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Thursday, April 18, 2013

'Superboy' S2: College Man of Steel

Superboy: The Complete Second Season
Warner Archive releasing the second season of "Superboy" more than six years after Warner Brothers released the first season of that show combined with the upcoming release of blockbuster "Man of Steel" provides hope that Archive will release "Superboy" S3 in early June 2013.

This late '80s and early '90s syndicated weekly series depicts the college years  adventures of Clark Kent, a.k.a. Superboy. It qualifies as "unreal" both in the sense that is fantasy-based and is of a very good quality considering its limited budget. The series also benefited from being produced by Ilya Salkind, who brought us the blockbuster Christopher Reeve "Superman" films.

Although the several years and countless viewings of films and television series in the interim between the DVD releases of seasons one and two of "Superboy" hinder comparing the two, my memory of the first one and strong enjoyment of the season two episodes evoke thoughts that retooling the series greatly improved already good series.

Comparing the cover art from the season one and two releases of "Superboy" shows that replacing John Haymes Newton with Gerard Christopher was an excellent decision. Christopher was more hunky than Newton and filled out the Superboy outfit much better.

Additionally, Christopher brought a fanboy knowledge and enthusiasm to the role. I would join him for apple pie ala mode at the Talon in Smallville any time. 

Christopher seems to especially delight in comic bits that demonstrate that Clark is so nerdy that there is no chance that he and Superboy are the same person despite Clark often disappearing immediately before Superboy arrives on the scene. Seeing Clark rock white socks with sandals and shorts and struggle to lift roughly 20 pounds of free weights are standout examples of this schtick.

Replacing sidekick character T.J. White, played by Jim Calvert, with the more outrageous Andy McAlister, played by the better-known young actor Ilan Mitchell-Smith, was equally prudent.

Andy transforming from a thoroughly obnoxious character to a genuinely likable and heroic dude is a large part of his appeal. Andy becomes Clark Kent's new roommate in the second-season premiere episode.

Within a few seconds we learn that Andy, whose hair resembles that of the members of the rock band "A Flock of Seagulls" (Google it millenials) and attire is as new wave as Johnny Slash's from the sitcom "Square Pegs" (Another Googleable moment), manipulates his way into Clark's dorm room because it is known that Clark is Superboy's friend.

Profit, rather than any desire for a bromance, is Andy's motive for wanting to meet the College Man of Steel. Andy's fantasies revolve around having Superboy endorse merchandise, such as t-shirts and masks.

Andy definitely steals scenes from the get-go, but his initial hyperactivity and general sleaziness makes one wonder why Clark does not immediately ask the housing office for a transfer. Why Clark and his gal-pal Lana hang out with this creep is equally puzzzling.

Andy's transformation into someone with whom I would enjoy sharing a brewski at Schuster University's pub commences in an second-season episode entitled "Mysterious Island." He begins the episode repeatedly singing the "Gilligan's Island" theme very loudly and horribly off-key. He also convinces Clark and Lana to join him in a amusingly decrepit small boat for a ride.

After our trio becomes shipwrecked on the aforementioned mysterious island and Clark transforms into Superboy with the aim of saving the day, the nemesis of the week drains Superboy's powers. Andy spends much of the remaining episode helping Superboy escape numerous hazards.

Most refreshing of all, Andy does all this without whining or trying to profit. Andy, whose subsequent new but still stylish 'do and duds reflect his transformation, is similarly helpful in several later episodes.

Another aspect of "Superboy's" evolution includes a change from primarily terrestrial foes, including a comical college-aged Lex Luthor, to a wider variety of extra-terrestrial and supernatural threats in the second season. The oft-repeated exposition that Superboy's powers are not very effective against supernatural forces explains this development.

"Micro Boy" is the only episode that seems to defy logic and to buck Superman lore. The enemy by that name with whom Superboy battles is a human who derives great strength from microwaves. Such a concept is reasonable in the fantasy/sci-fi world that our hero inhabits.

The irksome element of "Micro Boy" relates to said villain-in-training is that he develops an edge over Superboy during a battle in which siphoning power from solar panels increases Micro Boy's edge over Superman. Given that earth's yellow sun is the source of Superman's power, logic dictates that the solar energy would turn the tables in Superman's favor.

In addition to Micro Boy and the foe from Mysterious Island, Clark must contend with an Angelesque vampire whose battle to reform his evil ways hits road blocks, a very powerful and amorphous ancient evil, and everyone's favorite imp from the Fifth Dimension Mr. Mxyzptlk in a particularly amusing episode that both provides a glimpse of a marriage between Clark and Lana and proves that Mitchell-Smith should NEVER try drag. No, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. (you millenials know what to do) do not appear in the Mr. Mxyzptlk episode.

Other classic Superman foes who appear include the well-meaning but dangerous Bizarro, Metallo, and a more adult incarnation of Lex Luthor. This season also introduces the classic element of red kryptonite, which causes Clark to lose his inhibitions in a manner that brings out his evil side.

The bottom line is that "Superboy" is a lesser-known but well-done part of "Superman" lore that nourished fanboys during the long interval between the first two Christopher Reeve "Superman" films and the network "Lois and Clark" series.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Superboy" is encouraged to email me.