Friday, January 1, 2016

Making 2016 Super!

First, there was Christopher Reeve.

From 1966 to 1978, Adam West defined the super-hero genre. Three seasons in Prime Time on ABC, and as here and there on Saturday morning cartoons, his version of Batman was how super-heroes were seen. Then Christopher Reeve came along as a then modern day Man of Steel and there was a burst of super-hero activity. Wonder Woman had been tried. Spider-Man mad an attempt. So did Captain America and Dr. Strange. Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno came along with The Incredible Hulk. That did pretty well for awhile.

Christopher Reeve's Superman redefined the super-hero genre.

After the failure of Superman III and Superman IV, the franchise went in another direction. Bringing Superboy to the small screen. This wasn't easy. Following the 1985 DC Comics line-wide event Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Man of Steel returned to his roots as The Last Son of Krypton. He didn't have adventures as a Boy of Steel. There was no Superboy, Krypto or Supergirl. There was no Bottle City of Kandor, either. The world of Krypton was left behind, and Kal-El was the lone survivor of a dead and forgotten world. His tie to the Legion of Super-Heroes was severed.

This is where Superboy came in. The television series was the first weekly series produced outside of Hollywood, at Disney/MGM Studios, and later Universal Studios, in Florida. It was also a comic book television series written by comic book writers, which was pretty unique.

Most television series tie-in comic books had a certain style about them. Alex Toth, Ric Estrada and Ramona Fradon kept the look of the Super Friends cartoon in the tie-in comic book. That wasn't the case with the first issue of Superboy: The Comic Book. Clark Kent didn't look like either John Haymes Newton, who played him in the First Season, or Gerard Christopher, who played him from Season Two on. Lana resembled Stacy Haiduk... a little. The characters didn't look like the Superboy comics that had come before, either. 

The story is interesting.

The night before leaving for Florida and Shuster University - named for co-creator Joe Shuster - Clark and Lana are at a going away bonfire where Pete Ross and a girl named Becky argue over who's the better driver. They agree to a drag race on the dangerous Lakeshore Road. Pete loses control of his car and Clark rescues him. Lana points out that almost everyone has had a mysterious Guardian Angel save them. Huh, imagine that! Next she's creeped out by the motor oil on Clark's hand.

Heading back home, Clark finds Pa waiting up for him. Jonathan gives Clark a rousing "with great power comes great responsibility" talk. It's pretty similar to the "destined for great things" talk Glenn Ford's Jonathan gave a Young Clark in Superman: The Movie.

The next morning Ma and Pa Kent see Clark and Lana off at the bus station.

Shuster becomes the Great Wide Open World for Clark and Lana. To mark the occasion, she lets down her hair. They have an unfortunate first meeting with TJ White. He's the son of Daily Planet editor Perry White. His father wants him to become a photo-journalist, but his heart, Rock music and stand-up comedy. In case you were wondering, TJ White is the series' comic relief. Ironically, he's Clark roommate.

On their way to the bonfire at the start of the issue, Clark and Lana saw a meteor shower. One of the meteors is now being tested at Shuster University. The tests go awry and there's a blackout, spreading from the university into town. Clark races to help over at the local hospital. When things get serious at the University Research building, he soars into action as Superboy.

What is interesting about this meteor is it's just a meteor. It's not Kryptonite. An alien life form has attached itself to the meteor. The alien recognizes Clark as a fellow alien, too. Maybe that's the whole point. A way to establish Superboy as otherworldly. But wouldn't he already know if Pa kept the remains of the rocket? Unless that little detail is not part Superboy's background. Superboy promotes that instead of Pa Kent dying from a heart attack, and Clark heading to the North Pole to build the Fortress of Solitude and getting his education there, Kal-El became the Boy of Steel and had college adventures. Oh, and Pa's still alive.

It's an interesting direction to go in pre-Smallville. It's a pretty solid comic book story by writer John Moore, pencilled by Jim Mooney, inked by Ty Templeton - who would go on to make a huge name for himself - edited by Jonathan Peterson and Mike Carlin. Carlin, incidentally, would later be immortalized as the villain Mastermind in The Batman Adventures.

It's an interesting direction to go in for "Superman's adventures when he was a boy". Superboy filled a lot of comic book pages in Smallville; maybe they were thinking to go where no one had gone before. There's an Afterward that explains the premise of the companion comic as continuing the adventures from the syndicated television series. Filling in the blanks and missing pieces that are not shown in live action. It should be interesting to see where this series goes. 


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