Superman on TV

by Alan Rapp on June 26, 2006

in Uncategorized

Old Supes is about to hit the big screen once again, but over the years he’s been more at home on the small screen.  Let’s look back at the various incarnations of Superman in television shall we?  Indeed we shall…


Fleischer Superman Cartoons – The original Fleischer cartoons are how many first viewed Superman.  The seventeen animated shorts were produced for Paramount Pictures in the early 1940’s; they still hold up remarkably well today.  The cost of each short was $100,000 dollars (remember that’s 1940’s cash you’re talking about) which was almost quadruple the amount of Popeye or what Disney spent on its shorts at the same time.  In terms of style and look it was vastly ahead of it’s time (and its look strongly influenced Batman: The Animated Series – half a centruy later).  In the series Superman fought an onslaught of sci-fi themed villains and creatures such as robots, dinosaurs, mad scientists, and meteors.  The last few episodes produced without Max and Dave Fleischer when Paramount took over the studio feature WWII themed stories with Superman fighting against America’s enemies.  Bud Collyer provided the voice of Superman and Joan Alexander played the voice of Lois Lane.

The Adventures of Superman and Atom Man vs. Superman – Kirk Alyn stars as Superman in this serial and it’s sequel.  In the first Superman battles the Spider Lady (Carol Forman) and in the second battles Lex Luthor (Lyle Talbot) who is using a teleportation device and holding Metropolis hostage while calling himself Atom Man.  Noel Neill plays Lois Lane, Tommy Bond is Jimmy Olsen, and Pierre Watkin plays The Daily Planet’s editor in chief Perry White.

Adventures of Superman – The popular syndicated television show brought Superman to an entire generation.  The show’s 104 half-hour episodes first premiered in 1952 and ran until 1958.  Despite a low budget, change in theme and mood of the show, and a dramatic change from black and white to color television during the series run, the show had charm and class that many enjoyed.  Geroge Reeves starred as Clark Kent and Superman, with Jack Larson as Jimmy Olsen and John Hamilton as Perry White, and Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill starred as Lois Lane over the series run.  Bill Kennedy provided the narration to the famous opening sequence “Faster than a speeding bullet!  More powerful than a locomotive!  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!  Superman.”  Of the 104 episodes a fan favorite “Panic in the Sky” (episode 38) stands out.  In fact future Superman show creators loved it so much that the plot was remade in two future shows (Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Superboy).

Superboy – The series followed young journalism students Clark Kent and Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) at Shuster University.  Superboy also helps out a government organization investigating unusual and parnormal disturbances while battling villains such as vampires,  Lex Luthor (Scott Wells), Metallo (Michael Callan), and Bizarro (Barry Meyers).  John Haymes Newton starred in the title role for the first season and when he left the show was replaced by Gerard Christopher.  Despite a limited budget the small syndicated show lasted four years and has earned itself a loyal following.

Superman – The short lived Saturday morning cartoon was created to coincide with Superman’s 50th Anniversary in the late 1988.  Episodes included Superman (Beau Weaver) saving the Earth from Lex Luthor (Michael Bell), aliens, robots, and helping Wonder Woman stop the Soceress of Time.  The series is notable for special “Superman Family Album” segments which chronicled Clark Kent’s life between his arrival on earth and his first appearance as Superman involving Clark Kent getting a driver’s license, a birthday party, and graduating from high school.  Ma Kent was voiced by Tess MacNeille (of Futurama fame).

Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – The ABC hour long drama starred Dean Cain as Clark Kent/Superman and Teri Hatcher as Lois Lane.  The show focused much more on Clark than Superman and delved into his career as a reporter and his relationship with Lois.  The show kept to the John Byrne revamp version of the character and even worked out a tie-in campaign where Lois and Clark were married in the comic and on the show at the same time.  Other than focusing more on Clark, a few other notable differences from other adaptions include Jonathan Kent (Eddie Jones) alive and well, Superman didn’t support his trademark hair curl, and Lex Luthor (Jonathan Shea) had a full head of hair (at least for the first season).  The show ran for four seasons.

Superman: The Animated Series – After the success of Batman the Animated Series the creators moved onto a new Superman cartoon with a similar design but a lighter and cleaner look.  Tim Daly (of Wings fame) was tapped to play Superman and Dana Delany voiced Lois Lane.  Many of Superman’s rogues gallery appeared on the show including Lex Luthor, Braniac, Darkseid, Bizarro, Parasite, Toy Man, and new villains such as Live Wire.

Smallville – A new millenium take on Clark Kent’s teenage years in Smallville, Kansas.  The show centers around Clark Kent’s (Tom Welling) life on the farm and the odd events and occureances in Smallville due to “meteor rock” contamination from the meteor shower that brought Kal-El to Earth years ago.  The show’s “No Flights, No Tights” rule was a drastic change from other Superman/Superboy shows as creators agreed Clark would never fly (though he did once on the show, oops!) or ever don the Superman suit.  The relalitonships examined on the show include the friendship between Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum) and Clark, Clark’s relationship to his father Jonathan Kent (John Schneider), and Clark’s love for Lana Lang (Kristin Kruek).  Though none of that got in the way of fighting all kinds of “meteor rock freaks” every week.  Recent seasons have Clark moving on to college, the introduction of Lois Lane (Erica Durance), the introduction of Jor-El (voiced by none other than Superman II bad guy Terrence Stamp), the end of the Clark/Lex friendship, and the arrival of Braniac (James Marsters) and the Fortress of Solitude.  Of interest to true Superman afecianadoes – besides Stamp, both Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder also guest starred on the show.

Super Friends & Justice League – Superman also has played prominent roles in super-team shows.  Super Friends was a 1970’s and 1980’s Saturday morning cartoon show that focused on a band of heroes (Superman, Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman) working together out of the Hall of Justice.  The shows different season sported different sidekicks such as Wendy, Marv and Wonder Dog, and later the Wonder Twins and Gleek.  Later incarnations involved the “Challenge of the Super Friends” which introduced the Legion of Doom and added heroes Green Lantern, Flash, and Hawkman.  Later shows added more multi-cultural heroes such as Samurai, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, and El Dorado.  The final seasons introduced younger hereos such as Firestorm and Cyborg, and the villainous Darkseid.  Though often cheesy and full of bad coloring errors the show is fondly remembered for the narration provided by William Woodson and the overally campy fun of the show.  Cartoon Network’s Justice League was a much more serious teaming of heroes Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Hawgirl.  The third season opened up the league to more heroes including Captain Atom, Booster Gold, Elongated Man, Green Arrow, the Question, Black Canary, Shining Knight, and the Atom.

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