Friday, August 15, 2008

Up, Up, and Almost Away – The New Adventures of Superman (1966) DVD Review

In 1966, I was 11 years old. When you’re 11, EVERYTHING is pure magic. Alas, not everything that is magic remains ever so. But, enough of the comics and TV shows of the time retain a sufficient degree of that magic, at least for me. Aided and abetted by the considerable forces of nostalgia and the often questionable and uneven quality of their modern-day successors, such wonders of the past are always worth revisiting. …And, yes, that applies to the product the now-legendary Filmation Studios.

I’m posting this 2007 review now because I will probably review the “DC Comics Superheroes the Filmation Adventures” DVD collection of August 2008 in the near future, and this review is something of a pre-requisite to that one. Enjoy…

The New Adventures of Superman
(Released June 26, 2007 by Warner Home Video) Another long DVD Review by Joe Torcivia

This, of course, is Filmation's trend setting version from 1966.

Up front, I must express an almost lifelong affection for the DC Comics Super Heroes, and a 15-plus year long love affair with the DC Animated Series BATMAN, SUPERMAN, BATMAN BEYOND, JUSTICE LEAGUE and JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, produced by Bruce Timm for Warner Bros. I also enjoyed the 1960s DC cartoons from Filmation Studios.

This DVD set should have been a “lock” for me but, instead, it is a very mixed bag. Oh, there’s plenty of great stuff -- especially when viewed through nostalgia-colored glasses, where Filmation’s legendary shortcomings are minimized by the good feelings these shows originally created.

We know and accept Filmation’s faults for what they were – and are! The source of my uncharacteristic displeasure is the dispensing with the usually high standards practiced by Warner Home Video, in the assembling of this package.

There are far too many “CONS” to allow me to enjoy this DVD collection to the extent that I had hoped. Yet, the “PROS”, in many ways, still manage to make the package a worthwhile entertainment experience.


The series is NOT COMPLETE! I'm very disappointed in that! The Superboy segments (originally part of each half-hour episode) are omitted. Somehow, I can understand that, as SB remains in some sort of legal limbo between DC/WB and the heirs of Jerry Siegel. BUT, all the Superman episodes are not there either.

The box claims 36 episodes. What they don't tell you is that there were TWO Superman cartoons per show -- plus one Superboy -- and that those are counted as SEPARATE episodes... even though each "pair" of Superman shorts are framed by the show's original opening and closing credits -- indicating it to be ONE SHOW. So, in actuality you get 18 original shows – really TWO THIRDS of 18 shows – despite the box’s claim of 36 “episodes”. Not exactly trickery, but the feeling of it is there, nonetheless.

Later, there were a handful of TWO-PART SUPERMAN EPISODES that are also not in this set. Granted, these were made for the BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR show of 1968 -- but they were also shown as part of the SUPERMAN show after Batman split off into his own show. Perhaps they will be part of a possible BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR release -- though there were not nearly enough of them to give Supes a fair representation on such a set, as many of the earlier Superman shorts were mixed into that show as “extender”.

Either way, I expected to see the two-parters here. Further research reveals that there are about 16 short Superman cartoons also absent from this set and, hopefully, all this missing material is being hoarded for a second volume. After all, this was never billed as “The Complete Series”, so maybe I was expecting too much, having been accustomed to the general quality of other WHV releases… the also-incomplete NEW SCOOBY-DOO MOVIES set, notwithstanding.

The transfers to DVD have got to be the worst I've ever seen from a major studio – with the possible exception of certain elements of WHV’s “THE MAGILLA GORILLA SHOW” set! Yes, I know it's Filmation, and it's SUPPOSED TO look bad. But, it appears that little effort was made to clean these cartoons up. The Mr. Mxyzptlk episode, "The Imp-Practical Joker" (Which I remembered sort of fondly, and especially wanted to see and contrast with Bruce Timm and Paul Dini's 1997 masterpiece "Mxyzpixilated" from SUPERMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES) is unbelievably bad with lines, streaking, and visual debris across the image! SHAME ON YOU WARNER HOME VIDEO!

