Thursday, May 9, 2013

Comics on TV: SUPERMAN # 72

At TIAH Blog, we’ve never written about the great “Golden Age TV series” THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, starring the equally great George Reeves in the title role. …And, it’s high time we do so.

Because it occurs so rarely, we also like to mention any discernible appearance of a COMIC BOOK on a TV program, as HERE with WALT DISNEY’S COMICS AND STORIES # 177 (June, 1955), as seen on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS.

Fittingly, if also incongruously, placed in “The Birthday Letter” (1952), episode 7 of the first season of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, is a copy of SUPERMAN # 72 (September-October, 1951). Hopefully, the image, taken from the DVD, allows you to see this clearly. As usual, with our “special images”, you may click to enlarge.
 In the episode, “Kathy Williams”, a handicapped little girl, writes a letter to the Daily Planet, asking that Superman fly her to the County Fair. Needless to say, she inadvertently gets involved with the typical petty-crooks and gangsters that George Reeves’ Man of Steel used to routinely tangle with, because there was no way to do greater menaces on a ‘50s TV budget.

ABOVE:  Kathy is seen reading a copy of SUPERMAN # 72, followed by a scan of the cover of the comic. 

BELOW: "Petty Crooks and Gangsters" invade the comics!
Petty crooks and gangsters have feelings too... usually HARD feelings!
Also, in an earlier scene, a gang member is shot and killed(!), a rarity for THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, in a phone booth – outside of which is a small rack of various DC comic books.
Shoot the guy, but don't shoot the COMICS! 
 The image isn’t sharp enough, but (from the logos) I was able to spot that same issue of SUPERMAN, an issue of DETECTIVE COMICS, and (closest to the foreground) an issue of WORLD’S FINEST!   Go on, look hard… VERY HARD! Or, just click to enlarge! 
You don't have to be a reporter for a "Great Metropolitan Newspaper" to get THIS scoop!
Now, it’s unusual enough a concept for there to be COMIC BOOKS about Superman, in a world in which Superman “actually exists”. Perhaps he’s a real-life comics subject (...unauthorized? …If not, who receives the royalties?), as Chuck Norris and Mr. T. have been. But, the additional notion of a WORLD’S FINEST comic opens up the possibility of the existence of a ‘50s TV Batman (with team-ups?), and maybe even a “greater DC universe” beyond the familiar, small cast of our show. A notion inconceivable at the time some set-decorator may have thought to spice-up a scene with a few disjointed and disposable comic books.

Could George Reeves have imagined THIS? 

Digression: I’ve always wondered what THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN would have been like if it had been produced about 15 years later. That Superman could easily have faced Luthor, Brainiac, and Mr. Mxyzptlk – and even teamed up with Adam West’s Batman, licensing permitting, of course.
Imagine WORLD'S FINEST: 1966!
Yes... Imagine!  (Wink!) 
But, one very important facet of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN that most comics enthusiasts rarely consider is the perfect TIME PERIOD in which it was produced.

That window of the 1950s where the Golden Age comic-book superheroes had pretty much “gone away”, save for Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and before the re-imagining of comic heroes with the coming of the Silver Age in 1956. A period where, despite there being various DC comic books for sale at the corner store, there was no such thing as a DC Comics “Universe”.

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN straddled that gap perfectly, keeping the character of Superman (and the comic book superhero in general) alive when little or nothing else did. For that alone, much less its indelible effect on our overall pop culture, THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN should always be remembered as a special show, inhabiting a unique period of time.


Bruce Kanin said...


You pose so many wonderful things that my brain is ready to explode - much like Superman's did at the beginning of the classic Imaginary story about Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!

As you demonstrate, DC Comics existed in THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (TAOS) TV-series! There are a small number of other episodes in which we see this (e.g., they're even sold in the TAOS version of London, at the end of "A Ghost for Scotland Yard"!).

