If you haven’t already seen the animated ‘Superman 75th Anniversary‘ video, directed by ‘Man of Steel”s Zach Snyder working with animation legend Bruce Timm, you absolutely should! In two minutes, we get condensed history of the first superhero from the comics to live action to animation and even the early 80s Atari game! Granted, in just two minutes it’s hard to fit everything in and there are understandably huge chunks that had to get cut out, but the short still manages to touch on most of the high points from the character’s history.
Graeme McMillan of THR actually breaks down everything in the video in case there were references you didn’t catch! Here is a condensed explanation, with some of my own input:
0:09: The cover for Action Comics Vol. 1, #1 from 1938, by co-creator Joe Schuster– the character’s first appearance. Note his slightly different costume with his S inside a yellow emblem that resembles a policeman’s badge.
0:12: Superman’s costume switches to a more familiar version and he runs through a crowd and leaps a “tall building in a single bound.” (Originally, he couldn’t fly.) The building is, of course the Daily Planet. Just as he clears the globe on top, he freezes.
0:23: He has transformed into the Fleisher studios version as featured in a series of popular animated shorts. (Note the logo with black background.) McMillan mistakenly refers to the flying craft he sees as Nazi planes, in reference to the fact that the US entered World War II the year the Fleisher cartoons debuted. In actuality, these are “The Mechanical Monsters” featured in the second episode of the series.
0:29: The cover to ‘Action Comics’ #47, in the style of artist Wayne Boring, depicting Lex Luthor’s first cover appearance.
0:31: Fade to black and white, in homage to George Reeves from ‘The Adventures of Superman’ a popular TV series that ran from 1952 to 1958.
0:38: The first reference to a popular Superman spin-off. The hero was so popular during this time, that even his non-super friends got their own books which also sold very well. This is the cover of ‘Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen’ #53 and a tale entitled ‘The Giant Turtle Man’. (Jimmy had a knack for getting turned into all kinds of crazy forms.) The art is in the style of Curt Swan, who *ahem* some of us consider the definitive Superman artist.
0:41: Turtle Man/Jimmy is struck and shrunk down by Brainiac, Superman’s robotic adversary who went around the universe shrinking cities and storing them in bottles. You can spot the Kryptonian city of Kandor at his feet. This scene duplicates the cover of ‘Action Comics’ #242, also by Swan.
0:44: Bizarro, Superman’s imperfect duplicate strikes. Bizarro was at times a villain, but actually proved to be quite popular with his goofy backward ways and was featured in a comedic strip in Superman’s books. Above the Fortress of Solitude, complete with giant yellow key, you can see the square Bizarro World or Htrae.
0:50: Next we get the Superman Family, Supergirl (her skirt is erroneously colored red. At the time it was blue.), her cat Streaky the Super Cat, Beppo the Super Monkey and of course Krypto the Super Dog. As McMillan points out, Comet the Super Horse is missing. The group flies over the Kent Farm in Smallville, probably as a reference to Superboy. DC was then publishing the adventures of Superman as a teenager growing up in Smallville, but it wouldn’t make sense to show Superman at two different ages side-by-side.
0:51: Mister Mxyzptlk, a pesky imp from the fifth-dimension who came to Earth to prank Superman until the hero could trick him into saying his name backwards and being sent back home.
0:55: Clark Kent and maybe Lois Lane, checking out an art gallery with Andy Warhol who famously used images of Superman in his work. Off to the left, you get another reference to a spin-off comic, from ‘Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane’ #106, you see an afro-sporting black Lois Lane. In the story, Lois used Kryptonian technology to become African American for 24 hours!
0:57: It’s ‘The Super Friends’ the cartoon that created a generation of comic book fans, with designs based on art by Alex Toth.
0:59: Superman very briefly switches to a version of himself as drawn by Neal Adams. We then get a tribute to the 1978 treasury edition ‘Superman vs. Muhaammad Ali’ comic, which Adams drew. McMillan points out that as Superman is getting punched, the art style more closely resembles that of Dick Dillin, the artist of ‘Justice League of America’ for over a decade.
1:03: Obviously, Christopher Reeve from ‘Superman: The Movie’.
1:09: The Superman Atari game. What’s even going on there?
1:12: So the entire eighties get skipped! We cut to Doomsday attacking and the cover of ‘Superman’ Vol. 2 #75, the infamous ‘Death of Superman’ issue, in the style of Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding.
1:16: The cover of ‘Superman’ #75 “is smashed through by the four “replacement” Supermen of the “Reign of the Superman” storyline that followed the “Death” storyline — clockwise, starting from the top, that’s Superboy (A clone mixing the DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor), the Eradicator (Kryptonian artifact that gained awareness and made itself a body; don’t ask), John Henry Irons, aka Steel (A hero inspired by the original Superman) and Hank Heywood, aka Cyborg Superman, who eventually became a Green Lantern villain, unexpectedly enough.” The music has transitioned from Williams’ score to Hans Zimmer’s score to ‘Man of Steel’.
1:19: Superman, back from the dead, in a black suit that was helping him heal. Oh and a mullet. Billy Ray Cyrus was popular at the time.
1:20: In 1998, in a reference to a classic Silver Age story, Superman is split into two energy forms, Superman Red and Superman Blue, in the style of Ron Frenz.
1:22: The Bruce Timm classic but simplified look from ‘Superman: The Animated Series’. In the crowd, blink and you’ll miss them, are supporting characters Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Ma and Pa Kent, Maggie Sawyer, Bibbo the Terrible Turpin and Lois Lane. There’s also a red headed woman who looks oddly like Mary Jane Watson.
1:27: The water tower from ‘Smallville’ appears as the Alex Ross version of the character from ‘Kingdom Come’ descends carrying two of the villains from that series.
(*Note some, including McMillan find this fleeting reference to ‘Smallville’ odd but let me point out that Clark Kent wasn’t actually Superman for much of the show’s run. That they mentioned it at all was a nice gesture. Completely left out is Dean Cain who starred on ‘Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman’.)
1:32: The New 52 Superman pops out of a Boom Tube and battles Darkseid, similar to the first story arc in the modern ‘Justice League’ comic.
1:37: As New 52-perman goes flying he morphs into Henry Cavill from ‘Man of Steel’.
“1:40: Finally, the hero flies up, lands and we see the 75th anniversary logo.
(*Note, as with Dean Cain, Brandon Routh’s role from ‘Superman Returns’ is similarly ignored.)
The short is obviously action packed and considering that it was two minutes long, they squeezed in a ton of stuff, not just the huge events, but some nice Easter Eggs as well.
It would be impossible to include everything. The biggest omission is any reference to Krypton or Jor-El and Lara. Superboy is also largely ignored, but we are celebrating Superman. This is also why I think ‘Smallville’ was so vaguely referenced. Also, I don’t feel that ‘Smallville’ or ‘Lois & Clark’ were really embraced by actual comic fans.
Though included, it was surprising that, in particular Lois Lane and Lex Luthor were given only the briefest of glimpses.
And finally, I felt like an awful lot of time was spent on the nineties. ‘The Death of Superman’, ‘Reign of the Superman’… were Superman Red and Blue really that important? And there was nothing from the 80s (except maybe the video game). No John Byrne/Man of Steel tribute?
But all in all, it’s a great short and I’ve watched it repeatedly back-to-back. What do you think about what made the cut and what didn’t? Were there any omissions you felt were glaring? Comment below!