Superman: the Theatrical Serials collection boxset (film serial review).

In contrast to other film serials from the 1940s and ’50s, the ‘Superman’ series had more money behind it. The first two serials starred, well, Superman, but actor Kirk Alyn didn’t even get credit for playing Clark Kent. This was mostly to fuel kids’ fantasies that the Man of Steel was real. Oddly, the producers used animation for flying scenes and young Kal-El’s rocket journey from Krypton, even though they could have used practical effects. Modern viewers might quibble over the colour scheme, even though it was all in black and white, but the animation’s tonal choices were the real misstep. The narratives were adapted from radio plays rather than directly from the comics.

I had no preconceptions when I watched the opening 1948 serial. It starts on Krypton with Jor-El failing to convince the council of their impending doom. Left with no other option, he and his wife, Lara, send their baby son to Earth just before Krypton’s destruction. Fast forward, and the Kents rescue the baby and raise him as their own on Earth. Clark grows up, discovers his powers, and decides to become a reporter to stay close to the action. Along the way, he rescues miners and earns the enmity of Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen by scooping them. By episode three, a puzzling encounter with a meteor fragment leaves Clark Kent collapsing, leading to many questions.

Kirk Alyn as Clark Kent doesn’t resemble Superman much, underscoring that perception is often at odds with reality. The villain, the Spider-Lady, gains her male team’s respect through rather shocking methods. In typical serial fashion, the finale is a quick wrap-up with a last-minute twist.

I was baffled that no one notices Clark’s long absences in the storage cupboard, although a later episode suggests that it’s laughed off as him taking naps. Lois Lane is surprisingly hostile to Clark, yet he still rescues her. Jimmy Olsen’s recklessness is almost comical, and Editor Perry White is solely focused on getting the scoop.

The second serial, ‘Atom Man Vs Superman,’ from 1950, introduces Luthor—no Lex at this point. He gains parole by offering a revolutionary device but is secretly the new villain, Atom Man. Luthor works on synthetic kryptonite and manages to evade capture using a ‘space transporter,’ as teleportation wasn’t coined yet. Without spoiling too much, Superman saves only two people in the finale, leaving two others to perish.

This serial was released on DVD in 2006 with two nine-minute extras. The first, ‘Saturdays With Superman,’ highlights the end of the film serial era due to the advent of television. The second, ‘Look, Up In The Sky! The Amazing Story Of Superman,’ includes excerpts from a documentary by Bryan Singer and Kevin Burns, with some focus on ‘Superman Returns’ from 2006.

All in all, these DVDs are worth a gander if only for their historic value as the first live-action Superman stories.
GF Willmetts

September 2023

(Warner Bros, 2006. 4 DVDs black and white 15 * 20 minute episodes. Price: varies. ASIN: 02125)

cast: Kirk Alyn, Noel Neill, Tommy Bond and Carol Forman


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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