Why just the one this time? Well, the next one is four intros and I don’t want to have this one buried by Superboy intros so it stands alone. This gives me a bit more time to talk about it because believe it or not this is my favorite Superman cartoon. While the Bruce Timm series is technically the best there’s a difference between the best made and the one that just makes me happy. The DCAU does a great job with characters and interpretations, continuing the multiversal continuity while finding a way to be completely original. However, the Ruby-Spears produced Superman series is just a joy to watch.
It was Superman’s 50th anniversary. The first two movies had done well, and the 1980s was already the best time to be a Superman fan. Outside of the comics you had reruns of the previous live-action and animated shows we’ve seen in the prior installments. There was even a Superman game on the Atari 2600.
I didn’t say it was good, I said it existed.
Meanwhile the DC Comics universe was undergoing a bit of an upheaval. Deciding they didn’t know how to run a multiverse the higher-ups at DC opted to merge their universes into one and just reboot the darn thing…and sadly this wouldn’t be the last time, but that’s another conversation. So you have to pity Ruby-Spears because they were caught in something of a crossroads between the pre and post Crisis DC Universe while also remembering the Christopher Reeves portrayal had pretty much set Superman’s depiction to the non-comic public. And despite all that I think they pulled it off beautifully.
I’ve already looked at this intro in the past because as an intro it does so much right. LIke the show itself the intro takes inspiration from previous incarnations. The narrator is Bill Woodson, the narrator from Superfriends. Joe Ruby and Ken Spears always maintained a good relationship with their former bosses at Hanna-Barbera. The introduction comes from the radio dramas and George Reeves series, and why wouldn’t you use that one? Everything you need to know if you never heard about Superman is right there and if you already knew you don’t want to sit through a long narration of stuff you already know. The theme song is reminiscent of the John Williams movie theme. The art style is clearly from the comics. The visuals give you a good example of the type of Superman stories you’re about to watch. I mean, Superman deals with a giant gorilla. How is that not awesome? This is an intro that pulls you into this fictional world, which is what a good intro does beyond listing the live-action main cast, something animation doesn’t have to worry about.
What we don’t get is to look at, or rather listen to, the cast. Beau Weaver is probably the second best Clark Kent I’ve ever heard in animation. The Clark Kent factor is high in how he vocally portrays the two personas, with the animation toning down the clumsiness of Chris’s portrayal to something that lets me believe he’s a competent investigative journalist. (Remember when we had those?) The other actors were also good. This isn’t how I usually handle the Many Intros series but we have the time.
Lex Luthor had the hardest part of this transition. Remember that before the Crisis Luthor was simply a mad scientist out to prove his intellectual superiority to the world, and especially Superman. Post-Crisis, writer John Byrne decided to make him the evil businessman you know today. Ruby-Spears had already started making stories around the original take and had to somehow use elements of both, making a rather good Luthor, Michael Bell really selling the part. He may not have Clancy Brown’s style but by the time Brown took over the new Luthor had been set in stone in the comics.
In addition to Luthor the first appearance of post-Crisis Wonder Woman also made her debut in this series. It was her first appearance since Superfriends and now Diana flew on her own power rather than an invisible jet plane so this was the first time she did that. I kind of miss the invisible jet but I’m weird like that, silly as the thing is. Nostalgia is a hellava drug, you know. General Zod gets his only comic-flavored appearance, voiced by Odo himself, Rene Auberjonois. In fact the show had a great cast overall, including regulars Lois, Jimmy, and Perry.
Additionally it took a cue from Filmation’s New Adventures and had a back-up feature that was a good addition to this transitionary period. “Superman Family Album” was all Clark’s early childhood adventures. Not a lot of crimefighting or space invader smashing, but this was after Superboy was taken out of Clark’s early years and so this established the new early life of Clark, Lana, and the Kents. I’ll take this version over Man Of Steel or even Smallville. The final episode has a Superman debut that ran counter to the comics (Superman’s first appearance isn’t saving Lois from a falling plane but terrorists in tanks in the streets of Metropolis because it’s that kind of show) but was still rather exciting.
If you haven’t seen this version of Superman, and frankly not enough people talk about it, you really should check it out at least once. It may not become your favorite depiction but you may have fun watching it. I do.