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Archive for May, 2012

A rough couple of days

Well, I decided I would return those speakers and exchange them for a different model.  I had trouble repacking the ones I bought, damaging the box some, but  I noticed, when I was trying to pick out another set, that another box of the same make of speaker was also a bit worse for wear, as was one of the boxes of a different model from the same company.  Evidently I wasn’t the first to return them.  So I figured I’d try another brand.  I finally settled on one, but when I got it home and opened the box, I was concerned by their flimsy, plasticky feel; they reminded me of cheap, low-quality speakers I recall encountering in the past.  And when I tried them out, it confirmed my worst fears; they sounded absolutely awful.  So I immediately repacked them, and I was tempted to drive back and return them then and there, but it was late enough that I decided to wait until morning — which was good, because it gave me time to realize that there was a closer Staples store and that I probably didn’t have to return it to the same place (which I didn’t).  So this morning I drove to the closer store and got my money back, and I didn’t even try to look for a third set.  I figure I need to try some other store, one where I can sample the quality of the speakers before I buy them.

(Oh, and when I was getting ready to go out yesterday, I looked for my umbrella just in case it was still raining, and discovered I’ve lost it somehow.  I can’t find it anywhere in my apartment or my car.  I probably left it or dropped it somewhere and I have no idea where.  And that’s frustrating since I only recently bought it and have barely used it, and it was still completely intact.)

Another reason I waited is because I had a lot of thinking to do about my novel outline in progress.  I’m having a bit of an issue that I don’t know if I can go into, but it’s putting some pressure on me to solve some plot problems pretty quickly.  So I really needed to do some serious thinking.  Since the store I went to was near Eden Park, I figured I’d drive up there and find a place I could park and walk around and do some thinking, get a change of scenery from my own little neighborhood park.  Which turned out to be a horrible mistake, since Eden Park is very, very difficult to navigate if you’re in a car.  There are all these roads twisting around, not a lot of signage, and only limited available routes, and I just couldn’t figure out where to go to get to the parts of it that I remember visiting with Aunt Shirley last time she was in town.  (We had her GPS for navigation then, and we still got lost.)  It was very frustrating, especially when a couple of cars came up behind me and honked at me — which didn’t make sense, since the speed limit in the park was low and the roads were narrow and twisty and it would’ve been stupid to go any faster than I was going.  Besides, who the hell is in a hurry in a park?  So I got very frustrated and very lost.  Eventually I found a scenic overlook and stopped there, and there was a very nice view of the Ohio River with morning fog clinging to the surrounding hills, so that soothed my frustrations some.  But it still wasn’t a good place to do the kind of walking around and thinking out loud that I like to do.  So I tried for a while to find another suitable place, but I couldn’t.  They really, really should do something about the roads in Eden Park so that it isn’t like one of those nightmares where you can’t get where you want to go no matter what you do.  Where is the sense in making a park so frustrating?  It defeats the whole purpose.

So once I finally happened across a road that I knew would take me to an exit from the labyrinth, I just gave up and left the park, drove back home, and walked to the little neighborhood park so I could finally get some serious thinking done.  And wouldn’t you know it, another distraction came up.  But this time it was a very nice distraction, and really helped improve my mood.  While I was on the swingset, swinging and thinking, a young lady drove in, turned on a portable music player, and began dancing around the playset right in front of me, climbing on the gymnastic equipment and apparently testing out various dance moves.  I just watched for a while, since it seemed she was in her own creative space and I didn’t want to interrupt, and because it was just very pleasant to watch.  Eventually I did strike up a conversation, and she told me she was practicing for a class — they had to learn a dance routine and then adapt it for a particular location and perform it there for the class, and she’d chosen the playset.  Apparently she’s also a regular visitor to that park (and also likes to think on the swingset), though I don’t recall seeing her there before.  I would’ve liked to stick around for the final performance, but I needed to get home and get back to work.

