Season One, Episode Six — “Feeding Time”
By Jarrod Jones. For the oddball assortment of ne’erdowells who sought to defy the Man of Steel, there has always been plenty of room for improvement. In the case of The Parasite especially, that improvement had been a long time coming.
Introduced in Action Comics #340 (published in August of 1966) as a man named Raymond Maxwell Jensen, The Parasite was a criminal who blundered his way into acquiring superpowers (as supervillains of the time had a tendency to do), powers that allowed him to absorb the physical strength and memories of anyone he touched. Brought in from time to time to square off against Superman — y’know, when writers ran out of ways to toss in a chunk of Kryptonite — The Parasite was largely a forgettable villain, one whose staying power mostly came from DC Comics’ reprints, archived editions, and a keen child’s memory. (“Oh yeah… The Parasite…” — A less discerning comic book fan.) During the big DC-shakeup post-Crisis On Infinite Earths, John Byrne apathetically passed on the prospect of installing The Parasite into the Superman mythos all together, but somehow, someway, the character ended up lousing up Superman’s life in the Modern Age of DC Comics anyway.
Instead of being introduced outright as a Superman nemesis, The Parasite (now Rudy Jones) instead premiered in Firestorm #58 (published in April of 1987) as a foil for the Nuclear Man (his post-Crisis origins involved S.T.A.R. Labs and Darkseid of Apokolips for some reason, but we’re not gonna get into that). The Parasite remained ever the one-note villain, where hunger and satiation by any means necessary were his two defining character traits. In spite of all this, the creative team behind Superman: The Animated Series found The Parasite fit for a third chance at relevance — this time on a whole new medium, the Saturday morning cartoon — and in the process, created what is now the definitive take on the character. (Provided one must use words like “definitive” when we’re talking about The Parasite.)
WHAT WORKED: Whether the episode’s writers finally gave up on conjuring a use for Jimmy Olsen, or they had simply written themselves into a corner as far as Olsen’s strengths were concerned, Jimmy had always been one of the more ancillary of Superman: The Animated Series‘ supporting characters. And yet “Feeding Time” sees our favorite photographer truly proving his worth: Once again marginalized by his titanic Editor in Chief, Perry White, Jimmy takes some initiative in uncovering the whereabouts of Rudy Jones. This level of agency found in the character of Jimmy Olsen would be rarely be seen again (much more on that later), but at least for one episode, our Ginger Photog found the strength necessary to save the day. (And he even takes one for the team.)
WHAT DIDN’T: In getting The Parasite established in the ever-growing DC Animated Universe, all episode’s writer Robert Goodman had to do was use the introductory issue of Firestorm as his compass. Not exactly a challenge, as S.T.A.R. Labs had already been set as Superman’s go-to spot for scientific support (found in last week’s episode, “Another Piece of Home”), but all Goodman does to tie Superman’s fate to working schlub Rudy Jones is for the hero and the villain to simply be at S.T.A.R. at the same time. It’s all a bit rushed, and it’s all more than a bit contrived, but using Rudy Jones’ origin as a custodial louse for the DCU’s most prestigious scientific instillation was apparently all the Goodman had to work with. The action and melodrama is shoved through the episode with the force of a club bouncer tossing a belligerent souse outside, and while there’s some excitement to be found in watching something like that, man… the air feels a lot more clear once it’s done.
The episode begins abruptly, with Jones lifting some rather hazardous looking chemicals as a favor for a criminal by the name LeBeau. The intended purpose for these chemicals are never mentioned, and the motive to get them lifted seems to balance on the precariously slight knowledge that Rudy is in debt to some gambling sharks, a fact that LeBeau is only happy to exploit. And that’s all we ever get to know about “Wimpy” Rudy Jones, a non-entity whose plight is never once elucidated upon. This is how The Parasite reads on screen: some chump who gets in deep with some other chump, falls ass-backwards into getting superpowers, and then uses said powers to become a super-chump. Everything in this episode just happens, and it feels like nothing but filler. Dan Riba’s direction doesn’t help matters either; it serves to make the action sequences feel neither immediate nor exciting.
Even when Rudy encounters Superman for the first time, the powers and abilities of the Man of Steel come way too naturally for The Parasite. He tosses Superman over a pier, shrilly bellows, “DEAH’S A NEW SOOPAMAN IN TOWN,” and just… flies off. To go steal everything, I guess. Actor Brion James (Blade Runner, Tango & Cash) gives a passable performance, in that he showed up to a recording studio, read Rudy’s lines aloud, and claimed a paycheck, but Goodman’s script doesn’t have the finesse — or any of the pathos — you’d find in all the series’ previous episodes. It’s a lazy slog of an episode, setting The Parasite up for future appearances in the series where he can prove some actual worth. And thankfully, all of them are better than this.
“You here to make ‘ha-ha’, kid, or take pictures?” – Commissioner Henderson. Keep that trap shut, Olsen.
“I spoke with Emil Hamilton of S.T.A.R. Labs to find out how a simple janitor could ‘clean out’ Metropolis.” – Angela Chen, ever aiming towards that Pulitzer.
“Good evening, Dinner.” – Rudy.
BEST MOMENT: “Me? Yeah, my cold’s doing better. In fact, I thought I’d change and go out tonight. So long.” Clark begins to feel his strength return, and he aims to set out into the Metropolis night to find the scoundrel who sapped him of his gifts. But Rudy has other ideas, as he pops in for a late night visit. “I gotcher powers, I gotcher thoughts, and I gotcher secret.” That the Parasite could give Superman the drop inside his own home gives the episode one brief glimmer of the potential this episode could have actually had. Superman had never been this vulnerable before in the entire series thus far, but sadly, the show decides not to dwell on such an intriguing prospect and quickly moves on.
EPISODE’S MVP: Jimmy Olsen. David Kaufman’s unsung performance as our intrepid cub reporter in this series went largely unnoticed in the annals of the DC Animated Universe. But he had great flourishes to offer the series, and none were as amusing as Kaufman giving Jimmy airs as he pretended to be seasoned reporter Perry White. “Oh, I started out pretty young. Paper route at seven…” Kaufman makes Jimmy Olsen matter, and “Feeding Time” is better for it.
– When we last visited S.T.A.R. Labs (in the previous episode), the sliver of Kryptonite pilfered from LexCorp was simply that: a sliver. Here, Professor Hamilton is testing Superman’s protective suit with a giant hunk of the stuff. WHERE. DID HE GET THAT.
– There’s definitely something Ditko-esque about the design to The Parasite, and it’s never more evident than when Rudy captures his first quarry, a poor beat cop who showed up at the wrong time.
– Love how the spitcurl drops the second Clark opens his dress shirt.
– One thing that always kinda stuck with me: When Rudy kidnaps Clark, he’s still dressed as Clark. When Clark comes to later, he’s in full Superman regalia. Did… Rudy… undress him… ?
– What is with the color in this episode? Sometimes Parasite appears to be magenta, other times he’s a pale purple. File this under “You Had ONE Job To Do, Cel Animator”.
– Series’ first appearance of Superman’s anti-Kryptonite suit, and the Super-Space suit.
– How does Superman squish his head while he’s inside that anti-Kryptonite protective suit when he’s hiding from Parasite? Super-squishing ain’t a power.
4.5 out of 10
Next: “The Way of All Flesh”, soon.
Before: “A Little Piece of Home”, here.