Now, one should wonder ... what's inside those TAOS-DC Comics? Are they the same stories we know and love - and may have read? Of course not! Because the ones we know and love depict Superman's secret identity! The TAOS-DC Comics cannot possibly do that!

But though this is a fruitless exercise, it's fun to think about it.

It reminds me a little of the CBS-TV series ELEMENTARY, about a modern-day Sherlock Holmes (and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, albeit a female), operating in New York City. The show started slowly for me, but I'm a fan now and watch it as often as possible.

What I find amusing is whenever someone refers to the star as, well, "Sherlock Holmes". I fully expect another character to say, "You mean, like the one in the mystery novels?" Moreover, in the ELEMENTARY universe, was there a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and did he write Sherlock Holmes novels? Well, maybe Doyle existed but I doubt that the latter is "true" in that universe.

Joe, you also muse about if TAOS had been broadcast 15 years later, perhaps during the height of the Silver Age. I think its low budget would have had trouble depicting the multitude of Kryptonians, Kryptonite and other characters, but it sure would've been fun to see whatever they could've come up with.

But you're absolutely right that TAOS beautifully filled a gap between the end of the comics Golden Age (and the Age of Superhero movie serials such as Batman, Captain Marvel and Superman himself) - and the beginning of the aforementioned Silver Age.

TAOS, especially its "film noir" first season, its sensational second and almost-terrific sixth (the intervening ones were a mixed bag), is a "gold" standard of sorts that will forever live in my heart, at least.

Thanks for your terrific TIAH TAOS tribute, Joe!


Joe Torcivia said...

And thank you, Bruce, for some great comments. I had a feeling this one would appeal to you!

You open up line of speculation that failed to occur to me (and shame on ME, for that!). I don’t own a copy of SUPERMAN # 72 (though, maybe I have it reprinted in a DC Archives edition, I’ll have to check on that) but you’re right… The copy of SUPERMAN # 72 that Kathy is reading CANNOT contain any references to Clark Kent, or the entire “TOAS Universe” would simply implode!

Real-life comic figures like those I mentioned, or to bring it closer to “DC Home” and say Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope, may exist in our world – but they do so without a “secret identity” that is the cornerstone to their entire being. A comic based on their (presumably fictional) life-events would not reveal the sort of damaging knowledge that “just about any old DC comic” in OUR WORLD could cause to Superman!

So, wouldn’t you love to open “your copy” and “Kathy’s copy” side-by-side, and examine the contents page-by-page – no Clark, Lois, Perry, Jimmy, and Daily Planet references of any kind – save their “unofficial” friendly connection to Superman?

So, did a fictional “Holmes” and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle exist in ELEMENTARY? Sounds as if there’s the potential for some meta-comedy there. Even if not, we can take comfort that Holmes existed in the DC Universe, and has met Batman – both in an issue of DETECTIVE COMICS and on THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD.

I still would love to have seen TAOS produced with those mid-sixties production values and guest stars that we love! Surely, we would have had fewer “petty-crooks and gangsters”, if nothing else. More great villains, aliens, and gadgets galore. If you’ve ever seen Walter Burke play an evil Leprechaun on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, you’d know he be great as Mxyzptlk! Let alone a shaved-head Michael Ansara as Brainiac. Heck, he’d make a great Luthor as well. If not, there was Theo Marcuse, who at least LOOKED the part.

But, truly it was the right show for the right time, historically. And, it will always remain so.

Anonymous said...

In Superman #19 (1942), Clark and Lois go to a theater that is showing one of the Paramount/Fleischer Brothers' Superman cartoons. The cartoon has several scenes of Clark changing into Superman and vice versa, so Clark repeatedly blocks Lois' view of the screen to keep her from learning his secret identity. He doesn't seem worried about everyone else in the audience seeing it, though. Evidently, in the DC Universe (such as it was) at that time, everyone EXCEPT Lois Lane knew Superman's identity. The story was reprinted in Superman #183 (late 1965-early 1966) and was billed as DC's first "Imaginary Story."-TC

Joe Torcivia said...