So I didn’t get a lot of thinking done this morning, but at least I got cheered up eventually.   Which is good, because it might be harder to focus if I were still frustrated.  So thank you, Jennifer, the dancer in the park, for the one pleasant surprise I’ve had this week.

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Categories: My Fiction Tags: , ,

Too much minimalism

I’ve had my new computer monitor for a week, and I only just discovered it has any buttons other than the power button.  They’re mounted on the underside of the frame and nearly flush against it, so even though they’re slightly lit up, I can’t see them unless I duck way down.  And they aren’t labeled, since they access a series of menus and the functions of the various buttons change depending on which menu I’m in (with the functions listed on the menu screen above the respective physical buttons).  Once I found out there was a menu, it took me a while to figure out that was how it worked, and only by trial and error.

And that’s because the instruction manuals have gotten too minimalist as well.  The only physical booklet included is a “quick guide” which is just 4 pages’ worth of safety instructions and specs in nine different languages.  I had to put in the enclosed CD-ROM to open the PDF users’ manual, and that didn’t even include a diagram or a description telling me where the buttons were or how to work them.  It discussed the menus pretty well, but assumed the reader would understand how to access and navigate through them.

Why make it so difficult to figure this out?  Why not put clearly visible, labeled buttons on the front?  Or at least make the manual more accessible and detailed so it’s easier to find out where they are and how to use them?

The reasons I wanted to check the manual were twofold — one, because my eyes were getting sore and I needed to adjust the brightness, and two, because I wanted to find out if I could tilt the monitor.  I succeeded with the former, but though the manual says it can be tilted, it won’t budge when I actually try it, and online reviews seem to confirm it doesn’t tilt even though all the sales sites’ descriptions say it can.  (It’s the Acer S201HL, so caveat emptor.)  I have the front of the stand resting on a stack of 3×5 cards to give it a slight tilt.

I’m also bothered by a lack of adjustability with the speakers I bought.  There’s way too much bass in them, which is uncomfortable for me and creates too much distortion and muddiness in some music.  And there doesn’t seem to be a way to reduce the bass.  There’s a “tone” knob that seems to adjust the peak of the higher-pitched part of the sound spectrum, but it doesn’t have much impact on the bass.  I think it has to do with the speakers’ use of passive radiators, as indicated on the box (and again, there’s virtually nothing in the way of an instruction manual).  I was hoping I could find a way to ameliorate the problem, but after reading up on PRs I fear I may have to return the speakers and try a different model (since the linked article says that PRs in small speakers can have the sort of problem these seem to be having).

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Re-evaluating SUPERMAN III

Back in 2010, I decided to revisit the Christopher Reeve Superman film series, which I’d had a negative view of in the past, under the impetus of the release of the Richard Donner cut of Superman II.  Watching Donner’s films again (or for the first time in the case of the recut S2) gave me a renewed appreciation for them, while my opinion of the theatrical version of S2 that was largely reshot by Richard Lester remained as low as ever, if not lower.  As for the third and fourth movies, I dismissed them out of hand as not worth my time.

But ComicsAlliance’s columnists Chris Sims and David Uzumeri have been doing a weekly series of vintage-movie reviews lately, offering opinions on familiar superhero movies that are often surprising and unconventional but always interesting.  They were actually a lot harsher on the first Superman movie than I was, and didn’t think much of S2 either; but their review of the much-maligned Superman III (Part One, Part Two) is emphatically positive, and it inspired me to revisit the film myself.  I recommend reading their review in full, and feel it would be redundant for me to go into too much detail, but I thought I’d offer a few comments of my own.

I think Sims and Uzumeri are right about this film — it really does perfectly capture the goofiness of Silver-Age Superman stories from the ’50s and ’60s.  And it is a lot more unified in script and tone than the prior films, which suffered from extensive rewrites and director changes.  This film may be fluffier and more overtly comical, to be sure — and yes, it’s largely a Richard Pryor vehicle (though the majority of deleted scenes on the DVD are his material, so it’s less so than it could’ve been) — but it has a clear, cohesive vision and is tightly scripted and directed throughout.  There’s a ton of stuff happening in the film, lots of little bits of business in the very complex scenes, but it all fits together and is deftly orchestrated by Lester.

