In 1988 Superman turned 50. To celebrate that, animation production company Ruby-Spears produced a 13-episode animated series that ran on CBS from September to December of 1988. The series came at a time when there wasn’t much in the way of superhero animated series. Super Friends ended in 1986, Batman: The Animated Series was still several years away, and Superman: The Animated Series even further away.
Each episode in the series had an 18-minute story for a Superman adventure, and also had a four-minute segment about young Clark Kent, beginning with his adoption by the Kents and culminating in his debut as Superman, called “The Superman Family Album.”
Ruby-Spears Superman is known for several reasons. Among them, the show only lasted one season; and it was based on recent changes to Superman in the comics by writer Marv Wolfman (Teen Titans) and writer/artist John Byrne (Superman, X-Men, Fantastic Four) which included Lex Luthor changing from a “mad scientist” to a shrewd billionaire businessman. Some of Byrne’s changes to The Man of Steel were controversial at the time, so it’s interesting to see a series based on those changes. The series' look was designed by legendary DC artist Gil Kane, and Marv Wolfman was the series’ head story editor which meant he could keep the show faithful to the new changes. The show also pays homage to its roots by using the John Williams theme to Superman with a slight twist as well as having the opening narration the same as The Adventures of Superman from the 1950s.
While the animation isn’t as sophisticated as, say, the shows from the 1990s to today, it’s a vast improvement over the Super Friends which ran from 1973 through 1986. The series featured Lex Luthor as a reoccurring villain equipped with a kryptonite ring to weaken Superman. He had an assistant named Jessica Morganberry who is a version of Miss Tessmacher from the films. Superman fights Luthor, goes into the Phantom Zone to take on Zod, and becomes an international diplomat trying to keep peace between two races, all while trying to balance a life as Clark Kent and Superman while working with Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, and Perry White.
The episode that stands out the most for me is “Superman and Wonder Woman vs. The Sorceress of Time.” Wonder Woman enlists Superman’s help when a sorceress named Syrene escapes from her state of suspended animation on Paradise Island. The episode has BJ Ward reprising her role as Wonder Woman from the final two seasons of Super Friends and is the only team-up in the series. It would have been great to see a “World’s Finest” team-up with Batman and Superman but this was a fun episode to watch.
“The Superman Family Album” segments were a highlight for my almost three-year-old as the first episode spotlights an infant Clark who can fly and get into mischief. Clark uses his x-ray vision to peek at his presents at a birthday party and with the last album covering his heroic debut, it feels like the series had run its course. It would have been nice to have more than one season, but at least there is a season to watch.
The sole extra is "Corruption of the Corrupt: The Rise of Lexcorp" which talks about greed in the 1980s, with Americans becoming more and more distrustful of corporations. Wall Street can be seen as an influence on Lex Luthor and LexCorp. While an interesting piece, it would have been nice to have cast interviews, but it’s great that this series, as brief as it was, is finally out on DVD. Now if we could get other DC animated series on DVD (Superboy, more of the 1960s Superman series) things would be even better.