Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Back when SUPERMAN RETURNS hit theaters in '06, Warner Home Video released the first season of the Illya Salkind-produced SUPERBOY (a/k/a THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY, 1988-1992) syndicated television series on DVD. Reportedly, it didn't sell very well, and that's probably because so few people even remembered the show existed.

Well, also because the first season (the show ended up running for a total of four) was pretty weak.

That first season starred John Haymes-Newton as the college student of steel, Clark Kent, attending Shuster University in Florida (where the show was shot as one of the first series filmed at the Orlando Disney/MGM Studios) studying journalism and learning how to be a super-hero on the side. Newton looked good in the classic red & blue union suit, but was, frankly, a wooden performer. It didn't help either that the scripts for that first season were generally pretty pedestrian and the shoestring budget was extremely obvious. Pretty Stacy Haiduk (later of SEAQUEST DSV) was a sexy and likable Lana Lang, though. I also liked the casting of Stuart Whitman (SHATTER) as Pa Kent.

Somehow the show garnered good enough ratings (it aired on weekend afternoons in most markets) to get a second season, and things improved considerably. The writing - by a number of actual DC Comics veterans like Andy Helfer, Cary Bates, Denny O’Neil and Mike Carlin - got a lot better and more imaginative, and Newton was replaced by the more charismatic Gerard Christopher (TOMBOY).

There were some cool guest stars in that second season, too, including one-time 007 George Lazenby (ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE) and Britt Ekland (THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN) as Clark's Kryptonian parents Jor-El and Lara (sorta); Philip Michael Thomas (MIAMI VICE) as Brimstone; Michael J. Pollard as Mr. Mxyzptlk; Keye Luke (KUNG FU, GREMLINS), Richard Kiel (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), and even comedian Gilbert Gottfried as an ersatz Toyman called "Knick-Knack." Sherman Howard (DAY OF THE DEAD) had a recurring role as a psychotic Lex Luthor and B-movie starlet Betsy Russell (CHEERLEADER CAMP), who had starred with Christopher in 1985's TOMBOY, showed up for a TERMINATOR-inspired episode.

The budget was still low, but the producers were a lot more creative with their money, and the show looked much better in the second season, too. The special effects were about what you'd expect in 1989-90; you may not have believed a boy could fly... but it could have been a lot worse.

I guess in anticipation of the new MAN OF STEEL movie due next Summer, Warners' manufacture-on-demand label, Warner Archive, released the second season of SUPERBOY on manufactured-on-demand DVD last month. The three-disc set contains all 26 episodes of the second season, presented in their original 4x3, 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is reasonable - like a lot of Tv shows of the era, it was shot on film, then transferred to video for editing (and, in this case, post-production special effects). The image is a bit soft and occasionally, usually during effects shots, almost blurry. But that's exactly the way it looked on television when it aired. Audio is Dolby 2.0 stereo, and is adequate, although the original sound mix is sometimes favors the 80s synth music score over the dialogue. There are no bonus features.

Although a considerable improvement over its freshman year, with an enjoyably goofy Silver Age comics vibe, SUPERBOY didn't really take off until its third season. Warner Archive has already noted that the third and fourth seasons are in the pipeline, so if you're a fan of the show or of the Superman/boy character, you'll probably want to pick this up. It's entertaining Saturday afternoon superheroics on a budget, and a lot of fun.

BUYSuperboy: The Complete Second Season