There’s good character work here too.  Clark matures into less of a bumbler and more just a nice guy, and Superman gets more facets while getting plenty of opportunities to do good, solid superheroing (the chemical-plant sequence is superb).  Lois is barely present, but what there is of her is just right.  Jimmy is well-handled in his brief role as well, showing some of the intrepidity of the comics character.  Pryor’s Gus Gorman doesn’t work as well as the filmmakers hoped, but the other new characters work very well.  Lana Lang was a fantastic character; Annette O’Toole was lovely, warm, and luminous as a love interest who actually preferred Clark to Superman.  I’ve always remembered her fondly (more so than Margot Kidder, in fact) and considered her a highlight of the film and the whole franchise.  Robert Vaughn’s Ross Webster, as Sims and Uzumeri point out, is a prototype for the corporate-magnate version of Lex Luthor who would emerge in the comics about four years later, and he pulls it off well.  I actually find him a more credible villain than Hackman’s Luthor, who was just some goofball hanging around underground with an idiot sidekick and obsessing about real estate.  Webster actually owned a huge conglomerate and had the resources to dominate the world.  He’s a cartoony villain, but a cartoony villain who works better than movie Luthor did.  (And the set design of his office/lair is ingenious, with all these elaborate gags for displays hidden behind the fireplace and the fountain and such, a hilarious parody of Bond-style supervillain lairs.)  His sister Vera is kind of a wasted character, but his requisite moll Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson) is sexier than Miss Teschmacher and her “genius pretending to be an airhead” act is kind of funny (if you can tolerate the squeaky Judy Holliday voice she puts on).

It’s far from a perfect film, to be sure.  In particular, the “Clark vs. Superman” sequence went on too long and could’ve used more dialogue and character interplay, not just physical action to symbolize the conflict; having the two halves just fight each other undermines the good-vs.-evil theme.  Plus I have issues with its look; some of the effects are kind of cheap, the opening titles are very badly done, and there’s something weird going on with Reeve’s hair color in a lot of the film, light streaks that make Superman look rather odd.  But a lot of it does work, especially the Clark-Lana material, and it’s mostly a very competently directed and structured film.  So I was wrong to discount it before.  I think it stands up there with Superman: The Movie and Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut as a pretty solid, if flawed, trio of films, even if it’s very different in tone from the first two.

(And how does it fit in with my preferred viewing approach to S2:TRDC where I stop it just before the recycled turn-back-time sequence, so that Lois still remembers that Clark is Superman?  I think it fits fine, since we see so little of Lois here that it’s possible she’s just pretending not to know.  If anything, it makes her subtle jealousy toward Lana at the end work better, since otherwise Lois would’ve had no reason to be interested in Clark.)

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ONLY SUPERHUMAN now available for the Nook!

Only Superhuman by Christopher L. BennettBarnes & Noble has now made Only Superhuman available for pre-order in the Nook e-book format, retailing for $11.99:

Only Superhuman [NOOK Book]

This means it will be available for the Nook (or NOOK, I guess) reader itself and for NOOK “apps” for PC, Mac, and mobile devices.

Amazon has yet to follow suit and make the book available in their Kindle format, apparently.

FORGOTTEN HISTORY review on TrekMovie.com

I missed this until now… over the weekend, TrekMovie.com’s Robert Lyons posted his review of DTI: Forgotten History.  The “money quote,” as they say:

DTI: Forgotten History coverBennett spends generous and balanced time in each timeline, balancing the delicate need for gradual revelation of the Kirk-era timeline in order to leave the reader teased and somewhat in the dark about the development and ultimate resolution of the crisis that presents itself in the later era. In doing so, Bennett revisits and ties together many time-travel incidents from the Original Series and the Animated Series, allowing them to form a consistently woven tapestry behind the formation of the DTI. While the race to ‘connect the time-travel dots’ seemed overkill in the previous DTI installment, the addition of the formative storyline to embrace the original Enterprise’s temporal hopping serves to strengthen the author’s attempt to bring forth a consistent theory of time travel in the Star Trek universe.

