by Zach Demeter "Bird Boy"
DC animation has been slowly trickling onto DVD over the past few years and the whole time fans were wondering when the fabled 1988 Ruby-Spears Superman show would ever see the light of day. With the DC well running dry, however, Warner Home Video eventually scraped the bottom of the barrel…which is apparently where this series was located. Sure there are other DC shows that haven’t seen DVD yet (or lately, at least), but to hold back a Superman series for so long left fans baffled.
Synopsis As a 50th anniversary gift, DC Comics legendary Man of Steel got a brand-new Saturday morning cartoon. Produced by Ruby-Spears, this new Superman series brought back a few familiar foes, along with new unfriendly faces, for weekly battles and a peek into the private life of the man with the S on his chest. The final four minutes of each Superman episode were devoted to a brief snapshot from the Superman Family Album. These biographical segments showed the kids at home what it was like to grow up as the most powerful boy in Smallville. Unfortunately, super powers only made awkward childhood and adolescent situations even more awkward, as young Clark was forced to deal with his first day at school, an overnight scouting campout, getting a drivers license, his first date, and more.
The Ruby-Spears Superman series has long been clamored for on DVD and as a kid I can remember seeing random VHS tapes at Wal-Mart with one or two episodes. I never did see any of them, however, simply because I was more of a Batman-oriented kid and thought Superman was, to put it frank, stupid. I’ve since grown out of that mindset of course, but the Ruby-Spears series was still something I’d never had a chance to see, simply because the series was never put out in any form. Despite this being a barebones set (aside from a short extra), I was really quite impressed by what this series had to offer.
What made the series stand out was how diverse it was. It had guest stars (well, Wonder Woman at least), a much more serious tone than something like the Superfriends series and was even capped the end with a history of Superman’s life in Smallville. What was so interesting about this series was that at a scant thirteen episodes it was very short lived…yet the way the end segments of each episode were set up, it was almost as if the series ended where it was supposed to, simply because the last bit focused on the first time Clark Kent became Superman.
This series really is an interesting marriage between the comic book mythos and the Christopher Reeve films, as it cherry picks from both to create its own continuity. In many ways the series is reminiscent of the one that followed in 1996 from Bruce Timm and Co., as both were much more serious in nature than past outings and both had similar elements such as the company owning Lex Luthor, which played heavily into both series. In addition the animation on the Ruby-Spears series was really quite wonderful; dated by today’s standards, sure, but still full of great detail and solid animation throughout. On top of this the series features one of the coolest intros, with a nice mix of John Williams Superman score mixed with composer Ron Jones own half of the theme.
I’d heard how good the Ruby-Spears series was from those who grew up with and watched it, but I had no idea just how strong it was. The series had few weak points and while the stories aren’t always the most memorable, it was really just a blast to watch a cartoon from the 80s that wasn’t pure corn. There were thirteen episodes produced of this series in all that aired over a four month period on CBS…and then that was it. Included on this set:
Disc #1 Destroy The Defendroids / The Adoption Fugitive From Space / The Supermarket By The Skin Of The Dragons Teeth / At The Babysitters Cybron Strikes / The First Day Of School The Big Scoop /Overnight With The Scouts Triple-Play / The Circus The Hunter / Little Runaway
Disc #2 Superman and Wonder Woman VS The Sorcerer Of Time / The Birthday Party Bonechill / The Drivers License The Beast Beneath These Streets / First Date Wildshark / To Play Or Not to Play Night Of The Living Shadows /Graduation The Last Time I Saw Earth / Its Superman
Overall Ruby-Spears Superman truly is a “lost gem” that I’m glad finally made its way to DVD. It’s not perfect and I may have enjoyed the shock that this series was genuinely good more than the series itself but nonetheless it comes Recommended.
The DVD Warner Home Video packages the set up in a standard two-disc Amaray case that is then housed inside of a cardboard slipcase. I always enjoy it when studios do this as it blends in better with your other TV shows that are in box form—a simple DVD case just looks odd at times…but then I’m just overly anal about those types of things so chances are it doesn’t matter to you.
Video is a standard 4x3 transfer and given that this series is now twenty years old, it looks pretty solid. Some cel dirt/damage is present but overall it’s a strong transfer and one that won’t disappoint the majority who watch it. Audio is a DD2.0 track that is similarly strong with a nice and loud dialogue with mildly dated sound effects.
The only extra on the set is:
Corruption of the Corrupt: The Rise of LexCorp - A fascinating glimpse into the Decade of Greed, when Americans were growing more and more distrustful of corporate leadership. From the headlines of the day to the pages of Superman arose a new vision of an old villain, Lex Luthor and his conglomerate, LexCorp.
While this is a solid piece, it really doesn’t have much to do with the Ruby-Spears show itself. It focuses more on the history of Luthor and the way he was presented in this series, but it doesn’t really talk about this series specifically. Which is a shame, but Warner seems to like making extras that are incredibly ambiguous (none of the DC Universe titles have movie-specific extras either, which is strange).
Overall Ruby-Spears Superman is a Recommended release, if only just to see the episodes for the first time (in my case, anyway).
Ruby-Spears Superman arrives on DVD on November 3rd.