DVD Review: DC Superheroes: The Filmation Adventures


(WB) (2 DVDs)

Sometimes the nostalgia’s so overwhelming all you can do is sit on your couch and bask in it.

Once upon a time, Saturday morning TV was religion. We would grab our bowl of Cocoa Puffs and sit rapturous while sermonized by reverends Hanna-Barbera, DePatie-Freling and Rankin-Bass. A little later came most righteous Scheimer, Prescott and Sutherland, whose tales of good constantly triumphing over evil would keep we believers enthralled until our parents forced us to go out and face the devilish rays of the sun. Supposedly they were good for us.

Right…Now let’s continue with this little history lesson.

In 1965, Filmation Associates was a very young and struggling studio headed by Lou Scheimer, Hal Sutherland and Norman Prescott. In fact, they pretty much were Filmation’s only personnel. They then managed to pull one of the best grifts in the history of TV, conning DC immortal Mort Weisinger to believe that they were a burgeoning studio. The payoff? A licensing deal for Superman.

Debuting in September, 1966, The New Adventures of Superman became the cornerstone of CBS’ incredible weekend morning line-up (which also included FA’s own Lone Ranger, as well as Hanna-Barbera’s Frankenstein Jr./The Impossibles and Space Ghost/Dino Boy).

Knowing a great thing when he had one, in 1967 then CBS programming head Fred Silverman upped the ante by adding Herculoids, Shazzan, Jonny Quest and Moby Dick & The Mighty Mightor into his weekend mix. As for Mssrs Scheimer, Sutherland and Prescott? Silverman had them expand their half-hour Superman to a full hour. They created a bunch of new adventures for the Man of Steel for the first half. Then for the second half, being that Batman was camping out on ABC, they added just about every other DC Superhero to the line-up. The big star was Aquaman, who got two segments every week. Yet to round out the mix, one of 18 new segments featuring The Atom, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Justice League or the Robin-less Teen Titans would be sandwiched inbetween the undersea adventures.

This 2-disc set collects those 18 episodes, nicely restored, unedited, in full color and in their original format. What’s fun is some hold up fairly well, particularly when you weigh them against Bruce Timm’s Justice League 30 years later. Were they a bit childish and a tad campy? Well, considering the times the answer is yes, but they age well.

The three Flash segments in particular hold up nicely, with the animators taking as much advantage of speed lines and other tricks to their fullest advantage. Yeah, one of his battles was with a radioactive ant, but the ending wasn’t the usual bug stomping. Probably the stiffest were the Hawkman shorts, but I guess that’s because no one has had a handle on the Winged Warrior since pretty much his creation. True, but today’s standards the animation looked pretty stiff and repetitive, but again, compared to other animated fodder out there those days, this was daring stuff.

If you don’t believe it, look at some of the backgrounds and read the credits. You’ll notice that part of the staff included Warner Bros. veteran Virgil Ross. What many don’t realize is he was also a renowned science fiction illustrator. One gets the feeling Ross worked on the backgrounds of many of these shorts as well as animate the lead characters. Their styles are just way too similar.

Got to admit, there’s one true boner of a gaff in this collection though. For some reason, the DVD title sheets include shots of a certain solar-powered Hanna-Barbera bird-themed hero, instead of Hawkman. You’d think the guys at the WB would know the difference between the heroes from DC and H-B’s Birdman.

Back on the plus side, DC Comics Super Heroes also includes another nice 40-minute study on the career of Lou Scheimer. Anyone who has the various BCI Filmation collections (or read the Newsarama interview with him two years ago) will probably not learn too much, but it’s nice to see the grand master is alive, looking well and still in the game.

What truly matters here is, yes, one can say that the DC work done by the Fleischer Brothers and just about anyone associated with Bruce Timm is light years better than what we have here. On the other hand, those of us who watched these shows back in the ‘60s didn’t know any better. The Fleischer shorts were rarely televised and the Timm-verse was a quarter century away. So, if you see us bathe in a warm glow of nostalgia, join in. You’ll be doing it soon enough, too.

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