 

I’m sorry I haven’t yet updated my website with information about this book.  I’ve had another project demanding my attention for the past several weeks.  But I’ll try to get around to putting something up soon.

Shopping, and dumb luck

My computer monitor and speakers were showing their age, so on Friday I went out to buy some new ones.  Apparently monitors only come in widescreen anymore, so that’s what I got, and I’m still getting used to it.  It’s too wide for my needs, and I’ve taken to reducing my program windows to less than fullscreen so I can bring in the edges.  As for the speakers, they’re not as high-fidelity as I’d hoped, but at least they don’t have the buzzing the old ones had (a sign that the speaker cones are deteriorating, I gather).  I also got a USB 2.0 hub which is faster than my old one.  I also looked for a new keyboard, since my current one occasionally has glitches, but I couldn’t find the kind I wanted, ergonomically shaped with a trackpad built in.  So I wasn’t able to replace that yet.

I also went to a home-furnishings store to get a new bath mat and a couple of new pillows.  My therapeutic neck pillow had gotten rather flat, and I figured it was time for a new one.  The inexpensive ones I’d been getting didn’t seem to have a very long life (and I’ve written before about my efforts to refurbish an old one, which didn’t work out well), so I decided to try one of the more expensive kind they advertise on TV.  But not only did I mistakenly get a “comfort” pillow rather than a “therapeutic” pillow, but I didn’t find it comfortable.  It was too dense and hard, not soft like I expected, plus it didn’t support my neck well.  So at about 4:30 AM I switched back to my standard pillow and gained a new appreciation for it.  I returned the expensive pillow the next day and didn’t bother to exchange it for another.

Anyway, I did some more shopping elsewhere (and visited the area’s library) so my second trip to the mall wouldn’t be wasted, finishing off with the supermarket, and when I was done it was pretty hot in my car.  So I rolled down all four windows, telling myself to remember I’d done that so I wouldn’t forget to roll the back windows up again.  But of course I forgot all about it, and just went through my normal parking habits once I got home.  Cut to this morning, nearly two days later: I was going to the local park for a walk and was coming through the parking lot, intending to take my usual look at my car to make sure it was still there, unburgled, etc.  I noticed a car that had its back windows down.  “Hmm, that looks kinda like my car.  And I remember parking in that part of the lot… but didn’t I move it closer since then?  I must have, because I wouldn’t be so foolish as to leave my windows… wait a minute…”

Luckily, my car is frumpy enough that it’s essentially burglar-proof, since nobody would want it.  The only evidence of intrusion through the open rear windows was a spiderweb.  So I rolled up the windows and locked the car properly again, and continued on my walk, musing on what a lucky idiot I was.

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Classic cartoons from the ’70s and ’80s: Batman, Superman, and friends

Thanks to the wonders of DVD sets, I’ve been revisiting some of the cartoons of my youth, particularly superhero-themed ones.  The first was Filmation’s The New Adventures of Batman from 1977.  This was Filmation’s second Batman series; the first ran contemporaneously with the Adam West/Burt Ward sitcom of the late ’60s and was the animation debut of Olan Soule and Casey Kasem as the Dynamic Duo.  By the ’70s, Soule and Kasem were playing Batman and Robin on Superfriends from Filmation’s chief rival studio, Hanna-Barbera.  But in ’77, Filmation brought back West and Ward to reprise their roles in a series that owed at least as much to the live-action sitcom as to Filmation’s earlier effort.  Melendy Britt (the future star of She-Ra) played Batgirl, Catwoman, and every other female role, and Lennie Weinrib played Commissioner Gordon and every male villain except Clayface, while Filmation’s co-founder/producer Lou Scheimer did uncredited voice work as Bat-Mite (in the character’s TV debut), as well as the Batcomputer, Clayface, and various minor roles.

