SUPERBOY in Other Media

by Rob Imes

Superman’s career as Superboy, ironically enough, did not receive much attention outside of the comics until the character had been wiped from continuity. As usual, the other media proved slow in their depictions of what was happening in the comics.

The first non-print adaptation of Superman was the Superman radio series, which debuted on February 12, 1940, according to the l og for this series on the Internet. “The Adventures of Superman” radio series originally depicted The Man of Steel arriving on Earth as an adult, and choosing the name Clark Kent at the suggestion of the first two Earthlings he met. This curious origin was later changed to comply with the comics version, although no mention was made of a Superboy career. The next medium that Superman conquered was the movies -- the Max Fleisher cartoon shorts which were shown in movie theatres before the main attraction. The first of these cartoons debuted on September 26, 1941, according to the log of the cartoons. No Superboy career was shown, naturally enough, since the cartoons ended in 1943, two years before Superboy first appeared in the comics. “The Adventures of Superman” radio series was cancelled in 1950, and (according to the book Total Television by Alex McNeil) production of the TV series starring George Reeves began in the summer of 1951, although the programs were not aired until early 1953. The first episode showed George Reeves as a young Clark, but there was no mention of a Superboy identity. (Can’t remember if they mentioned Smallville or not. Somewhere I have this episode on videotape.)

All of this media depiction of Superman, so far, ignored Superboy. Finally, in 1961 (another source I saw said 1950, perhaps an error), a pilot episode of a Superboy series was filmed, titled “Rajah’s Ransom.” A series of auditions for the main character was filmed and the auditions still exist and have been included on some videotapes with the Superboy pilot. Apparently the pilot, starring Johnny Rockwell as Superboy and Clark, was the only episode of the series produced and it was never aired. In the mid-1960s, a reader mentioned this failed series in a Superboy letters-page, asking if it would ever appear. The editor took the opportunity to plug an upcoming Saturday morning cartoon series which would feature Superboy. A log of the 1966-67 Superboy cartoons can be found on the Internet. Krypto appeared in these cartoons as well, and several stories were written by comics writers like Leo Dorfman and George Kashdan. In the mid-1980s, a videotape of these Superboy cartoons was released on videotape. More recently, in 1996, the USA cable network aired these Superboy cartoons as part of their Superman-Batman Adventures program.

“Superman: The Movie” in the late 1970s showed a young Clark Kent, but he did not have a Superboy career. A teenaged Lana Lang appeared in the first movie, and an adult Lana appeared in the third film.

Superboy was finally given the live-action treatment beginning on October 8, 1988 when the syndicated half-hour Superboy series debuted. During the first season, Superboy was portrayed by Johnny Haymes Newton. He was replaced by Gerald Christopher beginning with the second season. Lana Lang was portrayed by Stacy Haiduk. (A photo of Stacy as Lana can be found at a Sta cy Haiduk webpage.) The series ran four seasons, ending on May 18, 1992 with an episode appropriately titled “Superboy -- Rest in Peace.” During the show’s run, villains such as Mr. Mxyzptlk (2/25/89), The Kryptonite Kid (10/14/91), and Metallo (10/21/89 & 4/8/91) appeared. Bizarro appeared in several episodes (Nov. 11 & 18, 1989; Oct. 4 & 11, 1990; and Jan. 13 & 20, 1992). The Yellow Peri, a female villain who was first introduced in New Adventures of Superboy #34 (Oct. 1982), was portrayed in the Jan. 20, 1990 episode. Logs for the live-action Superboy series can be found at the following sites:

The late 1980s was a curious time for a Superboy TV series to be introduced. Superboy had been retconned from the comics only two years earlier, and DC was compelled to produce a tie-in comic for the TV series which took place outside DC continuity. If the purpose of Crisis was to end the confusion concerning the DC Universe, this Superboy series, so soon after the revamp, must have contributed to some reader confusion. Personally, I avoided the Superboy TV series while it was airing, and also avoided the comic. Although I loved the old Superboy, both the TV series and the comic it was based on seemed too serious and dull, not as wacky, fun, and charming as the old comics.

In the early 1990s, a Superman Saturday morning cartoon debuted on CBS. Suprisingly, the series seemed more faithful to the current comics continuity. A short “back-up” story at the end of the show featured stories from “Superman’s Family Album” which showed his life as a teenager in Smallville. According to the episode I’ve seen, the young super-powered Clark had no Superboy identity. The recent Superman cartoon on the WB network depicted a young, super-powered Clark in Smallville, but no Superboy identity.

And what of the current, leatherclad Superboy? The only non-print incarnation of that character of which I’m aware is the BBC Radio drama version of the Death of Superman storyline. The dramatization was titled “Doomsday and Beyond” and aired on BBC Radio around 1993. The “Beyond” portion of the show’s title referred to “The Reign of Supermen” storyline, which was also dramatized for the series. Superboy was portrayed as a bit of a jerk, who complained about getting a rip in his jacket at the end of the show. The five half-hour episodes were combined onto a two-tape set when commercially released and is available as “Superman Lives” on WarnerAudio.

The new Superboy could have been portrayed on the Lois & Clark TV series to interesting effect, but I take it that there was no such appearance. I’ve no idea whether the new Superboy has appeared in the current WB Superman cartoon or if he will appear in the upcoming Superman movie. It’s safe to say, however, that Superboy will continue to make appearances in media outside of the comics.