I may be fudging the last one a bit because it’s Superman on a team but they didn’t make the Super Friends intro series.
I still say that Superman works best in animation. Not having to worry as much about the “real world” allows the creators to do whatever they want within continuity limits and really showcase the Superman of the comics. It’s no surprise that my favorite Superman stories have been from comics and cartoons because it’s not as burdened by trying to make me believe a man can fly. He just does it.
We have four cartoons left to end this series of Superman intro examinations, which for this series (unlike the usual My Favorite/Not-So-Favorite intro series) also allows me to talk about the shows in broad detail. First we have the DCAU, the spin-off, and the one Superman is just one part of that has two intros to look at. I’m going to miss talking about Superman, except I never really stop talking about Superman, do I?
Of course we have to start with the DCAU. Following the success of Batman over at Fox Kids the folks at Kids WB wanted to get into that themselves. So Warner Animation brought Bruce Timm in to develop a Superman series. Interesting he didn’t continue the look from the Fleischer Studios Superman shorts, which was a major inspiration on the design for Batman: The Animated Series. I posted a video recently that went over the design process and how the look would have been that same retro feel by going with a 1940s design before settling on what they ended up with. While I’d like to see how that would have looked (I guess Batman: The Brave And The Bold gives us some idea), what we got was still amazing.
I’m usually bothered by intros that are just clips from the shows when it comes to animation. You aren’t burdened with actor names and you can get away with a bit more. However, they do choose clips that really show what the show is like, go quickly through Clark’s origins (though the pilot episode, “Last Son Of Krypton”, does a good job with Clark’s early years and discovery of who he is), and I can forgive it for that. The theme song is also enjoyable, going over the awesome action but also having moments of Superman being as much man as he is super along with the clips.
The show itself is of course the best interpretation of Superman. While there are still some adaptation mistakes that aren’t right, many do work and don’t clash nearly as much with multiversal continuity as some others I’ve seen, like the last two live-action shows we looked at. My favorite still remains the Ruby-Spears Superman for being everything I read a Superman comic for, and the Fleischer/Famous one second for what they could get away with in those days of early Superman, but I could do a whole article going over why this is best post-comics interpretation of Superman. Yes, even more than the Donner film, and certainly better than Snyder gave us.
Superman would later drag Batman over from Kids WB, forming The New Batman/Superman Adventures and starting what we now call the DC Animated Universe, or alternately the “Timmverse” for Bruce Timm but two of the DCAU shows he had no involvement with, Static Shock and Batman Beyond spin-off The Zeta Project. Since we didn’t look at that intro in the Batman intro series let’s do so here.
It’s not as good as the individual intros of the respective shows but at least they do something with the clips by adding a bit of flair to them. The visuals also try to highlight the different aspects of Superman and Batman but the only parts that worked are the references to their backstory. Bruce beside his dead parents forming into the Bat logo was one of the things the cover to the Batman: Year One story it comes from, but it kind of looks like the show is blaming Darkseid for the destruction of Krypton. Sure, I wouldn’t put it past him but Krypton died of its own fate no matter what Bendis tries to tell you to add to the lore nobody asked for.
The theme itself seems to be trying to combine aspects of Superman and Batman’s natures and only partly succeeds at it. I’m not surprised this isn’t used in syndication or from what I hear HBO Max’s posting because the shows are released separately as part of their respective “Animated Series” titles.
After the DCAU Warner Animation went in a slightly different direction. While Batman would get more shows just about him and his team, Superman’s last two shows aren’t just about him. In fact he only makes a cameo in the pilot episode of Krypto The Superdog. Yes, before Supergirl would get her own CBS show apart from the Arrowverse, only to then be reconnected to that universe thanks to moving to The CW, Krypton had a kids show on Cartoon Network back before Teen Titans Go! came along to determine the direction of the network.
