The New Adventures of Superman

Do you miss Saturday morning cartoons? Depending on how old you are, the answer is likely to be yes. I remember, growing up, sitting in front of the television on Saturday mornings. Inevitably whatever channel I turned to would hold some kind of animated cartoony goodness. This animated bliss would last for hours. These days, you have to really search for Saturday morning cartoons, it seems like the major networks have all but abandoned this practice, leaving them to the Cartoon Network for the Saturday morning fix. What does that have to do with The New Adventures of Superman? Well, a lot. This was one of the first cartoons geared for television viewing, and its quality and popularity helped to pioneer the Saturday morning experience.

The New Adventures of Superman was the first animated superhero to arrive specially designed for the small screen, and the first since the Fleisher shorts of the 1940s. This series first appeared in 1966, and aired in half hour blocks paired up with shorts featuring Superboy, and later with other DC heroes like Green Lantern, Hawkman, Flash, Teen Titans, and others. It is also notable for being the first major work from the Filmation animation studio.

Each episode runs approximately six minutes, featuring Superman facing off with a variety of villains, including aliens, mermen, Merlin, and pterodactyls. In addition, here we find the first animated appearances of comic book baddies like Lex Luthor and Brainiac. There was even a specially created recurring villain in Warlock.

The episodes all follow a simple formula: a villain reveals his or her dastardly plan, then mild-mannered Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent is conveniently made aware of the situation, and finally Superman leaps into action and puts a stop to the evil-doing. For what these cartoons are, the formula works. Superman remains one of the best superheroes to ever don the spandex, and he is presented here in all his heroic glory. It may be corny at times, but it’s Superman, and he is larger than life.

Warner Bros. has released all 36 shorts from the first 18-episode season. When originally aired on television, each half hour included two Superman shorts with a Superboy short in between, but the Superboy shorts are not included on this DVD, nor are any of the second season episodes of Superman. Apparently, the Superboy episodes are held up in legal matters between Warner Bros. and Jerry Siegel’s estate. Hopefully they’ll be released for viewing at some point.

Audio/Video. The episodes are presented in their original aspect ratio and a remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack. It is not perfect, but they look very good considering the age of the shows. The colors are crisp, and they sound good. No room to complain here!

Extras. The lone extra is a 15-minute featurette called “Superman in ’66.” It features interviews with Mark Waid (a writer for DC), Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker of the Star Wars movies), and others on how the show was adapted and the impact that it had.

Bottom line. This is a nice set — although not one that I feel I’ll watch very often. The shows are still a lot of fun and are definitely a treasure of animation history. An outgrowth of the the old radio show, the production team did a nice job in bringing Big Blue to the small screen, gifting us with those Saturday morning cartoons of our youth.


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