Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A Super Week

I've made comment over the years that "Superman: The Movie" was my Star Wars.  What I mean is, for most of my generation, "Star Wars" was the defining movie.  I saw "Star Wars" and enjoyed it, but it didn't have the cultural impact on me as it did other kids my age (commence stoning now). I only saw the movie once.  I didn't collect the toys. I didn't collect the cards. I didn't have the record album.  I was a comic book geek. 

I was mainly a fan of Marvel Comics.  For those of you unfamiliar, Marvel is Spider-man, The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, X-Men, The Hulk, Captain America, etc.  All of the heroes that are popular movies now. No, not Aquaman. That's DC which along with our underwater friend had Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman and Robin, the Flash, etc. In the 70's, the only place you could find your heroes off the page was on TV.  And when it came to TV, DC seemed to win hands down.  

There was "The Superfriends" on Saturday mornings.   

There was Wonder Woman on prime time live action TV.

There was the George Reeves' "The Adventures of Superman" as well as Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin in syndication.

Maybe because I had no investment in the DC mythos, I found these shows entertaining and plausible adaptions of their comic book counterparts.

Then there was Marvel.  Their contributions to television was the Grantray-Lawrence animated cartoon ("Spider-man, Spider-man, does whatever a spider can"). While I thoroughly enjoyed that, the absence of webs on his costume along with the 6-legged spider emblem always bugged me (yes, that pun was intended).

Then came Spider-man on the Electric Company (ironically, probably the best live-action costume adaption for the following 30 years).

Then Marvel's 1978 TV show.

There was the Saturday morning Fantastic Four cartoon inexplicably missing my favorite character of the group, the Human Torch and plus a robot(!) named H.E.R.B.I.E.

The even more inexplicable "Fred and Barney Meet The Thing" (yes, THAT Fred and Barney) in which rocks would rise up and cover his body (not even close to the way it happened in the comics, for those of you less informed).

More live-action shows followed Spider-man including Captain America, 

Dr. Strange,

and of course, The Incredible Hulk.

None of these came close to the comics characters I loved. Granted, "The Incredible Hulk" TV show was well written and given the character and the budget, there understandably were limitations. But I hated the hair and the huge brow and the fact that this Hulk couldn't speak (probably for the best looking back on it).

Then in December of 1978, "Superman: The Movie" debuted.

From the opening notes of the score with the "S" symbol blasting onto the screen to the ending credits, I was hooked.  The story line took Superman as a character seriously; there was humor, but no camp. The effects, while primitive in hindsight, blew me away.  The costume and Christopher Reeve looked spot-on as Superman and as Clark Kent.  I'll reiterate, I had no investment in the character, so maybe Superman comic book fans did take exception. But to me, it was a hugely successful big screen interpretation of a comic book.  I collected Superman: The Movie souvenir books, special edition magazines, oversized Superman comic book reprints, the novelization, bubblegum cards, and if I'd had the money, I'd have even bought the record album.  I saw the movie twice, which may not seem like much given the number of times some people saw "Star Wars", but in my family, seeing a movie in the theaters even once was a feat.  Twice was unheard of.  This January 1979 issue of Newsweek magazine brought back those memories and reminded me of the wonder I experienced when I was 12.

A DeLorean would play a pivotal role in another iconic movie, but that was 6 years away.

Another popular movie that week.

And now the main article.  The writer, Jack Kroll, seems to take the movie less serious than the movie itself did.  While he gives high praise for the writing, effects and particularly Christopher Reeve, he nonetheless drops comments to let you know he doesn't take the movie entirely serious. He also apparently has never heard of announcing spoiler alerts. So if you do read the article: ***SPOILER ALERT***

