Do Better, Wb or Why I’m Disappointed in the Superman 1978-1987 5-Film Collection Box Set

Back in October, 2022 the amazing Caped Wonder Jim posted a couple of interesting tweets. The first in response to a @SupermanIV account post about releasing the original Sidney Furie director’s cut of “The Quest for Peace”. This account leads the social media push for getting this directors cut and rarely posts about anything else. The second starting to get us hyped for something that included the four original Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve.

It could be assumed from these tweets one right after the other that we should expect an announcement of some kind of reissue including this director’s cut.

Soon afterwards Caped Wonder tweeted that we’d be getting 4K versions Superman II, III, and IV including the Richard Donner cut of Superman II. He linked out to The Digital Bits with the report, but no real details. At this point there is speculation that these will include Dolby Vision HDR.

Jim at Caped Wonder has contacts at Warner Home Video. He worked with them on extras for previous box sets. It’s safe to assume he had some insider information that he was teasing out to fans. He confirms it as such on November 2nd on Caped Wonder

I’ve been aware for quite some time that Warner Bros.’ MPI (Motion Picture Imaging) department has been working on Superman II (theatrical and Donner Cut), Superman III, and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace remasters in 4K Ultra HD, likely to hit the market in April 2023. Superman II will include both the original theatrical version and the Richard Donner Cut.

Interestingly no mention of the extended or Furie Cut” of Superman IV. This is the first disappointment. It’s not a major one, Superman IV wasn’t a huge success for Warners. If we ever get an extended cut I’d be surprised if it was a polished 4K edition. It’s more likely to be similar to the Warner Archive Superman Extended Cut. But still, the tease from Jim puts this in the disappointment category.

December 14th Warner Brothers released their centennial celebration press release. This is the first mention we get about the “Superman 5-film collection”. So now we know box set. But of what? Caped Wonder confirms in response to someone’s question that it will be five movies I-IV and the Donner Cut.

Off the bat we weren’t expecting Superman Returns since that wasn’t part of the initial rumor anyway. I’d still put this in the disappointment category. The Donner Cut is more of an alternative version than a separate film altogether. Like the Furie Cut this is minor. Superman Returns doesn’t exist in 4K. It was shot digitally unlike the Reeve films and at best exists in 2K. A UHD version would be an upgrade from the Blu-Ray, but it wouldn’t be 4K.

On December 24th on the Caped Wonder podcast Jim breaks the big news. Superman the Movie 4K from 2018 is being completely redone.” This is the most exciting part of the box set so far. The version we got in 2018 has major issues; some fans even prefer the Blu-Ray version. If we are going to be forced to buy this movie again a new version would dull that pain.

Fast forward to February 13, 2023. A user posts a low-res image of the purported box set onto a Blu-Ray forum.

4K UHD Box set of Superman 5-film collection 1978-1987 with Superman standing in the fortress of solitude

This image doesn’t light anyone’s fire, but it’s the movies that are important. This starts the real news though. This also enforces what we’ve heard about Superman Returns. The picture starts to come together fast.

Six Days later Zavvi posts their Steelbook version of the box set. With no official announcement from Warners this is the biggest drop of news so far. Despite it being UK only it bodes well for folks in the US. Annoyingly, it’s riddled with inaccuracies and light on technical details. A big problem that stands out for me: Theatrical Cut - On Disc Special Features: Introduction by Director Richard Donner, Commentary by Richard Donner and Tom Mankiewicz”. These are obviously for the Donner cut, not the theatrical cut and are repeated in the next section. When Superman Homepage picked up the news they didn’t bother to correct this error. All of the extras are ported over exactly from the last Blu-Ray box set. The assumption is these aren’t on the UHD discs and neither the Fleischer cartoons nor Superman and the Mole Men are getting remastered. Safe to say the Blu-Ray discs will be identical to what we already have. Another small disappointment, but the focus here is really on the films in 4K.

4K UHD boxset of steelbooks. Showing all four Superman films original posters, plus the Superman 78 comic booklet and the cover for Action Comics 1

The box looks excellent though. Rather than any weird photoshop jobs we are treated to original theatrical movie posters as the art on high quality cases. It even comes with a comic. We’ve had some ups and downs in this saga but this is a win (as long as it’s available in the US).

Two days later the US news starts to come in.Amazon lists the Steelbook version as their exclusive. Perfect, available in the US in a great format. It’s later offered on the DC Shop so not exactly Amazon exclusive, but all other retailers get a more standard box with plastic cases.

