Tuesday, September 9, 2008

DVD Review: DC Comics Super Heroes – The Filmation Adventures

DC Comics Super Heroes – The Filmation Adventures
(Released August 12, 2008 by Warner Home Video)

Yet Another Long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

(...I did say "Long"!)

Riddle me this, Batman… When is a show not a show?

When it is merely PART OF ANOTHER SHOW!

And, that’s exactly what you’re getting in DC Comics Super Heroes – The Filmation Adventures! In this case, the filler segments from 1967’s THE SUPERMAN / AQUAMAN HOUR OF ADVENTURE, which was the sequel / successor to Filmation's trend setting THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN from 1966. (See a review of that DVD set HERE)

Each hour-long episode of THE SUPERMAN / AQUAMAN HOUR OF ADVENTURE had two short cartoons of Superman, two of Aquaman, and (as I hopefully recall correctly) one segment of Superboy and one segment featuring various Silver Age DC Super Heroes. Those being: The Atom, The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Justice League, and Teen Titans.

Superman saw a release in July 2007 and Aquaman followed in November. Now, we have the "Catch All" volume of the '60s Filmation DC cartoons that completes the series. BATMAN would debut the following year, and is not included here.

As with the SUPERMAN review, we’ll break it into CONS and PROS.


Filmation’s animation. There, I said it, okay?! Let’s move on…

Because, as stated above, this was not an actual show, there is no opening theme – and, more importantly, no end credits.

Warner actually attempts to make up for this by optionally offering the original “AS AIREDAquaman end credit sequence that was used when Aquaman later spun off into his own show. As such, it reflects none of the Superman segment credits – but it also lacks more specific references to the Non-Aquaman segments that make up this set.

This results in actors that are clearly known to the viewer, such as the ubiquitous Paul Frees, being uncredited for his work here. Another case of “credit deficit” is Gerald Mohr (Green Lantern), known in live action for guest staring roles in LOST IN SPACEA Visit to Hades” and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA The Lost Bomb” – and in animation as Reed Richards in Hanna-Barbera’s FANTASTIC FOUR (…in which, not so coincidently, Paul Frees played The Thing!)

Bob Hastings (from MC HALE’S NAVY, Filmation’s SUPERMAN, and the later 1990s BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES) also appears to voice The Atom, but is not credited as well.

Oh, and the “Aquaman End Credits Theme” is a very lively – almost inappropriately cheerful – marching piece that, after you hear it two or three times, will run through your head repeatedly. You’ve been warned.

In about seven minutes, the stories are often too brief and many of them are hokey, even by Silver Age comic book standards, but others are good – even when formulaic. Besides, some very good DC comic book stories were done in eight pages or so, in the Silver Age comic books of legendary editors Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger.

Though generally true to the source material, there are just a few too many divergences from the ‘60s comic books they represent. None, however, are total deal-breakers, as were more common in Hanna-Barbera’s later SUPER FRIENDS.

As I am more familiar (then and now) with The Flash and Green Lantern, and less so with The Atom and Hawkman, I tend to see more differences in the treatment of the former. Your experiences may vary.

· Kid Flash has BLACK HAIR, instead of his usual RED. It looks as if Filmation recycled their Aqualad model for this role.

· Green Lantern’s Eskimo sidekick “Pieface” is absent (that could be a “Pro”), but he is replaced with a blue-skinned, Spock-eared alien pal named Kyro.

· Green Lantern’s masters, The Guardians of the Universe, are FLESH COLORED instead of blue-skinned! I can only guess that they didn’t want to link the powerful Guardians to the already blue-skinned Kyro. But, why not just make Kyro another color and keep the blue-hued image of the Guardians “as-is”?

· Hal Jordan appears to be the ONLY Green Lantern in this series. One of the best things about the Green Lantern concept is that Hal was (and is) just one of a vast galactic peacekeeping force. Probably done just for space / running time.

· In place of Hawkgirl (…who will be excellently portrayed in the 2000’s WB JUSTICE LEAGUE series), Hawkman has a pet hawk named “Screel”! Now, maybe there was a “Screel” in the Silver Age comics, and maybe there wasn’t. But, if I were Hawkman – and “was given the bird” instead of a woman, I’d call it a raw deal!

Given this was the first time these characters were ever adapted to another media, not to mention one with the budgetary and time limitations this series had, there’s nothing here that a typical fan can’t deal with, if he or she puts things in the proper perspective.

I won’t exactly include it under “differences” but, instead of dipping into the great pantheon of Silver Age DC Villains, we end up with such adversaries as “Professor Cragg”, “Mr. Strayle”, and “Dr. Rokar”. Some “Legion of Doom” these guys would make, eh?

There are EIGHTEEN CARTOONS on DC Comics Super Heroes – The Filmation Adventures vs. 36 for the earlier Filmation New Adventures of Superman set. List price was 24.99 for DC Heroes vs. 26.99 for Superman. So, we get 18 FEWER CARTOONS for just TWO DOLLARS LESS? …I’d say this is a “Con” in more ways than one!

