As part of the 80th anniversary of Superman, the release of Action Comics #1000, and the debut of Krypton, the Superman minus Superman series, I’ve seen a number of tributes to Superman. One of them were a compilation of the various intros to the animated Superman cartoons over the years, from the theatrical shorts up to the most recent Justice League Action series. One of those compilations was even done by DC Kids, DC’s kids channel on YouTube. Yet all of the ones I saw seemed to forget one particular Superman cartoon.
In 1988, just after Hanna Barbera lost the Superfriends license, their former apprentices as Ruby-Spears picked up the Superman license. The result was a cartoon I’m seeing is highly underrated. It only lasted one season on CBS, but there were some good Superman stories while having to transition between the pre and post Crisis versions. For example, when they were putting it together they were probably expecting Lex Luthor to still be a mad scientist out to prove his superior intellect and had to deal with his revamp as every evil businessman (so just rich businessmen in general) that’s come out of Hollywood storytelling over the past few decades. So it’s time to show this version some love. Frankly it’s a pretty good intro.
It may lack some of the character of Superman: The Animated Series but the Ruby-Spears version was focused more on action and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s short but gets the job done. According to Wikipedia (question the source) the narration was by Superfriends show narrator Bill Woodson. It does sound like him, although he’s not listed as such at IMDB and I didn’t hunt down other references, but he does a good job. There’s no narration in the show itself though.
I hear so many people complain when any version of Superman doesn’t use the John Williams theme from the Christopher Reeve movies as if there weren’t other intros before then. (The radio show, the Fleischer/Famous shorts, the serials, plus a live-action and animated series showing up before the movies.) Well, here you go. It’s a TV budget version of the Williams theme. Happy now? No, you’re never happy.
The art style is probably the closest to the DC style at the time since the Fleischer shorts. This isn’t surprising since Gil Kane provided the character models and he was a DC artist at the time. Marv Wolfman was the head writer and responsible for keeping the stories going, although the “Superman Family Album” segment, a retelling of Clark’s life going up that thankfully didn’t have the teen angst of Smallville, had him with powers from the start rather than at puberty, which John Byrne set him up with. There no separate intro for that.
As for the intro itself you get a good sense of the show. This version was a lot more sci-fi than it’s more famous descendant. The first time we see him he blasts into hyperspace. At the end he deals with a giant gorilla. It doesn’t bog down with his backstory. It takes the intro from the radio drama and Adventures Of Superman, gives the narration a dramatic punch, throws in the John Williams theme…it’s kind of a hodgepodge of the various Superman shows before it (not all of them mind you). Also, when I heard “leap tall buildings” I’m betting I’m not alone at thinking they meant from the ground and not across. I could never picture the former. At best I could see him jumping to the top.
This intro, and the show attached to it, doesn’t get the love it deserves and someday I’m going to go into the show. I just need to get the DVD and gather my thoughts more. “But what about the rest of the intros” someone may be thinking. “Didn’t he do full articles on the many Batman and Spider-Man intros over the years? Do you think I’m letting my favorite superhero get away from that? Of course not. I just wanted to focus on this overlooked intro. For the other Superman cartoons (most of the live-action TV intros aren’t that interesting but I’ll come back to those if you want) come back tomorrow.