Sadly, like many sequels, the Superman movies that followed failed to live up to their predecessor. Director Richard Donner was replaced on "Superman II" after filming a significant portion of the movie. These portions were re-shot under director Richard Lester and feature some more outlandish and comedic themes, although ultimately the movie was still entertaining.  "Superman III" featured Richard Pryor in a bigger role than Christopher Reeve, so you can guess how that came out.  I won't even discuss "Superman IV", a Christopher Reeve vehicle for nuclear disarmament that featured "Nuclear Man", a living nuclear reaction.  Sorry, I started to discuss it. It warrants comment that an attempt was made to recover the Superman legacy nearly 30 years later with "Superman Returns".  "Superman Returns" rejects III and IV as canon and picks up 5 years after Superman II.  While it was panned by both critics and fans, I thought it was an admirable attempt albeit with questionable casting. However, I felt Brandon Routh, while a little young for the part, did an excellent job as both Clark Kent and Superman.  And when I went to see "Superman Returns" in the theater, for a few moments when that familiar music and "S" burst onto the screen, I was 12 years old again.

For my 50th birthday, my wife rented a local theater and showed "Superman: The Movie" for family and friends.  Despite all the ups and downs for superhero TV shows and movies over the years,  I'd say I'm still a Superfan.


  1. this is where you and i cross swords. while i love that the original superman is your touchstone, it doesn't even begin to approach the effect star wars had on me. while i adore the original superman, and that opening scene does give me a thrill and the music (THE MUSIC!) brings a tear to this old geek's eye, it just doesn't compare to the entire life-shift that star wars had on me.

    and hey, superman 2 had general zod, so there's at least that. who doesn't love ZOD??

    1. As I said, "let the stoning begin". KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!

  2. Wonder Twin Powers form a... *Cough Cough* don't hate me but I like Herbie from Fantastic Four growing up. But to be fair I did not read the comic so I was misinformed. Those bad 60's and 70's comic book movies are how I was introduced to Aquaman! I loved him and he got me out of bed in the morning and good old Spider-Man had me running home after school for his adventures. As for the Superman movie I love the flick and it is the gold star as to what superhero movies should be today and most of them still can not hold a torch to it.

    Being so close to Metropolis Il how many times have you paid Superman a visit? And how cool of your wife to rent out a theatre for your birthday like that, she is the true hero here.

    1. >don't hate me but I like Herbie from Fantastic Four growing up
      Commence stoning Bob!
      Kidding. But you make the point I did. If you didn't have an investment in the character (or Fantastic Four as in your case), you don't know any better and enjoy it for what it is. So it's certainly possible Superman fans were outraged at the time.

      We have stopped in Metropolis numerous times. Typically on our way or back from the Gulf Coast on our annual trips. I love visiting there. And the museum is really cool with some original props from the tv shows and movie!
      And yes, my wife knocked it out of the park on that one, in a single bound.

  3. That is the coolest birthday gift ever!! what an awesome and memorable idea- kudos to your wife.
    I grew up with Wonder Woman and the Superman series and even Isis on Saturday mornings. ( I am also 50). If I had to choose, I would select Superman over the star wars series. I never got into the Star Wars and Star trek craze.

    1. I forgot to mention the Isis and Shazam series, good point. Not to mention Electra Woman and Dynagirl!

  4. As a kid, and probably still now, I like 2 better for the Kryptonian villains. I've never been a big fan of the spin the world backwards thing. I remember having this little stick pin that had a tiny piece of "Kryptonite" in it. As something marketed to kids that like Superman, I don't know why you'd want to have it!

    1. I did like II as well as a kid, and the agreed the villains are great, but it did get a little campy with the tearing the "S" off his chest and laser finger. I don't recall them, but I've seen vintage "Kryptonite" you could buy out of comic books.

  5. No pics of Valerie Perrine?! Who edited that magazine - Otis?

    RE: 1978 Fantastic Four animated series
    For years, the theory was that NBC balked at using the Human Torch for fear that kids would set themselves on fire emulating him. Apparently, that wasn't the case.
    Via Wikipedia-
    The 1978 series replaced the character of the Human Torch with a robot named H.E.R.B.I.E. (Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics), because the 1978 television rights to use that character were tied up by a proposed television pilot movie in development by Universal Studios (now a sister company to NBC) that ended up never being produced.

    Cue "The More You Know" music.

    1. I recall the "kids setting themselves on fire" reason. The Hanna Barbara 1960's Fantastic Four cartoon did have the Human Torch and it was actually pretty good. I'm not sure why they don't show it in reruns.


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