In six minutes, the stories are often too brief and many of them are hokey, even by Silver Age comic book standards, but others are good. Besides, some very good Superman stories were done in eight pages or so, in the Silver Age comic books of legendary editor Mort Weisinger.

In addition to being incomplete, badly transferred, and sometimes hokey (though I can't really blame the "hokey" on WHV, can I?), there seems to be NO PROPER ORDER to the presentation! We DVD enthusiasts like things organized, complete, uncut, and IN ORDER! None of that here!

"Superman Meets Brainiac" is on DISC TWO, while "The Return of Brainiac" is on DISC ONE! Um... all you have to do is READ THE TITLES to know this is the wrong thing to do, folks!

The PACKAGING is that slimmer, cheaper packaging that Warner Home Video has used since the latter part of 2005, where one disc rests upon another. You cannot handle or remove DISC TWO without first removing or handling DISC ONE. There is always potential, however slight, for damage with packaging of this sort.


It's Superman!

It's Superman in as close to an accurate Mort Weisinger / Silver Age comic book interpretation as we could ever have hoped to get!

Bud Collyer and Joan Alexander, from the Max Fleschier theatrical days and radio series, are reunited as Superman/Clark, and Lois!

The character designs are as closely based on classic Silver Age Superman artist Curt Swan as was possible to do in such limited animation.

It is the first animated use of Jimmy Olsen. Though sans freckles, he looks just as he did in his own comic -- that is when he wasn't being transformed into a turtle, werewolf, or other monster.

DC Comics editor Mort Weisinger was a consultant to the series, and his name is in the end credits of every show.

Actual DC writers of the time did scripts: George Kashdan, William Woolfolk, Arnold Drake, Bill Finger (Considered by many to be the uncredited co-creator of Batman!), and someone who -- to my knowledge -- was never involved with DC, Oscar Bensol. As all the other writers were actual DC writers, I wonder if "Bensol" wasn't a pen name for someone else. (Jerry Siegel, perhaps?)

Bob Hastings (Lt. Carpenter on sixties sit-com MC HALE'S NAVY) begins an over 30-year association with DC Comics characters by voicing the absent-due to-being-in court Superboy and occasional incidental characters. Later, Hastings essentially recreated Carpenter for a cameo in the Adam West BATMAN series (in a scene with Alan "Fred Flintstone" Reed, no less!), and became best known as the voice of Commissioner Gordon in the '90s BATMAN ANIMATED SERIES!

The late gravely voiced Jackson Beck (...I can still hear him voicing commercials for Little Caesar's Pizza, and Thompson's Water Seal) is the Narrator and Perry White.

The first use (I believe), outside of comics, of Luthor, Brainiac, Mxyzptlk, Toyman, Prankster, Titano the Giant Ape, and a vastly different Parasite – who meets a bit of a shocking end for a mid-sixties Sat AM cartoon. Ditto for the ending of the second Brainiac episode. No spoilers here!

And THIS justifies the price of admission... The extra feature: "Superman in '66"! Featured commentators include comic book writer Mark Waid, actor Mark Hamill, DC Publisher Paul Levitz, and Filmation's Lou Scheimer, among others. Waid is so vocal, he practically hosts the thing!

They discuss Superman, the times socially and politically, Curt Swan, Mort Weisinger, and many, many Silver Age Superman comic book panels and pages are shown throughout. Scheimer discusses the early days of Filmation, how they got the contract from DC to do Superman (...with more than a bit of bluffing and trickery -- that I'm surprised that he admits to here!), and how important Superman was to putting Filmation on the map, and its impact on Sat-AM TV for years to follow.

For any fan of TV animation, comic books, DC heroes, or the Silver Age in general, this is ONE GREAT FEATURE!

So, despite some serious flaws, I’d say buy The New Adventures of Superman DVD set… if you are a fan of any of the above categories. Sit back and enjoy the “title opening” to each classic cartoon, where Superman flies THROUGH a brick wall that (as drawn) he could just as easily have flown around!

…Sometimes it’s great to just accept stuff like this for its own sake!

No comments: