Friday, June 14, 2013

Superman Week: The New Adventures of Superman (1966 - 1970)

In 1966, Filmation Studios launched an animated Saturday morning TV series for CBS called The New Adventures of Superman.  Each episode consisted of several brief vignettes approximately six minutes in length.  The opening credits of the series feature an almost-shot-for-shot animated edition of the opener for the live-action Adventures of Superman of the 1950s,  except with Superman in the action, performing the deeds (running faster than a speeding bullet, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, etc.)

With episodes directed by Hal Sutherland, and stories frequently crafted by Oscar Bensol and George Kashdan, The New Adventures of Superman often pitted its Kryptonian hero against villains created for television, as well as those from the comic (like Toyma, Brainiac, Lex Luthor, Prankster and Mr. Myxpltlk).  

Many of the episodes tend to repeat the same sequence of shots of Clark Kent ducking into a supply closet at the Daily Planet offices, ripping open his shirt, announcing "this is a job for Superman" and taking off into the wild blue yonder.

Perry White and Jimmy Olsen frequently appear in the series and utter their popular stock phrases, "Great Caesar's Ghost!" and "Jeepers!" respectively.  Bud Collyer voices Clark Kent and Superman, and as the latter, he deepens his voice significantly.

Given the context, it is appropriate that the stories on The New Adventures of Superman feel very 1960s in terms of visuals.  This is a world of rocket launches at Cape Kennedy and big bulky computers, as well as white male dominance over the culture.  

Throughout the series, Superman repels danger from outer space, and also other dimensions.  In "The Force Phantom" for instance, he battles a "compressed energy" monster that is pulping rockets around the world, and serves a diabolical race from the Martian moon of Daimos.  In the end, Superman defeats the monster and pulps the alien saucer, thus killing its crew with hardly a thought or comment.

In "The Wicked Warlock," Superman battles a black magician or "male witch" (as we are told twice...) who invokes Lucifer, and uses magic to bring statues to life and serve "the will of the warlock."  

The warlock goes so far as to call Superman "super boob," but Superman tricks him at his own game and destroys his magic scepter.  

Perhaps the most alarming thing about this entire episode is Superman's unquestioning, instantaneous acceptance of black magic as a real force in the universe.  Since he owes his powers to science (a different solar environment), I found this a bit alarming.

Designed for children, The New Adventures of Superman doesn't really develop Superman or the characters around him.  Instead, it's one super smack-down after the other as Supes defends Metropolis with a minimum of moral questions or hesitation.   This approach makes the stories less-than-deep in terms of theme and narrative, but the trade-off is that the pacing is often electric.

1 comment:

  1. This series was well before my time, but I remember finding out about it and the fact Bud Collyer was voicing Superman made me quite thrilled at the idea these cartoons, the Fleischer shorts, and the Radio show were all linked.