The Justice League segment “Target Earth” is CUT – missing its title and writer’s credit.

And, in the strangest “Con” of all, the image of Hanna-Barbera’s BIRDMAN appears in place of DC Comics’ HAWKMAN on the disc menu illustrations. Yes, really! These last two items just look like someone was “asleep at the wheel” (…or at the editing console)!


Outside of comic books, this is the first large-scale exposure the general public had to any of the secondary DC Comics heroes. If you liked the Superman set, you'll probably like this... maybe even more so, for the diversity of characters!

Actual Silver Age DC Comics writer and editor George Kashdan was the predominant writer of these cartoons, with a small number going to well-known DC writer Bob Haney and TV animation writer Dennis Marks (both of whom would do fine work on Filmation’s upcoming BATMAN series of 1968). Renowned DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger was also a consultant to the series.

Given this, the characters accurately reflect their Silver Age identities and origins. Barry Allen is Flash, Hal Jordan is Green Lantern, Ray Palmer is The Atom, Carter Hall is Hawkman, and villain Evil Star appears in one of the Green Lantern segments. Each cartoon has an opening segment that recaps that character’s origin and powers – and displays the character’s Silver Age LOGO as it appears on the comic book covers.

There’s just enough (though not an overabundance, alas) Silver Age Comic Book fun to maintain the interest level of fans of this unique era of fantasy storytelling. The Atom “zapping” alien roaches (Yuck!) by flipping them onto live wires, for instance. And the shot of The Flash encased in green crystal by a mutated ant would have made a perfect cover image during the classic Julius Schwartz / Carmine Infantino / John Broome days of the Speedster’s title. Green Lantern recites his Oath, albeit in truncated form to accommodate the seven-minute running times.

There’s even painfully authentic Silver Age Teen Titans dialogue:

Pour it on, Speedy-O! We’ve got to get to where the action is!” And the unforgettable “Cool it, Wonder Doll, here come the Marines!”

Hmmm… This could be a Pro AND a Con!

The name Filmation speaks for itself in terms of animation quality – but I must admit that the scenes of The Flash running were particularly well done (…Once again, when put in the proper perspective).

The voice acting, as it often was with early Filmation products, is first rate. A Pre-MTM Ted Knight is the narrator for all the various series. Other talents include Bud Collyer reprising his role as Superman in the Justice League segments. Marvin Miller and the previously mentioned Paul Frees, Gerald Mohr, and Bob Hastings help round out the cast.

John Marion’s music scores (though they repeat often enough) seem quite appropriate for Silver Age Super Hero adventures.

Warner made an effort to improve the packaging over the type I complained about in The New Adventures of Superman set review, where one disc of a two-disc set rests upon another. With such packaging, you cannot handle or remove DISC TWO without first removing and handling DISC ONE. There is always potential, however slight, for damage with packaging of this sort. Here, they’ve put DISC ONE on a hinged holder and DISC TWO rests on the back, inside wall of the package. An improvement, I’d say.

Also, in the packaging’s favor – and since this was never an actual show and, therefore, could not be organized as such – the different DC Super Hero segments are arranged and grouped alphabetically. Atom, Flash, and Green Lantern on Disc One and Hawkman, Justice League and Teen Titans on Disc Two.

The last of my props for packaging is for the recreation of the “Silver Age and Prior” DC Comics Logo, which is prominently featured as part of the box cover art. A great way to indicate (for those in the know) what to expect in terms of the characters found therein.

There’s only one Extra Feature, but it’s a doozy! “Animation Maverick: The Lou Scheimer Story”, profiles the co-founder of Filmation Studios. Mr. Scheimer contributes many recollections and anecdotes and is joined by his daughter Erika, his former partner Hal Sutherland, and luminaries who worked at Filmation like animator Darrell Mc Neil, writer/producer Paul Dini of the various Warner Bros. animated series and the TV series LOST, and others.

Filmation is depicted as the last American animation training ground and a great place to have worked, with Scheimer leading the way, as it became (along with Hanna-Barbera) the dominant producer of Saturday Morning network fare – and established the market for new animation in weekday syndication later successfully mined by Disney and Warner Bros.

It was the last American animation studio to do everything “in-house”, which helps earn its place in history. Filmation’s ending is rather sad, but the general feel of the piece is upbeat and very informative. Personally, I’ve always been a Filmation Fan, but you can’t help but have an entirely new appreciation for both the studio and Mr. Scheimer (who turns 80 on October 19, 2008) as a figure of animation history – and as a human being – after viewing this feature.

This documentary is a whopping 40 minutes long, as compared with the 15 minute "Superman in '66" feature on The New Adventures of Superman set. I suppose that helps ease the pain of the price differential between the two sets… just not very much.

If you enjoyed the previous Filmation Superman or Aquaman DVD collections released in 2007, or are a fan of Classic Sat AM TV animation, comic books, DC Heroes, or the Silver Age of comic books in general, you will enjoy DC Comics Super Heroes – The Filmation Adventures! …Tell ‘em Screel and Kyro sent you!

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