As for the character designs, while Dick Grayson/Robin seemed to be modeled somewhat on Ward, Bruce Wayne and Batman had a very Neal Adams-y design.  Bat-Mite probably had the most changed appearance, given greenish skin and a purple and pink costume with a scrawled “M” on his chest.  This version of Bat-Mite was from an alien planet/dimension called Ergo, and had more limited magical powers than his comics counterpart, but he’s still an overenthusiastic Bat-fan who tends to cause trouble with his well-intentioned bumbling.  The series focuses rather heavily on Bat-Mite, which gets kind of annoying.  Occasionally, though, he manages to be actually funny.  Very occasionally.

While the tone of the show is not quite as campy and satirical as the ’60s live-action sitcom, it’s set in a similar world and influenced by it in a lot of ways, for instance including Batpoles and a Batphone (although for some reason the Batphone in the Batcave is an antique phone hidden in the lid of a barrel) and Robin saying “Holy (something)” every thirty seconds (along with other interjections like “Leaping lumbago!”).  But there’s no Alfred or Aunt Harriet, and Barbara is the assistant DA in this version, although that never serves any story purpose beyond giving her an excuse to be standing around in the Commissioner’s office.  Batman and Robin are aware of Batgirl’s secret identity in this show, though one episode suggested the reverse was not true.  Yet secret identities were handled carelessly; in one episode, Robin went undercover as Dick Grayson, and Batman blithely addressed him as “Dick” while the Commissioner was listening.   Meanwhile, the Batcomputer undergoes a bizarre evolution.  Initially it’s much like the sitcom version, spitting out cryptic messages on paper printouts, but then it acquires a voice (Scheimer’s voice slowed down to make it deeper) and pretty soon ends up as an inexplicably sentient AI with a jovial personality.

Adam West’s return to the role of Batman after eight years works pretty well.  He doesn’t play it as broadly as he did in the original, except in occasional moments, but it feels like it’s largely the same characterization, and West’s performance is more expressive and convincing than a lot of ’70s cartoon voiceover work.  In a couple of early episodes, West even brings back his practice of giving Bruce Wayne a more laid-back, soft-spoken delivery than the more intense Batman, though it’s inconsistent.  Ward, meanwhile, is simply terrible.  He delivers almost every line in the same labored tone.  It’s like he’s trying to recapture the intensity of his original performance, but isn’t able to muster up the same energy or even talk as fast because he’s reading from a script.  Between that and the way his voice changed in the intervening years, it occurred to me that it might’ve worked better if they’d sped up the tape a bit.  The other performers are simply workmanlike, though Weinrib’s pretty good at doing a wide range of voices, and Britt’s Catwoman has a bit of a Julie Newmar quality that’s nice to hear.  (By the way, I’m pretty certain that a number of uncredited voices from the animated Star Trek were Weinrib’s, though the ’90s revision of the Star Trek Concordance indiscriminately credited them to James Doohan — even though they clearly aren’t him — and other reference sources like Memory Alpha have perpetuated that error. EDIT: I no longer think that voice was Weinrib’s; I now suspect it was Lou Scheimer’s son Lane, though I’m not sure yet. They certainly weren’t Doohan, though.)

Like all Filmation shows of this era, the music is credited to Yvette Blais and Jeff Michael, pseudonyms for Ray Ellis (the composer for the classic ’60s Spider-Man cartoon) and Filmation producer Norm Prescott, and includes a mix of library cues created for the show and ones recycled from earlier shows.  This series somewhat straddles the line between Filmation’s adventure shows and comedy shows, and the original cues are much in the same style as Ellis & Prescott’s comedy scores, but the stock cues are drawn heavily from adventure shows like Lassie’s Rescue Rangers, Star Trek, and Shazam.

