In 1996, Superman: The Animated Series soared onto television screens and into the hearts of viewers everywhere. Running for a total of four seasons, the series modernized Superman for contemporary audiences, while expanding the animated universe that had begun earlier in the decade with its companion show, Batman: The Animated Series. This year, Superman’s Emmy-winning cartoon celebrates its 25th anniversary with a long-requested HD transfer and new Blu-ray boxset.
Tim Daly had never expected to be the series lead on a superhero animated project prior to signing on to voice Superman.
“It was the weirdest thing,” he shares. “Chris Lloyd, who was one of the writers on Wings, his wife showed up for rehearsal one day and said, ‘Hey listen, how would you like to audition for the voice of Superman? They are tearing their hair out trying to figure out who it is.’ I drove to Warner Bros. and met up with Andrea Romano, Bruce Timm and some other folks. I started reading and they said, ‘Okay, stop. Try it again and be more natural.’ I think I was doing something really over the top. I did it, and they said, ‘Great, you’re hired.’ It happened so quickly.”
Over time, the star was able to find a subtle balance between how he spoke as Superman and how he spoke as Clark Kent.
“Clark is a little lighter than Superman by definition,” Daly explains. “It’s a totally different voice, but it’s also an attitude. They’re quite different characters in a weird way, but I didn’t try to disguise my voice. It was more of an attitude.”
Voice director Andrea Romano was amazed at how quickly Daly flourished in the role.
“Tim Daly is so scary talented,” she enthuses. “He wasn’t experienced in voice acting at all, but he learned it really well. We joked that Superman was going to be electrocuted in every episode. You can hear it in every almost episode—he had to do that throat ripping sound. We learned that we had to do that at the end of the session for Tim, because that would affect his voice.”
Daly’s co-star also has many memories of Tim’s grunts.
“My memory of Tim Daly is grunting and groaning,” laughs Dana Delany, who voiced Lois Lane on the series. “He and I had the hardest time getting through recording sessions. What I love about the show is that even though Superman is super, he still has to struggle. Tim was constantly having to grunt, groan, and make these straining noises. We were always joking about how it sounded like he was on the toilet.”
Delany had previously worked with Andrea Romano and Warner Bros. Animation when she memorably voiced Andrea Beaumont in the iconic Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
“Dana is the best,” Romano says. “I had experience with her on Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, so I knew she was a delight to work with. She auditioned and she absolutely won the role. Tim and Dana’s voices together worked perfectly.”
The chemistry between Daly and Delany was undeniable, even through the lens of animation, and that had a lot to do with the mutual respect the actors had for one another.
Daly and Delany recording Superman: The Animated Series
“Dana is just a darling person,” shares Daly. “She’s been a good friend of mine. She is sassy, and she is an ass-kicker, in the best possible way.”
“Playing Lois meant a lot to me because I grew up on her,” Delany reveals. “She’s a part of my DNA. I watched the Adventures of Superman TV series when I was four years old, and I bought the comic when Lois had her own series. It was ten cents and I would buy it every Sunday. For me to audition for Lois Lane was huge.”
Lois Lane has had many incarnations since her debut in 1938’s Action Comics #1, and she continues to be just as relevant as ever eighty-three years later.
“Views on women have changed a lot,” says Delany. “It’s gone forwards and backwards over the decades. I like to believe that Lois is a person of integrity, hutzpah and moxie. She’s the true original moxie girl.”
While they’re two different characters, Delany’s role in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm as Beaumont, a woman who would break Bruce Wayne’s heart, couldn’t help but bleed into her work on Superman: The Animated Series. Particularly when Delany’s Lois romanced that same version of Batman during the “World’s Finest” crossover episodes.
When presented with the idea that Bruce was attracted to Lois because she had Andrea’s voice, Delany laughs. “That’s funny,” she muses. “They’re a little bit different, I think Lois talks a little bit faster than Andrea. She reminded him of someone definitely.”
The “World’s Finest” crossover episode is a fan favorite and fittingly, contains one of Delany’s favorite lines.
“I loved doing that crossover episode with Batman and Superman,” she recollects. “I watched a little bit of it again last night and it has one of my favorite lines in it. There’s a big fight sequence and Batman’s cowl gets pulled off into a machine, and Lois sees that it’s Bruce. Her line is, ‘So, when were you going to tell me? The honeymoon?’ It’s such a great line. I remember when I had to say it, I was laughing so hard.”
It’s hard to imagine anybody but Clancy Brown voicing Lex Luthor, but it might surprise fans to learn that he had initially auditioned for Superman.
“It was a general call,” he shares. “So I went in there and read for Superman. As I was packing up to leave, Andrea Romano asked if I minded reading for Lex Luthor. I kind of rolled my eyes, and she said ‘It’s okay, you don’t have to read for Lex. Thanks so much for coming in.’ I told her I will definitely read for Lex. I was just frustrated because every time I try to be the good guy, I end up being the bad guy. I wanted to be in this show.”
