After all of this time having an article series called “My Favorite Intros” I at long last have a logo. You may have seen me trying to work on it during the failed livestream telethon until the technical issues kicked in. Here is the finished version.
And for the flipside, I gave it a little something, too.
But to celebrate I’m going all favorites…weeeellllll, one of them doesn’t quite make the charts but there are reasons I give it a break.
Superman is my favorite superhero and cartoons are one of the reasons. The live-action Superman TV shows never lived up to what the cartoons could do thanks to the limits of special effects at the time. Even the Christopher Reeves movies, while having good effects for the time, never truly caught up. The cartoons, however, didn’t have the special effects limitations and thus allowed Superman to be as super as he should be, while animation is easier to suspend the disbelief of due to not looking like the real world.
There have been four animated Superman series on television as well as a series of theatrical shorts. We’re going to look at all of them tonight and see which ones really pull it off, and which one is my favorite. The answer may surprise you. And to those of you on slower connection, this installment is going to be very video heavy.
The Theatrical Shorts
This one is a product of its time, from the music to the narration. However, it also fits the direction of the comics at the time. The first one mention Superman was raised in an orphanage, which he was before it was retconned that the Kents raised him. I like this version better because it tells more about Clark’s history at a time when Superman’s backstory isn’t as widely known as it is today. It’s pretty basic when compared to the others on this list but it does the job well.
The Filmation Series
I want to like this one. Filmation pulled a scam on DC to get this license (no, seriously, look up this show’s history) and for its time the show made it worth being tricked. It lasted for four seasons, the last one being reruns and the second and third seasons joining with Aquaman and Batman respectively. There was also a Superboy cartoon, naturally showing Clark’s teenage years, which were still canon at the time in the comics.
This is a bit more original. While the main show just edited the original Adventures Of Superman intro this was forced to come up with something original. It’s still a lot of boring exposition for a kids show but the dramatic narrator does help a little. Still, it’s my least favorite of the bunch. It may have worked for the time it came out but it’s the only one that really doesn’t hold up for me.
The Ruby-Spears Series
Remember when I said my favorite would surprise you? Well, SURPRISE! Yes, this is my favorite of every intro on this page. While using the same narration as Adventures Of Superman with a modified version of the old movie theme, it what is shown alongside it that makes it stand out. The Ruby-Spears version was probably the closest in art style to what DC was using at the time and the result feels the most like the cartoon was lifted out of the comics. It was also the first time elements of the post-Crisis DCU appeared. While Clark retained the clumsy, mild-mannered approach, Lex was head of Lex Corp (although Michael Bell played him a bit more on the cartoony side) and Wonder Woman (who guest-starred in one episode) traded the Invisible Jet for the ability to fly. And yet the story tone was a mix of Silver Age ideas and Bronze Age writing, creating a perfect fusion of the various versions of Superman.
This is reflected in the intro, with dynamic narration telling Superman’s story but unlike the live-action predecessor showing off what Superman can actually do, and giving a glimpse of the cast that shows at the very least who he is connected to. It really gets you pumped up for this more action-pack version of Superman and trust me when I say the show delivered on the promises of this intro. While the theatrical shorts are still my favorite overall because of the imagery and vocal talents of Bud Coyer, this is my second favorite version…well, tied with our next entry anyway. While this delivered better action and makes my inner child happy, the next one had better character development.
The Animated Series
I fully admit this is the best written of the various Superman cartoons, balancing character and action. The intro shows this off perfectly, showing off Superman’s friends better than the other intros, and with no dialog. The name of the show never appears but that didn’t stop the previous intro or the first version of Batman: The Animated Series (when it was re-branded as The Adventures Of Batman And Robin it actually had a title) and it’s a Superman cartoon. That’s all you need to know.
So why do I prefer the Ruby-Spears version? For the same reason The Adventures Of Batman & Robin felt short…no original footage. I’m not a fan of having an intro with just show clips. I understand that live-action can’t always do a full intro with no clips due to time and budget. Cartoons seldom have that limitation. Mainframe did that all of the time, rarely using original footage, but it’s computer generated. Every other intro in this list used original footage for the intro while this one uses all clips and that just weakens it for me. It uses the clips well, but I have my preferences.
And The Legion Of Superheros
There were two seasons of our final entry and the story underwent some major changes between the seasons. Let’s start with the first one.
There seems to be some clips in this one, but there is more original footage, and they transition from clip to clip with something more elaborate than a dissolve. That doesn’t quite save it but it suffers from the same problem as the show. I won’t call it bad because it isn’t, but it’s a noticeable step down, and I remind you that I actually thought The Batman was a fair replacement for the DCAU version. It had that lighter quality that Superman should have but it’s like when Spider-Man Unlimited came up after the previous Spider-Man ended on a cliffhanger…just last season, so only a few months had passed. Had it predated the previous two shows or even just the Animated Series it might have seemed better.
The intro does fit the tone, however. The light music shows the light action that the show had and introduced each member of the Legion that was used, a hodgepodge of various incarnations and members over the many years it was out. As I recall they weren’t used well and the show was kind of bland, which you wouldn’t expect me to say but it seemed to lack focus in what it wanted to be. Something I never understood was why the show used SuperMAN when he was clearly a teenager, unless they were just trying to keep him from being confused with the new incarnation of Superboy, the Superman clone. Instead we got Superman X in the second season.
Superman X. That was such a bad idea. Season two underwent a change in tone. Triplicate girl lost a duplicate, and Lighting Lad I think lost I think his arm. Not only was Superman now older (actually a super MAN now) but so had the rest of the Legion. And then there’s Superman X, a clone of Superman from the future with some extra powers and a violent attitude as the future had gone to heck in a handbasket using the express route and rocket jets. I never liked him and while I applaud the show for trying to push some more character development now it was the tone that kept me away. I made through less of season two than I did season one and Mr. X there was probably the biggest reason. And yet he reflect every alternate version and analog of Superman we get today. Correction, he has a better reason to be unlikable.
And yet they kept the same theme song, the lighter jazz theme that just didn’t fit where the show had headed. If they had used the same music with a darker, more orchestral nature it might have worked better.
And that’s all the animated Superman shows to date, not counting Justice League Of America, Super Friends, and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited or the direct-to-video movies before anyone calls me out on those. Each of them was a product of its time and has its own strengths and weaknesses but they did more than any of the live-action intros and I wouldn’t call any of them bad…at least for their time.