Like most Filmation shows, TNAoB had a brief tag at the end with the heroes talking to the audience — actually called “Bat-Message” segments in this case.  This was usually done to convey the moral of the story to the viewers, but TNAoB’s tags only conveyed morals in the first few episodes; for most of the series, they were just rather pointless jokes involving Bat-Mite.

I was pleased to discover that Hanna-Barbera’s The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians was also out on DVD.  This was the final incarnation of the Superfriends franchise based on DC’s Justice League, and a departure from previous seasons in that it was actually intelligent, well-written, and fairly authentic to the comics.  A lot of the credit for that goes to story editor Alan Burnett, who would later go on to produce Batman: The Animated Series and most of the subsequent DC Animated Universe shows and post-DCAU Batman shows/movies from Warner Bros. Animation.  Rich Fogel was also a writer on Galactic Guardians who would later be a major contributor to the DCAU.

The Super Powers Team title (also used in-story in place of “Justice League” or “Superfriends” as a team label) was a tie-in to an action figure line being released at the time.  The show also changed the character designs, replacing the Alex Toth models used in previous Superfriends seasons with new designs by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, then a major comic-book artist who also did model sheets (i.e. official character designs) for all DC’s comics at the time.  Much of the cast was a holdover from previous seasons, notably Danny Dark as Superman, Casey Kasem as Robin, Frank Welker as Darkseid and Kalibak, and Rene Auberjonois as Desaad (a role he would later reprise in Justice League Unlimited).  But Adam West replaced Olan Soule as Batman, making this the final time West reprised the role as a series regular, and the first time he played opposite Kasem’s Robin instead of Ward’s.  Actually this is apparently the second season with West and Burnett involved, but the first isn’t available on DVD, at least not at Netflix.  And the previous season was transitional, introducing Darkseid as the main villain and adding Firestorm (Mark L. Taylor) to the cast, but keeping the infamous Wonder Twins, who are mercifully absent from the Galactic Guardians season.  Instead, in this season the team is joined by Cyborg (Ernie Hudson, fresh off Ghostbusters and doing a much poorer acting job than I would’ve expected from him).  As the youngest members of the team, Firestorm and Cyborg are heavily emphasized.

Most of the eight episodes are okay, better than previous Superfriends seasons but nothing really impressive.  But there are two episodes that make this season really noteworthy, both of them either written or co-plotted by Burnett.  I’ll start with the final episode of the series, “The Death of Superman,” written by John Loy and plotted by Loy and Burnett.  Of course Superman doesn’t really die, but it’s impressive that the show was even allowed to tackle the concept of death or use the word, when so many animated shows then and subsequently (including B:TAS) were forbidden to mention it.  And despite having more modern elements like Darkseid and Firestorm, the episode feels like a classic Silver Age Superman tale, right down to the visit to the Fortress of Solitude.  It’s a lot of fun, and there’s some pretty good character work involving Firestorm’s guilt at failing to save Superman.

But the best episode by far is #4,  Burnett’s “The Fear.”  It’s noteworthy as the first time that Batman’s origin story was ever dramatized outside of the comics, and one of the only times it’s ever been depicted in animation (since B:TAS was unable to do more than indirectly allude to it due to FOX’s strict censorship on daytime TV).  Of course there was still a fair amount of censorship on ABC at the time, and “The Fear” couldn’t actually show the shootings, but it got around that very artfully by cutting to flashes of lightning and making it crystal clear from the look on young Bruce’s face what had happened.  I remember that I caught this episode on the TV in a hotel room (or maybe it was a hospital — that was around the time I was being treated for a retinal melanoma) and was very impressed by its power and intelligence, compared to what I’d come to expect from the Superfriends franchise.  I’ve never forgotten it since, and I was thrilled to be able to see it again.  It holds up pretty well, and at times it almost feels like a B:TAS pilot.

