
– Lois, after finding an unmarked gift box: “Let it be flowers. Please.” So this kind of thing has happened before.
8.5 out of 10
Next: “A Little Piece of Home”, soon.
Before: “The Last Son of Krypton, Part III”, here.