I *DO* remember seeing that one! (In reprint, of course!)

Ah, yes… 1942! Everything was so much simpler then… Oh, no… wait!

Maybe that “wartime audience” was SO patriotic, after succumbing to the influence of Bugs Bunny’s “Any Bonds, Today?”, that none of them would give up Clark’s secret ID?

…Or maybe THAT “DCU”, really did implode over the revelation, more than 40 years before “Crisis on Infinite Earths”! …Gotta love it, either way!

Anonymous said...

Superman and Batman went through various phases in their long careers, and each was a reflection of its time. Judging by the reprints I've read, TAOS was a reasonably faithful adaptation of the 1950's comics. It is not hard to imagine "The Misfit Manhunter" (Superman #76) or "Superman's Neighbors" (#112) as episodes of the TV show. The emphasis was on human interest, with the hero helping ordinary people and fighting street-level criminals. Also, by then, Clark Kent was portrayed as a respected and competent reporter, having outgrown his earlier cowardly buffoon image. Similarly, the Batman series actually was a fair portrayal of Silver Age DC super hero comics in general. Both Batman and the Flash had colorful villains, themed henchmen, and melodramatic narration (in captions). The TV show just exaggerated it a little more for comedic effect. So, what if Superman had been produced for TV 10-15 years later? My guess is that it would have been a little more tongue-in-cheek, like Batman (and Bond, Flint, Wild Wild West, and Man from U.N.C.L.E.), with more costumed villains, and science fictional plots. But I suspect budget limitations would have prevented stuff like Brainiac shrinking an entire city or Superman visiting Metropolis in the year 2966.17,26 istsolat

Joe Torcivia said...

I’ve read relatively few ‘50s-era Superman comics, as my collecting (and appreciation of darned near everything) began in the Silver Age, but I certainly agree with you about the similarities between those comics and TAOS. Just as Filmation’s “The New Adventures of Superman” animated series of 1966 better reflected the values of the Silver Age.

For what it’s worth, here’s my review of that DVD set, which was my FOURTH EVER post to this Blog.

The hypothetical mid-sixties SUPERMAN TV series you describe is the one I would like to have seen. There’s no reason we could not have had that AND the original TAOS. I think they would have nicely complemented one another.

If we could have LAND OF THE GIANTS and “The Night of Raven” (Shrinking episode of THE WILD WILD WEST) – not to mention Jack Arnold’s ‘50s sci-fi masterpiece “The Incredible Shrinking Man” – we could certainly have had a Brainiac shrinking episode by that time. Imagine Superman imprisoned in a bell jar, with the huge face of Michael Ansara’s Brainiac looking in – similar to the imagery of LAND OF THE GIANTS!

The sort of gadgetry seen on shows like THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA could have served ‘60s TV Luthor well. The “camera tricks” common in most ‘60s sci-fi / fantasy series would certainly have allowed for regularly timed visits by Mr. Mxyzptlk. I can even hear him “popping” in and out of scenes with that “electronic pop” sound effect that Irwin Allen always used!

And if Krypton’s demise was handled as deftly as was the amazing-for-1966 planetary destruction scene in the first color episode of LOST IN SPACE (“Blast-Off Into Space”), I would have been quite satisfied.

I think it would have been a memorable series, even if produced with the limited advances of the sixties.

Oh, and absolutely, the first season of BATMAN was a slightly exaggerated, but fairly right-on, representation of the Silver Age comics. That’s where I’d like to have seen the team-up with “our” hypothetical ‘60s TV Superman occur.

Joe Torcivia said...

Almost forgot… The type of nice matte paintings that enhanced STAR TREK TOS, could also have been a backdrop for – or long-shot of – a ‘60s TV Krypton.

Bruce Kanin said...

