I noticed a while ago... some of the greatest Cartoon Franchises have come from Comic Books. Now I'm not talking about one hit wonders like Cadillacs & Dinosaurs... I'm talking about cartoons that just seem to spawn a longevity and following that allows the animated versions to be reimagined and reanimated over and over. What comics just worked as animation?
Comic book Cartoon Franchises: Superman
1 Fleischer Studios Superman 1941-1943: I remember staying up late and watching these on USA's Night Flight over the weekends. These were a darker, cool version of Superman that seemed super stylized and artistic. Superman was a different character when this cartoon was released. I don’t think Superman could even fly... there were no team ups, and I recall little to no Lex Luthor in the book at that time. But it stayed true to Lois, Perry, & Jimmy and really captured the wonder in how great early animation could be, especially when teamed up with Superman. Robots and adventure and evil scientists... This was just a cool cartoon that happened to star Superman.)
2 The New Adventures of Superman, Filmation 1966-1970: (Again, a great reflection of the Superman from that time. Not only is the visual style very similar to Curt Swan’s Superman, but the retro Sci-Fi feel is super prominent. The thing that stands out to me the most is this is the cartoon they used to show on the Bozo show. And it drove me nuts how it was cut up into parts to run between “clown’ sketches and the Grand Prize Game. But this is a fond memory of Superman. Its too bad that the cartoon doesn’t really hold up over time the way the Fleisher Studios classic does. But who doesn't enjoy it when each episode ends with some confrontation between Clark & Lois, where Clark gives his cheezy smile to the camera and wink. Love it! Still worth the watch for long time Superman fans.)
3 Superman, Ruby Spears 1988: (This came out around the time I started to become a hardcore collector. Its made no qualms about tie ins to the Richard Donner Superman films. Even the theme song stole heavy from John William's masterpiece Superman theme. This cartoon had appearances by Wonder Woman, Toyman and Lex Luthor, but still lacked in any real action. It felt really stiff, like a SuperFriends cartoon. I will say my favorite part spawned directly from something the comic book did. At the end of each episode, Martha would thumb through Clark's childhood photo album and recall some "power' developing story for our hero. Many times Clark was just a plain bad kid, and these were endearing and unique for a Superman cartoon. This cartoon didn't last real long, but I grabbed this DVD when it was released and quickly watched the whole thing.
4 Superman: the Animated Series, Bruce Timm 1996-2000: Jumping out of the success of Batman the Animated Series... Bruce Timm introduced the world to his version of Superman. Batman set the standards rather high and made me hopeful that they'd do the same for the Man of Steel. I was very happy with the depiction that Bruce Timm and Company conveyed. This was the personality of the comic book version of Clark voiced perfectly by Tim Daly and in my opinion became the spring board for many new people to become Superman fans. He was cool again and not the typical boy scout. He was compassionate and not a push over. He took on real over the top action but still had Kent family to ground him. The introduction of Supergirl helped to also bring in more Superman Silver Age lore and add some female viewers with her positive portrayal. To this day, this Superman cartoon is one of my all time favorites.
Justice League (See future stories) Superman also had appearances in The Batman, Batman: Brave & the Bold, and a couple of Amex-Seinfeld commercials.
5 Legion of Super-Heroes, TV series 2006: I think this was originally going to be named Superboy & the Legion of Super-heroes, but due to Siegel & Shusters legal issues with DC... the Superboy was dropped. This cartoon lasted 2 seasons and was awesome. We really didn't have much about Clark or the Kents and him as Superboy, but we had tons of Sci-Fi, futuristic Team hero fun. I loved Brainiac and Bouncing Boy on this show. In season 2, they introduced a cool clone of "Superman" and had him join the team... but I don't think the 2nd season lasted more than 5 episodes. I loved this cartoon... and wish they'd put out a definitive box set!
6 Superman/Doomsday DCU Animation 2007: The inaugural story for the DCU line of straight to video, animated movie releases. I'm so glad, this wasn't the measuring stick others would be compared to. This came out the week before my wedding and I was sure it would be a cool geek movie to watch with friends. I couldn't wait and watched it on my own... and fell asleep halfway through. I don't this its was an awful movie... but coming from the team that made Batman, Justice League, Batman Beyond, and Superman... I was sure that a 75 minute version of Bruce Timm's Superman, retelling the comic industry changing story of the "Death of Superman", would be Biblical. It fell considerably short. The character designs were weird, the voices didn't work and it strayed sooo far from the comic story, my feeling was, 'Why even bother to make this'. There was one silver lining to this storm cloud. One the dvd extras...I absolutely loved the interview with the creative teams who killed off Superman and their story behind how it all came to being. For me, it was worth the purchase, even if the movie itself was drab and weird.
We get a couple of Superman/Batman and DCU movies, like New Frontier, but let me end on...
7 All Star Superman DCU Animation 2011: If you take the best things in each of the previously mentioned cartoons and put them into one movie... They just might be as good as All Star Superman. Based upon Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's masterpiece run, All Star Superman is an animated retelling of a Silver Age love letter to Superman. I think Tracie and I have championed this series many times before and the animated adaptation written by the late Dwayne McDuffie carries the torch to the screen like a beacon of comic book glory! How's that for hyperbole?! Honestly, the only complaints about this cartoon are things they left out from the original comic. I wanted the Bizarro world stuff and the many Superman's visiting modern Superman. What it put in the cartoon were the essentials and I felt like it stuck really close to the original. I absolutely loved it, It left me wanting more.
For me, Superman cartoons are a large reason I love Superman/Superman comics today. Along with the Donner films... these put the Man of Steel in my mind when anyone mentioned Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or Comic books. Superman was always first to me. I really believe its a multiple pronged attack to keep these characters in the next generation's mind. And with shows like Smallville and Young Justice, re-enforcing the memory of who and what Superman and other characters are... then you can bet when these kids grow up, a few of them will be Superman fans too.