Do I even need to provide background history for Superman? Surely not. Along with Sherlock Holmes and Count Dracula, he is one of the most instantly identifiable literary characters worldwide. As of June of 2008, the adopted Kryptonian will have been kicking evil's ass for seventy years. This four-color hero has been translated into every type of entertainment media: movies, TV series, Broadway musicals, radio and, of course, cartoons. This would mark the second time Superman had been animated, and the first time specifically for television.
The campy Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward had premiered in January of 1966, provoking an astounding wave of fannish mania unseen since the Beatle craze. This was not lost on the Big 3 networks, then duking it out over the newly minted Saturday morning children's programming blocks, nor on Superman's handlers, DC comics. A young animation house named Filmation managed to cadge its way into this series, creating one of the few serious competitors to Hanna-Barbera in the field.
At this point, Filmation's infamously limited animation is not too terribly limited, and the faces are surprisingly detailed. The decision was made to hire the voice talent from the long-cancelled Superman radio show, Bud Collyer, Joan Alexander and Jackson Beck, providing an experienced cast with a ready-made understanding of their characters.
In fact, the point is made (in the extras featurette) that the scripts basically seem to be radio-based; between the narration and actors describing what you are already seeing, the visuals seem almost superfluous. The stories themselves are unchallenging - each cartoon is only about six minutes long, and run to alien menaces, monsters and reliable villains like the Toyman, Brainiac, and a pre-industrialist Lex Luthor. This was great stuff for young comics fans like yours truly - the characters were on-model (for the time), the stories fast-paced, simple and ultimately reassuring - though even at nine years of age, I could have done without the wincing pun and wink to the camera that closed each tale.
Each 30 minute episode comprised two Superman cartoons sandwiching a Superboy adventure; since the Superboy character is currently the subject of some copyright litigation, we only get the latterday stories, though at one point the set taunts us with the intro to the Superboy cartoons. So what is presented goes like this: The show's intro and theme music, which is a marvelous Jackson Beck tone poem which I can recite verbatim and cadence-perfect years later, two cartoons, then the closing credits. Hitting "Play All" will not spare you multiple repeats of this - the intro and credits are hard-baked into alternating cartoons.
There is only one glaringly obvious example of damaged film in the whole set. Otherwise, the only complaint possible is an old (and churlish) one for me: the digital clarity of DVD can really point up the imperfections in animation cels - and at one point I swear I could discern the brush strokes in a character's face.
Though the set itself does not begin with a welter of previews (seemingly mandatory for big studio releases) Disc Two begins with a two and a half minute teaser for Superman: Doomsday, a movie slated for Fall release (Yes, they're killing Superman again). Disc Two also has more trailers for upcoming and available animation sets, like the long-awaited Popeye 1933-38, Justice League Unlimited, The Batman, Batman Beyond, Teen Titans, Space Ghost, Birdman, and (at last!) Droopy.
The only other extra is Superman in '66, a featurette using interviews and comic art to provide a bit of history and context. It's at its best in the history segments and when Filmation's Lou Scheimer is detailing the colossal scam enacted when his fledgling studio was trying to snare the Superman property - but begins to unravel as the piece winds down and our interviewees try to position The New Adventures of Superman as the "very first" Saturday morning TV superhero cartoon. Even without websites like this, my own memory recalls the series standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Space Ghost, Frankenstein Jr., Underdog and The Mighty Heroes - and that's just on CBS.
Dr. Freex, 7/4/2007