My son realized that his mom had gone an errand without
him. Seconds later, the tears started - oh, the abandonment
issues of a three-year-old - and only one thing could console
him. This looked like a job for ... Superman!
Luckily, The New Adventures of Superman had shown up at the office. Though the boy likes watching the live-action stuff, and had enjoyed the Fleischer cartoons which get right down to the nitty-gritty, both take too much time to navigate if all you want to do is watch Superman beat up bad guys or save the world. Even the Bruce Timm stuff has a sophistication that sometimes brings up unwanted questions.
This new two-disc set from Warner Home Video collects the 1966 Filmation series, of historical interest for a couple of reasons. First, the networks began looking at Saturday morning television as a marketing opportunity for the first time, and this new animated series was its first original success. It also launched the Filmation empire, which would go on to do fondly remembered versions of Batman (also out on DVD), Flash Gordon and, until Disney, the best Tarzan adaptation. And of course, there's that He-Man guy…
Warner included a short documentary explaining its historical significance, with DC bigwigs Paul Levitz and Mark Waid weighing in to give it context. As knowledgeable as they are, they can't hold a candle to Filmation founder Lou Scheimer, who must be a heck of a lot of fun at dinner parties as he tells stories about the early days. Also on hand, Mark Hamill recollects the excitement of watching that show for the first time.
All well and good, but my son could care less about that. In truth, I slipped the documentary on later; I'm not a cruel father force-feeding trivia in his formative years. He'll find his own way, and the proof is in these cartoons. Hamill calls the series an entry-way into comics, and it's true.
In tight, six to seven minute segments, Filmation captured the essence of everything that had been Superman up to that time. The characters look like they did in the comics, right down to Jimmy Olsen's signal watch, which gets used more than once. If a bit silly, at least the forces allying against Superman make credible threats. Occasionally the show veers into whimsy, with Mr. Mxyzptlk appearing and Lex Luthor hitting upon a plan to turn himself into a child.
The only villain to get a complete make-over is The Parasite. As Waid points out, hideous scarring really wouldn't have played well on Saturday morning with Standards & Practices. Instead, he basically has the same powers but looks kind of like Stacy Keach does now.
One reason that the episodes hold up is that many are actually written by the guys who worked on the original stories; both Bill Finger and Arnold Drake (creator of The Doom Patrol and Deadman) show up in the credits. Much of the voice talent, too, knew the characters well, as they returned from the '40's radio show.
The only notable absence from this disc seems to be Superboy. He, too, gets credit in the end titles, and I had dim memories of this show including his adventures. Either that's a separate collection or it's that really stupid ugly legal issue rearing its head again.
But we shouldn't let that hinder our enjoyment here. It certainly didn't stop my son, who did not endure a lecture on creators' rights from his proud Fanboy dad. Instead, he just got sucked in to believing that a man could fly, and that there's still such a thing as truth and justice.
For now, that'll do.
The New Adventures of Superman at Amazon...