August 21, 1998 at 12:00 PM EDT

These two animated tales are like diverging offshoots from one spring: One’s crystal pure, the other cruddy and polluted. The Batman/Superman Movie, an amalgam of two episodes of The WB’s New Batman/Superman Adventures TV series, shows what first-rate storytelling can do for two enduring heroes and top-rung villains like the Joker and Lex Luthor. With whip-smart dialogue, feature-film-quality direction, and a romantic pentangle (featuring the supersize egos, their alter egos, and the lovely Lois Lane) to die for, Batman/Superman Movie is one of the richest superhero movies ever, period. But under its mask, Spawn 2, culled from the HBO series’ second season, is just another numbing installment of the Al Simmons saga. The cartoon’s ostentatious sex, violence, and harsh language now seem more desperate than cutting edge. Spawn executive producer McFarlane should steal a page from the Batman/Superman playbook: Superheroes are men of action; their stories ought to have some. Batman/Superman: A- Spawn 2: D+

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