Okay, the theme song itself needs work–like, a lot of work, but here me out. The lyrics try way too hard to make sure we know his name is Krypto The Superdog and they’re a bit too proud of their “Arf, Arf, and away” pun, taken from the line made famous in the radio dramas because it was kind of necessary without the visuals. It was used in some of the early animated shows as well (Superman says it a lot on early Superfriends episodes) but there’s a reason he doesn’t say that anymore. It just doesn’t work when you can see him go up, up, and away. Otherwise a really good intro, probably better than it needed to be given this is a show for kids who probably never heard of Krypto before. The music itself is fine, it’s just the lyrics need help. Where this intro shines however is in the visuals.
The framing device of a comic book is most appropriate since many of these characters were coming out of the comics for the first time. The Space Canine Patrol Agency (I see what you did there) made their first post-comics appearance on this show, renamed to the Dog All-Stars for some reason, while this is the first time Ace The Bathound was allowed to wear his doggy costume, having just been a normal dog on Batman Beyond. Krypto of course had been on the Filmation series and even had a counterpart on Smallville. This also featured the debut of Streaky The Supercat. There were original super animals created, but at the same time Harley’s hyenas would go on missions for the Joker and the Penguin had a penguin that did the same. Lex got a lizard who had his own plans. And of course Krypton gets a human owner since Superman (who appears at the end of the first story) wasn’t able to take as good care of him. There’s clearly more research put into this show for backstory than the League Of Superpets movie that’s coming out, and more care into depicting characters the kids will still love while the parents or even grandparents might be nostalgic for. That’s how you draw a larger audience of both groups into a show meant for kids.
Superman would return to series animation one more time, but not on a solo show. Legion Of Super-Heroes is based on the characters of the 30th century but they used Superman, who used to be on the team as Superboy before that period was edited out of his life–and then things get complicated to explain his appearance on the team as a teenager–to help push the show.
There’s just an interesting visual style of this show and the intro catches it almost perfectly. The song itself has some retro styling, I want to say 1940s with a modern edge but music is not my strong suit, but fitting this futuristic world. Superman is prominent and of course he no longer gets to be Superboy despite season one bringing him in prior to becoming Superman because they need his help. His symbol is even part of the logo. And yet you get to see the other members chosen for this series (the entire list would be way too many characters) get some time to show off what they can do. The show did well enough for a second series, but some changes were made. And yet they kept the theme song.
For some odd reason the show does a huge time skip. Clark eventually goes back to his own time, but returns as a fully formed Superman. The Legion are also allowed to age past teenagers. Things get darker, like one of Triplicate Girl’s duplicates being lost (because this was Saturday morning and despite the last Superman cartoon actually killing Dan Turpin off they wouldn’t do it on a lighter show like this even with some added darkness), but also developing a romance with Bouncing Boy, both of which do come from the comics. Lightning Lad becomes edgy because of course he did, and all of this is reflected in the intro. I wasn’t a fan of the makeovers.
What bothered me more was “Superman X”, a future clone of Superman who apparently was another inspiration for Superjunior’s costume design. Created to fight a war he also gets to be edgy and by this point edgy and evil Supermen were already reaching for the last straw. I kind of lost interest in this version and apparently I wasn’t alone. You can’t come back from this even by going back between the skipped time periods, and the show was canceled.
Oddly the theme song still works. Even going edgier the visual style is still the semi-retro cartoon style look and it still pays respect to the characters they’re based on.
Sadly there have been no Superman solo series since. We do have that My Adventures With Superman thing that lost people in the redesign of Jimmy and Lois wanting to be another Superman early years story like Superman: The Animated Series did for his first season. I haven’t heard any updates on that one since it was announced last year. Superman is made for animation. You need CG to show off many of his powers in action or just really good camera tricks. Even then it doesn’t feel right because Superman was created for comics, drawing, a fictional world where the rules of ours don’t necessarily apply and it’s easier to accept because it looks so removed from our own. If this show does come out, I hope there’s more than just at title card, the reason we aren’t looking at Supergirl, Krypton, or Superman And Lois. I hope you enjoyed this trip through Superman intros. He’s my favorite superhero and it saddens me that he doesn’t fit with this crappy world we live in today.