In fact, Burnett’s love of Batman comes through clearly.  In every Burnett-written episode, Batman is a major player and is the ultimate detective, always making the Holmesian deductions and staying a step ahead of the criminals.  This was the first time Adam West was called upon to play a serious version of Batman (though nowhere near as grim as Kevin Conroy’s), and it’s interesting to compare to his previous two turns in the role.  I wouldn’t say he knocks it out of the park, but he handles it pretty well, better than I recall Soule’s Batman being.  He’s still a little broad and melodramatic at times, but no more so than typical for voice acting at the time.  And he gets in some good moments of emotion in “The Fear” and when he says farewell to his old friend in “The Death of Superman.”

By this point, like most studios (except Filmation), Hanna-Barbera had outsourced its animation to Japan, so the animation on this season, while still crude by today’s standards, was an improvement on H-B’s usual TV work from the ’70s, and on previous seasons of Superfriends.  But it’s still not much to write home about.  The music is by H-B’s regular composer Hoyt Curtin and is serviceable.  I was never as fond of Curtin’s cartoon music as I was of Ellis & Prescott’s.

The third vintage DC show I’ve revisited is the 1988 Superman series from Ruby-Spears, a studio spun off from Hanna-Barbera (Joe Ruby and Ken Spears were writer/producers for a number of H-B shows).  The show ran for one 13-episode season and is on DVD under the title Ruby-Spears Superman.  But its actual title was just Superman, and it presaged the classic ’90s Batman and Superman animated series (and a few Batman and Superman movies) in having a main title sequence that never actually showed the series title onscreen, instead just using the Superman logo as a sort of ideogram for the word.  Although it did have Bill Woodson (the erstwhile Superfriends announcer) reciting the opening narration from the ’50s TV series, so the name “Superman” was heard repeatedly if never seen.  (But due to censorship, “faster than a speeding bullet” is demonstrated by animation of Superman being faster than a lightning bolt instead.)

The series was developed and story-edited by Marv Wolfman, the noted DC Comics writer and editor.  Yet the storytelling is pretty basic, without even as much sophistication as Galactic Guardians had; it’s pretty much straight action through and through, with the main cast rarely rising above one-dimensional portrayals.  This is partly because the main stories are fairly short, because the last 4-5 minutes of each episode consists of “Superman’s Family Album,” a series of vignettes (mostly written by Cherie Wilkerson) following young Clark Kent through the milestones of his formative years, from his adoption by Ma and Pa Kent in episode 1 to his debut as Superman in episode 13.  Although they spend the most time on his early childhood and only the last few segments on his teens.

Being made in 1988, shortly after DC relaunched its continuity in Crisis on Infinite Earths, it’s a hybrid of the pre-Crisis and post-Crisis versions of the character, along with some elements of the Reeve movies.  The main characters are pretty much their standard pre-Crisis selves, with Clark as a timid klutz and Lois only having eyes for Superman.  But Lex Luthor’s portrayal here is rather unique, a combination of the pre-Crisis evil genius scientist, the post-Crisis business magnate who stays above the law and never gets his crimes exposed, and the Gene Hackman-style wisecracker with a sexy henchwoman (although in this version she’s more cute than sexy, a vacuous, girlish blonde named Jessica Morganberry).  But then, as I recall, Marv Wolfman actually pitched a version of Luthor as a business magnate before John Byrne did, so perhaps this show’s Luthor reflects how Wolfman would’ve approached the character if he’d been picked to do the relaunch.  The “Family Album” segments are a more awkward blend of pre- and post-Crisis elements; like the pre-Crisis version, this show’s Clark has superpowers from infancy, but like the post-Crisis version, he’s never Superboy, only adopting the cape and tights when he first comes to Metropolis.  So basically the “Family Album” segments are about Clark using his powers to get into well-intentioned mischief (when he’s very young) or make it easier to handle mundane problems (as he gets older), and only occasionally using them to help anybody in any way (and only in minor ways).  It seems a great waste of his potential, and it seems out of character for Clark to wait until adulthood before beginning to use his abilities for heroic ends.  Although it was an interesting idea, the “Family Album” segments ended up being pretty anticlimactic and didn’t contribute much to the series.

