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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Superman's origin according to Ruby-Spears Productions

Ever wonder what happened between the time young Kal-El was adopted by the Kents and his arrival in Metropolis? If I were to assume... and I probably shouldn't, I'd say most folks reading this site already have a pretty good idea. For this piece/series, we're going to put all of that out of our minds, pre-Crisis, post-Crisis, whatever. Where we're going... we have little need for such terms.

In 1988, Ruby-Spears Productions created an animated Superman series that ran on CBS during the Saturday morning time-slot. The episodes would feature an 18-20 minute feature, and be followed by a short Superman Family Album segment which served to fill us in on the Man of Steel's childhood and adolescence. I figure those might be the best place for us to start our coverage!

Let's take a look at the first installment... The Adoption, written by a very familiar name... Marv Wolfman!

We open with Jonathan and Martha Kent sitting in the office of the Smallville Orphanage. They explain that they found the young boy on their farm... and even considered adopting him themselves, after all they'd always wanted a little boy of their own. Gotta mention that the Kents are portrayed as being at least in their 50's, which would put them at over 70 by the time (spoiler alert) Clark becomes Superman. I don't recall them being of the same generation as Aunt May... but, at least in the Ruby-Spearsiverse, they just might.  They are told that the orphanage usually looks for younger folks to give children to, but they'll... erm, keep them in mind. As the young boy is handed over, he begins to fuss.

I really appreciate that Mr. Warner from the orphanage isn't depicted to be evil or malicious in any way. He's just a man doing his job, and has no ill-intent for the boy or his previous guardians. As the Kents leave, the Walters family arrives... they're looking for a sweet young boy with no inclinations toward "roughness"... I never realized picking a child was like picking the flavor of ice cream you want in your waffle cone, but we'll let that slide. Either way, Mr. Warner's got just the lad for you... or does he? [On a side note, Mr Warner *may* have been an homage to Warner Bros (the parent company of DC comics) — there's a later episode with a villain named 'McFarlane'. -JF]

The Walters decide to... go another way. Some time later, The Kenny's (and their cat) arrive. At that very moment, our boy is flying off to visit the nearby Zoo... Mrs. Kenny is hopeful their potential new baby likes pets. C'mon now, all young children like animals. Though, this one might like his cats a bit on the larger side.

With another set of parents fleeing the facility, Mr. Warner must stop to consider the possibility that this young tot is acting in way that would purposefully scare potential parentals away. Thinking aloud, he posits that perhaps the boy has his own idea for proper parents... to which, the baby begins clapping. Warner and Conroy leave the baby alone and unattended to check who is next on their list... which seems a pretty unsafe thing to do. Anyhoo... being left by his lonesome, our tot of steel heads out on a night-flight all the way to the Kent Farm, where he nuzzles in between his would be guardians and goes to sleep.

The following morning, the Kents awaken to the shocking appearance of the baby they'd dropped at the orphanage... um, earlier that day? Busy day, right? Martha asks what they should do, to which Jonathan suggests they go back to the orphanage... and convince Mr. Warner to let them legally adopt the child! They (preemptively?) name the boy... Clark Kent. The baby seems to dig the idea, because he chooses now to utter his first words... Mama and Dada, don't be such a cliché Clark-O.

A touching start to the series... really quite a cute story.

The strange thing about this series, at least to me, is that I have a difficult time reconciling that this hit network television in 1988. I can't say for certain where I mentally "place" this... but the late 80's certainly ain't it. [Just for context: Ruby-Spears was also responsible for 1979's The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show, a 1986 Karate Kommandos (starring Chuck Norris) animated feature, Thundarr the Barbarian, a Rambo cartoon, that Police Academy cartoon we all watched on weekdays before grabbing the bus to school and that god-awful 1986 Lazer Tag Academy cartoon. -JF]

I'm not sure what it says about the current comics/entertainment culture where when I sat down to watch this I thought for sure the orphanage's Mr. Warner was going to be revealed as a baby seller and slaver. I was quite pleased to be mistaken... and for the light comedic take we received instead. On a side note,

I find it funny that nobody thinks twice about this baby flying around a room on a rocking horse or abducting a lion from the zoo. It's just accepted! Imagine having to return a lion to the zoo! How would one even go about doing such a thing? Yeah, I'm thinking too hard about it... it's kinda what I do.

Overall, had a decent amount of fun with this silly short. This (somehow) wasn't part of my childhood, so that's not nostalgia talking. Hope this was an enjoyable read... if you dug it, let us know. Also, if this show was a part of your childhood (or adulthood!) please feel free to reach out and share your memories of the series.

-Chris Sheehan

Can't wait for the next installment in this series of articles? For more of Chris Sheehan, check out his highly recommended Chris is on Infinite Earths blog. He also co-hosts the very excellent Cosmic Treadmill podcast with Reggie Hancock!

1 comment:

  1. Chris, I never knew of this before I saw it here, but it reminds of the SuperFriends show I watched as a kid and which certainly ignited my lifelong love of DC's comics and characters. How very excellent that it was written by Mr Wolfman. Keep unearthing more 80's relics. Love it.