Sunday, July 28, 2013
'The Adventures of Superboy' S3: Emerging Man of Steel
The long wait for Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1990-1991 26-episode third season of "The Adventures of Superboy" has paid off. Releasing this set after "Smallville" completed its decade-long task of showing how my favorite Kryptonian becomes Superman, and more recently after "Man of Steel" has offered a condensed origin story enhances the enjoyment of these episodes.
Although this review of "Superboy's" third season was intended to end the series of posts that are designed to keep the spirit of Comic-Con 2013 alive a little longer, Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the '70 Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon "Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels" requires extending this streak a little longer. This review will run in early August.
The third season of "Superboy" takes a significant step forward in transitioning Clark Kent from Superboy to Superman by moving the action from Shuster University, named for Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, to The Bureau of Extra-Normal Affairs where college intern Kent is obtaining experience that is relevant for a journalism career.
The special two-part season premiere is a nice bridge between the campus and real world based settings. This plot has newly hired Kent's work at the Bureau making him aware of the return of his flawed duplicate Bizarro causing chaos. Superboy's arch-nemesis Lex Luthor ramps up the mayhem by manipulating Bizarro into helping Luthor with his quest to kill the intern of steel.
Other episodes prompt Superboy to ponder his role as earth's protector. An attempted shotgun wedding to a super-powered alien female who dominates the weaker beings on her planet reinforces Superboy's decision to use his powers to aid humanity. Thinking that he accidentally killed someone in another episode prompts Superboy to retreat to his family's farm, and a particularly brutal encounter with arch-nemesis Lex Luthor requires great restraint regarding the principles that guide Superboy's heroics.
The two-part series finale, which is the best episode of the third season and deserves a honored place in "Superman" lore, notches up the transition from Superboy to Superman. This one, which includes a goateed double who is not evil, has Superboy visiting two parallel dimensions in which his paths differ from the one that he is traveling in ours. An encounter with Tarzan portrayor Ron Ely as a AARP aged Superman is particularly cool and important to Superboy's road to being the real greatest American hero.
A second-season change, which Unreal TV's review of that season addresses, that is also relevant regarding the awesome aspects of "Superboy's" third season is casting uber-fanboy (and probable series savior) Gerard Christopher as the College Man of Steel.
Christopher's sincere intensity when contemplating his fate and hilarious adorkability when Kent faces a serious risk of having his secret identity revealed are spot on.
Although Kent's gal pal and secret crush Lana Lang survives the third-season reboot and is a fellow intern, the role of Kent's goofy roommate sidekick from earlier seasons is jettisoned with the exception of a brief appearance by (now real-life professor) Ilan Mitchell-Smith as scheming Andy McAllister in one episode. Keeping college life well in the background adds a slightly more adult-tone to this still very fun action-adventure romp.
Kent's work at the Bureau leads to formal assignments that have him investigating creatures such as a werewolf and a forest-dwelling monster. Less formal employment-related peril includes Kent and his co-workers being held hostage during a going-away party for a colleague at a bar and contending with events that result in his uptight typical bureaucrat boss letting his id run free.
On a much more general level, "Superboy" supports that theory that some television series are like wine in that they are perfectly paired with some occasions. This program was ideally scheduled in its Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning airings during its first life as a syndicated series.
Anyone with questions regarding "Superboy," Superman, or even the "ruff ruff and away" (really) adventures of Krypto the superdog is welcome to email me.