I love this entire post and the follow-up comments but am too exhausted right now to comment further. Need I say "no comment until the time limit is up!" ??

Cool stuff, Joe et al !

Joe Torcivia said...

The Time Limit is never up around here, Bruce! Come back with more any… er, time!

scarecrow33 said...

I remember at the time it seemed that nobody could improve upon George Reeves as "Superman." We used to watch reruns in the early 60's, still very popular even though the original show had long since stopped production.

Speaking of Superman in the 60's, remember (or maybe you'd prefer to forget) that he was the subject of a Broadway musical circa 1966, one which was critically praised, even though it never really found its audience. The songs were by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse of "Bye Bye Birdie" fame. The storyline was weak by Superman standards but fit with 60's sensibilities, such as pop psychology. The songs take some getting used to, but there are a few very catchy numbers among them, including the title song and a salsa number performed by Linda Lavin. The lead villain, Max Menken, is clearly based on Lex Luthor. It's quirky, funny, definitely of interest to a Super-fan, but probably never will be considered a "legitimate" interpretation of everyone's favorite Kryptonian. I myself directed a high school production of it years ago and had lots of fun with it. I modernized it a bit and brought it more into conformity with the DCU at the time.

So there was at least one 60's Superman that was roughly contemporaneous with Adam West's Batman, and a bit comparable as far as the style of acting--i. e. over-the-top melodrama. It perhaps deserves to remain a footnote in the overall saga of Superman on Earth, but it is nevertheless a fascinating footnote.

Joe Torcivia said...

There are those who would say that we STILL haven’t “improved” on George Reeves, Scarecrow. I’m not fully ready to count myself as one of them, but having seen more of the show recently – and through a fresh pair of eyes and set of perceptions – I’m probably much closer to that opinion now, than I’ve been in years past.

Christopher Reeve benefitted by the technology of his later era – and that the character’s visuals had evolved into something more closely resembling his own physicality (as opposed to the then-similarities between Reeves and the ‘50s comic Superman, that “Anon” rightly points out above). These items can be legitimately viewed as “improvements”, though of a different sort than a pure assessment of the individual actors involved. But, outside of animation (be it Fleischer OR Timm), George Reeves may still best embody Superman – or, certainly what Superman was at the time of his portrayal – well beyond more than a half century!

I have heard of the play, and of its lack of success, but know little more than that. (…Could that be for the best, I wonder?)

Chris Barat said...


IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE, IT'S SUPERMAN was probably a little ahead of its time. Imagine how a SUPERMAN musical might be pulled off with the technology and dramatic techniques of today.

Hypothetical question: Suppose that a second live-action SUPERMAN series HAD been ok'd by some network after BATMAN hit it big in the 60's. What sort of tone would it have taken? I can't imagine it "going to camp" the way BATMAN did, but the pressure to do something to distinguish the new series from the old George Reeves series would have been immense. Imagine Mort Weisinger and the TV executives trying to hash that out!


Joe Torcivia said...


I don’t think the (oh, let’s say fall 1966 or 1967) Superman series would have descended as far into camp as did the later seasons of BATMAN or the Third Season of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. He would probably never have skipped through a cheap-looking waterfront set, with some sort of “super-flute”, luring millions of explosive mechanical mice to their watery doom, as Adam West’s Batman would do in the infamous “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies Crime Club”.

I feel they would have “played it half-way” like the one-season GREEN HORNET series, still reflecting the more fantastic sensibilities of the time. As he always does, our friend “Anon” may have pegged it perfectly by citing THE WILD WILD WEST as an example of the tone it might have taken.

Many of the things that made the Superman mythos great, at the time such a hypothetical series would have been produced, were invented or otherwise enhanced under the editorial direction of Mort Weisinger. His imprint was all over the Filmation ’66 animated series, where he was credited as a consultant. I imagine he’d have used any influence he had to bring many of those aspects already discussed in these comments to the “live-action, small screen – In Color”!

