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STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 309 minutes
Corporation of the Corrupt: The Rise of LexCorp
The forgotten incarnation of Superman.
Beau Weaver, Ginny McSwain, Michael Bell, Stanley Ralph Ross, Mynne marie Stewart, Mark l. Taylor, Alan Oppenheimer, Tress MacNeille.
In 1988, for his 50th anniversary, Superman was given a new animated incarnation courtesy of Ruby-Spears, the cartoon studio responsible for such properties as Thundarr, Plastic Man and
Mr. T. This version, which only lasted the one year and 13 episodes, has largely been forgotten, although it did several things, such as incorporating changes to the Superman mythos initiated by the 1980s John Byrne comics, as well as elements of the Max Fleischer cartoons, the 1950s George Reeves live action version, and the Christopher Reeve theatrical films.
“…and then let’s say, hypothetically, that you were cheating on me. And if it were with, I don’t know, some third rate hero like…oh, I don’t know, El Dorado for instance…but you thought I didn’t know even though I really did. And then let’s theorize that you stupidly agreed to go flying with me at, say, 10,000 feet…over a sparsely-traveled section of the Pacific known to have a lot of shark activity…I’m just saying, that might be a little awkward…”
I’m of the Ruby-Spears generation, a wee lad when they were cranking out their most noted properties, especially Thundarr. Their cartoons had distinctive animation style that attempted to give some depth to its characters; and were often quite a bit ahead of some of the more sloppily-drawn animation of the day, including some of the Superfriends incarnations. I also remembered this version of Superman, as I watched it the one season it showed and then never appeared again until now. Back in the day, I liked the show because it gave much more detailed and fleshed-out solo adventures for the Man of Steel than had been available in a dozen seasons of the aforementioned Superfriends.
1988 pitch meeting at Warner Bros:
Warner Exec: So what can you guys offer that’s new and exciting for Superman?
Ruby & Spears: Oh, we’ve got a whole new angle on the man of Steel…
What made this version more unique than just about any other is that it melded distinctive elements from just about every major medium that Superman had ever appeared in. It had some of the animation stylings and lighting scheme of the original Fleischer shorts, the opening narration of The Adventures of Superman, John Williams theme (with a twist) from the Reeve theatrical films, and some of the John Byrne take on the character from the relaunch of the comics in the ’80s, including the corrupt billionaire Luthor rather than the evil scientist version. It really was a Frankenstein’s monster of all of the Superman versions that at times worked quite well and at other times came off as just ordinary at best.
“Man, Zod’s gonna be eating his heart out when he hears about this…”
Distinctive as this incarnation was, what it still lacked, and what Superman seldom had outside of the comics and one or two of the Reeve films is challenges worthy of his power. Even here, Superman still pretty much flies through much of his opposition. And a couple of the villains are as big of jokes that had ever appeared in any version of Supes’ mythos before. But there were a couple of episodes that were pretty good. One is The Hunter, that brings back Zod from the Phantom Zone, along with a creation that has Absorbing Man powers.
Another notable episode is Superman & Wonder Woman vs. the Sorceress of Time, which is the only super team up of the series. This featured the return of BJ Ward from the last couple of seasons of the SuperFriends (aka Galactic Guardians) as Diana. By the Skin of the Dragon’s Teeth also isn’t a bad episode, featuring Luthor and a Chinese Dragon that turns people into stone. From there, they get progressively inferior, until they approach the worst of the Superfriends quality. Triple Play, with the prankster is god awful.
“Lois, uh, I can explain…”
“Clark, I know you’re jealous of Superman, but don’t you think
secretly dressing like him is a bit much?”
“Gosh, you’re right Lois, I could never put one over on you…”
The other most distinctive element of these cartoons is that they featured Superman’s Family Album: four-minute stories to round out the 22 minutes of each episode. Some may not like this because several of them feature stories aimed at younger kids and were generally of inferior quality to the main episode to which they each accompanied. But when watched altogether, they build a nice little take on Clark from arrival on earth as a baby to slipping on the red and blues in 13 installments. These were sort of webisodes of the day: little side jaunts into the life of Clark growing up.
There are definitely some things that pop about this take on Superman, including the music. While all of the episodes aren’t great, there are a couple that are pretty good. And although this cartoon was eventually way-outclassed by Superman: The Animated Series, it’s still not a bad version of the Man of Steel.
Jimmy: “Lois what are you…oh, that’s just not right!”
Unfortunately, the cartoon does show its age at times, even if it’s only 20 years. The transfer isn’t as sharp as I would have hoped, but it’s still decent enough to watch, although there are some artifacting in places. Sound is fine despite being Dolby English Mono only. Only special feature is Corporation of the Corrupt: The Rise of lexCorp, which is a 12-minute featurette on how Lex Luthor was altered in the ’80s to become a corrupt corporate tycoon to reflect the greed of the times.