Over the next few days it pops up on other retailers without the steelbooks and more art starts to circulate. Namely this picture of the back:

Back Cover of the Superman 4K box set. Text reads A SUPER COLLECTION OF THE ORIGINAL GROUNDBREAKING FILMS NOW IN 4K ULTRA HD" WITH HDR! Superman 5-Film Collection: 1978-1987 includes Superman: The Movie (978), Superman Il (1980), Superman Il: The Richard Donner Cut(2006), Superman III (1983) and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987), plus hours of special features, including making-of featurettes, filmmaker commentaries, additional scenes, theatrical trailers, TV spots and more. At the bottom it reads Superman: The Movie Only Dolby VISION

Notice something on the bottom right corner? Superman: The Movie Only Dolby Vision. This is my first major disappointment. In most living room movie watching scenarios the difference between 1080p and 4K isn’t significant. But the difference between Standard Dynamic Range and High Dynamic Range is. Without Dolby Vision the assumption is the sequels will only have HDR10 which is a downgrade. It is starting to feel like this expensive boxset is becoming less worth the money. Curiously later images of the box set omit this text (side note: these photoshop jobs are ugly).

4K UHD Box set of Superman 5-film collection 1978-1987 with Superman standing in the fortress of solitude. Both the front and the back of the box are shown. This version doesn’t mention Dolby Vision

Inexplicably we still wait until March 1st before Warners gives us a press release. Like the initial Zavvi listing the press release has no technical details and is rife with mistakes. Like the all caps SYNOPSIS right after the synopsis of Superman The Movie. Or the weird bullet indentation errors (these could be a Superman Homepage and Caped Wonder error since they are corrected elsewhere). The press release does confirm that these are the previously released Blu-Ray extras like assumed and fixes the Donner and Mankiewicz extras on the theatrical II. We get an official date of April 18th (also assumed).

Later that day though we get the bad news from The Digital Bits. Not only was that first box shot correct and we are only getting HDR10 for the sequels, but now we are no longer getting a new video master for the original. They try to make up for it by saying the original now includes the theatrical audio mix but we had that on the previous 4K disc just in lossy quality.

WBHE has replied with the following answers to the questions we posed for clarification: 1) Superman: The Movie 4K utilizes the same video master as the 2018 UHD but now includes the original theatrial audio mix (Comment: We believe this is in DTS-HD MA format now, where as the 2018 4K offered it in lossy 5.1 Dolby Digital. �BH). 2) Superman: The Movie includes Dolby Vision HDR while the sequels include only HDR10. All have Dolby Atmos. 3) No single-film 4K SKUs are currently planned in the US.]

This is hugely disappointing. We are left without a definitive home video version of this iconic film since the 4K is the only place you can get the theatrical audio, but is marred by a strangely dark transfer making it in many ways inferior to the Blu-Ray release from more than a decade ago. Want the sequels in 4K? You’ll need to rebuy an essentially identical version of the original to get them. Add to that it feels like they cut corners for cost purposes on the HDR. The earlier disappointments can be overlooked, but these are harder to ignore. Especially coming days after preorders go live.

But wait, that’s not all. Today Warners decides to give us another little kick while we are down. Remember those Fleischer cartoons that got included with the old Blu-Rays in the set? Bummer that they aren’t remastered. Especially because they’ve been released many many times over the years. Want them remastered? Cool because they are coming soon to Blu-Ray. Yup, this nice fancy boxset with steel cases will already have out of date versions of the original cartoons one month later. At least it looks like this Blu-Ray has a new featurette: Max Fleischer’s Superman: Speeding Toward Tomorrow”. More than we can say for this box set supposedly celebrating 100 years of Warner Brothers and 85 years of Superman. I wonder if it will look as good as some of the AI 4K upscales floating around the internet.

As you can tell, I love these movies and the cartoons. Thousands of other people feel the same way. It feels insulting to fans to get these half-assed versions. I get that preparing these new editions is a big expense for Warner Discovery, but giving us versions that are let downs isn’t a great way to make back that investment. Cutting corners isn’t going to make this a must purchase for Superman fans. It just becomes another version in a long line of versions that we’ve paid for. I can forgive the missing extended versions and Superman Returns (who needs that Luthor anyway). I’m fine with recycled special features, the movies are old. But to cut corners on the actual films is a slap in the face. Do better, WB.