Perhaps the most important thing to consider, and something yet to be touched-upon in this discussion, is that the tone of such a series would very likely be influenced by the ACTOR chosen to play Superman and Clark Kent. The choice would certainly go a long way in determining the degree of humor and / or camp that could be successfully applied.

George Reeves was (dare I say) “superlative” at playing Clark Kent. Reeves' Kent was not a humble bumbler, and that was, for me, the key to the success of the portrayal. He may have had to make the expected “convenient excuses at inconvenient times”, but his Clark was both competent and likeable – and not so much the butt of jokes. Lots of how this (“Fitting Terminology” Alert) “Imaginary Series” would turn depends on the characterization the lead actor would bring to it.

Imagine deciding who might best play a live-action, Silver Age Superman! Glad I didn’t have to make that call!

Anonymous said...

The seemingly obvious choice for Superman might have been Bob Holiday, who played the part on Broadway. In that case, the show might have been outright camp comedy. Also, timing might have influenced the tone. If it debuted around 1964-65, it probably would have started out relatively straight, with some subtle comedy relief, like the Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Wild Wild West (both obviously influenced by James Bond in both style and substance). If it lasted into 1966, then (as with West, UNCLE, and Lost in Space), the Batman/camp fad would have kicked in, and it would have become a farce. And if it had premiered in 1966, then (as with the Flint and Matt Helm movies) it would have been played mainly for laughs from the start. After 1966-67, I doubt if such a show would have been produced in the first place, since the super hero fad was passing by then. As I recall, BTW, UNCLE and The Avengers (I mean the British TV show about secret agents) really went over the top around 1966-67, then seemed to be trying to tone it down in their last seasons. By then, though, either the damage was done, or the shows had simply run their course. -TC

Anonymous said...

P.S.-I just thought of an idea for an episode of the hypothetical 1960s Superman show. Clark and Lois go to the Alvin theater and the "real" Clark has to distract her when the actor on stages changes costume from Clark to Superman. Wait...never mind. :)-TC

Joe Torcivia said...

I’d say you’ve GOT IT – concerning both the “ramping-up TO camp” or being “hatched that way”, depending on the year of debut. (The shows you cite as examples certainly make the case.) And that such a series would very likely have not been launched beyond 1967.

An episode – or a comic story – about an actor playing Superman possessing a hypothetical secret identity might have been an interesting one at that. And, given Supes’ association with the Daily Planet – and the fact that many staffers there are “celebrities” in their own right – Clark, Jimmy, or Steve Lombard could be tapped as the ID.

Anonymous said...

In Superman #196 (1967), a movie was being made about Superman. Since they didn't know his secret identity, they created a fictional one (IIRC, the character was a doctor, and his love interest was a nurse). Naturally, Clark Kent somehow ended up playing the part, and he fell in love with the lead actress (who, of course, had the initials LL). The premise sounds like a comedy, but it ended as a tragic love story. Remember what usually happened when Captain Kirk had a serious romance? Or when Xena or Gabrielle got romantically involved with a guy? Or when one of the Cartwrights got engaged to be married? (On Bonanza, horses had a longer life expectancy than women.) Anyway, Clark was supposedly chosen because they noticed that (without his glasses) he looked like Superman, but nobody seemed to suspect the truth.

Joe Torcivia said...

First: Congratulations on posting Comment # 1800 in this Blog’s history, Anon!

Second: Thanks for providing my “Laugh of the Day” with “On Bonanza, horses had a longer life expectancy than women.” Oh, YES!

And, yeah, my eyes would roll especially over those Third Season TREK romances. The one with Scotty (“Lights of Zetar”) is particularly painful to watch – not “painful” because you feel bad for Scotty, but “painful” because it’s so annoyingly out-of-character to endure!

Don’t remember that Superman story all that well… I’ll have to go look it up.