“Clancy Brown came in to audition for Superman,” recalls Romano. “He opened his mouth and said three words, and I looked at Bruce Timm and said, ‘We have to read him for Lex Luthor.’ If we hired Clancy Brown for Superman, how would we ever cast Lex Luthor to be a tougher guy?”
Despite his initial desire to be the Man of Steel, Brown feels the producers made the right choice. “They did a great job, they totally cast the right guy as Superman,” he admits.
Brown was such a powerful performer that Tim Daly was constantly impressed whenever they recorded together.
“Clancy Brown has got one of the most beautiful voices of any human,” Daly posits. “Talk about a deep rich voice. I remember doing one of the episodes with him live, and I was so impressed by the instrument that he has with his voice.”
“He’s fantastic at that character,” Romano agrees. “He’s so subtle. He doesn’t play him like a typical melodrama villain. He adds lots of color to that character, and I just think he did a wonderful job.”
Brown also gave his thoughts on Lex Luthor’s complicated relationship with his chauffer Mercy Graves.
“I don’t think Lex indulges in any libido,” he explains “I don’t think there’s any romance going on. I think he sees her simply as an assistant, although she sees herself as something more. Not a lover, but a student or apprentice. But to him she’s just a good assistant. Someone who can pick up his laundry and load a gun. But she thinks she’s the heir apparent. It was fun to act with Lisa Edelstein. She was really good.”
The cast all agreed that voice director Andrea Romano was the lynchpin that held everything together.
“Andrea Romano is one of a kind, and the best I’ve ever seen,” shares Daly “She’s the most darling woman, I just adore her. She has a heart of gold, and kindness comes from her like an aura.”
“She’s a ball of fire,” Delany adds. “You have to keep up with her because she goes fast. Her energy is boundless. She’s always kind and will never say anything mean. She will mute the mic so you don’t hear the producers saying anything mean. She will always protect her actors.”
“I love voice actors,” Romano states, simply. “I love that they are willing to put themselves on the line the way they do for every audition. They take enormous risks with things that could be embarrassing to many people. I let them know that I would not let voices go out sounding bad. I wouldn’t allow them to be embarrassed by the work we were doing.”
The positive environment in the recording studio was so infectious that word spread throughout the voice acting community. As Romano recalls, “There was such comradery in the recording studio, that the reputation got out. Agents heard from their actors, who said, ‘I heard that it’s really fun to be on a Superman episode, would you please submit me?’ It all worked out so very nicely that way. We ended up with a bunch of fabulous actors who had a good time, and that’s always fun.”
Like fans, the actors all have their favorite moments from the influential series.
“There’s a moment in ‘The Last Son of Krypton’ where Superman comes into Lex’s office and there is a clock ticking in the background,” Brown remembers. “Lex is trying to seduce Superman into working for him. It’s the temptation of Superman. It’s very slow and deliberate. Superman is just floating there while Lex says his piece. It’s a brilliant sound design, that whole scene. It really set the tone, and that’s all Bruce Timm and the team.”
“I really love ‘Identity Crisis,’” says Daly. “It was really fun to play that alternate version of Superman. I had a great deal of compassion for Bizarro at the end of the day because I don’t think he was an evil character. He was being manipulated and really didn’t understand the things that he was doing. It was fun to have that sort of shadow Superman come out and play that role too.”
Although the series aired its last episode in 2000, fans have never forgotten it.
“The writing is what did it,” suggests Brown. “It’s all about how the team wrote it. They wrote brilliant scripts. They had been doing that with Batman: The Animated Series for a while, and they just kind of popped over into Superman: The Animated Series. They gave the villains nuance that hadn’t been there before. They knew they needed to appeal to a smarter audience. It was cinematic. The whole show design was gorgeous. The exaggerated art deco was so cool. It was really beautiful cartoon animation. I’m sorry that they don’t do it more.”
“It was a very well-produced show from start to finish,” says Romano. “We don’t make shows the same way anymore. It was so well made. It was beautifully written, the character designs were wonderful, the voice actors did such a good job, and we enjoyed making the show. I am a firm believer that if we have a good time making the show, somehow that energy is transmitted to the viewer.”
As for the Man of Steel himself, he thinks the series resonates because of who we are deep inside.
“Superman taps into something that is engrained in human DNA,” Daly shares. “We all dream of flying, we all dream of having superpowers, and hopefully we still dream of doing good in the world. Superman embodies all of those things.”
Superman: The Animated Series is now available in a new Blu-ray boxed set or can be streamed in HD on HBO Max. Visit our official Superman: The Animated Series page for more on Kal-El's classic animated adventures.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.