March 3, 2023

Action Comics, Bullies, Break

This week’s Action Comics Annual was a highlight in an already awesome run of Action Comics issues. I think the conventional wisdom in dealing with bullies is to stand up to them. I’ve never liked this sentiment. A world where this is the only option is a world with only bullies. The idea that Clark would find a way to be better with the guidance of his mother is so powerful and really touched me. I loved it. Martha dealing with cancer was a shocking reveal handled so well on the page. This half of the story was so great, I didn’t even need the excellent Mongul origin to contrast it with. It’s easy enough to just contrast it with real life. Thanks, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, Si Spurrier, Dale Eaglesham, and Ian Churchill.

Yeah, haven’t posted anything here in a bit. Combination of the world being terrible and me just being super busy. Really good busy though with lots of rewarding personal projects. Heading out to the Superman Celebration next week which I think should get me motivated to work on this. Got some ideas to write about Bizarro seeing as I’ve been watching the last Superboy season, season seven of Smallville, and the latest season of Superman and Lois at the same time. Stay tuned, dear reader!

June 3, 2022

The Status Quo

Electric Superman with the text Shocking! This time we’ve changed more than his hair

I watched a video essay about Die Hard the other day. Part of the video’s thesis was the character of John McClane can’t grow because we as an audience need him to be the same so we can get our Die Hard movies. He can never actually fix his marriage. Batman can never get over the death of his parents. Human growth stagnates a franchise.” It reminds me of what writers and producers blamed the end of Lois & Clark on. From the sadly offline Lois & Clark reference site:

Brad Kern, former writer for Lois and Clark (the final season only) and currently a writer/producer under fire from fans of Charmed, defended splitting up a married couple by stating, In one season-finale episode Lois found out Clark’s secret, and he asked her to marry him. The fans wanted that, they got it. But suddenly they’re married, she knows the secret and the fans went away. I think that cost us one whole season on Lois & Clark.’ So I learned a lot from that, and have applied it to Charmed.’”

I disagree with this statement strongly. There were many reasons Lois & Clark got cancelled, but finally getting them together was not one of them. In fact there are many status quo changes in the history of Superman that have stuck around and become the new status quo.

As a longtime comics reader I roll my eyes every time a big name character dies. Because we know it won’t last. Creators and readers want to see these characters again! These multinational corporations would never throw away a property like Superman. I wonder what Death of the Justice League has in store for us this week. It’s the same with other large status quo changes. As mentioned in the video Batman has to punch people in the face because of his unresolved trauma, that won’t change. But sometimes a big one comes that sticks.

Supergirl

I think the first big status quo change for the Man of Tomorrow is the introduction of Supergirl. Clark is no longer the last survivor of Krypton. It gave Superman a family member close by and leaned into the paternal Clark. It allowed Clark’s character to grow and change. Different than a new power or weakness or villain, stories that were common through the gold and silver ages. Bringing back Kara Zor-El after Bryne said no more Kryptonians shows how impactful this change was.

The Wedding

The next big status quo change that comes to mind—especially after talking about Lois & Clark—is the wedding. Gone was the 50 year love triangle. Clark and Lois actually got married. She learned his secret. It didn’t ruin Superman comics, but actually gave a new dimension and growth to them over the years. This change proved so popular that even after they tried to undo it with the New 52, it came back! It’s been more than 30 years since Lois found out his secret and they were engaged. It’s become such an ingrained part of the mythos that the newest Superman television show is based around it. Maybe the biggest and most lasting changes are ones that writers try to jettison, but come back?

Jon Kent

The other big change that has spilled into the television world is the son of Superman, Jon Kent. Superman & Lois takes it a step further with him having two sons, but the basic premise is there. For a character that was an eternal bachelor for his first 50 years now having children is a major status quo shift.

We can go a step further with Jon Kent too. Bendis gave Jon’s status quo a push when he decided to age him up. It let him do Legion stories and has led to Jon being Superman and not just Superboy. This isn’t a give him electric powers” for six months; the character has grown! He’s matured!

Superboy

The Adventures of Superman when he was a boy didn’t have much of a change on Superman at first. They were self contained. Until they started introducing new ideas into Superboy (like Bizarro) that worked their way into Superman stories. But then like a planet exploding Byrne said no more Superboy.” Superboy has come and gone and changed quite a bit over the decades. The idea is too go to fully go away, although Clark as Superboy might be a thing of the past.

Secret Identity

All status quo changes are controversial until they become the status quo. I think some readers miss young Jon Kent and his Super Sons adventures with Damien Wayne (which we can still get more of). Another Bendis change in the comics is Clark revealing his identity to the world. It’s tough to say how long this will last. It hasn’t rolled over into any other media—although the Supergirl television show did end with this. Clark has had his identity revealed in the past and it’s always been rolled back. It seems like the current team isn’t in any hurry to undo this one though.