The voice work was pretty solid, though in the broader, more artificial vein of cartoon voice work of the era.  Superman was played by Beau Weaver, who would later cross the DC/Marvel divide and play Mister Fantastic in the ’90s Fantastic Four cartoon.  He was a fairly good Superman, with a strong, booming voice, but his Clark was too obviously a deep-voiced man trying to sound higher-pitched.  And he could get way too melodramatic when shouting was called for.  One doesn’t expect Superman’s “Great Scott!” to sound quite that panicked.  Lois was Ginny McSwain,  also the voice director for the show and for many, many other animated series since (including The Batman in the mid-2000s).  This seems to be the only show where McSwain played a series regular, but she’s a pretty good Lois (again, given the era).  Character actor Mark L. Taylor was Jimmy, and Perry White, interestingly, was played by Stanley Ralph Ross, best known as one of the chief writers of the Adam West Batman sitcom and the developer of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series.  Michael Bell, one of the top voice actors of the era (he was Duke on GI Joe, among many others), was very effective as a Hackmanesque Luthor.  Alan Oppenheimer and Tress MacNeille were the Kents, and notable guests include Howard Morris as the Prankster, Rene Auberjonois as General Zod, an uncredited but unmistakeable James Avery as the mayor of Metropolis, and Nancy Cartwright (the future Bart Simpson) as young Clark’s babysitter.  Wonder Woman guest stars in episode 8, with B. J. Ward reprising the role she’d previously taken on in Galactic Guardians.

Where this series really excels is in its production values.  The animation, produced by Toei and Dai Won Animation, is superb and gorgeous, better than most of the TV animation of the era.  The character designs are by another noted comic artist, Gil Kane, and it’s just a very good-looking show.  But my favorite part is the music by the great Ron Jones, who was also doing Star Trek: The Next Generation and Disney’s DuckTales around the same time.  Jones’s score here is like a middle ground between those two, and in some ways embodies the best of both worlds (pun intended).  The main title theme begins with a reprise of John Williams’s Superman theme, but then segues into a similar-sounding original theme by Jones which is the basis for the incidental scoring (since they only licensed the Williams theme for the main title).  But it’s a great theme, and Jones uses it very well.  His action-adventure music has always been my favorite part of his work, and this series is right in his sweet spot (except for the “Family Album” segments, which tended to call for more gentle and saccharine sounds, sometimes handled well but sometimes bordering on the insipid).  A lot of the music is original to each episode, but there’s a lot of tracked music too, which is something I always liked in old cartoons because it let me memorize a lot of my favorite cues.  A number of Jones’s cues from this show have stuck with me for decades, and it’s great to get to hear them again.  Much of the series’ score has actually been released on CD, as part of a massive box set from Film Score Monthly.  Scroll down to “Disc 7” at the link and you can actually listen to about 26 minutes’ worth of the score, including most of my personal favorites.

If only the writing on this show had been on the level of what Galactic Guardians sometimes managed, this could’ve been one of the greats.  As it is, it’s great to look at and listen to, but it falls short in the story department.  I would’ve expected that Marv Wolfman’s involvement would’ve let the show embody more of the conceptual and character richness of the comics, much as Galactic Guardians managed to do.  But for whatever reason, that wasn’t in the cards.  So while this show is a major step forward in animation and music from previous DC shows, it’s a step backward in writing, and thus it fails to be the kind of seminal creation that Batman: The Animated Series would be just four years later.  So it’s a transitional work, more the end of one era than the beginning of the next.  (And it goes to show how important and underappreciated a role Alan Burnett played in bringing about the revolution that was the DC Animated Universe.)