That’s a big part of what it all comes down to though. Creators want to tell stories about their” Superman. Often times that means the status quo version they are most familiar with. The current World’s Finest title has a classic” Superman without Jon, with a secret identity. But it definitely has aspects that were added after 1938.

With 80 years of continuous comic publication not to mention television, radio, and film it would be tough to point to an aspect of the character of Superman that hasn’t changed. The one thing that can’t? His never-ending battle.

April 25, 2022

Superman Media Lost to the Phantom Zone

We live in a time when so much of the world’s media is available to us with just a few clicks. The days of needing to buy bootleg VHS tapes to find an episode of your favorite television show are long gone. Despite this abundance—and the decision paralysis that comes with it—there are some Superman things that remain unavailable and out of print. For this list I’m going to ignore the golden & bronze age comics that are long out of print and not available digitally (the showcase trades reprinted basically all of the Silver Age in black and white).

Superboy Filmation Cartoons

When Warners released the Superman Filmation cartoons they passed over the Superboy ones. When the DC Universe app streamed these cartoons seasons two & three included the Superboy shorts. But once that service ended they haven’t been added to HBO Max or any other streaming services. In fact season one of the Superman show is available for digital download on services like iTunes, but the other two seasons are only available on DVD. I assume they’ll get around to adding the show to HBO Max, but I’m doubtful the Superboy episodes will be included with season one. I hope these cartoons aren’t lost to time.

Furie Cut of Superman Iv

We’ve had the Donner Cut. We got the Snyder Cut. Now we want the Furie cut. Legend has it Superman IV was cut significantly after a poor showing at a test screening. The original 134 minute cut has never been released in it’s entirety. We’ve had deleted scenes included on DVDs, but never the whole thing. There is even an excellent twitter account campaining for the release. Come on Warner Archive!

Fleischer in Hd (Or Even 4k)

While these are technically available and easy to come by they aren’t available like they should be. Being in the public doman we’ve seen many releases of thes 1940s theatrical cartoons. Warner’s official release was a really nicely packaged DVD. We’ve had various episodes released on Blu-Ray packaged with the movie, but these theatrical shorts deserve their own high quality release in the best video quality possible. The digital download version from iTunes are in standard definition. There are some versions on YouTube upscaled and you can really see the potential of this.

A Complete Collection of the Radio Shows

Lots of these were made available on vinyl and there is an old CD box set that is long out of print. In these days of podcasts and new original audio shows this seems like a no brainer. Put them on HBO Max like the new Batman ones. Put them in iTunes to download. Either way I’d love to hear them all.

Animated Series Soundtrack

A few years back La La Land Records put out a 4 CD Limited Edition soundtrack for Superman: The Animated Series. I missed it at the time and it quickly went out of print. Currently selling for over $130 on the second hand market this soundtrack is out of reach for most fans. Mondo released a vinyl with just the theme song and that’s way easier to come by and a very cool collectible. This soundtrack isn’t available streaming or in any other format. I think I might just have to drop the cash for this one.

April 18, 2022

The Scope of Superman

Over the weekend I finished watching Superboy season three. It’s definitely the best season of the show so far and there are some legitimately good episodes. I had really written the show off as being bad and was only watching it for completionist’s sake. I understand for many fans the bad effects and mostly bad guest stars make this a tough watch. But when the show takes itself and the premise seriously it can really shine! There are even episodes that may have inspired Smallville; Mine Games has a pretty similar premise as Nemesis. I especially loved the season finale with an older Superman living in a utopia. I wish they could’ve gotten Kirk Alyn for it, but Tarzan/Doc Savage works too. One of the first things that came to mind after I finished was that I can understand why someone would focus their Superman fandom on this show and make a website dedicated to it (the excellent Superboy Legacy).

This lead my mind to Caped Wonder. Another excellent site and podcast dedicated to another very specific portion of Superman’s 84 year multimedia history. This plus thinking about my gaps in fandom made we wonder why some people go really deep and others go really broad.

My quest to watch everything, read every comic, and know every artist makes it really hard to have encyclopedic knowledge in one area. I can tell you a lot about Smallville. Characters, actors, guest stars, seasons, story arcs; but if you give me a plot point could I tell you the name and number of the episode? Probably not, but Zach Moore from Always Hold On To Smallville can. I can recite lines of dialogue from Superman The Movie, but could I tell you the day a scene was filmed? Probably not, but Jim Bowers from Caped Wonder can.

I don’t have a Superman origin story like many other folks. Superman was always present in my life as long as I can remember. The Filmation and Fleischer cartoons were constantly in rotation in my toddler years. My grandmother’s taped from HBO Superman The Movie was the first thing I went for at her house. My dad’s comics and action figures just out of my reach. Adam Talking Superman tweeted about the Superman IV comic adaptation and it reminded me it was probably the first Superman comic I ever owned—although I know my collection started with Action Comics #663: Time and Time Again Phase II.

I think I went so wide because there was never one Superman in my mind. I knew the original was from comics, but they were out of reach for the four year old me who was watching The Quest for Peace. So I wanted it all. Collecting comics at 8, Lois & Clark at 10, Smallville at 18, Superman Returns at 23, Man of Steel at 30.

Whereas some folks have that moment they became a fan. Jim Bowers talks about taking his brother to see Superman the Movie when he was 17 on a recent podcast. You can hear similar stories from everyone I’ve mentioned and there are tons like it out there. Steve Younis has a good one.

Last year when I was doing trivia at the Superman Celebration Jeopardy game someone asked me how I knew about so much. I think I’ve got a memory that is good for trivia, but I’ve steeped so much of my life into such a wide variety of Superman media. I love it all and will continue to engage with as much as I can on a wide scope.

April 11, 2022

Smallville Justice

I wanted to dig deeper on one particular episode of Smallville’s sixth season Justice”. Widely regarded as a high point of the show it’s an episode that still holds up today. But I think today’s audience and even us going back to watch it forget the context in which this episode aired. Let’s travel back in time, shall we?

Justice” aired on The CW January 18, 2007. At this point The CW was a brand new network made up of the combined WB and UPN. The network had only started the previous fall. Previously Smallville had aired on The WB. In January of 2007 the first MCU movie was still being cast! We couldn’t even conceive of the Avengers Initiative tease at this point. Post credits scenes were still surprises. Spider-Man 3 was a few months from being released. X-Men 3 had crashed and burned seven months prior. Superman Returns was released in June of 2006, while a hit with this fan, didn’t light a fire under WB to make a sequel. Even Justice League Unlimited had finished. This was a dark time for superhero media outside of the comics. Interestingly enough Action Comics at the time was co-written by Richard Donner of Superman The Movie fame.

The idea of a shared universe” of super heroes was something we had in comics and animation, but hadn’t made it’s way into live action. Smallville pulling these heroes, not only as guest stars or freak-of-the-weeks, but into one episode together was revolutionary. The X-Men characters have always worked together as a team, but pulling solo heroes together just wasn’t something we were seeing in live action at this point. The amount of hoops the team behind the show needed to jump through to make this happen for our benefit is staggering.

The first was the nature of the show. Being episodic television, Smallville rarely brought back guest stars. For every Alicia we’ve got a Lucas Luthor, never to be heard from again. Television of the time wasn’t designed for binge watching. They didn’t count on you watching every episode. Lost had begun to change that a few years earlier, but this didn’t catch on to shows on The CW for a while.

Warners put up obstacles Smallville needed to leap over in a single bound to make this happen. Kryptonsite.com reported that DC couldn’t call Bart The Flash because of a DC note.” They couldn’t use Wonder Woman because of development on a Wonder Woman movie. Green Arrow was their Batman replacement. Legal issues prevented any use of the word Superboy”. They were so limited in what characters they could use and what they could even call them.

The final hurdle we needed to get past? No flights, no tights”. Smallville had avoided being a Superman show for five years. As we got further and further away from the high school years it leaned into the super heroics more and more. But the influence of the X-Men movies was still strong. The characters couldn’t wear tights, but could wear cool leather jackets. The thinking was leather jackets wouldn’t alienate a broader general audience. Fifteen years later this influence is still being felt, but Hollywood has learned the general audience’s taste for superheroes isn’t so fickle. Smallville dressed our heroes in their colors and some of them got cool sunglasses and hoods instead of masks.

Despite all these limitations we still got 43 minutes of television that was dynamic and exciting. There was a huge surge in viewers for the episode. This is what we wanted from Smallville! Even Neil Bailey (from my beloved Superman Homepage) who was really down on the show, gave the episode 4.5 out of 5! They pulled it off and it’s an episode we can now revisit over and over as one of the highest heights this show ever hit.

April 4, 2022